7 Steps To Planning Your Own Personalized Wedding

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Hawaii couple posing in front of orange wall

If you’ve decided to forego hiring a wedding planner and are planning your own wedding, we salute you. But as you’ve probably figured out by now, the task of planning the largest, most high stakes party you’ll ever throw can be a struggle for many couples. And while the wedding itself should pale in comparison to the awesome marriage that follows, Zola knows better than anyone how much time, preparation, and patience it takes to plan a wedding. Throughout this planning journey, it’s important to not lose site of the real reason you’re doing this: to host a celebration that’s a reflection of you, your partner, and your love for one another.Couple outside ceremony space with rose petalsPhoto Credit || Asya Photography

Dreaming up a wedding in the style that best represents you and your partner is very important, but it can also be very complicated. So, after months of blood, sweat, and tears (and an eternity on Pinterest), how do you end up with a wedding that screams “you?” To help you out, we’ve put together a 7-step outline for how to plan your own wedding (using Zola, of course) to ensure that the event mirrors your chosen style and resonates with your personal tastes.

Step One: Think Big Picture

Many men and women have envisioned their dream wedding for years before a ring is even in the picture. But when you’re officially betrothed and that planning reality comes a-knocking, you’ve got to ask yourself the tough questions like, “Is the horse-drawn carriage I dreamed of at 16 really the most practical mode of wedding day transportation?” As step one, discuss these big-picture questions with your partner and settle upon the answers:

  • Do you want a big or a small wedding?
  • What time of year or season do you prefer?
  • Fancy yourselves an indoor or an outdoor ceremony/reception?
  • Do you want a wedding at home or in an exotic destination?
  • What speaks to you in terms of styles and themes (rustic, glamorous, modern, vintage, romantic, themed, etc.)?

Once those big questions have been answered, it will become a little bit easier to work your way through your wedding to-do checklist (we’ll talk more about this in a bit). Choosing your wedding’s time of year will likely narrow down a few workable dates, as well as help determine if your affair will be inside or out.

Philly couple and family in front of LOVE sign

Photo Credit || Heidi Roland Photography

Step Two: Find Inspiration

While Pinterest boards have become ubiquitous, there are other (and better!) places to find wedding ideas. For starters, get yourself over to Zola Inspiration for hours of real wedding browsing. With actual weddings from all over the country that are searchable by location, season, style, color, and venue type, you can home in on truly useful examples to provide ideas and shape your personal vision. Even better, each wedding (heck, even each image!) is labeled with the vendors who created what you’re looking at, so you can learn more about the actual folks to hire for recreating something similar. Save your favorite images, weddings, and vendors to your Zola account and boom—you’ve just found a much more searchable, actionable source for wedding inspo than Pinterest.

bride and groom in Art Deco formal wear with white parasol

Photo Credit || Leigh Webber Photography

Remember, too, that inspiration exists beyond the computer screen. From your chosen wedding season, to a favorite accessory, to a color you’ve always been drawn to, let your personal style and all matter of things from the world around you influence your wedding’s look and feel.

As you search for inspiration, you and your fiancé(e) should also determine your ideal wedding setting and formality. What kind of atmosphere do you want? This will help inform your choices for ceremony and reception locations. If you want a fun summer wedding where guests can play games outside while they wait for their meal, a formal ballroom is probably not for you, but a barn or a lovely country estate might do the trick. Once you figure out how formal or casual you want your wedding to feel, it will be easy to match a location to your style.

Step Three: Get Organized

Here’s where you and your partner need to hunker down in front of a computer (or a notebook, if you’re more old-school) and map things out. Begin by using Zola’s Checklist tool, which allows you to customize a wedding to-do checklist according to your wedding specifics—you can even incorporate specific cultural or religious wedding traditions (so you remember to order those yarmulkes, for example). Set your preferences for a lot or a little involvement, and get notifications right on your phone (once you download the Zola Weddings app) when it’s time to tend to the next wedding task.


Zola multi-cultural wedding symbols


Now that you have narrowed in on your wedding’s setting, size, season, and potential location, it’s time to begin building your wedding website. Besides being free, Zola’s wedding websites are very easy to customize—and with over 100 stunning designs, you can find one to match your newly-taking-shape wedding style without compromise. Get your names and photos in there, input as many details as know, and begin to feel like this thing is really going to happen!

Free Zola wedding website

You’ll also need to begin thinking about the people who will populate the beautiful scene you’ve begun creating. Yes, in case you were worried, Zola’s got you covered: the incredibly user-friendly, lifesaving Guest List tool lets you build your wedding guest list using smart technology.  Import your phone contacts into your guest list, communicate with your guests through group messages (you can even ask guests to fill in contact info directly in the tool!), and then later, track RSVPs manually and/or sync up your website’s online RSVP feature to let guests seamlessly respond directly.

