To co-incide the launch of my new website I interviewed Val from Benessamy Weddings & Events, one of the industries greatest stars. Anyone who has worked with Val can instantly see why she's won the Wedding industry award for Regional Best Wedding Planner two years running!
It was great to chat with Val and gain a great insight into the benifits of hiring a wedding planner.
"I'm a multi-award-wining wedding planner, which is areally nice thing to be able to say"
Dan: Hi Val, thanks for meeting me today, can you tell us a little bit about Benessamy Weddings and Events and what you're all about?
Val: I set up Benessamy Weddings in 2011 and now I’m a multi-award-winning wedding and events planner, which is really nice to be able to say! At Benessamy we provide personal, creative and inspired events for busy clients. I’m based in Nottingham with clients across the UK and overseas choosing the UK for their destination wedding.
The name ‘Benessamy’ is the combination of the names of my children Ben and Jessamy – a constant source of inspiration and help me to keep my feet firmly on the ground!
Dan: What was it that made you decide to become a Wedding Planner?
Val: I’ve been married to my wonderful husband Mike for almost 21 years now and when we got married we were both busy professionals. I was a solicitor with a busy workload and lifestyle. I would have loved someone working alongside me to help me plan our wedding but it wasn’t really a thing back then.
With our families all over the country and some from around the world, I really would have benefited by having someone to help organise that. It wasn’t just a day event either. We had guests to entertain the day before and the day after our wedding - something which is also much more common now.
Since then I started to get lots of friends and family members ask me to help with their weddings or parties. I’ve always been an analytical person and gained a reputation within the family as the go to person for helping to organise family events.
My event planning and organisational experience developed when I swapped my legal career for the world of corporate and external affairs, organising corporate and special events and royal and ministerial visits”.
[Note: I was dumfounded at this and hear myself say "wow!" at this point]
"...things didn’t quiet go to plan in terms of the venue set up so I rolled up my sleeves and helped out in the background to make sure everything went smoothly for them."
I also dealt with itineraries for visiting ministers and dignitaries. As an example; When the then Secretary of State for Transport came to visit Nottingham I led on the organisation of his visit programme which included a series of briefing meetings with invited ‘ambassadors’ and supporters of the City and a ride on the then new tram system in Nottingham. There was a lot to organise but it was great to be a part of!
I’ve always enjoyed being involved with organising events of one kind or another but I think the real tipping point for me was my brother’s wedding back in 2008. It was the year of my 40th as well and they say life begins at 40 so a lot of factors played into it I guess.
The tiping point for me was my brothers wedding, and I guess also, at the same time, a lot of people around me who were in steady jobs were finding themselves out of work! It was the year of my 40th as well and they say life begins at 40 so a lot of factors played into it I guess.
On the day of my brother’s wedding, things didn’t quiet go to plan in terms of the venue set up so I rolled up my sleeves and helped out in the background to make sure everything went smoothly for them.
After that I was constantly being told by family and friends that I should consider wedding and event planning for a living. At first I resisted but the pull was just too great – I left my senior management role in corporate affairs in 2010, completed my training with the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners (UKAWP) and launched Benessamy in August 2011. I really like to use this experience and be the swan that my clients require.
"...if you’re planning your wedding and a particular issue comes up with the venue and I turn to a client and say “Don’t worry about that, it'll get sorted” – that’s being laid back and that’s not what I’m about. I like to give my clients peace of mind"
Dan: You mentioned about being "a swan that your clients require", what do you mean by this?
Val: During my previous roles I learnt to portray a calm demeanour around my clients. People often confuse being calm and level headed with being relaxed and laid back! If you’re planning your wedding and a particular issue comes up with the venue and I turn to a client and say “Don’t worry about that, it'll get sorted” – that’s being laid back and that’s not what I’m about. I like to give my clients peace of mind"
Instead I take on board what the issue is (however big) and I offer to handle it and in turn take the weight off the client. I deal with it myself enabling the client to get back to all the other things they have to do.
"...bad press has led to some venues thinking wedding planners will ‘storm in’ and take over. Personally I don’t work like that."
Dan: Let’s say I’m engaged: Why do I need a wedding planner?
Val: With wedding planners, I believe, it’s like someone saying “Why do I need a cleaner? – I can do these things but I have to be realistic and see what I can do within the time I have."
A lot of my clients are very busy professionals, two of my current clients are P.A.’s and they are travelling all over the world with their companies. Other clients have included lawyers, doctors, teachers, senior managers and business owners. I’m very flexible and they can access my services when it suits them. I also work with people that don’t want to relinquish any control at all but realise they just can’t do it alone. Some may only request that I do certain things for them and that's fine, it’s their day, I'm here to help however they need me to!
Now wedding planners have had some bad press (it doesn’t help with films like The Wedding Planner, where wedding planners walk around with headsets and just take over the wedding). That bad press has led to some venues thinking wedding planners will ‘storm in’ and take over. Personally I don’t work like that. I enjoy working with and alongside the venue team to ensure the clients have a wedding team who are all working for them. There is also a fear from some clients that having a planner will mean that they lose control of their wedding plans. I try to work closely with my clients to ensure they make all the decisions and they keep absolute control with support to ensure they have a day that truly reflects them.
