For this month’s special wedding feature journalist and public relations manager Belinda Bennett talks to the owner of Lotus Event Management, Janet Eboh-Sampson, to get the latest industry scoop, as well as news on all the latest trends and useful wedding tips for brides to be. If you are planning a wedding and would like to put your questions to Janet, then join @lotus_E_M on Twitter every Wednesday 9pm to 10pm and tweet your questions using the hashtag #AskAnExpert.

Belinda: Welcome Janet, it’s good to finally talk with you. This month’s special wedding feature is called Journey of a Bride, so perhaps you could get us started by telling us a little bit about your own journey and how you became part of the industry?

Janet: Thank you, Belinda, likewise. Working in the events industry was not my original career path. I started out as a young waitress, many years ago, to support myself whilst I was studying for a Law Degree at University. I first worked at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, which is a very popular wedding venue in my hometown, and it was here that my passion really started because I was fascinated with wedding décor. I had a thing for pretty table decorations, wedding chair covers and bows.

After I completed my law degree, I decided the legal profession was not for me. I worked my way up and joined the team of wedding coordinators at the Botanical Gardens. I then moved on to work as a wedding/event coordinator for hotel chains, including Rezidor SAS, before joining the corporate events team at the University of Birmingham. I decided to start up my own event management company in December 2015. Ta-da! And here we are today. So all- in-all, I’ve worked in the industry for almost 18 years. That makes me feel really old, because it seems like a very long time!

Stylish floral centrepieces are perfect for a fresh spring wedding theme.

Belinda: That is a long time! What has changed during that period?

Janet: Oh, a lot has changed; the wedding industry is rapidly evolving – especially here in the UK. Personally, I think there are four major factors that have influenced the industry in recent years:

1. Social Media: Couples are becoming more savvy and looking for new and innovative ways to personalise their big day to make it stand out from the crowd. Social media is becoming a huge driving force within the industry; things like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest are bringing a host of fresh ideas and inspirations that are immediately accessible to couples planning their weddings.

2. DIY Wedding Projects: There has been a significant shift from traditional wedding planning, where as previously weddings were largely paid for by the families. You’ll find nowadays that a lot of couples are paying for their own weddings. If you are responsible for your wedding finances, then ultimately this will influence the decision- making and wedding planning process. Hence, the reason why couples are becoming more creative and taking on DIY projects such as producing their own wedding invitations or table decorations. I’m all for that, because it’s nice to see couples thinking outside of the box and adding personalised touches to their own wedding day.

3. Lifestyle: The other thing that has changed is our lifestyles and our overall approach to wedding planning. Popular TV shows such as ‘Four Weddings’ and ‘Yes to the dress’ have given the wedding industry primetime viewing and audience exposure which has been great! Whilst couples are willing to take on DIY projects I think there is a general acceptance that it is not possible to plan every aspect of your wedding alone and do everything by yourself. We live busy lives; many of us have full-time jobs so we are working harder and longer than ever before. There are simply not enough hours in the day to make the calls and attend all the necessary appointments with the florists, cake designers, photographers, venues, caterers, bridal stores etc. So it makes good sense to get a helping hand because wedding planning can be a very time-consuming and stressful experience for many. A lot of couples are turning to wedding planning services like ours to help them out.

4. Affordable Wedding Planning Services: It wasn’t that long ago that wedding planning was regarded as an ‘American Thing’ or a service intended for the rich and those who are relatively well off. All that is changing now and in recent years wedding planners have become more accessible. In the UK, wedding planners like ourselves are offering greater choice with a wide range of affordable products and services that can be tailored to suit any budget. According to Hitched.com’s Wedding Survey 2016, a large number of UK couples are “leaving the lion’s share of planning to a wedding planner” – and we expect this trend to continue. So it is a really exciting time for the industry right now.

DIY wedding invitations can add a personalised touch to your special day.

DIY submersible wedding candle table decorations.

Belinda: As a journalist, I don’t have the same knowledge or level of experience as someone like yourself who has worked in the wedding planning industry for many years but it does seem to be a very competitive market. There is so much choice out there, how do customers know what they are getting is right for them in terms of overall experience and value for money?

