The Complete Guide to Creating an Event Budget
Within this guide, we will go over real-life examples of how executives are optimizing their event’s ROI through more efficient use of budget. Learn how executives in different industries are changing the way they provide ROI around their events.
Every year, executives are tasked with reimagining the machine in a way that meets the aspirations of the CEO, and the constraints of the CFO. Events are one of the biggest items that executives are constantly looking for ways to not only validate but to provide more revenue back to their organization.
Within this guide, we will go over real-life examples of how executives are optimizing their event’s ROI through more efficient use of budget.
What is an Event Budget
An event budget is an estimation of the costs an event will incur based on plans made as well as research. Whether you are planning a small event or a large sophisticated one, your corporate event cannot exceed your budget.
What Cost-Saving Tactics are Being Implemented?
We met with three executives in the financial, higher ed, and technology industries to understand how they optimized events and made crucial decisions that drove their business forward. In the end, many were left with savings that they had the opportunity to reinvest back into their organization to drive better program content or activities for attendee engagement.
Three cost-saving tactics executives are currently deploying to make their event budget plan:
- Controlling costs on hotel rooms, meeting rooms, food and beverage, concessions, and travel.
- Consolidating technology into an end-to-end event automation platform.
- Reducing labor hours or shifting labor hours to more valuable work.
To effectively execute each tactic, there are also three steps that you need to take:
- Confirm that the processes underlying the tactics are sound.
- Have the technology enable the process, not prevent success.
- Ensure that people managing the tactic are prepared and supported with the help of an event.
At the end of this guide, you should be able to use these tactics no matter what industry you are in or the type of events that you plan to create a holistic approach to event management.
Aspects of an Event Budget Every Event Planner Should Consider
Event planning can be a challenging affair, especially when it comes to the budget. There’s simply so much to consider and prepare. That’s why every corporate event planner needs a planning budget. This will help you prepare for every aspect of the event and ensure you save instead of overspending. By using an event budget template, you’ll be able to plan in detail and prepare for the unexpected.
Make the best choices as you prepare for your event by using a budget plan template that includes the following:
Travel & Accommodation
Will your corporation need to provide accommodation for anyone who will attend the event? If so, how much will this cost? Though this can be an overlooked aspect of your budget, depending on the size and grandeur of the event, be sure to place this estimation at the forefront of your budget to avoid underestimating the finances you’ll need to make your event a success.
How much will food cost? This will depend on the number of people you expect to attend as well as how extensive the menu will be. Estimate costs according to the scale and type of event you are organizing.
To avoid financial difficulties that may arise due to a poorly budgeted event, also include staff compensation in your event plan template. Event directors or managers will need to determine how many staff members will be required to organize and help facilitate a successful event. Determine how much time will be spent and the appropriate compensation required.
Facility expenses include money spent on acquiring the venue. Make a budget based on what you think would be a likely cost. Also consider hidden costs that may arise such as costs associated with security, lighting, or heating.
Do you need special contracts, permits, or insurance in hosting your event? Each of these considerations falls under logistics, an important aspect of any budget. Your ability to estimate how much this will cost will depend mainly on the venue of your corporate event.
Marketing & PR
Marketing is an important aspect of any event. It can account for a significant percentage of your corporate event budget as well especially when organizers expect to gain profits through event entrance fees or other charges. Consider the tools you intend to use to market your event and make your choices based on which are most aligned with your budget.
How to Create an Event Planning Budget
The best event planning occurs when organizers utilize the wide array of tools available to them. A few important steps are necessary after including aspects of the event in the event plan template. Create the best event plan by choosing an event template that helps you achieve the following:
Prepare for Adjustments
A budget template is very much like writing a book. The process may require major adjustments, resulting in several drafts. The best templates enable organizers to make these adjustments as often as necessary whether before, during, after, or in between events.
