Is it fair to ask for advice from wedding vendors you’re not going to hire?

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I have way too much on my plate planning weddings for paying clients, I don't have time to answer your questions… or do I?  (Photo credit Shane Macomber)
I have way too much on my plate planning weddings for paying clients, I don't have time to answer your questions… or do I? (Photo of Kelli by Shane Macomber)

Offbeat Bride reader Liane sent us this seemingly FANTASTIC wedding planning tip…

Having your wedding in a small town, where you don't live, leaves vendor searching near impossible. Sure, in this day and age everyone's online and you can Google your little heart out. But in small towns, most vendors haven't quite caught on to the internet yet.

I'm getting married 40 minutes outside of Campbell River, BC, Canada — and I don't know a soul who lives in the area.

I've been searching for someone to do my hair for months, someone who can travel to my venue. All of the salons I found online wouldn't travel, or didn't seem quite capable of doing a decent job. After months of searching and finding nothing, I decided to get creative.

I looked up wedding photographers in Campbell River and sent them emails asking they knew of any hairstylists. I figured they'd shot countless weddings in the area and have surely met hairstylists while taking ‘getting ready' shots.

I was up front, I told them “I don't know you, and I don't want your services, I'm just hoping you'll help out a stranger.” If I got an email like that from someone, I wouldn't just ignore it — even if it wasn't going to bring me business. Lo and behold, they all responded with multiple suggestions that I never would have found online – and I've found my perfect travelling hairstylist!

So when you are struggling to find vendors, count on the kindness of strangers to help you! It never hurts to ask. -Liane

But it got us wondering… is it inconsiderate to ask help from vendor you know you aren't going to hire? Would vendors feel like they don't want to waste their time helping non-clients? So we took this to Seattle wedding planner (and orchestrator of our big Empire bash) Kelli, from Shindig Events.

Here was Kelli's expert response…

Liane is smart for about 300 reasons. #1 of them is that she is having her wedding in a small town that stretches your nuptial dollar in rubber band-like proportions. I grew up in Prophetstown, Illinois (population 1700). When I tell my friends and family back in the Midwest that most of the weddings I plan in Seattle area are in the $20,000 range, they scream, laugh, and are kinda grossed out. You can invite ALL OF PROPHETSTOWN to your wedding on $20,000.

But, even as a wedding and event planner, I would have challenges finding vendors if I were planning a reception there, for many of the same reasons Liane mentioned. I would also do what Liane did — reach out to the vendors that are in the area, even if you are not hiring that service.

Most of us in the wedding/event biz rely on referrals from our colleagues for new clients. So when Liane sends an email to Holly Hair Stylist saying that “Fab Fran Photography sent me,” you can bet your sweet bippy that Holly will reach out to Fab Fran to say thanks, or refer business back to her.

And that's not to say we all do good deeds because we get business in return — many of us just know it's the right thing to do! I can also tell you that somebody knows somebody who knows somebody who is just starting his dessert business. You might be able to get a great deal on your sweets table with a brand new company. And if you are ever hesitant to hire anyone who is just starting out, ask that person for a couple of references.

And don't be afraid of doing this with ANY of your vendors in ANY town. Each market is different, but in Seattle, I can tell you the wedding network is pretty tight.

Photographers hang out with photographers! Planners go to open houses together! It might seem crazy in another industry to kick it with your direct competition, but I have found it to be completely the opposite. It's actually helped my business! When a planner colleague is booked on a date I am open, she will refer me. In fact, there is a group of us planners who have a Facebook group page where we share our availability, exchange ideas and ask for input on other vendors or issues. I just booked a big corporate event based on the initial recommendation from a caterer I've done business with previously.

And often times we will ask our vendor friends for “above and beyond” requests. For example, I have a photographer friend who doesn't advertise that she does her photo booth independently but will hire that service out if she is not booked for a wedding.

Sometimes, all you have to do is ask… the worst someone can say is no, and then you just move on.

Vendors, do you agree with Kelli? Would it bother you if brides asked you for references, even if you knew they weren't going to hire you?

