Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” This is especially true when budgeting for your event. Without a carefully thought-out budget, your expenses could go in a direction you don’t want to go.
Creating a budget for your event is usually step number one in the planning process, because costs will often dictate the priorities for your event and how those costs will be covered. Is a fabulous location and venue the top priority? Or is state-of-the-art AV most important? Will your attendance fees cover the cost, or will you need to look for outside sponsorships?
Get Started and Get Real
Start with a simple spreadsheet that includes a line item for everything you think you’ll need, a column for estimated cost, actual cost and budget. You may consider columns for vendors you might consider for each.
Let’s look at some typical big-ticket items you might find on your budget:
- Venue. This is one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make – and likely the most expensive. Some venues will waive or reduce rental fees if you use in-house catering or AV services. Try to estimate exactly the amount of space you’ll need so you don’t over-pay for extra space.
- Marketing and registration. Consider everything you’ll need from attendee and sponsor promotion, to registration, speaker management and sponsor fulfillment. Does your registration system charge by the number of registrants?
- Production costs. A/V, including screens, microphones, projection, slide advancers and lighting can add up. Consider what’s absolutely critical vs. nice-to-have.
- Furniture and décor. Furniture and plant rentals can be astronomical, so make sure you have a complete understanding of what items are included in your venue’s rental agreement, or that they can provide at no cost.
- Internet. Most venues, whether it’s a hotel or conference center, have basic internet bandwidth that may not be able to support the needs of your attendees, speakers and exhibitors. Increasing bandwidth can be expensive, and you may consider outsourcing this capability if your venue can’t provide it – or if you can get a better deal elsewhere. Consider an internet sponsorship to help offset this expense. Give your sponsor great visibility in exchange for super connectivity.
- Food and Beverage. Food can make or break an event. And it can also break your budget. If you’re using the venue’s caterer, most are happy to discuss options that fit your budget, such as boxed lunches instead of a plated one. You may be able to provide your own waters and soft drinks (think Costco), or secure sponsors to host your bar in exchange for signage or branded cocktail napkins. If you’re using an outside caterer, make sure they have a liquor license and is able to serve your guests, and that your venue approves your serving outside liquor.
- Speakers. Don’t forget speaking fees or honorariums and travel costs, which can be well into the five-figures and beyond. Some speakers will reduce fees in exchange for promotion of their book, for example, but don’t count on that when budgeting.
- Travel and lodging. Consider the needs of your staff, as well as speakers. Train or bus fees only get higher the longer you wait, so the earlier you’re able to book, the better. Some hotels will offer discounted room rates for groups, and if your venue is a hotel, consider hotels other than your venue. Consider offering an airline or hotel sponsorship to help defray these costs.
- Unexpected expenses. Add a safety net – usually around 10% - for anything that may crop up unexpectedly.
Watch Out for Gotchas
It’s the little details that can wind up pushing your budget beyond its limit. Make sure you consider these often overlooked details:
- Permits. Does your venue require permits, such as fire, street closures, alcohol or sound?
- Don’t forget power. Make sure you plan for enough power for your vendors, sponsors, etc.
- Staffing. Will this depend on attendance? If so, estimate high, knowing you can cut down later
- Taxes. Make your vendors’ estimates include tax. Some city’s tax rates may be higher than yours.
Now that you have a budget and plan, you’re ready to hold a fabulous event. Use your budget to track actual expenditures so when planning for next year, you’ll have a realistic idea of what to expect.
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