Janet: That’s a really good question, because in this industry there is a lot to take on board and, with the average UK wedding costing between £15,000-£25,000, it is no small feat. For most couples getting value for money is a big deal! My advice to couples planning a wedding is to get the right advice before starting out. This is so important because the right advice can steer you in the right direction and you can avoid making some of the most common mistakes that can prove to be very costly in the long run.

I’ll give you an example, because the journey into marriage will usually start with a proposal: once the couple agree to wed, the flurry of wedding planning activities begins and it’s easy for couples to become sidetracked trying to stay on top of everything that needs to be done. One of the mistakes that couples commonly make when planning their wedding is to set a date by immediately booking and securing their dream wedding venue.

Belinda: Is that a bad thing? I would have thought this would be a good place to start? I’d want to get the date and venue confirmed so that I can get the ball rolling to give myself enough time to get organised and send the invitations out.

Janet: I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a bad thing but, yes, I can see why you would think that – and you are not alone in thinking like this. But here is something that couples should bear in mind when booking their wedding venue. Often the person selling the venue, who gets you to sign the contract, may not be the same person who is assigned to coordinate your wedding or the person who will look after you on the day. Couples should be very mindful of signing contracts in the early stages where very little detail has been outlined on the contract.

As your wedding develops and you start getting into the finer details, some of the additional information and charges that pop up may surprise you. This can quite drastically increase your wedding expenditure, particularly if you have not taken these things into consideration when calculating your wedding budget. That’s why I said it is important to seek wedding advice before you get started. It’s worth having someone there to help you with your budget calculations and look over the contracts before you sign on the dotted line – for peace of mind. Many couples still don’t realise that having a wedding planner can actually save them a lot of money and ensure that they stick to their original budget.

Couples often break the bank by overspending on their wedding.

Belinda: Right, well that makes sense. Getting advice before booking the wedding venue seems logical and fairly reasonable. It’s certainly worth considering.

Janet: Yes, I would recommend it because venue costs and catering eat into a large part of the wedding budget. The venue and catering element is probably one the biggest wedding expenses and shouldn’t be rushed into. Having worked in the industry myself as a wedding coordinator, I saw this sort of thing happening time and time again. That’s why, as part of what we do here at Lotus Event Management, we offer a Free Wedding Consultancy Service to give couples an opportunity to get free professional advice. But often when I speak to couples planning their big day, they ask: “My venue comes with a wedding coordinator so why do I need a wedding planner?

Belinda: And how do you respond to that? Is there a difference between a wedding coordinator and a wedding planner?

Janet: There is indeed and I think there needs to be greater clarity within the industry for couples to have a better understanding, because the two roles are very different.

  1. A Planner is hired by the couple and works very closely with the couple to design an event that reflects the couple’s vision. Your wedding planner starts at the beginning, from the very early stages of concept and continues all the way until the actual event takes place. A planner will help you to actually plan elements of your wedding by going through options with you and lending their expert advice and opinions, then helping you book the best and most affordable options based on your budget calculations.
  1. A Wedding Coordinator is usually hired by the venue and works for the venue so they do not actually plan any element of the wedding for you. A coordinator puts together all of the elements that you’ve already planned to make sure everything runs according to your requirements on the day and that vendors fulfill their contracts. It is unrealistic to expect your wedding coordinator to help you plan your wedding, because you are probably one of many couples to have booked that particular venue. I talk from experience because, as a wedding coordinator, you work with numerous clients on a daily basis so it isn’t always possible to offer the level of personalised service and attention for each individual couple that comes through the door.

Belinda: Well it’s been good talking to you Janet and thank you for giving us a little bit of an insight into the wedding industry. Happy Anniversary, by the way. How did you celebrate your first year as a company?

Janet: We haven’t had time to celebrate yet, so much has happened in the last 12 months. We launched our dream wedding and all-inclusive party packages, which is an exciting collaboration with custom made designer boutique Dolls of Decadence. It’s been very busy and incredibly exciting but, believe me, when I get round to planning our first anniversary celebrations, you can bet it will be one hell of a party because I need champagne and a lot of it! I feel like I’ve earned it! Of course you will be invited to join us, Belinda.