What Would They Know? Sarah Johnston of Girl Friday Weddings

by | Styling Wisdom, Wedding Planning Wisdom, What Would They Know?, Wisdom

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Polka Dot Bride
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There’s always someone who takes on the bulk of the wedding planning load – whether it’s the bridal couple, a family member or a wedding planner. The detail and juggling can be a mammoth undertaking, not to mention the on the day coordination of vendors and guests, and setup/pack down of the reception. This is where Sarah of Girl Friday Weddings comes into the picture. In an ideal world we’d all have a wedding planner to pull all our ideas together, to liaise & plan with vendors, to coordinate and style, and to ensure that all the hiccups are smoothed over with a minimum of fuss  – our Girl Friday if you will. Whether you decide on the full service package from the beginning of the planning process to the end of the wedding day, or a Pop Up Wedding package, and factoring your time, blood, sweat and tears  into the equation, you’ll see that a wedding planner is worth their weight in gold. There are times when we all wish for a Girl Friday in our lives and this would definitely be one of them! Sarah shares her story.

How long have you been a wedding planner?

We were established as Girl Friday Weddings in 2009.

Where are you based? Where are your offices located?

Our office is based in Crows Nest, Sydney, however we have planners available in Brisbane and Melbourne.

Images by Lucy Leonardi Photography

What are the (personal and professional) qualities of a good wedding planner?

Hospitality and / or Event Management experience goes a long way. I am always asked how one should get into wedding planning. I think running events in a hotel or restaurant is a great starting point. Not only do you get great experience but you also are able to build relationships with other vendors.

When a couple is choosing their wedding planner, couples should look to hire someone that they can connect with on a personal level…after all, planning a wedding should be a fun experience. They should also take a look at the planner’s portfolio and be comfortable with their work experience and be drawn by the kinds of events they produce.

Choosing based on price alone is always a mistake.

Would you explain to us what a wedding planner actually does from the beginning of the journey to the end of the wedding day?

That’s a tough question. Every event and the way that we apply our packages is different. If a couple has hired us for 3 or 5 hours, then we usually don’t get involved until just prior to the wedding day. We would review all their paperwork and work through things if there has been an element overlooked or incomplete. On the day with these sorts of packages, there is usually some element of setting up involved, or wrangling other vendors to set up, or picking up and setting up their own equipment. Quite often couples hire us to make sure everyone has arrived, everything is set up as per their brief, things get transported from point A to B, vendors have someone to ask questions in the absence of the client on the day.

For our end to end planning packages they entail our involvement right from the start. Sourcing ceremony and reception venues, sourcing vendors, styling and then coordinating on the day. It sounds quite simplistic but the events and the expectations are intense especially when they are planned over the space of a year or two.

It comes down to finding out from our clients what their pain points are and where we need to come in and help bridge the gap.

Is your specialty in planning weddings, or do you organise other events too?

We focus just on weddings, although we are happy to help with our alumnae events and we are often asked to. My philosophy is that specialising in one type of event makes us really great at what we do and things run like a well oiled machine. They need to when we are in the thick of it!

Are you able to recommend a trusted group of suppliers when the couple book you?

This is at the core of our job and one of the distinct advantages of hiring a planner. It’s not really a case of one size fits all and we don’t have a set vendor list. We listen to the client’s brief and make suggestions depending on the event and their budget.

Are you able to recommend to the couple different venues, if they don’t know where to start to look?

Searching for the right venue, be it for the ceremony and/or reception is probably one of the most challenging aspects of planning an event. Couples can retain us specifically for venue search and selection and we can find the right venue for them. Finding the right location is quite often much easier said than done. Particularly if the client has an idea in mind that they want to pull off.

How do you help a couple decide on their style and the elements and vendors needed to make that a reality?

The easiest way to get a sense of the couple’s style is for us to take a look at any inspiration images they have – sites like Pinterest are a huge plus for us, and Instagram gives us a great insight to who they are and what they are about. Taking into consideration the kinds of images that they are drawn to along with their budget – their style often evolves organically in the options that we put together for them. I also find it helpful if the couple has one item that they are passionate about and want to commit to first (be it a colour palette, a type of flower, a décor element or a setting), this combined with a suite of their ideas (Pinterest and Instagram boards) can make things really easy.

Are you able to bring fresh ideas to the table to help the couple make their wedding unique and personalized? What is your inspiration?