Some are also worried that having a wedding planner will be expensive. A good wedding planner can help you with your budget planning, advise you on ways to make your money go further and how to ensure you get good value for the money you spend. My advice has resulted in clients saving money too!
I encourage clients to discuss their budget first and foremost although some may have reservations about discussing money – they may be worried that if they disclose what they have to spend to their wedding suppliers or their venue, quotations will reflect be tailored to suit and up to their limit. I provide clients with advice in broad terms about the ‘usual’ budget splits, so as a guide, your venue, catering and drinks will usually take up to 45-50% of the overall wedding budget. I believe in being upfront in helping people to understand the various costs associated with planning a wedding and giving them advice on ways they can save too.
As well as my Full Planning service and the Wedding Day Management service I also provide the Rescue Service for people who find they need help later on down the line with their wedding plans due to a change in circumstances – a reduction in the amount of spare time, (or energy) they have available. I also offer Wedmin Assistance - a kind of ‘pay as you go’ type service who can access a little bit of extra support as and when they need it to help them with particular aspects of their planning like sourcing bands, photographers or other suppliers.
"...I work with the venues staff as it's important"
Dan: Alot of venues have their own events planners / wedding planners: How do you differ?
Val: We do have very different roles. There are some venues who do have in house wedding planners who assist with all aspects of the clients wedding but more commonly, the in house wedding co-ordinators do not offer services or support that extends beyond the venue. So for example, they may have lists of recommended suppliers, local accommodation, taxis, etc. but they don’t usually make contact with them on the client’s behalf to check availability, obtain quotes, secure bookings, etc.
As a wedding planner it’s important for me to work with the venue staff team to ensure our clients have a day which is seamless and well managed.
"One of the things I don’t do is take commission from venues or suppliers."
Dan: Is there something that your clients or potential clients are surprised to hear about you?
Val: One of the things I don’t do is take commission from venues or suppliers.
Val: Yes, I see it a lot in all sorts of industries and unfortunately it’s quite common in the wedding industry. It’s one of the many reasons I was attracted to The UK Alliance of Wedding Planners (UKAWP). As a Member of the UKAWP I subscribe to their code of ethics which includes working on a no commission basis. My clients are assured of my independence and there is complete transparency in the supplier and venue recommendations I make to them.
I also make sure that if a venue or supplier wants to put me down as a recommended supplier I find out how they have selected others on their list. I think if you can just pay to be added to a list, the credibility of the list is questionable, which is why I advise my clients to make similar enquiries of venues when they are supplied with recommended or preferred supplier lists.
"...I always tell my clients that they should meet the photographer and see their work, not only their best work but a full wedding too"
Dan: I'm often touched by how lovely people in the industry are and there is some amazing talent out there who work hard and give their all for their clients. We all hear the horror stories though and I was wondering: If a potential client doesn't choose you, what piece of advice could you give them to not get caught out.
Val: Let's take photography as an example. I always say to my client that they should meet the photographer and see their work, not only their best work but a full wedding too.
If a photographer is saying they are there all day, they should be able to show experience of being at a full wedding, including photos of getting ready, through to the first dance. Also, if the client has something which they think is particularly unique or difficult, does the photographer have experience with this? A good example of this is night time photography. Does the photographer love night time shots? Are they comfortable with taking great photos at night? If not that's fine but they are not the photographer for you. It is also advisable to have a list of must-haves and do not wants and the style of how you want your photography should be considered in this.
"...the only person you have to compete against is yourself."
Dan: Ok! This more personal for me: One of the things I've noticed is how nice a lot of other suppliers in the industry are, how important do you think it is that we get a long and support one another than be in competition.
Val: Oh absolutely! I think it's a mindset that only serves the client and really the only person you have to compete against is yourself. Only you are putting barriers up for yourself to stop yourself not being the best you can be. Another reason why I joined the UKAWP is the fabulous network of professional wedding planners and the great support we provide each other. We all learn from and share experiences with each other and our clients benefit from this.
"...I love what I do and if you ever hear me say "Oh, I've got a wedding today!" in a dreary voice then it's time I give up. I love it and I think that's key."
Dan: To wrap things up: You're not only an award-winning wedding planner, a regional ambassador for the UKAWP but also a Mum and you host the Benessamy Cafe for local suppliers! How do you do all this with a smile on your face and a welcome for everyone?
Val: Honestly, I think life is too short and It's not like I never have a negative thought but I try to find the positive in everything and let's be honest, life could be a lot worse, there are a lot of people around the world that are struggling. I love what I do and if you ever hear me say "Oh, I've got a wedding today!" in a dreary voice then it's time to give up. I love it and I think that's key. I also like to bring others on around me and in the industry and that’s why I enjoy the business consultancy work that I do with other business and venue owners.
Dan: Well you do that very well! Thanks Val, I really appreciate you taking the time to sit down and chat with me, I've had a great time hearing about your amazing adventure and advice.
Val: You're very welcome! Thanks.