Lastly, now’s also the time when you will need to set a wedding budget with your fiancé(e). This can be as simple as using an Excel spreadsheet to quantify the percentage of your total spending limit that you should devote to each of your estimated expenses. There are tons of online budgeting calculators, tools, and downloadable spreadsheets that will help you figure out what you can afford, based on your top dollar amount, per vendor or expense.

Step Four: Choose Your Vendors

You’re going to need a beautiful space to house all of those guests—not to mention food and drink to serve them, music to entertain them, tables and chairs for them to sit at, and a photographer to document it all. If you were reading closely, you’ll remember those incredible Zola wedding vendors we mentioned—and if you didn’t, pay attention now. Get yourself over to Zola’s Vendor Directory to research every vendor category imaginable. From hundreds of incredible venues to even more photographers, plus caterers, florists, bands and DJs, planners, rentals, officiants, hair & makeup artists…we’re running out breath. But you get the point: research to your heart’s content, while also reading reviews (from real couples with weddings published on Zola) and seeing examples of each vendors’ work through their real wedding appearances. Then save your favorites and get in touch with them directly through Zola’s inquiry form to learn more about how they can turn your wedding dreams into real-life magic.

Step Five: Hone in on Your Style

At this point you’ve sought out wedding inspo, gotten yourselves organized on paper (and on the web), and hopefully reserved a ceremony and reception space. Now it’s time to solidify the style of your wedding, which will help you determine the look of your flowers, the décor of your reception, the style of your wedding party’s attire, and more. You follow? Try putting your style into a few thematic words. “Rustic” is quite a broad approach, but something like “rustic elegant” or “rustic country” will help your vendors understand exactly what you are looking for. When contemplating your ideal wedding style, consider you and your partner’s interests, such as books or television series, a beloved travel destination, or your home decorating sensibilities.

bridesmaid in teal dress holding peach and white bouquet

Photo Credit || Kimberly Photography

This process can (and should) be a compromise, as often your and your partner’s hobbies and personal tastes can differ. For example, if your fiancé wants to incorporate his love for superheroes into the wedding day, find something you can both get on board with, such as hero-themed bow ties or a groom’s cake in the shape of his favorite comic book character.

Once you’ve defined your wedding style, coordinating the color scheme for the big day should fall easily into place. If you’re having trouble with this part, take a look at the season in which you are having your wedding, or check out our post on unique wedding color palettes for a little inspiration. Don’t feel limited to choosing one color, however. Flowers and décor look best when a few different shades work in harmony with each other, and metallics work well with every palette and season.

Bride and bridesmaids in shades of deep purple

Photo Credit || With Love and Embers

Step Six: Get Into the Details

Now’s the time to begin choosing the fun, little details that will add up to a totally coordinated, personalized wedding statement. Think of elements like save the dates and wedding invitations, cakes and desserts, tablescapes and centerpieces, specialty drinks, and favors. While all of these items should reinforce the style, mood, and/or theme you’re going for, the invitations are among the most important in communicating the formality and vibe of the big day. Luckily Zola’s to the rescue again with our brand-new collection of save the dates and wedding invitations, Invites + Paper, which are not only gorgeous (and a great value) on their own right, but just so happen to coordinate with our free wedding websites designs. Is your mind just a little bit blown right now? 

Zola wedding invitations and save the dates in blue Clemson and blue Wrightsville designs

The Wrightsville (left) and Clemson (right) matching invitation suites

As these paper creations are the first things your guests will see, you want to make sure that your wedding invitations accurately represent your wedding style. A more casual wedding will have a more casual invitation, while a formal ballroom affair should have a very elegant invite (perhaps with hand-calligraphed envelopes).

Step Seven: Remember That This is Your Wedding

This should be a no-brainer, but we deem it necessary to remind you (and your well-meaning friends and family) about this truth. As you plan your wedding, plenty of folks are sure to give you their input, send you photos of the “best” floral arrangements, tell you which cake flavors don’t actually taste very good, regale you with anecdotes about the ice sculpture they had at their wedding 30 years ago, and so on. This is fine if you are actively asking for advice, but try to not let the opinions of others overwhelm you. You and your partner might not want to listen to everyone’s suggestions, and that’s okay: this is your wedding. Make your wedding stand out in the collective memory of your friends and family according to your own vision, showcasing your and your beloved’s specific style, and you are guaranteed to have an unforgettable day.

Couple at couple's table

Photo Credit || Daniel Neal Photography


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