The complete guide to creating an event budget

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Creating an event budget is a delicate balance between keeping things reasonable and making your event a success. While you won’t want to splurge too much on excessive expenditures, you’ll definitely want to leave room for event costs like signage and swag, as well as travel, accommodation, venue costs, food and drink, activities, and entertainment. 

If you’re an event planner or finance manager, it’s important to consider all relevant factors when planning a successful event, so you don’t find yourself scrambling to cover unexpected costs at the last minute. With this guide, event organizers can easily create an event budget that makes sense for their needs.

Things to consider when creating an event budget

Before creating your budget, start by asking yourself a few relevant questions about the purpose and structure of your event. If you’d like, write down the answers and use them as notes to review while planning for your event budget.

Here are some points to address during the event planning process:

What is/are the goal(s) of this team event?

  • For example, would you like to motivate high performers, build relationships across teams, or work on a specific project or task?
  • There are many excellent reasons to plan a corporate event or company trip. For inspiration on the best type of event to suit your organization’s objectives and goals,  To explore some of the different types of events, check out our guide to corporate event planning.

Who will be attending the event?

  • Based on your event goals, who needs to be there?
  • If the event is tailored towards a certain project, perhaps only a few relevant team members need to attend. 
  • On the other hand, if your goal is to build relationships, you’ll want to create an inclusive environment. This may mean inviting a broad range of people across functions and geographies, and budgeting accordingly.

How will you measure event success?

  • Company events can have numerous benefits for organizations, including developing team relationships, providing motivation and reward, increasing employee engagement, promoting retention, and more.
  • Define the benefits that matter most to you, and create a plan for measuring your achievements after the event.
  • This may mean sending out post-event surveys, or gathering data on important metrics like employee engagement and event ROI. 

Are there any lessons from past events that can be applied here?

To make sure your budget estimates are accurate for your next event, be sure to have a look at any learnings from previous company events. For example:

  • What was your budget for previous events?
  • Have previous events ever gone over budget? 
  • If previous events went over budget, in which areas could you cut down on overspending?
  • Did previous events meet their goals (based on insights and employee survey data?) 
  • If previous events didn’t meet their goals, how can you fix this for future events, and are there areas where you need to allocate more budget?

What are the essential event items vs. nice-to-haves?

  • By defining which line items are essentials and which are simply extras, you’ll have a better idea of where you can look to cut event expenses. 
  • Essentials might include food, accommodation, and venue costs, while nice-to-haves might include “swag,” gift packs, high-budget entertainment, etc. 
  • If budget is a concern, think about where you could downgrade to make compromises. For example, if your ideal venue is quite pricey, is there a cheaper alternative that might work too? 

What will you do if things go wrong?

  • How can you plan for unexpected roadblocks (like travel disruptions, bad weather, or health emergencies)?
  • How much can you put aside in a contingency fund during your budget planning?

Once you’ve given some serious thought to these areas, compiled data from previous events, and taken some notes, it’s time to get down to business and create your event budget.

What to include in an event budget

As you get started with your event budget, you’ll need to consider all possible expenditures you may have. It’s easy to overlook something here, so it’s useful to have a checklist or template you can refer to and ensure you include all relevant items.

Most likely, your event will involve different types of costs, including fixed costs and variable costs. Fixed costs don’t change and can be predicted beforehand (for example, a fixed venue rental fee), while variable costs depend on the number of people attending (like a cost per person for catering.)

This is why you should set a firm RSVP date for the event—so you can get a good idea of who is coming, and how much you need to budget (while keeping in mind that unexpected circumstances happen!)

Here are some of the cost types you should keep in mind when planning an event of any size, from a company offsite to a retreat or teambuilding event:

Travel and accommodation

Are you planning an in-person event or hybrid event away from your usual workplace? If you have employees spread out at multiple offices, if your team is remote, or if you’re planning for a special retreat, you will need to account for the costs of travel and accommodation. Ask yourself:

  • Who needs to travel to this event?
  • How will travelers arrive at the event (plane, train, car, etc.?)
  • How many people will need accommodation?
  • What kinds of accommodation options are available (hotels, Airbnbs, etc.?)
  • Are we able to access group rates or corporate discounts?
  • What are our priorities with travel and accommodation: saving money, speed/proximity to the event, and/or individual traveler preferences?
  • How will we deal with unexpected circumstances (like delayed flights?)

Venue

Another factor to keep in mind is venue costs. To calculate these, you’ll need to have a solid idea of how many people are attending the event. Some venues, such as restaurants, charge per head (variable cost). If you’re booking a conference room or amphitheater, the venue may charge a fixed price—but you’ll still need to know how many people are attending, so you won’t exceed the venue’s maximum capacity.

Food and drinks

Your venue may provide food and drinks for you, or you may need to hire a separate catering service. To estimate the cost of food and drink, keep in mind the number of attendees, as well as the type of event (fancy, casual, etc.)

Don’t forget to check if people have special dietary needs—you might need to add extra menu options for allergies, vegan/vegetarian diets, religious requirements, etc. 

Activities and entertainment

For a fun and engaging event experience, you’ll need to provide some activities and entertainment.

To decide what to book, go back to your planning notes and review the “event goals” section. For instance:

  • If the event is mostly project-oriented, you can go light on the entertainment (or maybe plan icebreakers or a fun activity once the main task is finished.) 
  • If learning is a major goal, an external speaker might be a good choice. 
  • If your objective is relationship-building, a team-building facilitator can put together some icebreaker activities. 
  • And if your main purpose is motivation and reward, you may want to put aside some budget to hire a musician or comedian. 

Event swag

Swag and free gifts will help attendees go home with some good memories of the event. When deciding what to include in your “swag bag/box”, consider cost, eco-friendliness, and attendee preferences.

If you’re not sure what you should choose, why not survey your teams to find out? You could also provide swag that attendees can use directly at the event (such as reusable cups or bottles for drinks, or notebooks and pens for taking notes.) This way, you can contribute to event sustainability while providing people with useful gifts. 

Event marketing

Events are an internal and external marketing/branding opportunity. You may want to have someone live stream your event, film it, or post about it on social media. If you are planning a large event, why not ask the marketing team to create a few event-specific hashtags, so you can encourage more user-generated content from employees?

Keep in mind that event marketing might involve additional costs, such as equipment rentals or staffing costs (for example, photographer or videographer fees).

Logistics 

Finally, there might be some logistical costs associated with your event, such as permits, equipment, decorations, or cleanup. Don’t forget to account for these in your budget as well.

How to keep track of spending in your event budget

As you can see, there are a lot of “moving pieces” to keep in mind when planning your event. Costs depend heavily on factors like event attendance—calculation mistakes or last-minute changes can quickly derail your budget.

Luckily, there are event technology solutions and event apps out there to help you easily keep track of spending. For general help with expense tracking, check out our list of the 10 best expense management software solutions.

If you need help specifically with travel expense management and event management, have a look at TravelPerk—a business travel booking software that helps you manage your travel budgets all in one place.

With our sophisticated reporting solutions and our all-in-one event management platform, TravelPerk Events, you can easily gain access to key data on travel spending. When creating an event in the platform, you can tag the event with a specific label (for example, “HR Team Retreat.”) This will allow you to track all the costs related to that event in real time, in one single report. 
Our sophisticated reporting dashboard provides visualizations of key data—such as the person booking, transport type, booking type, cancellations, recoverable VAT, and more—so you can easily understand your actual costs, and present them to stakeholders. 

To learn more about how TravelPerk Events can help you manage your event budget, book a live, personalized demo today

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