Interview with Nora Sheils, A Wedding Planner in Seattle
Welcome, Nora! Please introduce yourself and Bridal Bliss to our readers
Hi! I'm Nora Sheils and I have been obsessed with weddings for as long as I can remember. I started Bridal Bliss in 2002 and have since watched it grow from a one-person show to a large team with three locations. There is so much I love about my job, and every day is a little different. I have monthly weddings segments on two local television shows and our weddings have been featured internationally.
Our team has won several awards, including Oregon Bride Magazine’s Best-Of awards eleven separate years. We were recently named Portland’s Best Wedding Planner of 2017, for the eighth consecutive year which was such a thrill.
"My favorite part of the job is forming relationships with clients and being there day-of to see it all happen."
In addition to running Bridal Bliss, I'm on the board for Leve, a local non-profit. I am a mom to two sweet boys, Gavin and Dylan and a wife to Tyler whom I met at a wedding (I coordinated and he was a guest!)! My family loves to travel, explore the city and all the new restaurants and spend time with our nearest and dearest. I'm happiest with a glass of bubbles and something (anything!) sweet in hand!
How did you become a wedding planner?
I have loved weddings since I was young. My mom did alterations out of our home and I would gawk after brides and their beautiful gowns! Events have been a passion of mine from the early years and I worked in all different aspects of the industry. When I was finishing up college at Gonzaga University, I submitted a business plan to a competition and won! It supplied me with start-up funds right out of college, and that is how Bridal Bliss was born. It has been quite a ride!
My favorite part of the job is forming relationships with clients and being there day-of to see it all happen. Some of my dearest friends have been past clients! It is so fulfilling to bring an event to fruition and seeing a truly happy couple brings me so much joy.
"Wedding planners are able to negotiate substantial vendor discounts and make sure our clients are well taken care of."
Why should engaged couples get a wedding planner?
A good wedding coordinator can help walk couples through the planning process. We are there as advocates for the couple making sure pricing, contracts and details are all in line.
At Bridal Bliss, we pride ourselves on our experience in the industry and extensive vendor relationships, allowing us to produce top rated weddings year after year. Wedding planners are able to negotiate substantial vendor discounts and make sure our clients are well taken care of.
We listen to our couple's needs and ideas, offer creative suggestions and bring their dream wedding life.
What are the most common questions that couples ask you?
Most questions we get asked are about availability, timing and budget. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we get:
1. “Where do we start wedding planning?”
Many couples feel overwhelmed by the entire process, they know they need help, but don't necessarily know what type of help they need. Even having someone (like us!) tell them it is going to be ok, and that we are here to help, can calm nerves. It is all about providing a little structure, and what the next few months will look like, even from the very first time we meet.
“We know planning a wedding is not inexpensive, but discounts, negotiations, and even helping determine what is needed and what is not, are all items wedding planners deal with on a daily basis."
2. “How much do wedding planners cost?”
This is a common one, and something we like to share right off the bat, but we also like to talk to potential clients about how much money we can save them. We know planning a wedding is not inexpensive, but discounts, negotiations, and even helping determine what is needed and what is not, are all items we deal with on a daily basis.
One of our goals is to help save couples money where we can. So while hiring a planner is an expense, we are always looking to offset dollars elsewhere to maximize their wedding budget.
3. “What sort of services do you offer?”
This is always a fun one for us. We have three set packages, but there is also flexibility. You need someone to help with not only your wedding but also an engagement party - of course!!! We want to be there for each and every step of the process.
Are there things that differentiate wedding planners?
We think so! One of the unique elements about our company is that we are made of a larger team. After an initial consult with a couple, we look to match their personalities and needs to a specific coordinator. We find this to be an important element of the planning process, as we want each couple to feel at ease throughout the months leading up to their big day.
While they are working with one lead planner, in the background we all work together to brainstorm, troubleshoot and ensure each event go off without a hitch.
“A good rule of thumb when deciding between several wedding coordinators is to visualize your wedding day."
What makes a good wedding planner?
A good coordinator (in our book) is organized, detail-oriented, responsive, creative and calm under pressure. These are traits that a couple should see from minute one of a meeting. Your potential coordinator should make you feel at ease. You should know that he or she is going to make your big day seamless.
A good rule of thumb when deciding between several coordinators is to visualize your wedding day. Which team could you confidently say you could see both sending you down the aisle and leading the vendors, bustling the gown or tying a ring bearer's shoe (because she will likely be doing all plus many more!)?
What are the most creative ideas you have seen for a wedding ceremony?
One of our favorite trends over the last couple of years has been the non-traditional officiant. Couples are asking family members or close friends to preside over their ceremonies. This typically makes for an emotion-filled event, as they are often able to speak first-hand to the love between the couple, as well the (usually hilarious) memories between them as well.
Other fun ceremony twists: we have had a few grooms serenade their brides in lieu of traditional vows. Then there is creative seating: it looks beautiful when the guests are surrounding the couple in a circle/semi-circle, creative backdrops reflective of the couple's interests whether it be stacks of books, a large map, or doors opening to an expansive mountainside. And, of course, song selection! Gone are the days of every bride & groom selecting the same three songs, these days the songs are often ones that have meaning to the couple or to their families, and we definitely don't mind a little dancing back down the aisle!