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Comments on Is it fair to ask for advice from wedding vendors you’re not going to hire?

  1. Hmmm…. I’m really thinking very carefully about this. I’m, like, 98% in agreement with Kelli’s response. One on hand, emailing someone and saying “I don’t plan to work with you, but can you help me with my wedding plans?” (which is me rephrasing the title of this entry) is quite bold.

    On the other hand, I regularly suggest other vendors to clients who ARE working with me, AND I help people who contact me for dates I’m already booked. If I’m already booked for someone’s date, I happily send them in the direction of other photographers. I don’t offer video services, but I have two videographers I recommend with confidence if someone inquires about video with their photo package.

    I love it whenever I can send business to my favorite hair and makeup person, because my relationship with her is important. She not only makes my clients look fabulous (making ME look fabulous when I deliver photos of my clients looking’ hawt), but she also regularly drives from Brooklyn to my suburban studio on the other side of NYC to do pinup sessions. That commute is a pain in the ass, and she’s really nice about it. If I can demonstrate my thanks and appreciation for her repeated hard work by telling a bride that she’s amazeballs, that’s just good networking AND good karma.

    I already have email templates from other communications where clients inquire about everything from ceremony musicians to transportation, so replying to an email from someone who says up front what they’re looking for is just a matter of cutting and pasting, really. I even belong to a chamber of commerce-style networking group where my offering referrals to the other members (including a car service/shuttle bus/limo guy) is one of my expected contributions. I do it because I trust that he’s a good vendor, not just because we belong to the same group, but still- giving and receiving testimonials part of the group’s modus operandi, so why not share that with a bride who says upfront she doesn’t need me?

    So, where does my 2% hesitation come from? I think it would depend on how the email was worded, honestly. If the tone was polite and kind and respectful of my time, why not? I am all about creative collaboration and helping out other small business owners.

    I will say this, though. If you’re not comfortable sending an email that bold, one way that brides can get the same information is to check out vendors’ blogs. If I shoot a wedding and the flowers are stupendous, I will absolutely link to the florist on my blog. If I got great photos of mayhem on the dance floor, I will thank and link to the DJ in the couple’s sneak peek blog entry.

    A lot of wedding planners and venues thank all the vendors involved on their blogs. So if you don’t feel comfortable sending a “I don’t plan to hire you, but can you recommend a DJ/stylist/caterer/florist/officiant/bakery?” email, you could also get the same info by doing a little blog digging. And if there’s any other way to thank the vendor who helped you even though you don’t plan to hire them by, say, “liking” them on Facebook, that would be a nice touch, I think.

  2. Absolutely! #1, because it’s nice and I always want to help out my buddies – planners, venue people, hairstyles, etc. etc. etc. And if I don’t have a hair buddy, this would be a great way to make one. People don’t forget who refers them.

    #2, in this business, you never know where your next client is going to come from. You have to put out a million tiny fish lines and hope in the end somebody says “oh this great photographer who was so nice to me” to a friend getting married. If you help people, consistently, whether or not it directly benefits you, overall you will benefit.

    • I think point number two was the first thing that popped into my head. I was asking a friend of a friend who had a business if she could make my cake. She backed out, afraid it would be too much, as she bakes whoopie pies not cakes. But I came back to bake a thank you gift for the person who hosted my wedding shower.

  3. So when Liane sends an email to Holly Hair Stylist saying that “Fab Fran Photography sent me,” you can bet your sweet bippy that Holly will reach out to Fab Fran to say thanks, or refer business back to her.
    Let me highlight, underscore and neon arrow point to the fact that in order for this awesomeness to work, you gotta actually tell Holly Hair Stylist that Fab Fran Photography sent you! Don’t forget! This doesn’t just benefit the businesses. When a vendor gets hip to the fact that you’re comfortable with giving credit to the businesses that help you, they’ve got extra incentive to do a good job for you–they want you to sing their praises elsewhere, too!

    • And, for the record, this goes for referrals from friends or anyone else, too. If someone pointed you in that direction, let your vendor know.

