We’re all on a budget, whether it’s buying a house or a cup of coffee.
Event planners are more than on a budget – they live, breathe, and sleep the budget. They would eat the budget for breakfast if that helped to reduce the cost of an event.
Most event planners are anticipating budget increases for next year, but not enough to cover the expected hikes in pricing for meeting spaces, hotel rooms, food and beverage, and air travel, according to Meeting Professionals International.
A recent Cvent survey found Millennial event planners are more likely than their seasoned counterparts to cite venue cost (as opposed to customer service) as their top reason for not using a space.
For those pinching pennies, we’ve got a list of the best strategies for you to use to cut down your event budget, without feeling nickeled and dimed:
1. Be flexible
The narrower your requirements for elements of your event, the tougher it will be to fulfill them on a small dollar amount.
Sometimes it can be as simple as using what’s provided to you for free. Opt for the standard white linens included by your convention venue instead of renting a particular color. (You can always bring in color with table displays and centerpieces.) Your guests likely won’t care what the chair they’re sitting in for a big meeting looks like, as long as it’s decently comfortable, so you don’t need to spring for the stylish option.
You can also use or produce items that will see you through more than one event – think folders with just your company logo, without a date or location – to save money. Or, reuse pieces like directional signs and display materials to stretch your investment.
2. Look for package deals
It may seem that shopping around for the cheapest deals in each expense category (catering, tables and chairs, space, etc.) is the way to save money.
Not always so.
Your venue might also be able to supply your equipment, or even food and beverage, and cut you a deal because you’re using so many of their services. Mandatory in-house catering, though, can sometimes be a tactic for increasing your bill without giving you an option of going elsewhere, so do your research.
3. Use free tools
In this day and age, you don’t have to pay for a newspaper ad or the side a billboard to get noticed.
Ahead of the event, you can do most (if not all) of your promotion through social media and email marketing, without increasing your budget. Social media is also a great way to keep attendees engaged during the event and get their feedback on various parts, and it won’t cost you a dime.
4. Staff your event with volunteers
Volunteers are a great way to add manpower to your event without adding cost.
You will have to invest your time to properly train volunteers, and they need to have quick access to someone at the management level for questions or in case something goes wrong.
Entice volunteers with perks, like an hour to taste before guests arrive at the festival, or free entrance to a conference session if they staff the registration table.
Volunteers are a better fit for some events than for others. If you need someone with a particular skillset like bartending, someone to look after valuables, or someone to run complicated technology or machinery, hiring a professional is the way to go.
5. Think about the off-season
Did you know plenty of wedding venues cut their prices in half during the winter? You can get deals on spaces and other amenities by choosing less popular dates and seasons for events, as long as they don’t largely inconvenience your guests. Hotel rooms are also cheaper during the week than on Friday and Saturday nights.
Do keep in mind that some dead zones, like the last weeks of August, are that way for a reason: You don’t want to plan a conference at the same time as most of the big players are on family vacation.
6. Don’t travel far, or at all
A conference doesn’t have to be somewhere exotic. Sure, it might sound nice to ship the company to sunny Florida, but if you’re going to be spending 95% of your time in a hotel and meeting rooms, the locale will be lost on attendees.
There’s nothing wrong with a staycation. If it makes sense, pick a place that’s close by, which will cut down on transportation and lodging costs.
For events where guests would have to travel long distances (like internationally), consider the virtual option. Check out these tips for making virtual meetings successful or pulling off a hybrid event, with a mix of live and digital guests.
7. Save the trees
Printing is expensive, and it makes the Lorax sad.
Limit your printing to what is absolutely essential for attendees.
Let technology fill in for reams of paper. Have helpful information like check-in details, daily schedules, and places to eat in the area on an event-specific website or in an easy-to-find spot on your own site. Make sure it’s optimized for mobile!
If you’re already investing in event technology, an event app is a great way to share information without using the printer. Or, use RFID wearables for a paperless check in and as a way for attendees to collect more information without collecting paper.
8. Cut down on catering
Food and beverages don’t have to be such a large expense if you’re open to straying from traditional trappings. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
Instead of paying more servers to pass hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour, allow your guests to seek out stations if they’re hungry. You can skip the multi-course, plated dinner in favor of a buffet; your attendees will welcome the freedom to choose their meal.
Think about the kind of food to serve, too – black-tie fare isn’t necessary for casual events, and lunch doesn’t have to mean deli sandwiches. Change it up! A baked potato bar can be a crowd-pleaser (and vegetarian), cupcakes are a frugal alternative to a fancily decorated big cake (plus they’re cute and you can get a range of flavors), or food trucks can show off local culinary flair while being delicious and cost-effective.
And unless you know you’ll have heavy drinkers at this soiree, open wine and beer is generally plenty for an open bar. You can oomph it up with a few signature cocktails if some liquor options are a must, rather than stocking a full shelf.
9. Don’t waste money on swag guests won’t want
Less is more when it comes to goodie bags. No one needs another ballpoint pen with a logo on it, so think carefully about what you’ll send your guests home with.
BizBash has lots of event gift ideas, but as a general rule, things that serve a purpose do better than frivolous frills. Consider snacks to fuel attendees through a long meeting day or branded notebooks they can use during a conference.
Remember: If it’s not something you’d be excited to get at an event, it’s not worth including at yours.
10. Ask for help
Sponsors can be an enormous help in financing events, especially large-scale ones.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to businesses – local ones are more likely to feel they have a stake in your event– and ask what they can do.
In exchange, offer to give them visibility (through banners, logos on material, or written or spoken acknowledgement) or cobrand the event if the sponsorship is substantial.
A contribution doesn’t have to be in the form of a check, though. A sponsor in the office supply industry could provide you with those notebooks to give to guests, or a caterer could donate services in exchange for the chance to give out business cards to diners.
I’ve never been scared to haggle, and neither should you. In almost all circumstances when you ask for a lower price, the worst that can happen is someone says no, and then you’re in no different a place than if you hadn’t asked. The best case scenario saves you money, so from a risk vs. reward perspective, it only makes sense to negotiate.
Do your part to shop around and see what pricing is in the sectors you’re working with, and don’t insult a vendor by asking for a price that’s way outside market value. Be honest about your budget, and upfront if you have another vendor who is willing to do the same work for less money. Someone you like more might match their competitors’ rates.
12. Pay attention to what you’re spending
Take control of your destiny. You’ve made your budget, so now is the time to follow it.
Keep track of your expenses, as many items can pop up that you weren’t accounting for.
Make sure contracts line up with your initial discussion and proposals from vendors. Check that final bills follow the contract.
If you see something askew, say something. Don’t make an accusation, but find out the reason for the discrepancy. Don’t let charges get added without an explanation, and don’t pay for something that you didn’t agree to.
These are just 12 tips on cutting down your budget, but there’s an infinite number of ways to save money when planning an event. We’d love to hear yours! Let us know in the comments below.
Images by Abby Kahler
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