First things first when planning an event – how to get started with budgeting and planning – #2 in our event series

In News, Events by Anna Bailey

In this blog, we are going to focus solely on actual in-person events as planning an online event requires a slightly different approach. Please get in touch if you would like advice and support on running an online event – lots of people have held these in the past 18 months but they are trickier than they look and there are many different online platforms to choose from!

First things first – how much do you have to spend? Your approximate budget is the very first thing to determine when considering managing your own event or talking to a company to manage it for you. Like most significant purchases, it is worth establishing your budget parameters to work within, as the costs of any event can spiral as you add ‘bells and whistles’; we have previously organised stilt walkers to greet party guests on arrival and dodgems and a vodka luge for the evening entertainment at a wedding, none of which came cheap!

To start forming an idea of how much your event is likely to cost you need to think about two main factors: 1) the number of guests you hope to invite and 2) the type (and quality) of venue, as this is usually the biggest outlay. There are two main types of events: private (by invitation where you are hosting your guests) and commercial (where you are charging for tickets).

If you are organising an event like a wedding or birthday party, where you will be covering all costs, you need to pinpoint your guest list, as the ultimate choice of venue will very much depend on this. A venue for 50 or 100 guests is usually easier to source than one for 200 guests – and with a private event you are likely to also need to ensure that there is enough available overnight accommodation either at the venue, or nearby, for any guests who live further than a taxi journey away. Preparing a guest list can take a while; take a wedding, for example – if you both have large families, you will need to decide your policy on inviting children as this can often significantly increase the numbers and affect the choice of venue with some just not suitable for small children. This can take weeks – often months – as it is a sensitive topic and everyone in your family will have their own opinion.

Weddings are emotional events and so it is not always easy to think about the experience from your guests’ perspective as you are excited about the ceremony itself, the dress, the cake, the cars and so on BUT, if you do take time to do so, the whole event will be that much more memorable for those attending. I was lucky enough many years ago to attend a fabulous wedding at Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey). I was pregnant at the time and my daughter – who was invited – was around 20 months old, which is not the easiest age (and I would have been very happy for her to spend the weekend with her grandparents instead). I really was in two minds about whether to take her with us, but we ended up taking her along and didn’t regret it for a minute (well maybe for a few moments in the church!) On arrival at ‘Downton Abbey’ she was whisked upstairs to a suite of bedrooms where they had a team of nannies and activities for all ages. I was impressed (and very relieved) and had a fabulous time as I wasn’t worried at all about Lauren being tired or bored or even disappearing into the servants’ quarters…    

Once you have your ideal numbers, you need to start researching venues and collating prices. Venues all price in their own way so ensure that all the rooms/areas of a venue that you will need on the day are included in the costs provided, and make sure you are 100% clear on what the costs include – such as the wedding breakfast, a welcome drink for your guests on arrival at the venue, half a bottle of wine per person for the meal and so on. At this point, you also need to decide whether you want to offer unlimited drinks to your guests (some venues will offer unlimited drinks packages but be aware that they don’t include all types of drinks) or you may decide to draw a payment line after your wedding breakfast (or after the half bottle of wine allowance) and offer guests a cash bar to save yourselves the worry of the bar bill the next morning. It is important to find out whether guests can order more wine to the table if they wish and how they will pay for that. It sounds like unnecessary detail but – in our professional option – thinking of such details can often make the difference between a ‘good’ wedding or a ‘great’ wedding for your guests. Then there’s the evening catering to think about – will you also offer something to eat in the evening and will further guests be joining you for the evening ceremony – would you like to offer them a welcome drink too, so they feel included on arrival? There really is so much to think about!

If you are planning a commercial event and need to make a profit – or at the very least break even – then you need to think about how many tickets you will be able to sell and have a realistic best case and worst case scenario. If it is a completely new venture, then you should really consider employing professionals to assist you with the planning stage, as they can draw on all their previous experience and instincts. If you don’t want to employ professionals, then the key here is to work out the minimum number you can sell, say, for example, 200 delegates at a conference and then make an allowance for selling more, say 250 tickets. In this scenario you should consider a 300-seat venue. In our experience of planning many events of this size, it is worth noting that there is a significant jump in price when sourcing venues over the 300 mark, particularly in London.

So how do you work out how much to charge for a ticketed event? This is not a simple process. You need to first identify all your main costs – your venue costs will likely be the biggest cost and venues charge in two ways: rooms plus catering or daily delegate rate (DDR) and you will need to work out – based on the numbers you think you will achieve – which option will be the best deal for you. You need to also consider all other costs such as marketing, invitations, cost of the main act/ entertainment or guest speakers. Will you offer a drinks reception and how long will this last? There might be a delegate pack or programme to print. Then there is the event management team for which to budget or the event management company fees, if you have decided to outsource the whole project.

It is very important to note that whilst many venues offer a duty manager, that person is not generally there to help you with the management of your event on the day; they are just the liaison between your team and the venue staff for the duration of the event (please note also that the duty manager is very unlikely to be the person with whom you make all the arrangements when planning an event; that is usually someone from the sales team). The duty manager will not be willing to do the ‘meet and greet’, the set-up, check presentations/entertainment are as they should be or all the other running around and numerous jobs that are required for an event to be successful. If you are new to events, you must not underestimate the running around needed – from set up in the morning or night before to the moment the very last guest departs. We have arranged many different types of events and will always have the right sized team on the day so that the event is a success. We liken it to a duck swimming calmly on the surface (the event itself) while beneath the surface there is a LOT going on. Duty managers can be blasé about aspects of their venue that only materialise on the day and you must know how to stand up to them to ensure that your event runs as seamlessly as possible.    

Back to the budget – once you have all your costs in your spreadsheet you will be able to estimate your total costs. You then need to work out how much you are going to charge which again can be a challenge; what is the ‘going rate’ for such an event, for example? If you price it too high and you don’t sell any tickets, then you will make a loss. If you price it too low and sell out, then you have lost an opportunity to make even more profit. Once you have your total estimated costs and you have decided how much to charge, you divide one by the other and that is your approximate breakeven figure, i.e. the number of tickets you need to sell to break even. Doing this in a spreadsheet enables you to play around with some of the variables as you might decide to forego some elements of the event to enable you to break even. Again, get in touch and we will be happy to help.

Do you have an event coming up and no idea where to start?

Please get in touch and contact us here, we’d be delighted to help you!