Improve Budget Over Time
Researching expenditures, for instance regarding a choice of venue, may take time. Your template should include features that ensure flexibility. This will event planners improve the budget as time goes by or as they access details that they may not have known at the beginning of the budget planning process. Using an event ROI tool is helpful to get a comprehensive view of the value of your event—this will come in handy when you are quantifying your event and figuring out future budgets.
Always Include a Contingency Plan
The inclusion of a contingency plan helps a corporate event planner prepare for the things that may go wrong. It’s basically a written commitment to planning for the unexpected. For instance, what will you do if your outdoor event is suddenly threatened by an unexpected thunderstorm?
Questions to Ask While Building Your Events Budget
Whether you're an experienced planner or are just starting out, building your events budget isn't always easy (or fun for that matter). It can be an overwhelming process, and difficult decisions will have to be made in order to create the most successful budget possible. To make the process a little bit less daunting, take a big breath and think about these fundamental questions that will help put you in full-budget tackling mode and will help navigate the intricate facets of event spend.
What are your Goals for the Upcoming Year?
First and foremost, you cannot start planning your events budget without thinking about your goals for the upcoming year. They'll set the tone of the entire budgeting process and will help guide you when it's time to make the tough decisions about where to spend your money. You don't have to go overboard; pick two or three goals and go from there.
What Was Last Year's Success and Areas for Improvement?
Looking back on previous budgets and data goes beyond your basic increases or decreases in revenue. Looking back on last year's or your recent event's ROI and key KPIs can tell you more about what exactly was a positive investment and what didn't work out, helping you make smarter, more thoughtful decisions when it comes to your budget.
What are My Must-haves, What are the Extras?
No matter the event, there are typically the same unavoidable essentials you have to account for in your budget: venue, travel, staff, A/V, F&B, and programming to name a few. But when it comes to spending beyond those essentials, think about the most critical aspects or goals of your event. Maybe it's hosting quality networking opportunities, or creating a high-tech event experience. Or perhaps it's having an impressive venue or a top industry keynote speaker. List your top three, and you'll know where to make your investments and where you can cut corners.
How Can I Prepare for Unexpected Costs?
Every good planner knows it's important to be prepared, and that couldn't be truer when it comes to your budget. The reality is, minor (and sometimes major) disasters and events go hand in hand. Having a rainy day or discretionary fund available for last-minute emergencies can be a lifesaver and can help you keep costs under control even in the worst-case scenarios.
What Can I Consolidate?
Consolidation can make a significant impact on your budget, especially when it comes to technology. Take a look at all the tools you and your team are using. Are they using multiple online survey tools or maybe your registration and website tools don't integrate well? Investing in something like a robust event management software solution can put all of these popular planning features into one platform, saving money, while streamlining processes.
Should I Shop Around?
The short answer to this question is, yes. Whether it's an event technology provider or a local vendor, it's important to get multiple quotes when you select whom to work with throughout your event. While it may seem like yet another thing to juggle, taking the time to find the best deal, will result in significant savings. Plus, there are a lot of tools on the market to help manage the back and forth, especially with venue sourcing.
Controlling Costs with Event Management Software
Vicky, a VP of Sales Enablement for a multi-national financial services company, organized and executed hundreds of events geared towards high net worth investors every year. Keeping these events on budget was critical to Vicky’s MBOs. To manage the costs, she conducted a quarterly review of all expenses to understand where there were leverage points and savings opportunities.
There were 5 typical items that she reviewed:
- Hotel room costs
- Food and beverage costs
- Meeting room rentals
- Attrition clauses
Quantify the Value from Your Hotel Negations
Without constant monitoring, it was hard to ensure Vicky was getting the best room rates for guests. The volume of attendees at these investor meetings can fluctuate, and ensuring the right discounts based on volume was time-consuming.
To solve this, Vicky employed a venue sourcing tool that allows her to take in multiple proposals, negotiate room rates effectively and show the cost savings on hotel room blocks. In the end, Vicky saves between 5-15% on rooms in various cities.
