10 tips to budget like an event pro

Every event has a budget, whether big or small someone has to put figures on a spreadsheet to see what it is going to cost. As event planners, being careful and calculating all the costs enables the client to see the bigger financial picture.

Once the budget is in place for everything needed, required and allowing for contingencies, the planning becomes less stressful and easier to manage.

1. Identify all the costs and expenditure. Don’t just stop at the costs for the venue, hotel and AV requirements. Break the budgeting down into daily schedules too – allow for catering, f&b each day, what does the client require over and above the meals being catered, etc. How much are you paying your speakers, does their fee include their travel, accommodation, transportation. What about entertainment and even costs required by the clients staff who are speakers? Printing often can be overlooked, what manuals, brochures, flyers, cards, etc are required and need to be advanced. Decorations are often last minute additions – ask up front what the clients would like or is expecting. Promotional costs as well as conventional and digital marketing costs. Client event insurance required by the venue and by the AV company. Registration ticket charges if the event is open to the public.

2. Set a realistic budget and how to measure ROI. Once you have listed every item you think will be required in the budget, you can look at the projected income required to balance the budget, or if it is being paid by the client prepare a budget cost sheet of what the total payment will be. If the event is ticketed, then a % should be built into the figures to show what profit was made

3. Contingency Budget. Even with the best planning in the world there is still the chance that something may not work, will cost more or something else needs to be added. It is normal to allow at least 10-15% of the budget to be in the “rainy day” file just for emergencies.

4. Use Event Apps With the abundance of event apps available for iOS and Droid, you will be able to find numerous apps that will make your life easier in planning and budgeting the event. Account Tracker gets 5 stars as the leading expense management app, with bill tracking, budget management sheets, reports that convert to csv and pdf so as to easily send to clients. Event Budget is similar to Event Tracker in that it allows comparison of real expenses to budgets and exporting reports by email.

5. Don’t shop at the last minute. Buying something just on a whim is a fast way to quickly lose track of spending. If its not in the budget – don’t buy it just because it may look good. If the client decides it is an absolute item that is different – its their money.

6. Venues take up a big part of the budget. When looking at places for your event, remember the times and season that affect events Out of season events should be cheaper for venue space and if a venue is demanding top price, spend time looking at alternative venues. In the summer last year I was at a large art gallery in Tampa for an evening event and it was an amazing success and considerably less than any of the surrounding hotels.

7. Plan for f&b then reduce 10% A lot of planners order too much food at events. While a sit down dinner has to be an exact number when it comes to snacks, and finger food with drinks for instance these figures can vary on the lower side substantially. A small reduction of 10% in f$b for 100-200 people is a significant cost saving. There are times of the day and especially buffets and hor d’oeuvres with certain demographics of attendees where you know they will not eat or drink the usual amount. Then you can safely reduce the catering amount by 10%. Make sure you know your demographic well on this. At a UN event early this year the reverse happened and the bar ran out because they guessed wrong and had to restock quickly.

8. Record every Expense. My team know that whenever we are doing an event they have to send in the receipt that they paid for asap, so that we can audit everything later. Always, always request receipts – for everything. I remember in Houston when a team member rented an essential replacement piece of equipment but forgot to get a receipt and it took forever for the client to pay the amount back- even though they knew the gear had been required, there was no paper trail for their accountants! If possible appoint one person to be the financial comptroller of the project finances and everyone works through them. Of course if you are using the apps listed above this makes life easier as everyone can sign in and enter what they spent. And with the abundance of smart phones with cameras, take a picture of the receipt as soon as you get it and email it straight off to your finance guys.

9. Don’t be a finance scrooge but… Do keep a an eye on those you are allowing to charge on their credit cards for purchases. It can take up to 30 days for that bill to arrive on the CC. Meeting together regularly for financial reports from each other helps give fiscal responsibility and helps protect you and the client from mistakes or missed payments.

10. Do ask for help from local CVB’s Every CVB knows where the best deals are and what recommendations they can offer. Most CVB’s live to help event planners save money – and quite rightly so because they want you to come back. I know CVB sales executives who have gone to my hotel choice and managed to get the price into my range because they have huge accounts with hotels throughout the cities.

Steve Brown

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