You can buy a magazine with a chart on what needs to be done prior to the big day. You can join online communities like the weddings at work community and ask fellow brides (and grooms) regarding the steps they took, the suppliers they booked, etc. You can also surf the net endlessly to get the 411 on various suppliers.
Ultimately though, you will have to inquire and talk to suppliers to find those whose services suit your needs -- those to whom there would be minimal explanation needed since you seem "to speak the same language". The most common way of inquiring is via e-mail. However, you may also call or send an SMS. Since the inquiry is the first stage, and both you and the supplier are sizing each other up, it would be best to keep these tips in mind.
a) Politeness goes a long way.
Your inquiry is your self-introduction. In the same vein, the supplier knows that his response is his way of introducing himself to a potential client.
b) Be detailed.
Include the following details:
b.1) your names (groom & bride)
b.2) your date (indicate if definite or tentative)
b.3) your time and venue of ceremony
b.4) your time and venue of reception
b.5) your estimated number of guests.
Don't worry, most suppliers won't unscrupulously jack up rates just because you stated your venue/s and/or the number of guests. The info above just helps them assess whether they are indeed available on your date -- given the time constraints, travel requirements, # of personnel to provide, etc.
Stating your names will not necessarily cause problems as well. If ever, it may even jog a supplier's memory of a family member or friend, and cause you to suddenly get an unexpected discount.
c) Promptness is key.
Remember that you may not be the only one inquiring about a particular date. Thus, if you wish to book a supplier, do so promptly. Some pencil book for a few days; others don't apply the said practice. Do respect the supplier's policies just as you would like the suppliers to respect your wishes and requests.
If you want a supplier present on your big day, and you've done your due diligence in researching, including taking feedback with a grain of salt, book him or her right away, rather than end up knowing the supplier was booked the day before you finally decided. (Request for the contract and read it well, too.)
In booking suppliers, even a few hours can spell the difference
between getting the one you want and researching all over again.
d) Know when to double check.
Do consider that sometimes, e-mails go to spam. Feel free to re-send the e-mail or send an SMS just to check if the e-mail was received. Keep in mind as well that Monday to Thursday would be the best days to send inquiries, since Friday to Sunday are usually work days. You may also check the respective sites of the suppliers so you'd know when their office hours are.
If you're my bride/groom, do let me know if suppliers haven't responded -- especially if I recommended them. I can also double check for you so that you won't end up letting go of the chance to work with someone efficient just because your messages went to spam.
e) To haggle or not to haggle? That is the question.
It is all right to ask a supplier if he/she has on-going promos, discounts for members of certain sites, etc. However, do avoid badgering the supplier for a discount.
Weddings are personal events.
Efficient and caring suppliers take every wedding personally, too.
Even if they've handled hundreds of weddings,
they go into each event thinking that
they go into each event thinking that
this is "once-in-a-lifetime" for their couple.
They try their best to make it as magical and as close to perfect as possible.
Do note that although there is a supplier - client relationship, the bottom line is: both the supplier and client are humans. Both deserve to be treated as beings with dignity. In other words, please don't haggle to the point that the supplier feels his skills are akin to fish being peddled on the street. If you do get the supplier to agree after haggling in this manner, will you be happy with your decision? Or will you end up questioning your decision, and why the supplier agreed to such treatment?
In the long run (and after your last guest has left, you will realize...), price is only one of several parameters for deciding on suppliers. Think of it this way If you want to impress the girl of your dreams, you will not take her to the cheapest restaurant available -- even if the manager offers you a free long-stemmed rose. You will most likely look for a place that has class, efficient service, delectable food, and reasonable prices. It's the same way with suppliers. You don't want to end up booking just because of a freebie or just because of a discount. You want to book because you believe in the capacity of that supplier to help you achieve your dream wedding -- the free stuff or discounts are just icing on the cake. :)