      • TOTES! I have a couple of vendors who give their clients a discount if they were referred by me or are working with me. It’s just GOOD BIZ!!! ; )

  4. I totally endorse asking politely (and like @angie said, you want to word it carefully so you’re clear that you know they have no obligation and you know they’re busy, but if they can recommend someone that would be fantastic).

    I’m not a vendor but I do work for the Empire and I’ve had conversations with various people about vendors they should check out or the importance of networking with other potential vendors in related fields. Some of the vendors I mention are ones I had hired. Others are ones I know about.

  5. I’m a wedding officiant, and I often get this type of call from couples who are looking to marry in our area. I agree 100% with Kelli that any vendor worth their salt will offer you several names of other vendors in the area who they know and trust.

    I even go a bit further and offer a “Vendors” tab on my website which lists many of our city’s wonderful photogs, caterers, musicians, venues, etc. The list isn’t a “pay-to-play” advertising list; it’s just something I put out there to help couples in their search for the right vendors for their wedding. Whoever they choose to hire is their own business, and I feel like offering this list builds trust with clients because they know I’m not locked into any exclusive deals or agreements. I love what I do, I’m eager to share my expertise, and ultimately I just want every couple, client or not, to have a fabulous wedding!

    • Hallelujah! I love that vendors have preferred vendors on their pages, especially if I’m one of them! But, in all fairness, I have to admit that I don’t have one of those pages on my website. Part of my job is to customize my vendor recommendations to my clients based on their budgets, aesthetic & all sorts of other factors. But when you work with me & you rock it, you can bet that you are on my vendor list moving forward! And thanks for mentioning, Andrea, that you don’t have a “pay for play” policy. I do get asked on occasion if I get kickbacks and I let my peeps know that they only kickbacks are in THEIR favor! ; )

  6. As a professional wedding officiant, I get a lot of emails from people looking for help structuring their ceremony, or want information on creating a processional (who should enter where), or want me to take a look at their ceremony – or just general advice, too.

    To me, part of my value to my clients is that I am available to them, via phone and email, with any questions, to offer advice, help them create their ceremony, help them get their marriage license.. all of the stuff a good officiant should do. Because of that, and because I do offer consulting services that start at a very low price point, I have a policy of not dispensing personal ceremony advice or information via email for those who I am not either writing their ceremony or officiating their ceremony.

    I sometimes feel really bad about this, but if I get a lot of questions about something, from my clients or from folks who are not hiring me for something, I like to take the time to write a blog post about it, so I can send it to those who ask me the questions, saving me time AND enabling me to offer advice and help out those who are not my clients, too.

    With that being said, I have no problem recommending other officiants or vendors who may be a good fit for someone, if I am not available or if it’s not somewhere I live or travel to. As other folks said, karma is good.

  7. As long as the person who is not hiring us has a specific question (ie what photog/caterers i would recommend) then I am happy to help.

    It’s the tire-kickers that are the problem. When people come in or call and keep me tied up for an hour or more (honest, the record is about 2.5 hours) and all they are doing is trying to pump me for information so that they can buy it off the internet for cheaper, that really gets my goat. Not only are they asking me to help them to avoid doing business with me, they are preventing me from helping my many other customers.

    Think of it this way: You wouldn’t call a Bridal Dress Shop and ask what online knock-off dress vendor you should try, but you should call a dress shop and ask where to rent your lights from.

    Again: a quick referral for related businesses NO PROBLEM, but wasting a bunch of time expressly so they can get my same product somewhere else is just RUDE.

    • INDEED! I think one of the challenges we have in this business is that people want to phish information to see what you can tell them about who/how/what to do for their wedding. One thing that I have found has helped me is to have all of my pricing starting points on my website (this is a HUGE time saver on my end), then I have some basic info I send to potential inquiries (some of what is on my website, but a little bit more detailed) and THEN I have the clients coming in for a consultation complete a brief form that gives me information about their event/wedding so I know if I can help them…..SO MY POINT? Sticking to your guns to have integrity for your knowledge! I have had to limit my consults to one hour & often times, they take less than that (mostly because I have the form in advance). ANYWAY…I could clearly go on all day about this….Thanks, Luxy! ; )

    • This is so relevant to me right now. Two days ago, I was meeting with the vendor who is renting linens to me. She asked about how we are setting up lighting and sound in the tent, and I told her we aren’t planning to hire a DJ or pro decorator, but that I am a little worried since I know nothing about that stuff. She recommended I call So-and-so who runs Such-and-such Entertainment Company and ask her for advice, saying that Linen-Vendor-Lady sent me.

