A step-by-step guide to building an event budget.
An event budget is an estimation of expenses and revenues associated with your event. It is a forecast of how much your event will cost and how much it will generate, detailed by categories.
Creating an event budget can seem like a tedious task, but it is undoubtedly an imperative one. It helps planners monitor their expenses and keep them under control, getting a better understanding of what is within their means and supporting spending decisions.
And, it helps planners determine whether their event is financially feasible and their potentially maximum scale or capacity.
Similarly, the event budget keeps organizers realistic regarding their event KPIs (e.g., number of attendees).
Also, a budget gives organizers a clear picture of “where the money is going,” identifying the high expenditure areas and potential savings opportunities.
Notably, an event budget helps measure the return on investment of the event – crucial for post-event reporting to c-suite executives.
So, how do you draw up an event budget that is accurate and realistic? Where do you get the pricing from? What items should you include? To help you in your event budgeting, we have created a comprehensive step-by-step guide for virtual and hybrid events.
- Keep your event objectives in mind
- Research industry benchmarks and historical data
- Get support from your team and management
- Outline all event costs in your budget
- Include a contingency fund
- Outline all event revenues in your budget
- Review event budget and analyze ROI
Event budget step-by-step guide for virtual and hybrid events
Keep your event objectives in mind
When you draw up your event budget, always keep in mind your event vision and objectives. The objectives will guide your event budget priorities, helping you invest in items that will advance your overarching goals.
For instance, your event could aspire to educate your audience, generate leads or encourage networking among a business community.
Those guiding objectives should be front and center when deciding to allocate the budget to different areas. Indeed, if your event is educational, investing in top event speakers in the field will be a top priority. Otherwise, if your aim is promoting networking, investing in a robust virtual networking tool will be more critical.
Research industry benchmarks and historical data
To understand average rates for elements like A/V or virtual event platforms, do some industry research. Some of these prices are publicly displayed, but others can be more difficult to figure out.
In that context, make use of event profs communities such as Eventland. The community includes peers that have likely faced similar situations and can give you advice and appropriate benchmarks.
Alternatively, if your next event is not your first, data from past events is a valuable starting point.
Indeed, you can estimate a minimum, a maximum, and an average from your past events that will help you determine whether you are underinvesting or overspending on certain items.
Alongside post-event reports, your previous event budgets can also bring you valuable lessons about what was worth investing in and what wasn’t.
Your events may differ in scale or scope, so use previous event budgets as a benchmark rather than a rigid constraint to replicate.
Get support from your team and management
Once you have the first budget draft, it is vital to get support from your team and management-level stakeholders.
Executives may not need to go into the nitty-gritty detail of the suppliers and items that you plan to buy. Nonetheless, they should at least estimate how much the event will cost, so there are no surprises afterward.
Added to that, sharing the event budget with team members and management will give you different perspectives on spending items.
Outline all costs in your event budget
Once you determine your broad focus areas, it’s time to outline every item of your budget. Be detailed, and don’t limit yourself to broad categories, so you don’t miss any items.
For instance, you might write down “venue” as a general category in your budget, but you should break it down into several line items.
Typically, event budgets have two columns, one for “projected cost” and one for “actual cost,” reflecting your pre-event estimation and the actual price you paid for the items. The closer these figures are, the more accurate your event budget is.
Importantly, track your event budget and update its figures regularly, so it is accurate at all times and gives a snapshot of your financial situation.
To help you build your event budget, we outline some of the main cost items you can include.
At the core of successful and memorable virtual and hybrid events are robust event technology tools.
The best options are all-in-one event platforms, integrating solutions for:
- Registration and ticketing
- Event check-in
- Live engagement and networking
- Sponsorship and exhibitor management
- Data analytics and post-event reporting
They go well beyond simple webinar tools, elevating the entire event navigation experience.
Fittingly for hybrid events, specialized platforms also include event mobile apps. These bridge the virtual and in-person components of the hybrid format and connect attendees.
Crucially, the best hybrid event platforms also offer event budget and supplier management. Using built-in tools, you can forecast your costs, and track expenses by category and supplier (e.g virtual vs in-person expenses).
Therefore, make sure to invest in a hybrid event platform that is reliable, customizable, and proven with industry-leading client reviews.
If you are hosting a hybrid event, this will likely be one of the highest expenditure items.
Consider venues fitting the hybrid format, including a robust internet connection and large spaces to respect social distancing guidelines and safety protocols.
If you are hosting a 100 % virtual event, accommodation costs will probably not be a factor. But, they do become one when it comes to hybrid. Whether you are running a corporate experience or a team-building event over several days, you will probably need to find suitable accommodation for your staff and perhaps for some VIP guests as well.
Catering costs usually include food and beverages for the in-person attendees, which can fluctuate depending on the type of meal (e.g., breakfast, snacks, or a sit-down dinner) you intend to offer. But increasingly, event organizers are also serving virtual attendees, giving them vouchers for food deliveries.
