From conferences and tradeshows to weddings and galas, all event planners wish they had an unlimited budget to create their dream event. However, event professionals are all too familiar with the reality of pulling together an event with a less than ideal budget. Although it’s hard to work with a small budget, it’s not impossible! We’ve broken down some time-tested tips for making the most of your event budget.
Review the Event Budget
Before you start reaching out to vendors or locking down venues, be sure you review the event budget. It’s important to know more than the bottom line. Go through and allocate an exact number to each area of the event. Think through everything you’ll need to spend money on and break it out into a line by line spreadsheet. Yes, breaking out categories like catering, AV, registration & swag are great. But break those down even further.
By breaking down your budget into as much detail as possible you’ll be able to get a clear picture of what you have to work with. Be sure to work in a contingency fund ranging from $1,000 – $10,000 (depending on the size of your event) to cover last minute ideas or extra fees that are sure to come up. Once you’ve broken down the budget you can see if it’s possible to move any funds around. It can help you realize that by cutting out canned soda served all day or paying for professional recordings of all sessions, you can end up spending the money better elsewhere.
Be open-minded when picking a venue
Sometimes you have such a clear image of what you want the event to look like that it’s hard to imagine anything but the ideal location you have in your head. However, it’s much easier to take a cheaper (even ugly) venue and brand it with your design than it is to blow your budget on a venue that leaves you no room for additional signage and decor.
When looking for a venue, first list out all the logistics you can’t compromise on. Max capacity, number of rooms, built in AV, parking, etc. From there, start your venue research. An old warehouse or even a cruise terminal may fit your needs while easily staying in budget. The money you save on your venue can then be used on decor and signage to transform the space. And remember, once space is filled with people, vendors, sponsors & decor, it will look completely different!
Be selective with your signage
Use a few large quality design items instead of spending tons of money on smaller items. Often times a smaller budget means less money for signage & design items. When this happens, it’s easy to blow money on tons of cheap smaller items that don’t really give the impact you want. Instead of spending your money on tons of smaller items, consider spending a little more for a few quality items that will have a large impact. Large letters are one way to fill the space and leave an impact without breaking the bank. Bonus for having it as a fun backdrop for attendee selfies!
Also be sure to use the budget for stage design. You may think you need tons of signage all over your venue, but attendees will be spending most of their time looking at the stages. Most of the photos from your event will also capture the stages, so invest in items that brand the space and capture the theme of your event.
Be creative with lunch
There are so many fun options to consider when it comes to saving money on catering. One of our favorites is to offer picnic baskets that feed up to 6 people. This encourages networking but also saves you on the cost of individually packaging each lunch. The shared lunch also means you’ll have less food waste.
Another easy way to save costs is to cut out canned sodas being offered all day. Bottled drinks and sodas easily add up but don’t really add much value to the event. Instead, provide water stations throughout the venue so attendees can grab water as needed. Bonus for including a reusable water bottle in your swag bag! If water stations seem too boring you can spice them up but offer fruit infused water stations that add flavor and variety.
Have sponsors help fill your swag bags
Want to give attendees an awesome swag bag but don’t want to blow your budget on giveaway items? Let your higher level sponsors add a branded item to the bags. Sponsors will love the chance to get their branding in front of attendees and will want to provide a clever item.
You can even provide a list of fun options for sponsors to choose from that fit the theme of your event. Be sure to approve each item added to the bag to avoid filling it the duplicate items.
Use multiple vendors
You can save tons of money by using multiple vendors for various items. You can easily find one vendor to provide your pens, notebooks, and bags. But sometimes you can find the individual items you need cheaper from different vendors. This is an easy switch that only requires a few extra RFP’s and contracts. Although not as simple, you can also use multiple vendors for registration to save money.
There are a lot of vendors out there who cover ticketing, check-in, badge printing, and event staffing. But the ease of using an all-inclusive vendor comes with a high price tag. You can save thousands of dollars by using a ticketing platform such as Eventbrite, a different vendor to cover sponsor lead gen, a different vendor to cover badge printing, and volunteers or a staffing agency to cover extra staff needs.
Be smart about volunteers
You may think your team can handle everything onsite…but that’s far from reality. You’ll need extra hands to stuff swag bags, manage crowds, hand out lanyards, and more. Event staffing agencies are great, but the cost of volunteers can add up. Instead, you can save yourself stress and money by focusing on volunteer recruitment. Create a flyer outlining important event details and be sure to list out the benefits volunteers get. Require volunteers work 2 shifts, but let them enjoy the event the rest of the time. This will help you get a great volunteer group.
Reach out to local colleges, especially departments that fit your conference content. Planning a marketing and sales conference? Sharing volunteer info with the marketing department at local colleges will help you find interested volunteers who are eager to get an inside glimpse into the industry. Check out Proven Ways to Manage Volunteers for more tips!
Planning an event on a budget is all about being creative. Take extra time to think through your options and consider alternatives that’ll save you money. Have your own set of go-to money saving tips? Comment below, we’d love to hear from you!
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