Take Control of No-Show F&B Costs
Food and beverage costs are often the greatest offenders of misused spending, and rarely are event teams looking for F&B savings in the right place. Poor registration processes, which hinder visibility and accountability for the sales team, lead to high no-show rates.
Using an end-to-end event management software to organize all the marketing and communication efforts around events, Vicky is able to track her event outreach with integrated reporting features on each personalized email sent. By personalizing and tracking all communication around events, you can drive down no-show rates by 75%, and recover hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on plated meals.
Leverage Benchmarks to Drive Meeting Room Savings
As a large organization, Vicky did not have direct insight into every event that other internal meeting planners were organizing. She believed that across meetings, the planners were not enabled to negotiate the best rates on meeting room rentals because they lacked benchmarks and comparisons.
With the sourcing tool that Vicky implemented and putting an RFP process in place, planners now had insight into what venues had been booked in the past and the value of each. Overall, this process has helped to save thousands of dollars a year on the multitude of events Vicky’s organization plans.
Drive Concession Value
An often-overlooked aspect of controlling events costs is concessions. Vicky found that simply asking for concessions on Wi-Fi and A/V in meeting spaces often produced savings.
Through her sourcing tool, she set specific concessions to auto-populate on every RFP that was sent through the system. Saving between 5-10% on every event booked, Vicky made it possible for everyone to contribute to savings – even employees with no experience in venue negotiations.
Mitigating your Event Risk Across the Company
Some attrition is inevitable. Paying for that attrition is not. Vicky’s team creates standard company contract clauses that auto-populate on every RFP. This helps them avoid stiff penalties by setting reasonable fees, such as 25% attrition up to the day of arrival. For additional safeguards, they lock in no walk and resell clauses into all eRFPs. When Vicky reviews registrations vs. attendees and calculates what she would have paid without these clauses, she typically finds 10-15% savings on each event.
Vicky’s strategy required simple invitation and registration systems that were easy to understand for thousands of decentralized financial consultants. It had to be repeatable and scalable for a growing planning team. It had to drive a more sophisticated approach to negotiation that could save millions of dollars a year. In short, Vicky needed an event management platform to manage and monitor all of these moving pieces in order to realize the savings.
Consolidating Technology with Event Automation
On college campuses around the world, event teams are hindered by primitive systems, siloed decision-making, and shrinking budgets. Heidi was tasked by her dean’s office to structure a centralized event plan across campus, with a key goal being to reduce inefficiencies and redundancies across the organization. Heidi set out to analyze three key costs to reduce:
- Software costs
- Maintenance costs
- Enhancements to proprietary systems
Heidi referred to the software systems across campus as the “spaghetti plate,” as almost every school on campus was using a different platform or process for managing their events.
- Event websites were either on individual school pages or the main university page
- Registration for events was collected through various point solutions or the proprietary system
- A few schools were dabbling in mobile apps and engagement solutions
- Budgeting for events was completed through manual processes
The entire campus was all over the place with the technology they used for events and a unified process needed to happen. With different contracts in place across campus, and different event processes working out of different budgets, bringing them all together seemed an impossible task.
Along with a singular event management platform, Heidi took the opportunity to create standard event planning and execution processes across campus. She hosted numerous training on the new processes for the hundreds of planners working at her university to further guarantee success. The university gave all event planners 12 months to migrate to the new event platform. This saved the school 25% of its event technology costs.
Heidi worked with her IT department to determine the cost that went into maintaining the current proprietary systems. Between security enhancements, system upgrades, and server capacity constraints, Heidi was able to identify hundreds of hours of IT maintenance.
As she considered options to manage her processes, the ability to "outsource" this work to a trained team of professionals seemed like a no-brainer. Plus, the professional services teams that came with their event management platform would be more responsive and knowledgeable of the system than a typical IT department.
She is forecasting 50% less in maintenance costs heading into next year.
