WHEN a wedding planner plans his own wedding, it’s surely an affair to remember. In an exquisite traditional ceremony on Wednesday, followed by a lavish dinner reception yesterday, wedding planner R. Gunasilan spared no expense in staging what he describes as “my best work ever.”
It was the ultimate romantic setting as the bride and groom performed their marriage rites under a luxurious white canopy and the flickering lights of a crystal chandelier, at the Sri Raja Rajeswary temple garden in Hulu Kelang, Selangor.
The reception at the Dr Siti Hasmah Hall, in Kuala Lumpur, was a sit down dinner for 500 guests who enjoyed a 15-course menu comprising muhibbah dishes.
Elaborately decorated VIP tables were reserved for past clients who have since become close friends of Silan, as he is fondly called.
“I have now achieved what is equivalent to a PhD as a wedding planner. My future clients are more likely to listen to me now since I’m married and I will be able to help them better because I’ve gone through it,” says Gunasilan, who blanketed the halls with loads of flowers including imported roses and lilies, in a RM70,000 extravaganza.
This modern-day wedding planner combines consultations with other wedding-related businesses to help make dreams comes true.
“More and more people are relying on wedding planners and the most common reason they hire us is because of time constraints; everybody wants their wedding to be the event of the year,” says the 28-year-old who has been running his own business, Dreamworks Creation, for the past two years.
“Sometimes we even play another role – that of a mediator between couples and their parents. Some clients will use us to smooth-talk their parents into getting what they want,” he adds.
Gunasilan had his first job at the age of 14, doing part-time work as a sales assistant at a department store when he was still in Form Two.
“I would wake up at six to go to school, come back at two then go to work from three to 11 and come home by midnight,” recalls Gunasilan, adding that after Form Five, he held a series of part-time jobs. At 20, he was an assistant manager at a pizza outlet and, three years later, a manager.
“After working as a freelancer for a catering company and doing marketing for a decorating company, I decided to do a Diploma in Business and start my own company,” says the eldest of six siblings, who has a flair for drawing and art.
What does a wedding planner do?
I usually have a steady schedule of three appointments with clients every week. I meet up with them to get as much information as I can on what they want for their wedding.
This part of the job is very important because everyone will have their own version of a dream wedding in mind and you have to make sure you understand what they want.
Once I have the information, we offer our standard packages for both outdoor and indoor weddings (which cost RM3,000 to RM7,000 for decorations alone). But we also work on their budget and pay attention to their preferences, so that we can come up with a tailor-made package for them. And we have honeymoon packages, both local and international.
Because I keep in close contact with the couples, I also end up getting to know their families. When that happens, it’s easier for me to work because they are comfortable telling me what they really want. We help them decide on everything and anything they want, down to the colour they wear. Sometimes we can be talking until 3am at the mamak stall, going over the wedding details.
I also do a lot of administrative work and make sure preparations are made on time, and things are flowing smoothly.
I’m kept busy as I get clients who hear about my work through word of mouth. People come to see my work and if they like what they see, they book me or recommend me to their friends and family.
What qualifications do you need?
Wedding planning is currently not a career studied in any college or trade school. Most consultants get into the business through related fields and favourable opportunities. In general, you will impress clients with your talents and knowledge about weddings, rather than with a diploma or degree. However, it helps to have a background in business or events management.
I took a Diploma in Business Studies at the Malaysian Institute of Management before starting my own company.
Good communication skills and poise help give you a more professional persona. A wide base of knowledge in general subjects can be very useful when you need ideas or fresh perspectives.
Any art or fashion course would be helpful. Cooking/home economics, consumer studies, management/hospitality, are useful too.
If you choose to study a more specialised trade, fashion design or merchandising, graphic design, interior design, floral arrangement, accounting or photography hold possibilities for an aspiring wedding planner.
What’s a typical day at work?
After I’ve met with my clients, I check out the venue, come up with the proposal and make sure arrangements are carried out according to plan. Colour coordination is very important,
It’s a very technically creative job because no two weddings are alike. We try to custom-make every wedding according to the couple’s tastes and personality. Our weddings may have the same ingredients, but the style of cooking is always different.
Our motto is, We will hold your hand through the planning until you hold each other’s hand during the ceremony, so we make sure that we have all the services that couples need in a wedding.
Normally, weekdays are spent on preparations and building the props and sets. Weekends are when most functions take place. Depending on the size of the wedding, we normally start setting up the props and installing the necessary equipment at least two days in advance.
All my staff and I wear uniforms and we communicate with each other through walkie-talkies, making things easier and more efficient.
We are not a one-stop wedding planning centre per se, but we do have our own panel of caterers, photographers, video service, limousine service and florists. We don’t force our clients to hire those on our panel, we let them decide for themselves. They can have their own photographer or caterer if they like.
As a value-added service, we now offer free hosting of wedding photographs on our web page because for every wedding we do, we create a separate page for the couple to send to their friends and relatives.
What type of personality best suits this job?
You need passion, a lot of patience and a deep sense of dedication in what you do. Even though it may seem like the same kind of wedding function day in and day out, you are still dealing with different types of couples with different sets of expectations.
There are generally two types of customers – those who are extremely fussy and know what they want, and those who are flexible and leave everything to us. In this business you learn to cater for both.
What’s the best part of your job?
It definitely has to be the smiles of happiness on the bride and groom’s faces on their wedding day. Knowing and seeing that our teamwork and all the effort we put in bear fruit on that one special day. This comes with planning things very well. All my staff are allocated tasks and they know exactly how to do them well.
What’s the worst part of the job?
When it rains during an outdoor wedding – either in a garden or by the poolside. That can present some problems.
I expected to have a garden wedding but I ended up with a monsoon wedding instead. But I enjoyed it and things still went according to plan because we always have a back-up plan for worst-case scenarios. If it's an outdoor wedding, we will always have extra canopies on stand-by and additional canopy guys on hand.
Similarly, last-minute interference caused by relatives who suddenly feel they want to make changes here and there can present problems as well. That’s when having a lot of patience comes in handy.
What is the salary range?
A wedding planner can expect to get somewhere between RM1,500 and RM3,000 a month. But it also varies at any given time, depending on whether you run your own business, if it's the wedding season and the size of the wedding.
Most wedding planners charge between 10 and 15% of the total wedding cost, but this may not always be the case.
What advice do you have for those aspiring to be wedding planners?
Have a lot of passion, patience and creativity. Nothing comes easy; you definitely have to put in a lot of hard work. You must be a people person with good interpersonal skills.
Personal appearance is very important in this business; always project professionalism in everything you do.
Being a wedding planner means shouldering a double dose of responsibility because you not only coordinate the wedding, you are also dealing with a very special event in another person’s life and every little thing is important. You must treat every wedding as if it were your own.
Think about your creative and business strengths, and try to build on them.
A wedding-related degree will give you that extra edge, but what really counts is what you know about the wedding business. Couples will rely on you to understand and “navigate” the intricacies of the bridal industry.
Whatever path you take to get there, in order to be a really competent and professional planner, you need to have a clear and complete understanding of the wedding industry, as well as all its products, services, policies and limitations.
What are the career prospects?
Although I have found my work in the wedding business to be enjoyable, I feel that this is the type of career you should embark on in conjunction with another specialty. That specialty is preferably one which has potential in the non-wedding market as well.
Retail sales, apparel or accessory design, floristry, catering, photography, etc, are all compatible businesses which can give wedding planners a sense of security, and a wider customer base.
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