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Growing a Business

Should You Work For Free As A Newer Wedding Planner To Gain Experience? My Honest Opinion.

June 19, 2024

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Should you work for free to gain experience in the wedding industry? That’s what I thought when I first started my wedding business. As a business coach for wedding planners, I've seen this debate from every angle, and it’s not always black and white. Sometimes offering your services for free makes sense, while other times, it’s important to stand firm on your value and financial integrity. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the tricky question of when it pays off to work for free and when it’s best to just say no, and I’m going to share my thoughts (and kind of unpopular opinion) when it comes to whether or not you should work for free.

The Problem With NEVER Working for Free

Let me back up a second. For many years, the wedding industry has demanded a steep learning curve. New wedding professionals often work for free to gain experience, build portfolios, and establish connections. This practice, almost a rite of passage, leads countless newcomers to offer their services at no charge, hoping to break into the competitive field. Unfortunately, many new wedding pros get taken advantage of, ultimately burning out and leaving the industry.

However, in recent years, there has been a pretty significant shift in the desire to work for free. The pendulum has swung hard in the opposite direction, and now it seems that the willingness to work for free has all but disappeared. And hey, I get it. Like I mentioned above, this change is, in part, a reaction to the exploitation and burnout experienced by many bright and ambitious wedding planners who felt undervalued and overworked.

The truth is, though, that refusing to do ANY work for free can hinder the growth of a wedding planning business (especially in its early stages). While it is important to value your time and expertise, there are strategic instances where offering free (or discounted) services can provide big returns. We will talk more about this below, but participating in styled shoots, collaborating with other vendors, or assisting in high-profile events for free can open doors to new opportunities, enhance your portfolio, and build a network of industry connections. 

These experiences can lead to paying clients and long-term success, proving that, sometimes, working for free is a worthwhile investment in your future.

When You Should Say NO To Working for Free

That being said, there is some free work that you should absolutely say no to. When I was starting my business, I sat down with a financial advisor to discuss my goals and the vision I had for my wedding planning company. During our conversation, he asked me how much I was planning to charge for my services. I told him I was going to do some work for free to build my portfolio and then offer my services at a very competitive, below-market rate to get more weddings through the door. This is the same song and dance many new wedding planners follow, believing that working for free or at very low margins is the way to kickstart their careers.

My advisor then asked me what types of weddings I hoped to plan. I enthusiastically described my ideal clients: those with big budgets, a keen attention to detail, and a sophisticated sense of style. He pointed out that by working for free or at such low rates, I was setting myself up to attract clients with low budgets or no budgets at all. If I wanted to work on high-end projects, I instead needed to position myself accordingly from the very beginning. 

If that’s you right now, resist the urge to post in those wedding Facebook groups offers to plan a wedding for free “for experience”. Trust me when I say that you will rarely get the kinds of weddings that you can actually use in your portfolio or get the experience you really want out of a wedding day (ie. be prepared to assemble a hundred DIY projects the week of the wedding).

When Wedding Pros SHOULD Work For Free

I’m never going to make you work for free, but here are some examples that might make sense for you and your business.

First, one prime example of when it makes sense to say yes to free work is when it offers an opportunity to truly build your portfolio. As a new wedding planner, having a strong portfolio is essential for showcasing your skills and attracting potential clients. 

Participating in styled shoots, for example, can offer an incredible ROI. I truly believe that styled shoots have been a big part of why I was so successful as a wedding planner, and if you’re interested, make sure to grab the entire Playbook I wrote on them. These collaborative projects allow you to work with photographers, florists, and other vendors to create a visually stunning event setup (and network with one another, too!). 

The other time I think it makes sense to say yes to free work is when it helps you network and get into rooms you want to be in. Attending industry events, offering your services for industry events (and venue openings), or assisting seasoned professionals can help you network with people who will be invaluable over the course of your career. 

Basically, these opportunities not only allow you to learn from experienced peers but also enable you to establish relationships with key players in the industry. It’s cliche to say that your network is your net worth, but it’s kind of true. Relationships are huge in the wedding industry.

My Experience Saying Yes to Free Work

I want to shift the idea that everything has to be paid work. There are so many awesome opportunities that can help you in other ways, even if you're not getting paid. And I know what I’m talking about here because while I never offered to plan weddings for free, I did say yes to plenty of free opportunities (and still do!). 

For example, early in my career, I collaborated on a styled shoot for a magazine. While it wasn’t a paid gig, it turned out to be a huge catalyst for my business. This experience allowed me to meet and network with the vendors I knew I wanted to work with and to design the types of weddings I wanted to plan. 

Had I turned down that opportunity simply because it wasn’t paid, I would have missed out on the invaluable connections and portfolio-building experiences that came from it. I’m so glad I didn’t! 

Should You Work For Free to Gain Experience?

To sum up, the question of whether to work for free in the wedding industry is a complex one with no one-size-fits-all answer. There are times when offering your services for free can be a strategic move, helping you build your portfolio, establish valuable connections, and gain experience. However, it's also important to know when to say NO to working for free to stand firm on your worth and to avoid undervaluing your expertise.

If you want honest advice on growing your wedding business, I would love to invite you to join the Planner's Playbook. Each month, I host office hours where I dive into topics just like this, offering my insights and honest advice (even when it’s unpopular and not what you want to hear). Let's work together to build a thriving wedding planning business! Hop on the waitlist now!

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Cheers to Fridays, Aperol Spritzes, new friends and summer vibes ✨ 

just a reminder that I have 4 amazing episodes waiting for you on my podcast all about email marketing, so you can get back to having fun on Instagram ✨🫶🏼 

Imagine if you didn’t stress out so much about your marketing because you diversified your sales funnel with more sustainable strategies like email marketing? 

maybe you could just enjoy social media a little more and stress about it a little less. 

Xo!

#aperolspritz🍹 #fridayintroductions #summervibes #flodesk #candicecoppola #weddingindustry #weddingindustryexperts #weddingpros #weddingprofessionals
Selling is usually hard for everyone. We feel “icky” when we sell, and many of us don’t want to feel pushy or like we are bothering other people with our services/offers. But selling is important. Like, really freaking important. lol

This week, I’m teaching you a selling model that I created for my marketing. Yes, even I struggle (sometimes daily) with selling. It’s the Serve, Serve, Sell Formula, and it will help you tremendously, especially when it comes to email marketing!

📣 COMMENT 137 and I’ll send you a Spotify and Apple Podcasts link to this episode so you can hear more about my sales formula and binge all 4 episodes that are currently live! 🙌🏼

#emailmarketing #emailmarketingtips #weddingindustry #weddingpro #weddingpros #thepowerinpurposepodcast #powerinpurposepodcast #candicecoppola #weddingindustryeducation #weddingindustryexperts #weddingpodcast #businesspodcast #marketingstrategies #flodesk
The best thing I’ve ever bought is a plane ticket to Barbados. Cheers to 10 years of marriage with you ✨✨

10 years ago today we snuck off (sorry friends and fam!) to get married at a small little church on the beach. It felt like I was doing something crazy - we had only been dating for 10 months - but my nerves were quieted by an inner sense of knowing that this was right.

When you know you know. ❤️ 

I’m so lucky to have a partner where everyday feels like our anniversary. Thank you for giving me a life better than I could have ever imagined, and for being my person. #kistoos #kistoos💞 #10yearanniversary

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