Working with a frugal budget doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style and class
As economies ebb and flow, budgets for events will shrink and grow as a reflection of the times. A small budget should not be the reason why an event fails — success depends on ingenuity, resourcefulness and a little flair.
The first step is to know what you have to work with. Make sure you have a budget prepared and approved by the appropriate board of directors or committee. For the events I manage, I like to think ahead in terms of spending money we don’t have yet.
The second step is to ensure you keep control of the budget – don’t let your team go crazy. I’ve found that the best way to avoid this is to have one person, usually the event manager, approve any expenses and keep control. Your job is to regularly circle back and review decisions, offering advice where you see fit.
Here are some tips for managing a small or shrinking event budget:
Find more money. This isn’t always an easy task, but if the event allows for it, go for it. If a business fits the event’s target audience or has a relationship with your client, a sponsorship has the potential to benefit everyone. When appropriate, consider partnering with a local charity that fits with your client’s mandate and passion. This will help attract more attendees who will want to support the charity and may not have attended otherwise.
Look for in-kind sponsorships. Areas to consider are print and radio or television advertising. In return, give them promotion or exclusivity to specific aspects of the event. This works well if you are working for a non-profit organization or partnering with a charity.
Reduce your budget costs. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Negotiate with the venue, A/V, caterers and all suppliers. If your company is a loyal client of specific suppliers, use that as leverage. See if the venue will waive the room rental if your food costs are high enough. If you are using a venue over multiple years, negotiate previous year’s costs. If your venue supplies all your needs in one package, you should be able to negotiate a better deal. When dealing with caterers, pick food that is local and in season as it usually is more reasonably priced.
Always know your industry. Try your hardest to avoid signing a contract with attrition in the first place. Be very cognizant of the current market and previous conference attendance history when negotiating your room block. If the venue insists on attrition in the contract, the trick here is to under estimate room nights. If it’s looking like it may happen, talk to the hotel right away and make sure you keep track of your release dates so the hotel can resell. Many contracts for national conferences are signed two to three years in advance, so keep an eye on the room price and make sure it matches current economic reality, ensuring your attendees don’t book outside the block or with another hotel.
Sell more up front and use free tools to do it. Using social media is a great way to promote your event and provides an opportunity for an in-kind sponsorship from a professional to help you manage the online promo. You can also save money by using free digital tools, such as apps, for several aspects of event execution.
Find locations based on partnerships. If you can partner with a local décor store or museum, it provides an opportunity for them to showcase their products and services and you can save some money on location fees. Pick something edgy that your guests have never seen, like a penthouse suite or a character home that’s recently come on the market. Choose a venue that already has some or all the A/V equipment and tables and chairs such as concert venues, schools or libraries.
Use volunteers wherever you can. You will need to invest your time to properly train your volunteers, but if done well, it can really save the day (and the budget). Entice people to volunteer with perks such as free registration, meals and entertainment. I often recruit students from a local university or college, especially if the event is related to their future careers. They get an opportunity to hear speakers they may not be able to otherwise afford.
A small or shrinking budget doesn’t have to mean that your event should suffer. In fact, some innovative solutions and problem solving can actually make the event better than if you were able to throw money at every issue. So the next time you are asked to take on a small budget event, see it as a challenge you are more than ready to accept.