Enhancements to Proprietary Systems
One of Heidi’s solution design principles was that it be agile and walk the fine line of standard processes and custom workflows. As more event teams around campus joined the platform program, there were always one-off workflows that had to stay intact in order to deliver for a planner’s constituents. Being able to accommodate these custom workflows was essential to any solution.
Cost savings on event enhancements are both tangible and intangible. Labor hours are reduced and results are delivered more quickly. This cuts enhancement costs almost completely.
And often, these custom workflows impact the experience of students, university guests and delegates, and alumni.
Heidi was able to build a powerful case for an event management platform that brought the university into the modern age. When software, maintenance, and enhancement costs were considered, the CFO was able to understand the business case and feel comfortable making a decision. Providing the tools and information to help the university realize extreme cost savings allowed her to invest in an end-to-end platform that has led to better events managed more efficiently.
Headcount Planning Tools for a Global Events Team
Success in events is 50% event planning and 50% event talent aligned against the plan. Effective event teams have the best people, while efficient event teams have the right people. Terry was tasked with developing a people plan for the event team in their mid-market technology company.
One of the first key insights as Terry began to develop the people plan was that the team that drove success was wider than simply just the event team. He first established a full roster of roles that impacted the exhibits, user groups, and tech conferences that drove their events business. He then considered all the costs associated with each role:
- Events team members
- Support staff
- Technical staff
- Training staff
- Salaries and bonuses
- Recruiting costs to fill a role
- Onboarding costs to ramp a hire
Events Team Members
Front-line event planners are the most important role in the event team. Terry first determined the competencies that his tech company required from their events team. He assessed his event planners on communication skills, problem-solving, creativity, time management, and an attendee-centric approach.
Terry then identified the tasks event planners were executing to determine which ones were valuable and fit the competencies. 40% of the tasks were able to be automated, which could lead the events team to handle more events. In some cases, it allowed the event team to consolidate as team members left for other opportunities.
Terry found that for every six-event planners across the organization, one support team member was required to handle logistical and administrative tasks. The cost savings were multiplied when fewer event planners were required, and support team members could serve more events at any given time. By improving the support ratio to 8:1, the event team was able to realize 20% savings in the support organization.
With complex systems in place, technical roles were required to investigate bugs and user errors. These technical specialists bounce around the organization and have a general understanding of all of the company systems. Being able to reduce these roles and move them out of the events budget helped Terry identify 10-20% savings on technical support. In addition, user productivity can go up as they spend less time waiting for, and working with, technical support.
With more event planners, come more trainers. These trainers need to ensure new event planners are brought up to speed quickly. They ensure that they receive continuing education, best practices, and tools. Finding ways to reduce these training costs was critical for Terry’s budget. Plus, with fewer planners, less onboarding was required. Terry ended up saving 30% on training costs the first year.
Reduce Costs Across Roles
The kicker for all of these roles is the hidden costs of hire (or mishire). For each new hire, consider the costs of hiring that person: recruiters, advertisements, missed opportunities, etc. Once a new hire is in place, how long until they are fully productive? And what does it cost to ramp them up? Additional insurance and benefits must be considered as well. When these costs are aggregated, they have a major impact.
To realize this cost savings opportunity, Terry required an event management platform that handled those automated and low-value tasks. It required a streamlined process that sped up event planning and execution. Within two years of implementing an enterprise-wide solution, Terry realized 30% cost savings per event simply by optimizing their people plan.
Choosing the Best Event Budget Templates and Tools
The best event budget template or tool will enable you to make adjustments to your budget, improve it over time and prepare for the unexpected regardless of what stage you are in your planning. Take for instance the example below:
Best Event Planning Tool for During Any Stage of Planning
Event planning tools are ideal for organizers who want the most efficient budget solutions via user-friendly software or apps. A budgeting tool is one of the best tools available for modern event managers.