“Last year, we had two weddings that were based around literary giants. One of which, lovingly referred to as ‘The Hobbit Wedding’ was the largest production we have pulled off."
What is the most unusual wedding you planned?
Last year brought us more whimsy than ever before. We also had a few couples that really wanted to go all out with a specific theme – which, from a planner's perspective, is always exciting!
Last year, we had two weddings that were based around literary giants. One of which, lovingly referred to as "The Hobbit Wedding" was the largest production we have pulled off. We had so much fun walking through each detail from the gold snitch escort cards, to mossy forest decor, the candle ceremony backdrop and tables that dripped with florals and fur. We can't wait for more themes and trusting couples who allow us to bring their vision to life.
What do brides most often forget to bring to the wedding?
Our goal is always to make the wedding weekend as stress free as possible. For us, this means final checklists (which includes a packing list) are done at least a week prior, and that will hopefully eliminate any last-minute scrambling.
That said, hiccups do come up, one of the big ones we see on the day of the wedding are snacks! Frequently a bride or groom will treat their wedding party to a nice brunch or early lunch while getting ready. Fast forward several hours, photos, a ride to the ceremony, maybe some more photos and some downtime, oh and a ceremony all before cocktail hour (um, unless there are more photos happening them) and we end up with some HUNGRY maids, men, brides and grooms!
We like to ask who will be bringing snacks, but sometimes they get forgotten (it happens!). We like to travel with crackers, granola bars, nuts, etc. and have been know to make a few burger stops as well! We don't want anyone falling over on our watch!
”Initially in planning, the busiest time is the time from when the couple gets engaged to when all of the big vendors are booked. This typically includes coordinator, venue, caterer, photographer, and florist."
Which portion of the wedding planning process keeps you busy the most?
For every wedding, there is a slightly different timeline; however, all have their busy moments. Initially in planning, the busiest time is the time from when the couple gets engaged to when all of the big vendors are booked. This typically includes coordinator, venue, caterer, photographer, and florist.
While the other vendors are also important, we like to start with these five, and then layer in the rest. The next busy time (as I am sure you can imagine) is wedding weekend! These days, many couples celebrate for several days (and why not?!), which can include a rehearsal, bridesmaids’ lunch, golf (or another event for the guys), a welcome party, the wedding day, and a thank you brunch. We love helping our couples beyond just their actual wedding day, and as you can imagine, this makes for an action-packed couple of days!
What does your day at the wedding itself look like typically?
As far as the actual day, we like to start with checking in with our bride, sometimes this means in person, others a simple text to tell them how excited we are before heading to the venue. Our time at the venue includes different tasks, everything from lining up escort cards, helping a DJ with placement, to meeting with the catering lead; we are really there to make sure everything is executed in the way we discussed with the bride and groom.
”Our job is ultimately to be there for whatever is needed and ensure the day flows seamlessly. If there is an issue, we will deal with it discreetly, and the couple will never know.”
As guests start arriving, we are there to make sure they are enjoying their time as well, as their experience is also important to us. We are there to send the bridal party down the aisle (we love this part!), to help the photographer with groupings, flip a ceremony space into a beautiful dining room, escort guests to their seats, cue a nervous best man, make sure you have a fork to taste your cake with and of course kick off the dance party (with a bad/DJ cue)!
Our job is ultimately to be there for whatever is needed and ensure the day flows seamlessly. If there is an issue, we will deal with it discreetly and the couple will never know. We want couples and their families to be able to sit back, relax and enjoy the best day of your lives!
Do you offer any packages?
We do offer packages! We have three different options depending on the need of each couple and can also customize if prospective clients aren't finding the perfect fit. Our packages range from a Day Of option to a Full Service planning option.
Our Day-Of and Partial packages allow the couple to complete a majority of the legwork leading up to the wedding while having a professional planner in the background to lean on.
We are much more involved in our Full Service packages scheduling and attending vendor meetings, negotiating contract, serving as the point of contact, creating and executing a design scheme, and so on. We are with the clients every step of the way from planning until post-event.
"… trust your vendors. You hired these people for a reason, so have confidence that they have your best interests and will go to bat for you."
If you could ask one thing of the grooms and brides that would make your job at their wedding easier/smoother, what would it be?
Hmmmm...that's a tough one! At the actual wedding? Nothing! Just to have fun and relax knowing that we've got this! We really do want each bride and groom to be able to enjoy their special day without thinking about a thing!
It is really about the pre-wedding planning (and thinking!). As long as we are looped in on all of the details, we are good to go. Making sure you answer our final questions - things like who is taking the presents home - is always helpful, as we don't want to have to bug you with these questions as you are out there one the dance floor.
Lastly, trust your vendors. You hired these people for a reason, so have confidence that they have your best interests and will go to bat for you. There is no need to micromanage or stress about every single detail; your planner and vendors have it all covered. Knowing your planner is working hard for you, enjoy being engaged. Take some time off to just enjoy this special time in your lives and always remember that this is about the commitment you are making to your fiancé.See Bridal Bliss profile