You don't have to hire every vendor at once, but you'll want to get your top-tier crew assembled early in the planning process.
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All the wedding checklists you've studied have their own suggestions for which order to use when contracting your wedding vendors. So how do you know where to start? We asked the pros.

Book the Venue

For almost every couple, booking the venue comes first. The location you choose informs just about every other part of the wedding. Once you know your wedding date, determine the number of guests your venue can accommodate, the budget for your other vendors, the size of band you can hire, whether you need a caterer, and the number of floral arrangements that will fit in the venue. It's important to set the location before contracting other vendors, who won't (or shouldn't) commit without knowing they can get to your venue.

Hire a Wedding Planner

Hiring a wedding planner should also be a top priority—whether you commit to one before or after you choose a venue. Planner Eileen Lacey of E Events Co. recommends reserving your venue first so you can guarantee that the coordinator you want is available. "I have clients contact me without a secured venue and date, and ultimately there is no way to ensure our calendars will align," she says. "This is the same for any vendor, so couples can waste a lot of time going back and forth about potential dates—in the end, until a date is secured, they will not be able to book anyone."

But if you have your heart set on working with the coordinator your sister used or giving your best friend's event business the job, and you're willing to find a venue with an open date that matches the vendor's availability, then choosing a planner right at the start does have its benefits, says Virginia Edelson of Bluebird Productions. "Hiring a planner first can help a client put the foundation in place from which their wedding can take shape," she says. "Planners can offer suggestions on vendors and venues that the clients may not have considered. They can also help guide a client back on track who wants to spend three quarters of their budget on one area of the wedding at the expense of other vendors."

Choose Your Caterer, Followed by the Florist and Cake Designer

Once you've set your date and booked your venue, you can move on to other vendors. Lacey suggests choosing a caterer next, particularly if they're providing your rentals, since event packages can vary widely. "Knowing what those options are can determine so many details, including a budget and the overall look and aesthetic clients are going for," she says. Once you know what kind of tables you're using, for example, a florist is better able to quote your centerpieces—whether they're garlands or standalone arrangements. And knowing what kind of dessert is included with your menu can help you narrow down your cake choices.

Hire the Photographer

Edelson also recommends putting hiring a photographer at the top of your to-do list, especially if you're getting married in a popular area. "Although there are so many amazing photographers," she says, "a photographer can only shoot one wedding a day, so securing [one] far in advance means that a bride will often get her first choice."

Book the Rest of Your Vendors

As the rest of your big-day vision comes together, you'll find a natural order for booking your stationer, musicians, hair and makeup artists, and the rest of your vendors—and you'll be able to coordinate the decisions you make in each area for a cohesive event.

But Be Sure to Hire Your Most Important Vendor Early

The only caution: Don't hesitate to book any vendor you consider a must-have, from the band that had everyone on their feet at your cousin's wedding, to the stationer who made your sorority sister's extravagant save-the-dates. "In weddings, as in life, there are no hard rules," says Edelson. "We suggest that clients follow the logical flow of vendors. With that said, we have had clients who have come to us with their band before any other vendor decision because securing the band is the most important vendor to them."

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