Your event budget is a critical part of the event planning process. But with three event formats – in-person, virtual, and hybrid – now the norm, event budgeting has become more complex.
That, coupled with rising costs and inflation, makes it even more important to build and track your event budget from the outset. Proper event budgeting not only makes stakeholders happier but also leads to greater return on investment (ROI), helps you save on event costs and sets the stage for overall success.
Read on to learn best practices for planning your event budget in 2023.
How to Determine Your Event Budget
1. Understand your event goals
The purpose of the event will impact the budget. Is the event meant to raise money? For a charitable event, for example, sponsorships can likely cover a great deal of the event budget.
Is the purpose to raise brand awareness? Then the metric most important to determining event success may not be focused on revenue but on attendee feedback. In this case, you may decide to direct your budget to things like onsite branding and collateral.
Ensure that your budget is realistic and in line with your overall goals.
2. Decide on your event format
The format of your event will directly impact your budget.
Virtual, hybrid and in-person events are unique in their costs and potential ROI. When you choose a particular event format, remember that costs for these events differ and you should adjust your budget and shift your strategies accordingly.
3. Communicate with stakeholders
Sign-off for your budget will be determined by your company or the company hosting the event. As a result, finalising your event budget is likely to be a collaborative process.
As the meetings and event planner, your role is to provide the expertise to help shape the final budget. It’s not as simple as being given a number and taking that at face value – you understand the nuances when it comes to event costs, so ensure that your voice is heard.
4. Factor in additional revenue streams
Don’t forget to factor in the money you’ll get from sponsors. Sponsorships help pay for the event and add value for attendees - so it's a win-win for everyone.
The key here is to demonstrate the value that sponsors and partners will get from sponsoring the event. Revenue from sponsors can end up covering the cost of a happy hour event during a conference, your mobile event app, signage, and more.
What Should You Consider When Setting a Budget for an Event?
Your budget will be an ongoing process. There is a myriad of costs to consider and discuss with stakeholders and, even then, your budget will likely change as event planning gets underway. It may be helpful to see your budget as a budget is a guideline, one that helps set you up for success.
As you plan your budget, consider the following factors:
Basic Event Costs
These are necessary costs that are the foundation of your budget – and they will often depend on your event format. For example, you can’t have an in-person event without a venue or food, so these are basic non-negotiable costs. Identifying the basics allows you to begin to build out where you want to spend most of your budget.
The following are the basic costs that come with every event, regardless of the format. How you decide to allocate your budget for each will depend on the size of the event, the purpose of the event, and the upfront budget you have to work with.
Event Marketing and Promotion
Getting the word out about your event is crucial, otherwise, no one will attend (if you’re planning an internal event, you might not need to spend as much, or indeed anything, on marketing). For events that have a large number of attendees and/or require attendees to pay for tickets, more money will need to be put towards event promotion.
- Email Marketing: This is a great and inexpensive tactic for promoting your event, as it delivers information about your event directly to potential attendees. You'll want to consider a robust email marketing tool.
- Graphic Design: You’ll need to consider the creation of key graphic design assets, including your event logo, ads, collateral, website, swag, and more. If your budget allows, consider hiring an agency to do the heavy lifting.
- Social Media: You can leverage organic social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and TikTok, to promote your event and engage with attendees pre, during and after the event. Consider whether this is something that can be done in-house or should be outsourced to a freelancer or agency.
- Paid Ads: Not necessary for all events, there are many options for paid ads, and you should choose ads that will impact your target demographic the most.
- Sponsorships: Sponsorships are an effective way to offset event costs. Be sure to find companies that want to reach the same audience as you and offer them increased visibility at the event. Establish sponsorship packages and levels early on in the planning process. As sponsorships come in, you can adjust the budget.
Event Management Technology
Event management technology gives you the overview you need to manage and track all of your event activities. It’s a necessary for any event and should therefore be included in your budget. Event tech can be useful for many reasons, including capturing key attendee data and providing tools to engage with attendees before, during and after your event.
Here are some tools to keep in mind:
- Event registration website: Your event registration website is the hub for your event and your primary marketing tool. Though engaging content, this is where you’ll persuade attendees to attend and register for your event.
- Mobile event app: Mobile event apps are a key way for you to keep attendees engaged throughout the lifecycle of your event. They allow attendees to access important event information, view valuable content and connect with other attendees directly.
- Onsite technology: A must-have for your in-person events, onsite technology includes tools like contactless check-in and on-demand badge printing, allowing attendees to check in easily at your event without any hassle.
- Lead capture tools: These allow your exhibitors and partners to capture the right attendee data, simply by scanning a business card or name badge. By doing so, they can quickly gather leads and provide ROI more easily.
