Beginner's Guide: How to Plan an Event on a Budget
Define your Goals
Like with any event, the first thing you should do is define your event focus and goals. This is particularly important when planning an event on a budget as the clearer you are about your aims and objectives in these early conception stages, the fewer ‘last minute' changes and adaptations you'll have to make down the line. The cost of last minute changes can mount to a considerable fee, so by ensuring your goals are clearly defined from the offset, you can reduce spend in the long run.
Think about the aims of your event. What do you want your guests to take away and what value are you aiming to offer them? Whether that's engaging new customers with your client's brand or product or offering the existing customer base an opportunity to network with others in their industry. Make these goals airtight and confirm them with your client. At every stage of the event planning process, refer back to these goals to justify your spend. Does the cost of X help you reach your goal of Y? If the answer is no, asking this handy little question will help you determine which costs are necessary and which are dispensable.
Breakdown Your Budget
Now you have your event goals defined, it's time to draw up a preliminary budget. This is potentially the most important step for event planning on a budget! Once your budget is set, you need to break it down to account for each event planning cost including venue hire, event vendors, caterers, venue dressing, staffing, marketing/promotion and entertainment. This is the time to be a stickler for the details. The more granular you get during this phase, the fewer unexpected costs you'll encounter later on. Make sure you set aside around 5-10% of your budget for any unforeseen spending. A ‘rainy day' fund is a great way of covering your back should anything go wrong.
Ensure that your budget breakdown is informed by research. A common mistake in event planning is creating a budget breakdown that is comprised of guesswork. If your budget is tight, it's absolutely imperative that your cost breakdown is as accurate as it can be!
Next up, you want to source a fantastic venue to meet your brief and budget! The venue is a necessary cost of any event, but that doesn't mean you can find some ways to reduce cost. Why not look into repurposed space? You could hire a theatre in the day time or a coffee shop after hours to secure a fantastic venue without the peak-time pricing. You can even reduce cost further by looking into a venue that has event vendors in-house.
Finding sponsorship for your event is an excellent way to reduce spending. Corporate sponsorship is where companies pay to be associated with a given event. This way you can cut on the cost of production and staffing and even provide your guests with perks like goodie bags at no extra expense to you. Research and approach potential sponsors with a solid pitch, offering mutual benefit and exposure to the sponsor.
Be Realistic and Flexible
When you're operating on a tight event budget it's important to manage your client's expectations. You need to be realistic about what you are going to achieve given the resources available to you. Create a ‘worst case' and ‘best case' scenario. Plan for the worst and be prepared for success. This way you can combat potential problems before they arise.
Flexibility is crucial to successful event planning on a budget. Your plans will likely need to adapt as you begin to refine the details of your event. Prioritise your spending and be resourceful with what you have at your disposal. A healthy dose of flexibility will mean you're prepared to problem solve on-the-go and you'll have a few backup plans up your sleeve already…
Quality Vs. Cost
A common mistake of anyone working to a strict budget is failing to balance quality and cost effectively. Sometimes, cheapest isn't always the right choice when you're trying to reduce spending. Skimping on spend in the early stages of event planning can come back to haunt you later in the process as you may end up spending more to replace low quality cheap items. Make sure you weigh up and prioritise the facets of your event that require additional spending. When making these tough decisions refer back to your event goals to help you decide whether a cost is justified.
Think Smart: Find Viable Alternatives
With digital options available to you, there is a huge amount of money-saving potential for you to tap into. Why not save some costs on printing materials by taking your resources online? That way you can save money with the added benefit of hosting a more sustainable event! What's more, when it comes to promoting your event, you can get inventive with your marketing. Using social media, SEO and digital campaigns effectively, you can promote your event without spending a penny!
This may sound like an obvious point: but it is crucial that you ask questions. Whenever you're talking to suppliers, venues, vendors or event staff, come prepared with the questions you need answering. Ask your questions upfront, and be especially clear on clarifying any hidden costs. Collect the information you need to make an informed decision - you don't want to have any unexpected charges mount further down the line.
Negotiate and Collaborate!
Our final tip to you is to negotiate and collaborate! As the saying goes, if you don't ask you don't get and that couldn't be more true of event planning. Draw on your existing network to reduce cost. If you have suppliers who you work with regularly, see if they'll give you a deal for your continued loyalty. Ask other event planners for advice and make use of their knowledge.
So there you have it! Our beginner's guide for how to plan an event on a budget. We're confident you'll be an event planning rising star in no time. Good luck!
Ella is a Digital Content Executive at HeadBox, the UK's first online marketplace for creative offsite, meeting and event spaces where you can search, book and pay for venues online. Their offering, HeadBox Business, allows corporate event managers to have complete oversight of company-wide venue bookings across teams and territories through with an easy-to-use and intuitive dashboard.