This type of tool is ideal for event managers or organizers who want access to the following:
- Tracking spending of multiple vendors
- Sponsorships or exhibitor packages
- Ticketed events or e-commerce
- Monitoring budgets in real-time
- Accessing the ROI of an event
- Non-financial experts
How to Spend Less and Sell More Tickets for Your Event
In a perfect world, event marketing teams would have unlimited budgets and could spend as much as they need.
Think truckloads of cash or a chest filled with gold coins.
The reality? Depending on the company structure, most teams are small, understaffed, and have very little wiggle room for spending. This issue is a conundrum event marketers face each time they need to sell out an event on a minuscule budget. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place!
For event planners facing the same predicament, don't fret. There are ways to spend less of your budget and sell more tickets for your event. Here's how to do it.
Be Choosy with Social Media
When it comes to digital marketing, nothing beats the reach and influence of social media. Not to mention the cost, which is almost always free. However, not all social media platforms are on equal footing when it comes to what your event needs and what your audience wants.
Plus, marketing on every social media platform is time-consuming. The strategy? Pick and choose your battles. Know your target audience and where they hang out. For instance, if you are marketing an event for businesses, LinkedIn can be a large part of your social media efforts. If you can't do without Facebook, examine your audience and know when and how many times you should post.
The Exception to the Rule is Instagram
Everyone is on Instagram these days. It doesn't matter what type of business you're in or what event you're trying to pull off - organic reach is higher on Instagram than on any other social media platform. With each organic Instagram post, you can reach 25% of your target audience.
Use Onsite Technology
When it comes to planning an event, every dollar spent, even in small increments, can add up and take a large chunk out of the budget. One of the best ways to avoid unnecessary spending is by making a small investment in onsite tech. The cost of investing in technology far outweighs the accumulated price tag of doing things the old way.
The onsite technology cost for e-ticketing, for example, is minimal compared to printing paper tickets. An onsite badge printer saves money and paper because organizers only print badges for those who attend. Onsite tech allows your team to be more efficient, saving you time and extra staffing costs.
If you're working with a shoestring marketing budget, look for sponsors that align with your company's goals. Many companies are looking to partner with other businesses for maximum exposure. You can even give some of your vendors a call and ask if they're willing to help fund your event. Aside from money, you can also get giveaways and freebies from sponsors.
Know Your Goals
Another way to spend less money while making sure your event sells out is by knowing and aligning your goals to match everyone else's. Marketing fails when the organization's goals aren't aligned. Before anything else, all departments need to sit down and discuss what the goals are for the event. Teams can then plan and focus all efforts to ensure the event runs smoothly from start to finish.
Use Your Network
Enlist bloggers, influencers, and even attendees to talk about your upcoming event. Word of mouth travels fast, and more people who are talking about the event can lead to increased awareness. Look for ways to engage your extended marketing team on social media. By reaching out to bloggers and influencers, you have a chance to interact with their followers. Be warned though - plenty of people are wary of so-called “celebrity” influencers with fake followers.
Nowadays, people trust credible experts endorsed by immediate family, friends, and acquaintances. The beauty of networking is that it's almost effortless. All the investment you need is time and charm. Choose influencers who are good at promoting brands. If some of them are too far out of your price range, look for "niche influencers" that have smaller but more dedicated followers.
Manually managing every single marketing campaign is time-consuming and takes the focus away from other tasks at hand. You can boost your team's output and improve productivity by using event software. It helps you automate and streamline all your efforts, saving you time and money. And, for marketing teams with small budgets, time is money.
4 Steps to Stretch Your F&B Budget
Hungry for more from your food & beverage (or F&B) spend? Most planners are. After all, what’s the main reason people go to meetings? To connect with others, of course. And where does a lot of the best networking happen? Over meals like catered breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. That’s why it surprises me that more planners don’t leverage F&B minimums to drive more value for their meetings and events.
What’s an F&B minimum, you ask?
This is the minimum amount you must spend on catered food and beverage during your meeting. Sorry, F&B minimums don’t include restaurant or bar spending. And hotels measure them before taxes and gratuities.