- Data and analytics: Event data is critical to understanding the ROI of your event and gaining attendee insights. This, in turn, allows you to continue to prove and improve event ROI.
Costs to Consider by Event Format
Your event budget will vary considerably based on whether your event is in-person, virtual or hybrid. Here are the main costs specific to each event format:
In-person event costs
When planning your in-person event, your biggest line items are likely to be the venue, food and beverage, accommodation and transportation. Where possible, make sure to negotiate to find the best rate or package.
Virtual event costs
- Virtual event platform
- Gift bags
When planning a virtual event, your budget changes dramatically. Suddenly, you do not have to pay for venue space, catering expenses, or travel fees. Instead, you should reallocate your budget to make your virtual event as professional an experience as possible.
Invest in good production services, lighting, and audio so your attendees get a world-class experience. Additionally, make sure you have a virtual event tool that will help you put on an engaging event.
Hybrid event costs
- Venue rental
- Live streaming / hybrid event platform
For many, it can be tricky to nail down a hybrid event budget. This is because your budget will very much depend on the type of hybrid format you choose.
For example, if your event is primarily virtual with just a small number of in-person attendees, this will probably require less of a budget than if you are planning an event with two fully immersive and distinct experiences.
To learn more about which hybrid event format is right for you, check out our Hybrid Event Strategy for Dummies guide.
How To Stay on Track with Your Event Budget
Budgeting doesn’t stop at creating the budget: it involves tracking expenses and redistributing money based on unexpected costs that emerge throughout the planning process.
If you never check the budget once it’s been agreed upon, there’s no chance you’ll stick to it. That's why it’s important to create a clear process to enable you to stick to your budget. By following a few simple rules, it will be easier to maintain your budget.
Check the budget often
The budget should always be top of mind. Create a daily or weekly meeting to review the budget and track expenses. Set up meetings with key stakeholders periodically to keep them in the know.
There are a variety of meetings that should be set up throughout the planning process. Here are a few examples of the types of budget meetings that should be on your calendar throughout the event planning process:
- Initial budget discussion with key stakeholders
- Budget buildout meeting
- Budget approval meeting
- Weekly budget meetings with event managers and the planning team
- Periodic budget meetings with key stakeholders
- Budget resolution meeting at the end of the event
- Final budget review meeting following the event with key stakeholders
Put all expenses in a central location
You don’t have to create a budget from scratch — there are templates and tools you can use to make budgeting easier. From spreadsheets to tools that allow you to track expenses using a mobile app to spreadsheets, there are options depending on your budget.
However, a budget is most effective when it is:
- Located in a central location
- Easy to update
- Allows multiple viewers and editor
Excel spreadsheets are often used for budgeting, but these have to be manually updated. This is not only time-consuming, but it can frequently be prone to human error.
An easier way is to use event budgeting software, which lets you track spend and generate reports much more easily than manually updating an Excel spreadsheet. It also gives you full visibility into your event spend, including dashboard breakdowns and estimated vs. actual spend, which you can share with key stakeholders.
But whatever tool you use, you’ll need to have it in place from the start. Consistency is key.
Be flexible and willing to rework the budget
Despite best efforts, your budget won't be set in stone. Staying on track with your budget is also very much about flexibility and knowing when to adapt.
By tracking throughout the planning process, you can reallocate spend based on actual costs. For example, you might have budgeted £10,000 for a venue but in reality, it cost £15,000. The extra expense will need to come from a different line item.
On the flip side, some items won’t cost as much as budgeted. Keep on top of the budget and redistribute money as you can to meet the budget overall. Be sure to track where you came in under budget.
How to get back on track if you go over your event budget
Here are four steps to follow if you notice your budget is off track:
- Identify the cause: Start by identifying what caused you to go over budget. If it was an unavoidable cost, then you’ll need to adjust other items in the budget. You'll also want to document any unexpected costs to factor this into the next event.
- Negotiate with partners: Can you work a deal with that vendor to bring the price down or get a discount on any other items in the budget?
- Get more sponsors: Consider whether it's possible to sell more sponsorships, as this can add an influx of cash to your budget. Of course, you should be providing sponsors with real value, otherwise, they won’t want to sponsor your event in the future. Leads, analytics after the event, and an increased flow of attendees can entice sponsorships to buy sponsorship packages. You can also add additional benefits and increase the cost — this can be a good upsell opportunity for existing sponsors.
- Reallocate your spend: Is there available budget that could be redistributed? If so, make sure to adjust the budget accordingly and update stakeholders.
Use these event budgeting tips for your next event
Budgeting for events has never been easy and the added complexity of new event types and formats makes it even more challenging. But with the right software and tools, you can navigate these challenges and build a robust event budget.
To learn how to get even more control over your event budget, check out our cost savings calculator for meetings and events.