      I would totally appreciate some pro advice, but I have been apprehensive about contacting them for advice on lighting/setting up sound in a tent when I know I don’t plan to hire them. It goes a little along the lines here, in that I am planning to DIY a service they offer, so isn’t it rude to ask them about it? I don’t know – maybe they will, in the end, convince me to hire them.

      I’m torn! I’d love to hear what a vendor thinks about this whole situation.

      • I think if you contact them, you tell the truth… You have a vision for your event. You were considering doing it yourself, but you recently spoke to Linen-Vendor-Lady who mentioned that Such-and-such Entertainment Company is the go-to person in your area who regularly pulls off visions like yours.

        You’re still considering doing it yourself, but your conversation with Linen-Vendor-Lady has you a little concerned that it’s an awful lot of work for you to take on yourself on a day when you have a lot of other obligations, demands on your attention, and a desire to enjoy yourself. You want to get more information about their services, and you want to brainstorm about the logistics involved during your consultation.

        Lots of vendors don’t necessarily need to do the whole kit and caboodle. A a wedding photographer, I’ve had clients hire me to come in just to shoot their reception because a family member who does wedding photography offered to do the portraits and ceremony as a gift. I got paid a fair hourly wage for a Saturday night when I wasn’t already booked, and I got to go a BBQ on summer afternoon for once.

        For my own wedding, I just wanted a lighting company to come in and hang illuminated round paper lanterns in the reception tent. Since there was no other light source in the tent, I needed them to be brighter than what the little LED bulb that came with the lights could do in the DIY kits I found at Target. I didn’t need uplighting or a monogram of our initials projected on the dance floor. I didn’t need strings of lights illuminating the path to the bathroom in the gardens; I was using luminaries with kitty litter and tealights from Ikea for that.

        For a few hundred dollars, the company sent a guy and a ladder to hang the lanterns so I didn’t have to worry about my dad throwing his back out standing on a chair in a rented tux two hours before the ceremony trying to hang round paper lanterns for me. I wasn’t sure if they would do this one service for me when they regularly do ALL THE SERVICES, so I asked nicely. And they did. And it was affordable. And my friends did other things for me, like setting up the luminarias as night fell.

        The more info you get, the better. I think as long as you’re open to the idea that a professional might pull off your vision better than putting your friends and family to work will while being open about your budget and desire to DIY as much as you can, there’s no harm in gathering information.

        • Thank you! I almost want to take your comment and replace “you” with “I” and send it off as an e-mail to the vendor. 🙂 I think it’s certainly worth talking to them, maybe they can offer a reasonably priced service to do it for us, too. I’ll never know unless I ask!

  8. I ended up with my caterer through a chain of people recommending other caterers when they weren’t available. I always commented who had sent me. This guy that I ended up with wasn’t advertised anywhere I could find, so it definitely helped when the pickings were slim! I think it definitely helps, because if someone asks me about finding a caterer, I can tell them who was helpful and who wasn’t!

  9. I really like Liane’s approach — be honest that you are not in a hiring situation.

    I am happy to (and regularly do) give advice and pointers to good options to people who aren’t intending to be my clients, both via e-mail and on twitter. I am *always* happy to do vendor referrals, but for things like technique questions, there is a threshold where I need to charge for my work, similarly to Jessie. So I would say be mindful of what you are asking, and don’t necessarily expect fast and/or in-depth answers.

    And I’ll be straight up, once people figure out just how much time/energy it is going to take to DIY their album, sometimes they hire me anyway — and then they understand why my prices are what they are.

