In an era where you can order paper towels while waiting in line for your coffee that you ordered from an app that you downloaded while walking from your battery-powered car’s parking spot to your remote coworking space where you attend meetings via free video conferencing (whew!), you should be able to plan a wedding online. This is the digital age, in which we can do almost anything from our smartphones. Gone are the days of wedding planning that require a binder full of print-outs and a million sit-down meetings. But what are the best websites and tools out there to facilitate your online wedding planning? Answer: Zola, natch.
In this How To, we’ll walk you through the 10 steps of online wedding planning using all of Zola’s incredibly easy and intuitive online wedding planning tools, plus highlight a few other great online resources that will make “Netflix, wedding planning, and chill” your new MO. Grab your phone or laptop, plump up your couch pillows, and let’s get planning.
Step 1: Get Organized
First things first: you and your partner need to get hooked up with all the right tools and services to make your online wedding planning as easy as possible. After setting up your Zola account, downloading the Zola Weddings app on all your mobile devices (even those Androids), and following Zola on your favorite social channels (you don’t want to miss all the good inspiration and advice we post, do you?), think about what other online tools you’ll need. Setting up a wedding-only email account for you and your partner can be great for streamlining your inbox and keeping all wedding-related email communication in one place. If you set up a Gmail account, you’ll then also be able to use Google Drive to easily create, share, and collaborate on documents and spreadsheets with your partner, your family and friends, and your vendors through your wedding-specific account.
Other helpful tools for online wedding planing are Dropbox, for sharing larger files like photos or PDFs, and Pinterest. If you don’t already have accounts at these sites, we’re not really sure how you survive, but they’re free so seriously what are you waiting for. If you’re already plugged in, again consider setting up a wedding-specific account (or some secret weddings boards on Pinterest) to separate your wedding vs. regular online activities.
Lastly, to see the big picture of wedding planning and understand all the tasks you have ahead of you, read (and download and print out, just for good measure) our 12-month wedding planning timeline.
Step 2: Create a Wedding Website
Now that you’re all primed and ready to attack the interwebs with ferocious wedding planning prowess, it’s time to make your wedding a part of the internet. Set up your free Zola wedding website now and begin feeling like this thing is real—you’re getting married! Wohoo! Even if you don’t know all the exact details yet, you can pick your website design from our hundreds (literally) of gorgeous options. Then begin customizing your design with photographs, stories, and any wedding details you already have in mind. You can even opt to create a custom website domain for a small fee. As you nail down more specifics, complete each section before finally making it public and searchable for your guests. (And of course, as you complete Step 3 below, make your Zola registry a seamless part of your wedding website.)
Step 3: Set Up Your Registry
Yes, we know it’s early to set up your registry when you haven’t even nailed down a date or booked a venue yet, but trust us: setting up your Zola registry is F-U-N, and you’re gonna want to play in Giftland for as long as possible. Also, if you’re having any engagement parties in the early months of your planning, guests are going to seriously appreciate being able to consult a registry for engagement gifts. And there’s no pressure at this early stage: build out your collection of home essentials, select incredible experiences, and set up specific cash funds for your honeymoon or other life events in private until you’re confident enough to go public.
Feeling overwhelmed with gift options? Don’t know a Le Creuset from a laundry basket? We got you. First off, consult our Registry Checklist to find out which gifts Zola’s experts recommend you include to outfit (or upgrade) your newlywed home. Then take advantage of Zola’s Registry Planner tool, a very cool calculator that tells you how many gifts you should add to your registry, and in which price points, based on the number of guests you expect to invite.
Seriously, how did anyone ever plan a wedding offline?
Step 4: Gather Inspiration
If you haven’t been to many weddings, or have never spent time thinking about what kind of wedding you’d like, you and your partner may be staring at a blank slate when it comes to your wedding vision. Even if you’ve been pulling pages out of wedding magazines since you were a kid, everyone can benefit from real-life examples to help hone their wedding style and discover new ideas. Enter Zola Inspiration: a huge collection of real weddings that grows literally. every. day. with incredible new wedding images. Seriously, bookmark this page and browse it daily—you can even filter and search for weddings based on season, color palette, style, venue type, or location if you already have pieces of your dream wedding floating around in your brain.
Once you see an image or a wedding that you like, save it (remember that secret wedding Pinterest board we already mentioned?). When it comes to communicating with your vendor team about your wishes, these kinds of real wedding images are EVERYTHING. Your vendors will love you for giving them an idea of your style and providing them with inspiration for their own creations.
