Balancing the event budget: Making the most of what you have

Balancing the event budget: Making the most of what you haveBy Mary Beth Holmes

As an event planner, the budget is sometimes the toughest part of my job. Amounts are often set and approved well in advance for an event, and sometimes not even all of the plans are in place. Trying to make the event work with the amounts allocated can sometimes be difficult and will take all of your event planning skills. Over the years, I’ve had to learn ways to be creative in order to make the event work within budget. Here are some things to consider.

Anyone who has taken their CMP has been hit over the head with goals and objectives. Taking these into account can really impact everything that you do including your budget. Consider what the expected outcome is of the organization that is putting this event on. Are all the expenses you are committing to helping you achieve that goal? Are you spending too much money on things that you think are important, or have been doing that way for years, but aren’t helping to meet the goals? Then change it up.

Are registrants attending for one purpose? Is it the same as that of the organization’s? For example, if the delegates are attending to make business connections are there enough networking opportunities? Do you need to reconsider the agenda in order to accomplish both the goals of the organization and those of the delegates?

Review and reflect

When planning an event, it is important to take a critical look at what you are doing and why you are doing it. This is an important step when you do your event review at the conclusion of your event. It’s a great place to begin planning for the future. Did you really need the delegate bag that was handed out at registration? Maybe you don’t need to spend money on something that has always been part of the event but doesn’t really serve a purpose.

A couple of examples from my experiences over the last couple of years include removing a morning break with full refreshments. This break took place one hour after a hot full breakfast and 90 minutes before a full lunch. Delegates weren’t hungry, so why spend the money on food? We offered drinks and water stations, and they were perfectly happy with the opportunity to network at a fraction of the cost for us.

Know your suppliers

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing vendors for many years, and I’ve also started working with some new ones as well. It’s my opinion that it is really in your best interest to get to know your service providers well and to work with them. Ask them for advice. Our vendors work with other clients and can sometimes share great ways that they were able to do something differently that in the end was successful and will save you money.

Other partnerships, like your sponsors, are incredibly important as well. If you have the opportunity to offer sponsorship partnerships, this is a great way to offset some costs for your event. Have a look at your sponsorship package — is there room to add to it? Is there another source for sponsors that you have yet to tap into? Talk to your current sponsors to see how your package is working for them and what else they would like to see.

Examine major expenses

Every event budget that I ever worked with had two large line items: food and beverage and audio visual. Often, senior management will look at your budget and request that you cut a certain amount of money from Food and Beverage or from AV because they see how much the overall cost is for those items. I will often suggest that we cut the same amount but from the overall budget. It’s tough to simply cut these lines, even when you are budget conscious and careful, these expenses are still high. There are ways you can lower expenses and still meet the goals and objectives.

In certain events, delegates rate networking as the most important part of the event for them and it’s often the only reason they attend. By removing the evening dinner, with a full agenda and speaker, and replacing it with a networking reception with food, our costs were significantly less and delegates had a chance to mingle more with each other.

Technology can help

The same holds true with the audio-visual portion. Work with your AV partners to look how the sessions are currently planned, saving money by modifying how the AV is set up, what is being used and why, and money that can be saved without compromising delegate experience. There is some great new technology out there that can truly heighten the delegate experience. While some may cost more money, it may offset the costs elsewhere by eliminating the need for other technology. This is where your partnerships with your vendors can truly make a difference.

It’s very easy to get caught in a routine that has you executing an event the same way year after year. I always try to look at what we are doing with “fresh eyes” and see if we can make small changes to how we do things. I ask others in my organization that attend conferences and trade shows to come back and tell me about their experience. What did they like? What was frustrating? We try to see if there are things that we can do to make it easier for our delegates and, of course, reduce the cost of the overall program.

Some changes can be made immediately and some are going to need lots of advance warning so that your delegates that are creatures of habit and expect certain things to happen a certain way can be properly prepared. One of the best ways to encourage change is to survey the attendees and when you get their support via the survey, make the change and communicate, communicate, communicate.

It is true that budgets will always be a thorny issue in the event planning industry, and it will often require all of your creativity and skill to manage them effectively. But with some flexibility, an open mind and a collaborative mindset, even the toughest budget challenges can be overcome.

About the author

Mary Beth Holmes, CMP, is an event planner that has loved this industry for over 18 years. She has experience on many different sides of the industry including as an independent, corporate, third-party and association planner. She is currently the Manager, Conferences and Events at the Canadian Urban Transit Association. She can be reached at [email protected] and on twitter @gr8eventz.

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