How to Avoid Unexpected Costs when Planning an Event

9 June 2016

Economic uncertainty in recent years has seen time and budgets being more and more closely guarded. Increasing pressure from leadership, finance and procurement teams means that if you do commit to a significant investment of budget and working hours, you need to make sure that both stretch as far as they possibly can. These days everyone wants more for less—and that makes knowing exactly where your budget is being spent, how it is being spent, and what the returns from that investment are more important than ever.

For executive assistants planning events, that means a few things. It means that monitoring and reporting ROI is absolutely essential. It means that budgets will be closely scrutinised, so working with partners who can help maximise their reach is vital. It also means that there is no room for unexpected event costs.

There are certain costs that even an unseasoned events planner knows to expect: venue hire, speaker fees, entertainment costs. But events are notorious for 'hidden' costs—bolt-ons and supplementary charges. Ever planned a wedding? Corporate events can work in a very similar way.

So how do you ensure you don't get caught out?

Planning All Areas of Expenditure

One of the most common errors people make when event planning is to ballpark a figure, secure the budget they think they need, and then get on with spending it. Before you approach finance or leadership about funding your event, you'll need to plan all possible areas of expenditure. The secret to planning an event... is planning.

Start with broad brushstrokes: you know you need a venue, you'd like a top flight keynote or celebrity speaker, and you'll need entertainment. Once you've got the big picture you can gradually fill in the gaps. Try to categorise your planning to give it some structure. Here are just a few examples:

  • Attendees: How are you advertising? Promo materials cost money, so plan what you'll need and get quotes. How are people getting to your event? Should you provide transport? Get quotes and pencil it in. Is catering necessary? If so, what catering and for how many? Plan it. Get quotes. Likewise with delegate registration and management, collection of attendee data for ROI reporting and more.
  • The Venue: How much does your dream venue cost? Are the wow-factor, location and facilities worth the money? Can venues nearby provide a competitive alternative? Make enquiries and find out. Are venue costs all inclusive, or do certain elements cost extra? Are there different event spaces within your chosen venue, and are you using the most cost-effective one?
  • Speaker & Entertainment: Remember that the cost of your speaker and entertainment won't just be their fees—it may also include travel expenses, hotel costs and separate catering requirements. Get it all in your spreadsheet, it all adds up. 

    Questioning, Understanding & Negotiating  

    Clarifying what is and isn't included in proposals is fundamental to avoiding unexpected costs. This needs to happen as early as possible, and before any contracts are signed—negotiating after you've signed on the dotted line can be difficult.

    Once you have set all of your areas of expenditure and have quotes coming in, you'll need to start reading contracts properly and negotiating. Does the catering fee only include the food preparation, or also delivery to the venue, wait staff and clean up afterwards?

    Fully understanding proposals in one area will give you the clarifications you need in other areas—does your hire fee include the use of kitchens and backroom staff for your caterer? What else is or isn't included in your venue hire fee? What about use of room dressings and in-house AV equipment?

    The details are where venues and service providers hide complex hidden charges, so that’s where you need to be looking.

    Sticking to Your Budget Plan

    On top of 'hidden' charges, events are vulnerable to unforeseen costs brought on by tempting extras and a lack of budgetary discipline. That's why planning all areas of expenditure at the outset is so important—and that's why sticking to your expenditure plan is vital. If you hadn't budgeted for bespoke event stationary, don't get any made. If you'd budgeted for a light buffet lunch and the caterer offers you a sit-down meal for just a little more, don't be swayed. Every area of expenditure has the possibility to sprawl, from venue add-ons to speaker demands, and cumulatively those extras can blow a budget sky high.

    Compromising Where Necessary

    If you're working alongside an experienced, imaginative events planner with real marketplace connections and buying power, you might be amazed how far your budget can go. Sometimes though, you might just need to compromise. It may be that you were unrealistic about the cost of something. It may be that the provider is being unrealistic about how much they can charge for it. Either way, being prepared to build some fluidity into your event delivery will allow you to remain firm on your overall budget.

    Now, more than ever, events need to shaped strategically by key business objectives, and operationally by budget. Events need to pay their way, deliver exceptional ROI and real value across the board to both attendees and organisers. That starts with two things: an understanding of the events marketplace, and a keen eye on budget. We would love to help your event achieve its objectives—get in touch now.