Step 5: Choose a Venue
After browsing around Zola’s real weddings for a while, hopefully you’ll begin to get a sense of the kind of wedding you want—and the next step in turning your nuptial dream into reality is to find your wedding venue. Luckily, Zola’s got you covered here as well: browse wedding venues from any location, or narrow down your search by a few popular wedding destinations like Napa, Charleston, or Charlottesville, VA. You can also search by type of venue, so if you already know your wedding has to take place at the beach, you can skip right to beachfront options. Find the contact information for your top venue picks, schedule site visits, and once you’ve made your decision, lock in your wedding date with a signed venue contract.
Step 6: Create Your Wedding Checklist
Once you have a venue contracted signed, then your online wedding planning timeline really kicks in: you now have a date. A date! A date… Before you set up an “X days until the wedding” tracker and begin to panic at the slowly decreasing number, activate your Zola Wedding Checklist to put your wedding to-do list on autopilot. Our Checklist tool is where it’s at: input your key wedding details like date and location, select whether you want a lot vs. a little bit of guidance, and let Checklist schedule out your wedding planning to-do list month by month for you. Of course, your Checklist is completely customizable, so you can add, edit, or remove any tasks as you need. It’s also equipped with tons of religious- and culturally-specific traditions you can add based on the kind of wedding you’re having. Since you’ve already downloaded the Zola app, you’ll even get push notifications on your phone when it’s time to take care of a task. With online tools like this, there’s no excuse not to ace wedding planning.
Step 7: Build Your Guest List
After going through all this work, you probably want some guests to actually attend your wedding and appreciate the fruits of your labors—hence, your guest list. While you may have already put together a rough outline of whom you anticipate inviting for venue-hunting purposes, now’s the time to really solidify your guest list and then order save the dates and/or invitations to get the word out. Pro tip: be sure to include your wedding website (and make it public) on your save the date, so guests can learn all the wedding 411 and begin to get excited.
While gathering and keeping track of guests’ names and addresses can be pretty tedious, Zola’s Guest List tool makes it much, much easier by keeping things as online and automated as possible. Add your guest list info in a number of ways: upload an existing spreadsheet, add contacts from your phone’s address book, or use good, old-fashioned manual entry. You an even outsource the work to your guests by sending them a link via email or text to input their address directly into the tool. Genius!
Step 8: Find Your Vendors
While you probably have been researching and selecting important vendors throughout this whole process, here’s the point in your online wedding planning journey where you need to vendor up, stat. Head to Zola’s vendor directory to search for all the key professionals who will actually pull off this incredible soirée you’re planning. Search by vendor type, then browse through the vendor listings to find images, package descriptions, pricing info, reviews, and real wedding examples (when available). Each vendor’s contact info is a click away, so you can get in touch and make magic happen.
In general order of importance/urgency, here are the kinds of vendors you should be researching and booking:
- Planner or Designer, if using
- Band or DJ
- Invitations & Calligraphy
- Tents, Rentals, & Decor
- Cakes & Desserts
- Hair & Makeup
- Rings & Jewelry
At this point should also be shopping for (or have already purchased) wedding attire for yourself and your partner. It’s recommended you buy a wedding gowns 8-12 months in advance to allow for custom manufacturing and multiple alterations; a wedding tuxedo or suit can typically be order, made, and altered on a quicker timeline (more like 3-6 months). You can shop online for wedding gowns at e-retailers such as BHLDN, David’s Bridal, or preownedweddingdresses.com for designer gowns at budget prices.
If you’re having a wedding party, provide them with instructions on what you’d like for them to wear as early as possible; if you’ve picked a specific dress or suit, make sure there is plenty of time for them to order, receive, and then alter it. Bridesmaid dresses are readily available online—check out Lulu’s, The Dessy Group, or again BHLDN for tons of options.
Step 9: Manage Your RSVPs
Part of the beauty of Zola’s wedding planning tools is how seamlessly they integrate. Once you send out your save the dates and/or wedding invitations, complete with information about your wedding website, guests can RSVP online at your website—which will then sync automatically with your Guest List to track guests’ responses for you. Huzzah! You can even have guests provide info about their meal choices, what hotel they’re staying at, whether they want to take the shuttle… really anything your heart desires, and it will all be tracked and beautifully organized for you. Of course, if you also receive RSPVs through actual response cards sent in the mail, you can add in those responses to your RSVP tracker within your Guest List.
Once those “yes”s have rolled in and your guest attendance is pretty finalized, hand the final list over to your venue manager, your caterer, and anyone else who needs it. Then get ready for the party of your lifetime.
Step 10: Get Married Already
Congrats—you made it! Wedding day has arrived. You’ve successfully planned your wedding online like an champ, and now you can simply enjoy yourself. Eat a good breakfast, get beautiful, and then… put your phone down, finally, once and for all. Go bask in the amazing feeling of being surrounded by all your favorite people, and celebrate the love that will last you a lifetime.