So why are F&B minimums such a missed opportunity?
Planners work hard to reduce or eliminate them - even when it’s clear from the size of the group they’ll spend more than enough. The trouble is, they overlook the other side of the equation: When they spend more than the minimum, they never get credit for the difference.
Don’t leave money on the table. Use these four tactics to negotiate F&B minimums from a different perspective. You’ll stay on budget while raising the bar on food and drink.
Create a Tiered F&B Minimum
Stack the deck in your favor by creating two F&B minimums – one for the hotel and another for your company.
Let’s say you’re booking a sales retreat, with 50 people for three nights. That’s three breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, as well as one or more cocktail receptions. After doing your homework, you come up with these numbers:
- Estimated F&B budget: $16,000
- Hotel’s minimum F&B: $12,000
- Difference: $4,000 – in your favor
This additional $4,000 gives you real bargaining power. So here’s what to tell your hotel salesperson:
“I agree to the F&B minimum ... AND I want to add in my contract that if we spend at least $16,000 on F&B, we’ll unlock the following extra concessions.”
Need more suite upgrades or A/V concessions? A tiered F&B minimum is the icing on the cake. Use it to add the goodies you want to enhance your event.
But what if your budget is cut after you commit to higher spending?
No worries. Suppose you got more suites and A/V concessions for your extra $4,000 in spend. If you must reduce your budget later, you’ll know exactly what to give back. Bottom line: You have nothing to lose and a good value to add.
Find Out the Minimum for your Meeting Dates Upfront
Most hotels have a minimum amount of F&B spend they must earn per room night. As you probably guessed, this number depends on the time of year.
Request the hotel’s F&B minimum per person, per day. This number tells you exactly how much leverage you have. For instance, if your hotel partner wants $125 per person per day, and you were budgeting $150, you’re in luck. Agree to their number and put the tiered minimum we discussed earlier into play.
What if their F&B minimum per day is out of your range?
Find out if it would be worth your while to move the meeting to another date. Hotels are often willing to discount minimums and customize menu pricing – if the right group can fill a hole in their schedule.
Know your Full Meeting Value
When hotels evaluate the business, they consider three pillars: rates, dates, and space. Because you plan meetings, you know a lot more goes into the budget than that.
- Do you use the on-property AV company for the general session and all breakouts?
- Do attendees arrive a day before the meeting and stay the day after? If so, they’re likely to dine onsite, right?
- Does your group close down the bar every night?
If the answer is yes, ask your hotel partner to estimate your group’s “out of the room” spend. Use this intel when you’re “lite” on your F&B minimum.
Knowing your meeting history will prove valuable when negotiating future meetings as well. Hotel partners will take your full meeting value into account before submitting their proposals.
Look at the Complete Meeting Package
Many planners don’t know about CMPs (Complete Meeting Packages). Do you?
Typically, a CMP includes breakfast, morning and afternoon breaks, lunch, and basic audiovisual set-up (screen, projector, mic). Venues price CMPs per attendee. This provides an easy way to know if the hotel can work within your budget.
CMPs are gaining traction today and for good cause. Most hotels will customize a CMP for your group if the basic package doesn’t meet your needs. Leveraging CMPs may require a little extra work upfront. But they can save you time and spare you worry over costs down the road. Many hotels already have CMPs available. All you need to do is ask.
Planners often are surprised to learn their hotel catering partners are happy to break away from standard fare. They’ll customize flavorful dining options to fit your requirements.
So tell them your budget and what you want to accomplish. The chef may be thrilled to spice up the menu and depart from expected choices that are so yesterday.
Thank you for putting the time in to read these stories. We hope they provide you with simple takeaways that can help you drive your business forward.
We know what it’s like to seek efficiencies in sales and marketing spending because we live it ourselves. It’s great to tell the stories of others who are out there on their journey every day. Hopefully, you found it valuable!