12 Ways to Build Strong Vendor Relationships as a Wedding Planner

I love talking about vendor relationships. Friendors are the lifeline of my business. I mean I’m all about advertising but with friendors, I really don’t have to do much of it. They are my bread and butter and you better know I treat them like it.

These relationships didn’t happen overnight but if you’re a young company, or one that hasn’t put much effort into making friendors, rest assured you can gain strong allies very quickly with the tips I’m going to unfold for you.

1. Be Nice

My reconciliation emails are #teamvendor. “What can I do to set you up for success?” That’s my approach. When I work with vendors for the first time, they typically reply with “wow, you are so thorough and I really appreciate you taking care of me.” Their responses have me wondering why anyone wouldn’t treat them this way. Are they just being tossed around by dictator planners? Sadly, I think many are… so if you’re willing to set yourself apart, you can quickly win over vendors on this front.

Don’t tell them what to do. Ask for their feedback on what you have organized and only if they give push back should you assert yourself. Respect begets respect. And this establishes trust. You’re now seen as one of the good ones.

What’s in it for me: they actually cooperate on the wedding day and I always get photos back from photogs.

sophieeptonphotographyhdeholyroller-63.jpg

2. Make them the Heroes

Use captions on social media that refer to the challenges faced in their categories and educate clients on how to navigate. Then ask a question that allows the vendors in that category to speak into the subject matter. Next, tag as many vendors in that category as Insta will allow and watch the magic happen. We love being given platforms. And when they are tagged, they are not only given recognition by a local planner, they are given a space to speak and show expertise in their category.

What’s in it for me: They reinforce the education you give your clients. That makes it easier to say ‘no’ or ‘redirect’ when a client has an unrealistic expectation. You can point back to a thread and say “you know, I’d love to share some experience on how I typically see that going”, without being the bad guy.

3. Blog About Their Pain Points

Taking it one step further than a short Instagram caption, my vendors LOVE when I blog about those challenges and provide education in a deeper format. It provides content they can share and as a result, they feel connected to me. They want to read my blogs and they want to support what I’m doing because they see me as a vendor advocate.

What’s in it for me: they share my blogs, added exposure.

4. Bring Snacks and Waters on the Wedding Day

Take care of your vendors! Have a little snack station and a cute sign with your logo that says “stay nourished and give it your all, thanks for being on my team today”. It’s such a pick me up! In my reconciliation, I ask about dietary restrictions for the vendor meal so I’m mindful of this in my snack kit as well.

What’s in it for me: this is when the friendship sparks! They see that I actually care.

5. Have Vendors Sign for Their Gratuity

This may seem so small, but when I started doing this, the feedback was again “oh wow, you really cover your basis”. They are impressed how thoroughly I cross my t’s and dot my I’s but most importantly, they see that I value integrity.

What’s in it for me: further establishes trust.

6. Host Vendor Appreciation Events

I spend most of my advertising budget on my vendors in one way or the other. Either through the snacks I mentioned, gifts or appreciation events. Lots of vendors host these for planners but are there planners doing this in return? I recently hosted a lunch and brought in a nationally known speaker. My program included giving updates about our company, talking about our mission and ideal client to make sure our message is clear, lunch and the speaker. I also had a survey for all of the vendors to fill out about our company. They were floored we provided the event and talked about how this really set us apart, that despite feeling connected to us before, now they felt even more bonded to our mission. It was amazing! I plan to expand it next year and hope at some point to turn it into a full blown retreat.

What’s in it for me: feedback I can use to help my company to further succeed.

7. Have an Ecosystem

I have many vendor partners but I only invited my eco-system to the lunch. And I told them that! I don’t plan to shift my vendor list around all of the time just because I loved the cute and talented photographer at my last wedding. No, I’m focused on my top 30 vendor partners and going at it for the long haul. I have enough in each category to cover all the styles and budgets I attract without having the same team for each wedding, but still having enough overlap that they also learn to work well together. This ecosystem is so strong that we really do refer each other all the time. We bounce ideas off of each other and are each other’s biggest supporters.

What’s in it for me: loyalty!