As the public face of your event and the cornerstone of session engagement, event speakers can make or break your event.
Particularly when you position your event positions as educational, it is worth hiring renowned experts in the field as an effective way to attract attendees.
For the hybrid format, consider event speakers with strong engagement skills making both the in-person and virtual audience feel involved in the occasion.
Find out the best ways to find, choose, prepare and leverage event speakers for your event.
Investing in audio-visual expertise and equipment is critical to your event’s success, and even more so in the case of virtual and hybrid events.
Indeed, you do not want to relay a poor quality live stream or audio to your virtual attendees, or they will feel left apart.
Additionally, consider adding an extra event budget line for the event décor, as it will make your event more stylish and eye-catching. Decor includes centerpieces, balloons, florals, candles, special lighting, vases, etc.
Signage and branding
Event branding and signage are vital in stamping a brand personality effectively and boosting brand awareness in attendee’s minds.
For virtual events, you can use while-label platforms enabling customization and allowing you to bring your brand to life effectively.
For hybrid events, you will also need to consider physical event signage, making the event environment recognizable and on-brand.
Moreover, as COVID-19 safety measures will remain in the future, you should consider investing in signage that encourages masking, social distancing, and communicates clear safety protocols.
Then, consider including entertainment items in your event budget.
Performances from comedians, magicians, or live bands can create a buzz in your event and make the experience memorable for attendees.
Travel / Transport
Added to that, if you are hosting a hybrid event, consider the travel expenses in your event budget.
Indeed, you may need to cover costs for your staff, speakers, and entertainers to get to the venue or hire shuttles and coaches.
Safety and Security
Also, think about allocating budget to safety and security measures. For hybrid events, this can comprise security teams in and around your venue. And it also includes health safety supplies of hand-washing stations, contactless thermometers, hand sanitizers, Plexiglas, etc.
Whether you are hosting virtual or hybrid events, gifts are always a nice touch. So, consider setting aside some event budget for gifts such as vouchers, wellness kits, or merchandising swag bags.
Event promotion and marketing
Plan a substantial investment for promotion and marketing in your event budget as you will need it to attract attendees.
In the event budget, you can break down marketing costs into different categories constituting the main marketing channels. For instance, the event budget items can comprise advertising (print and online), paid social, PR, content marketing, experiential activations, etc.
Finally, you might also incur extra staffing costs. Especially if you are hosting a large-scale event, you will need to hire temporary support staff directing attendees to sessions or rooms and helping with any technical issues navigating your event platform.
For hybrid events, you may also hire a photographer to capture the in-person component.
Include a contingency fund
Alongside an outline of all event budget items, it is always advisable to plan for a contingency or backup fund.
Despite the best efforts to plan all items, there are always unforeseen costs at the last minute. For instance, that might be delivery costs for equipment, furniture, or a speaker that dropped out unexpectedly.
Whatever the case, add a contingency fund to your event budget, ranging from 5 to 20% of your total budget. That will give you some leeway and prevent you from going over budget.
Outline all revenues in your event budget
If you are monetizing your event, identify the revenue sources you are planning to get and include them in your event budget.
Here are some of the primary revenue sources you can include:
Event tickets sales
If you are selling tickets for your event, make sure to include a line in your event budget. Importantly, if you are selling different ticket categories, break them down into separate line items.
Sponsors & Exhibitors
Sponsorship is often a significant source of revenue, allowing many events to be sustainable.
Again, if you offer different packages or sponsorship tiers, introduce those in separate event budget line items.
If you are hosting a trade show or a large conference, you might be able to monetize your event program and offer to advertise.
Review event budget and analyze ROI
After the event, review your event budget thoroughly. Have a look at the projected and actual costs, and identify where you were able to make savings and where you went above your projected numbers.
Subsequently, examine the reasons for those differentials. Whether it was because you underestimated certain costs or because your suppliers charged some additional expenses, you will get valuable lessons.
Then, your event budget can serve as a basis for evaluating your event ROI. If you aimed to host a profit-making event and monetized it, you could get your ROI with this formula:
[(Total Revenue from the Event – Total Cost of the Event) ÷ Total Cost of the Event ] X 100 = ROI
However, many events do not aim to make a profit. Still, they serve other non-monetary and long-term objectives, such as boosting the awareness and reputation of a brand among a particular audience.
In that context, you can use event surveys to appraise attendee satisfaction. And, you can ask for feedback on the different items on your budget (e.g., for the food served, for the entertainment sessions, for the event platform used) to get a clearer picture of your return on investment.
Similarly, you can also analyze attendee engagement. Using event platforms data analytics, you can measure the average time attendees spent in each session or breakout room, the numbers of messages exchanged, and the polls responded.
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