We love to throw our hat in the ring when it comes to doing something new, keeping things current and taking a fresh approach. My inspiration has always been travel and experiencing different cultures and customs. Couples always struggle with trying to make their own weddings unique. But honestly even though we may attend the same wedding venue more than once, no two weddings are ever the same.

Does your role involve styling – or is it purely planning and coordinating other vendors to execute the styling elements?

Regardless of what our clients hire us for, it really takes a combination of different skills to execute a successful event. The three most important being planning, coordinating and styling.

Planning a wedding will always involve styling. Anything from knowing what elements work well together, and the practicality of them to understanding which suppliers have what on their inventory. If couples truly want a unique event without being cookie cutter then it takes a good planner to pull an idea together and source materials from an array of suppliers for that magic to happen.

Most of us have a budget. What do you consider to be the most important areas to spend the budget on?

Food & beverage, then entertainment (live entertainment is always better). Guests will always gripe if the food is bad (or if there isn’t enough). So I think getting these elements right is a great foundation. Live music always sets the tone for the evening. If you get these few things right, everything else is just icing.

Please outline your planning packages to us?

Our packages are broken down into the 3 elements: planning, coordinating and styling.
We try to solve some of the most common needs our clients have with our planning packages – in other words, all the work that needs to be done in the lead up to a wedding. If a client comes to us feeling confident and in control of where things are at with the planning – they may just be stuck on a few elements. For example they might be looking for an expert eye planning the logistics, set up or runsheet for the day. For these types of situations we suggest that our consultations by the hour are the most effective way to go. However we also have packages for clients with larger challenges when it comes to wedding planning, particularly knowing which vendors to book, or finding the ceremony or reception locations. Our Full Event Service packages on the upper end of the scale are for couples who are really wanting to outsource everything and want to be able to pick up the phone to you. These types of events are always rewarding to work on as you can see the progression of work from start to finish not to mention forming really great longer term relationships with your clients.

You offer pop up weddings in Sydney now. What is the value in these for your bridal couples?

We’ve noticed our couples coming to us with the same pain points over and over again. They are looking for outdoor weddings – but they’re worried about the weather. They want the flowers and set up to look like a million dollars but on a modest budget. They are just so overwhelmed by the expense and the effort required to book everything in. Well, our Pop Up Wedding service really solves all of these problems. We have an amazing all weather location in the heart of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden at Lion Gate Lodge, and we have a great group of vendors who can supply everything at a reduced rate because they can work in volume. And the price of all the labour and materials involved can be spread out over a few different couples in the course of the day. It’s a great way to go, especially if you want someone to do all the wedding planning for you without the price tag. Our first event will happen in April at Lion Gate Lodge, and we’ll be excited to roll out the program to other venues as well.

One of your strengths is last minute coordination. Ideally how long does it take to plan a wedding – and what can you do if last minute coordination is required?

We can and have planned a wedding in 1 month which is the right amount of time if you want a legal wedding. But you’d be surprised to know we could probably do it in about a week. Our job is actually quite easy as we already have a network of suppliers that we can simply call (and rely on) to make the magic happen. The hold ups usually occur on the client side of things. Even though it takes a phone call from us to get things moving and make a booking, it can take a lot longer for our clients to weigh up their options and decide.

What do you feel when you see what you’ve achieved on the wedding day (and see all the elements come together)?

Tired, happy and relieved are words that come to mind. It is such a labour of love. And truth be known that all the hours I personally spend worrying about every detail of the event, forward planning and cross checking aren’t reflected in the price of our packages. But our clients are always grateful, and this always bridges the gap and provides me with a great sense of fulfilment.

How do you achieve work/life balance?

Work/life balance is difficult with a job that demands your attention 24/7. One of the benefits in focusing just on weddings is that there is an off-peak season in winter. I really try to take advantage of this time and dial it back. Spending time with my family always keeps me well grounded and I try to give back to them where I can by helping out in the classroom at school, or coaching team sports for my kids. It really forces you to switch off and refocus. Sometimes managing a bunch of kids is actually more challenging than planning the biggest wedding!

Thank you Sarah for sharing your story. We just love the idea of the Pop Up Wedding – it means taking the headache out of organising the ceremony – it’s just done for you! To find out more about Girl Friday Weddings visit the website.

All images unless otherwise stated by Lina Hayes Photography.

The gorgeous styling for this wedding was done by Renate Barnett (mother of the bride).

Wedding planning, set up and wedding day coordination by Girl Friday Weddings.

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