    • “there is a threshold where I need to charge for my work”

      I have been looking for this phrase forever. Thank you. SO right on!!!

  10. I would have answered her too, all the wedding vendors generally know all the other wedding vendors, and I like referring business to my friends/colleagues. However, I was left wondering why she didn’t contact the vendors she was paying? I understand that this was an out-of-town wedding, but at the very least, there’s probably money exchanging hands at the venue, and I’m sure they have a list of vendors they prefer/refer.

    • The only vendor I’m using in the area is my venue, and they didn’t have any suggestions of hairdressers who will travel — they were all salons who had to drive 40 minutes into town in order to get to.

      I’m bringing my photographer up from the city I live in, and I’m not using any other vendors there!

  11. I think as long as you’re up-front with them about not planning on hiring them, there’s nothing wrong with it. They are certainly under no obligation to respond either way.

  12. I am generally the type who doesn’t mind offering a few suggestions. I truly want people to have a great wedding. But, if it came to the point where I felt like someone was asking me countless questions that were specifically photography related and it became a real time investment; I might want to draw the line. I think that it’s fine to ask someone and honestly is greatly appreciated – but I also think you should be careful not to take advantage of someone’s generosity. When you own your own business, your time is money. And it becomes even MORE valuable when you happen to be a work at home parent as well! So, yes, ask, but always be respectful of the hard working vendors as well.

  13. I have people ask me for advice all the time, whether or not I am hired to be their florist or coordinator. I never mind giving it, so long as the person who is asking goes about it as this bride did–politely and without expectation.

    (…But don’t expect or demand a response–you are asking for a favor, not paying someone for their time. 🙂 )

  14. Even in non-wedding businesses this is a good idea for vendors. If someone is like “I need this, where do I get it?” and it was something we didn’t have, I would 100% refer them to the competition. Because then, the customer remembers you as that nice helpful business that knew where to get what they needed.

  15. I totally agree that it can be sked in a kind way. As a jewelry vendor I would definitely help and especially if it is referring other vendors from my town! Everyone has different tastes and yes a competitor can suit someone else tastes. As Amanda says, the person will remember you as a helpful business and might refer you to her friends. There is too much self-centredness in the world today, let’s help each other and it will come back to you a hundred times!

  16. Totally diggin this post.

    I definitely LOVE helping others find what they want or need….and YES i get the SADFACE if they are not hiring me…..but i think i agree, if WORDED PROPERLY as polite and asking for help – I would be more likely to help and respond with vendors I love. I hate to say this – but a lot of people kinda don’t say much like “Hey, how are you doing?….is it possible u could recommend…blah blah”….I usually get the “cold” comments and messages…. “What ______ do you use?”…no hello, no how are you, hope you are having a great day. Let’s not forget that we are people talking to other people that need a kind word or something uplifting!!! 🙂 I know it sounds weird, but after a while I really have started to see a pattern in the ways we approach each other now.

    Happy hunting to all the vendors though! I know it is tough to choose!!!!
    I’ve done 2 wedding shows this spring…and I really try to think about the brides/grooms shopping and how hard it can be to really decide on the multiple factors of the day as a WHOLE. Best of luck to all yall searching…I hope u definitely find who you need to connect with!

    If i’m busy or unable to shoot a wedding, I definitely have a LIST of friends/common goal oriented folks that I can refer. <3 🙂

    Community. 🙂 It's awesome.

    • Amen, Jen! What goes around comes around! I love referring great vendors in general and I hope they are just as enthusiastic about referring me. ; ) While I have my go-to peeps I like to refer, my list is pretty deep & it’s all about the right fit for the couple/vendor relationship. We wedding vendors aren’t all about making money, or we wouldn’t have gotten into this crazy love biz to begin with!
      (PS – Your website & vibe are RAD.)

  17. I love to refer vendors! As a videographer, I’m usually one of the last vendors booked, so I don’t get as many chances to refer my “vendor crushes,” so I’m tickled when I get the chance to help a couple find amazing people to help on their event and to send some of the love back to those who have helped me in the past. I too also have a section on my webpage with vendors I recommend.

