At some point in your career as a wedding planner, you will encounter a challenging vendor (or creative partner, service provider – call them what you will). In a perfect world, we would all be working with our preferred vendors all day long, every day, but we all know that’s not always possible. Let’s talk about how to identify, and deal with, a difficult vendor on your team.
In my experience, difficult vendors fall into a few archetypes. Let’s unpack them a bit.
1) The Friendor
This is my not-so-loving name for a friend of the couple who has been tasked (or who has volunteered) to replace the work of an actual professional on the wedding day. These people are the aunts who are lauded for their home baking skills who think they can make a wedding cake, the uncles with the expensive camera they barely know how to use, the maid of honors who spend a lot of money at Sephora and fancy themselves a makeup artist.
The biggest obstacle with a Friendor is their ignorance. They don’t know that they don’t know how to execute their tasks at a professional level. Their hearts are in the right places, but their skills don’t always measure up. They are almost always working for free and without the proper insurance.
2) The Newbie Vendor
These are the vendors who get the most grace, in my opinion. We all started out somewhere, right?
What are some tell-tale signs of a newbie vendor? Not having a contract, or having a contract that doesn’t have their company name (or even their real name!) anywhere on it, taking more than 48 hours to return an email, taking on more tasks than they can handle, not having the correct amount of insurance, not taking or remembering specific notes about the client, etc. We could probably spend all day compiling this list of traits. Where these vendors usually fall apart is in the details.
3) The Hater/The Egomaniac
This vendor is someone who has worked with a few bad wedding planners in their career, and has unceremoniously decided that ALL wedding planners are useless. Or, they have a hero complex and think that ONLY they will be able to save the day.
They regard wedding planners as a nuisance and attempt to ignore the planner at all costs. They don’t play well with others, and in our service based industry, this is a short road to a horrible reputation.
At the end of the wedding day, it’s really up to us, the planners, to rally the vendor team toward a common goal: to execute an amazing day. When faced with a difficult vendor, wedding planners have no choice but to face the challenge head-on.
How do we do it?
When confronted with a difficult vendor, we go through all the stages of grief. (I know you are all giggling right now, but you know we all do this!)
- Denial: “Uh oh. Is this vendor difficult? I’ll give them some grace. Maybe they are having a busy week.”
- Anger: “Oh, h*ll no, they did not just say that they will be using their OWN timeline, did they?”
- Bargaining: “Hi! I’d love to set up a phone call to go over all the details! (and then to yourself): Let me just look at this timeline and see if there is anything I can incorporate into the master…”
- Depression: “I wonder if Bad Vendor will call me back. Hmmm. I’ll drink this bottle of merlot while I wait.”
- Acceptance: “This vendor is just bad news. They won’t be on my future referral list for sure!”
Once you work your way through all this, there is really only one tonic for a toxic vendor.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is this:
With difficult vendors, you have to communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more!
Here are my top tips for working with a difficult wedding vendor:
1) Pick up the Phone
I will wager a bet that no one hates talking on the phone more than I do. But when you sense that things are going south, pick up the phone and keep calling until you get a human on the other end. As we all know, the tone is most likely to be misinterpreted in an email. Go old school and call your difficult vendor.
2) Kill ’em with Kindness
It’s really difficult to dislike someone who is being kind, considerate, and helpful. Even if you are not getting that in return, you have to put it out there.
As Chante Gulley of Forever Taken Weddings & Events says, “My rule of thumb is to kill them with kindness! You never know what a person is dealing with. If you are professional, assertive, and kind, you might be surprised at their reaction.”
3) Lead by Example
If you sense that your difficult vendor is not a team player, then lead by example.
Kim Sanchez from Illustrious Events offers this advice: “Come prepared! Provide them with all the necessary information in an organized sheet. Ask them ‘what information do you need from me and by when’, as well as what else can you do to assist them to ensure a smooth event for everyone. Then follow up with a handwritten thank you note for meeting with you.”
Show them, by your words and actions, what the yardstick is of a caring, conscientious vendor. Perhaps your actions will open their eyes!
4) Educate, Educate, Educate
But never condescend.
Every wedding planner goes about their work in a slightly different manner. When I work with a vendor for the first time, I go out of my way to educate them on my background and point of view, so they know where I’m coming from, and why I make some of the decisions that I do.
For example, my background is very heavily based in hospitality. I tell every caterer and banquet manager that I meet that I also once upon a time did their job, and that service is very important to me. It gives us a common ground, a common language, and I communicate that I respect how hard they work, but that I will also be watching their work as well. I’m straightforward about my expectations, so there is no confusion. I want to be sure that my vendors are following proper etiquette at our weddings.
5) Watch Your Language
If you know me at all, you knew I would get here eventually, right? Don’t undermine yourself by asking for things that you should be declaring.
What do I mean? Here’s an example of a limiting email:
“Hi, Just checking in to see if you had a sec to look over my timeline. Do you have any notes for me? Sorry I sent it so late, let me know if you have anything you want to add. Thanks!”
Here’s a better way:
“Hi, Difficult Vendor. Hope you are having an excellent day! I trust that you have had time to open and review my master wedding day timeline. If I don’t hear from you by end of the day today, I will assume that you have no notes for me. I look forward to working with you next Saturday! Best, Wedding Planner”
Can you FEEL the difference? Take control of the situation with your language – be declarative, clear, concise, and always end with what you need from them – with a deadline.
6) When Possible, Have a Backup Plan
This is not always possible, I know. But if things get really bad, the true mark of a pro is having a Plan B in your back pocket. If you have to call in your A-Team at the last minute, you will have paid for your services and your client’s peace of mind ten times over. Work your relationships, and have a solid Plan B. Your reputation could be on the line with a difficult vendor.
Short of adding a clause to your contract that ensures you always work with your preferred vendor team, you will have to work with a difficult vendor now and again. Hopefully, armed with these tips, you and your event will get through it unscathed.
What are some of your best tips when dealing with a difficult vendor? Let me hear from you in the comments.
This is a guest post by Renée Dalo. Renee is the CEO and Lead Planner of Moxie Bright Events, a boutique wedding planning firm in Los Angeles, CA. Renée is also a Leader for The Rising Tide Society (Los Angeles- East) and a strong believer in “community over competition”. She can’t say no to anything Kate Spade, a weekend getaway, or a well-made bellini. You can find Renée on Instagram at @moxiebrightevents and on FB in her group The Moxie Collective, exclusively for Planners with 2+ years in business. Join us!