8. Stop Asking Them for Free Sh*t.

Guys, seriously. Can we just be done with this “favor” asking? At the end of the day, be honest with yourself about how mutually beneficial something really is to a vendor partner before you ask for them to do something for free. I’ve gotten to where I approach vendors with the full anticipation of paying for their time or product, and I tell them that. But you know what I’ve found, when I do this, half the time, they still gift it to me and their response is typically “your approach was so refreshing that I simply just want you to have this, thank you for respecting my value.” I do not take advantage of this, nor do I expect it, but I always give that level of respect. For my vendor lunch, I paid for every single aspect of it. And because of this freebie abuse world we live in, I made sure my guests knew I paid for it. That this was actually a true gift to them.

Social media credit and a publication aren’t really “worth it” for many people.  

What’s in for me: nothing immediate. And that’s okay.

sophieeptonphotographyhdeholyroller-24.jpg

9. Be Aware of Things Going on in Their Personal Lives

This is huge! Showing compassion and being willing to pick up the slack or cover for them in a hard season can go a long long way. I had a caterer that took over for me at a wedding after my second baby was born. I was falling apart, he knew it, didn’t judge me and just took the reigns. And you know what, I’m fiercely loyal to him because of it. That goes both ways.

Seeing when they have to say goodbye to loved ones, have babies, get scary news from the vet, promotions, etc and sending a small gift or handwritten card are simple and easy ways to build a strong bond. It shows you notice and support them in the good times and the bad.

What’s in it for me: reciprocal hugs and high fives when I need it most.

10. Make it Clear That Vendors are Your First Priority

Okay, so maybe don’t say that to a client, but TELL your vendors this. Don’t be scared to tell them you are #teamvendor. Use those words. In my appreciation lunch, I specifically told them that we put our vendors before our clients and in a backwards way, that is how we serve the client best. We recognize that when we are united with our vendors, they end up being their best for our clients. They want to be because they are inspired by our care and support for them and they give it their all.

What’s in it for me: vendors that wouldn’t dare cross my clients.

sophieeptonphotographyhdeholyroller-71.jpg

11. Never Throw Them Under the Bus (unless it’s an absolute last resort)

Blaming only makes the “blamer” look silly. Maybe that’s just one man’s opinion but blaming never goes over well with me and I end up looking closer at the one making the blames. There are ways to exert a backbone when someone thinks you are the one in the wrong, but blaming is rarely the best course of action. When a vendor drags their feet on replying to pertinent emails, don’t just copy the brides. First off, that can create anxiety for her. And secondly, it causes tension with the vendor. Typically, if I find myself in a situation where I’m going to have to loop the bride in, I just tell the vendor that’s where I’m at. I let them know that I’ve really given this my all and my next step will sadly be looping in the bride and I ask that they please get on board so we can help avoid any stress on her plate. It usually works. But if it doesn’t, then heck yeah, it’s fair the bride knows. Better cause stress now than on the wedding day.

What’s in it for me: they see I’m not trigger happy and ultimately, have more respect for me. Do I care? No. They are likely blacklisted by this point but at least we can work better together on the day.

12. Don’t get Caught up in Drama, in Fact- Verbally Stop it. 

I’ll raise my hand here. I do have my inner circles. I have safe places to ensure I’m aware of the scoop that is necessary for responsibly running my business. I find this important in order to determine who I want to align my brand with and who I don’t. But even within that circle, I’m still careful to not get too far down the rabbit trails of gossip. Once I hear the tip of what I need to know to be a responsible business owner, it’s best to move on and keep it at that without digging deeper. Does that always happen? No. The further I get into friendship with this circle, the harder that can be so I’m glad I’m writing this as even a reminder to even myself.

Y’all. Don’t do it. Just don’t get into the catty industry pattern that is so easy to wind up in. Be bigger and put a stop to it.

What’s in it for me: again, more trust. More display of integrity.

Be assertive

Networking can be terrifying depending on the personality but at the end of the day, it’s so critical, you don’t have an option. Someone in your company must network. And eventually, these events become FUN and exciting because you make friends. But it can take putting yourself out there and just making it happen.

What’s in it for me: success.

Here we are at about 2000 words and well beyond the end of your attention span but I hope these ideas are helpful. I feel like vendor relationships is one of my strong suits and it just comes down to kindness, awareness, integrity, respect and empathy. Display high levels of character, and you’ve got this.

If you found this to be helpful, please share it! 

If you are interested in learning more about my reconciliation kit, click here! I've carved a path for you to have stronger relationships with your vendors through the details of my emails with them in the final reconciling stage.