    However – it is not OK, to call, take up thirty minutes to an hour of our time pumping us for suggestions with no intention of hiring us. A quick email is totally fine though!

    • I think part of it is actually **saying** that you don’t intend to hire us. If we are all honest with each other and on the same page, we vendors will be able to help you much better or decline your request and not be resentful when it comes out later that you never intended to book.

  18. This falls under what Miss Manners would call “Not necessarily rude to ask, but it’s not rude to decline the request either.”

  19. I work in another industry, but I occasionally get questions like this and if I *know* the answer (ie., I don’t have research it or spend a lot of time figuring it out) I always answer. I figure, times are tough for us all, and even the most talented people need to have enough work, or they’ll leave the industry and do something else, which would suck . People getting paid to do what they are awesome at makes the whole scene more vibrant–I’m happy to help facilitate that if I can.

    Even if I had no idea, or did not care to make a big time investment solving someone’s issue, I wouldn’t be offended by the question. I’d just write a “sorry, I can’t help you” email and that’d be that! As long as you’re polite and prepared to hear “no,” I think it’s always worth asking!

  20. I work in a business shop (technology, stationary and printing.) I have met many people in the wedding industry through my work and they have refered work back (banners, business cards stationary papers,printing, ect.) even though we arn’t a wedding shop. The biggest impression was made by my photographer who sat us down and explained wedding photo language and what was available in my area. Businesses he wouldn’t make money from but means we understand what is available and get what we want. I think I have told upwards of 80 people I have met at work about this already and my wedding is still 3 months away. I had two other photographers who were booked send me in his direction. I have found my venue through photographers. My baker through florist supply, makeup through my sister, some decoration supplies through my venue…ect.. I have alot of people come in to print invites, the minute I see engagement wedding talk ensues and I have heard many a time, “I don’t’ know where to start,” and within 5 mins they have a list of vendors I have met / been refered / printed for even if I didn’t hire them for my own. It isn’t just those in the wedding industry who help the wedding network. So don’t underestimate your lowly stationary and photo printing shops. Remember BRIDE’S TALK! It is one of the most exciting time in our lives.

  21. As the booking/client half of a wedding cinematography team, I have had this come up several times!

    I agree with many of the reasons to answer, and I always do. I have even given recommendations over the phone, and I don’t mind that either.

    One reason not mentioned by other vendors so far is this…
    ***There is a small chance that the original vendor might fall through or a financial situation may change. ***

    In one case, the other video team disappeared and we stood out as a friendly and engaging and generous second choice. In another case, a bride had told me she didn’t have any kind of budget for video at all ever, but could I help… and their budget changed or they paid less than they had expected for something else or whatever, and BAM, we were booked!

    Another reason to just be helpful and nice all the time… you never know what will happen with referrals!

    • That’s a really good point, Morgan! If my photographer backs out for travel or any reason, I’ll definitely go first to the photographers that helped me with this.

  22. We asked the photographers we interviewed for recommendations for videographers. In the end, we didn’t end up hiring a videographer but that wasn’t because of a lack of recommendations. Of course, one or two names appeared on multiple lists but they also recommended ones we never would have found otherwise. I figure it makes sense, if you like one vendor, that you’d like him/her to get along with another key vendor in your wedding entourage.

  23. Hay,
    If someone was upfront with me and told me they weren’t going to use my services but did need a referral I would 9/10 times help them out. Its when people string you along and pretend that they are interested in your services just to glean you of your insights that’s not cool!

    Just for the clients out there who are going to use this approach, there is a big difference between getting a name and number from a supplier you aren’t using and expecting that supply who referred you to start getting involved with coordinating of the person they suggested..

    Rebecca x

  24. I work at a grocery store (stay with me) that carries a large number of requested products because we are locally owned and operated. If the customer has time for me to check with vendors, we can usually find what they are looking for and at least bring in what they have requested, if not start stocking it. If they need it NOW or this weekend, I offer to call ahead to the next place they want to look. If they want me to call [competitor] down the street to see if they have the product, then let’s do. Our customers remember that kindness.

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