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Top tips to help you master event budgeting in 2021

Last updated October 22nd, 2021

Budgeting is an essential part of being a successful event manager. Whether you love numbers or hate them, being able to bring an event in on budget or make a profit, is essential.

We cover budgeting a lot in our courses but there’s a lot that goes into event budgeting so we think there’s no such thing as too much information!

That’s why we put this guide together. It will take a high level look at event budgeting and provide some practical tips for mastering the numbers.

We’ll cover goal setting, planning, estimating costs, creating the budget, controlling costs and a whole lot more!

Want to find out more? Download our FREE Event Management Guide

Setting the event goal

We think the first thing you need to do when budgeting for an event is to set the goal for that event. The goal will influence the overall strategy and give you a reference point for every decision you make.

Part of budgeting is allocating funds and resources to the various elements that will contribute to the success of the event.

You can use historical data from past events to help with this. If you work within an experienced events company, you will likely have data from previous events of a similar size and scope. Use that to guide your goals and your budget.

Use historical data as a guide and not a concrete budget though. Inflation, minor differences and different suppliers can all influence the overall cost.

Calculate average expenses

Having an idea of what costs you’re likely to face is another part of event budgeting. There will likely be hundreds of expenses within even a modest event, but they will all be a variation of the following.

Staffing costs – Staffing costs can be considerable or modest depending on the event. It isn’t only wages you need to budget for. Consider meals, travel, accommodation, overtime, insurance and training as well.

Venue costs – Venues can cost a lot of money. Having an idea of how much it will cost to hire a venue and whether that cost covers staff, drinks, catering and services, or not, will be essential.

Talent – Talent for events can include headline acts, guest speakers, warmup acts, sideline acts, comperes, MCs, bands, DJs and other types of entertainment. Talent costs can vary hugely but the usual calculation is, the more famous they are, the more they cost.

Event branding – Event branding can be cheap or not-so cheap depending on the event. It could simply be a matter of signage or more involved such as apps, swag, branded catering, cutlery and cups, websites, landing pages and more.

Technology – Even ‘analog’ events like weddings and corporate parties require music, PA, lighting and other technology. Hybrid and virtual events have taken that to another level. The more technology you use, the more you’ll need to budget for the hardware, software and people to install, run and support it.

Swag – Sometimes, swag can be a simple giveaway bag with a few cheap goodies inside. Other times, it can be a lot more involved, like food deliveries for digital events, swag boxes for hybrid events or remote meetings and custom products to promote the stakeholders or sponsors. All that costs money.

Marketing – Marketing begins as soon as you set a date and continues right after the event. It’s a significant process and can be expensive. You’ll need marketing platforms, marketers and lots of ideas.

Contingency fund – Never forget you’ll need a contingency fund. This should be around 20% of your overall budget and is designed to cover emergencies, unforeseen expenses and anything you don’t initially budget for.

COVID compliance – You’ll also need to consider COVID compliance for the foreseeable future. That will include larger venues for distancing, PPE, hand sanitiser, health checks, integrating COVID into your event app and staff protection.

The event budgeting template

You can use an all-singing, all-dancing event management platform or a simple Google Doc to create your event budget template.

As long as it’s accessible and starts on the right foot, it doesn’t really matter what you use to create it.

Begin simply with a column for Items, Descriptions, Estimated Costs and Actual Costs.

Include everything your event is likely to need in rows. We find it useful to divide it up into sections such as staffing, venue, technology, marketing and so on like those mentioned above.

All related line items can be included within each section with an estimated expense next to it.

Finally, add your contingency at the end as a percentage of your overall budget.

Update the event budget template wherever necessary but especially when you add items or when actual costs are known.

The more meticulous you are when maintaining your event budget spreadsheet, the more accurate your budget will be and the faster you’ll be able to tackle an overspend.

Budgeting for paid events

If you’re managing a ticketed event or one with income sources, you’ll need to add an extra element to your event budgeting template, income.

Depending on the type of income you’re expecting, you will need to balance predicted income with expenses to make sure you either break even or make a profit. The event goals will help you decide which is which.

Get multiple quotes for goods and services

Many of us are guilty of finding a supplier who doesn’t let us down and sticking with them. That can be a mistake.

Companies come and go and new event companies spring up all the time. They may offer more/better/cheaper/newer or something else.

We would recommend getting multiple quotes wherever possible and working through them. Even if you have a preferred supplier, it’s always good to know what’s out there, even if you stick to what you know.

If nothing else, showing your current supplier evidence they are being undercut might make them drop their prices!

Decide where to spend and where to save

When you have been in the events industry as long as we have, you’ll become accustomed to wanting to spend more than you have to create the most memorable experience.

We help mitigate this with a ‘Needs Wants’ list.

Create a Google sheet with a Needs column and a Wants column. We list everything the event needs to deliver its goals in the Needs column and everything we would like it to have in Wants.

Prioritise needs throughout the planning stage. Once you have all the needs, you can begin cherry picking the wants. Squeeze as many of them as you can out of the budget and stop before you overspend.

You’ll find the event will run perfectly without some of those wants, even if you would still like to include them!

Successful event budgeting

Successful event budgeting is about accurate forecasting and keeping your budget spreadsheet as up to date and as detailed as possible.

As long as you can see what’s going out and on what, you can control expenses while delivering unforgettable events.

It’s not the most glamorous or most interesting element of event management for most of us but it is definitely one of the most important!

Want to find out more? Download our FREE Event Management Guide
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