Event Budget Basics: Everything You Need to Know

Establishing an event budget is a crucial step during the planning phase, right after setting your goals and objectives. A budget is a detailed forecast of what will be happening financially at your event. It helps control your expenses and revenues, and measures the success of your meeting or event performance.

The importance of an event budget cannot be overemphasized. Although a well-planned budget takes time to create and manage, it can mean the difference between success or failure.

According to a report from Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and audio-visual company PSAV, when event planners were asked about their organization’s overall capability for event budgeting, here’s what they said:

A pie chart that illustrates the respondents' answers.
6% stated that they are ‘lucky to have a process’
30% said processes exist by project only
33% mentioned that standards and processes exist for the organization
28% replied that their organization manages resources and processes for them

Recommended resource: Download the Complete Hybrid Event Checklist, a free template ready for you to copy and use to plan your next hybrid event!

What’s the Starting Point of an Event Budget?

When building your event budget, it’s best to determine what financial success means for your event and how you want to measure it. In order to achieve this, you need to list all the possible expenses and revenues that will likely occur from your event. Always keep your cash flow in mind. Once you’ve developed your budget, you’ll have to track and review it on a regular basis to ensure you stay within the allocated resources.

Determine What Financial Success Means to You And How It Relates To Your Event Budget

One of the first steps for every event planner is preparing an event budget and predicting as accurately as possible if the event will result in a profit, loss or break-even. However, determining what financial success means for your event depends on the type of event and objectives. For example, a leadership summit is often a loss leader, association events are usually events that break-even, and trade-shows are often the best opportunity to yield a profit.

Before planning your budget any further, you need to understand your organization’s needs. Your event budget is really a forecast, or projection, of all expenses and revenues that will incur at your event. You won’t be able to forecast all expenses and revenues from the beginning, and some of these might even change over time. Nevertheless, planning your budget with consideration for the most common expenses and revenues is necessary.

Event Budget: Quick Steps to Planning yours!

When event budgeting, it’s paramount to identify which items represent expenses and which are sources of revenue that can cover costs. In addition, you need to distinguish between fixed and variable costs in order to effectively forecast a budget for your next event.

One of the key challenges for planners is to ensure that you carefully manage expenses and revenues to achieve the financial goals that have been established by your organization, as well as accurately measure your event success. The expenses and revenues you need to account for will vary depending on whether you are organizing in-person, virtual or hybrid events.

Fixed and Variable Costs

It’s also crucial to differentiate between fixed and variable expenses or costs. Fixed costs are costs that do not change based on the number of attendees. These costs are calculated as a total amount. Variable costs are costs that change based on the number of attendees. These costs are calculated on a per-person basis.

Example
Number of People 200 400
Food & Beverage ($35/person) $8,000 $16,000 Variable
Venue Rental $5,000 $5,000 Fixed
Entertainment $2,000 $2,000 Fixed
Total $15,000 $23,000
Average Cost / Attendee $75/attendee $57.50/attendee

Expenses for In-Person Events

According to a Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) survey, 36% of all in-person event expenses are for food and beverages (F&B) alone. This chart shows an overview of the most common expenses for meetings and events. Note that event technology can be incorporated into all of these common expenses. For example, an event tech app can help with marketing and promotion by allowing event planners to push notifications about keynote speakers and registration.

An example bar graph of event expenses.

Your meeting and event is about the attendee experience, so you have to ensure that where you spend your money adds value to your target audience. Attendees don’t care if you pay $140 for a gallon of coffee or $25 per person for a continental breakfast. They do, however, care about an overall great experience, and food and beverage is a large component of attendee satisfaction. PCMA suggests to spend 55% of your budget on food and beverage, audio visual, and speaker/entertainment in total, because these items have a direct impact on the overall attendee experience.

Expenses for Virtual Events

For a fully customized and branded virtual event, there are three common expenses that planners should consider budgeting for:

  1. The virtual event platform you’ll host your event in
  2. Design of your virtual event space
  3. Your streaming service

The costs attributed to each of these line items will vary based on the scale of the event you are organising. In many cases, there are do-it-yourself design options for the platform, or you may want to have your event space custom-designed to embody the essence of your brand. Streaming services also vary widely. You can use ZOOM to self-produce at a low cost, or some virtual event platforms (like Eventmobi) have built-in DIY live streaming tools that will allow you to create live streams from within the platform. This tends to be a mid-level price option. Alternatively for higher-end budgets, you may prefer to hire a full-service professional production team like Eventmobi’s GoLive! Production Team, or an outside A/V company.

There are a number of fixed costs for virtual events that need to be accounted for when calculating your cash flow. Fixed costs for virtual events tend to include:

  • Your virtual event space 
  • Design of virtual event space
  • Event registration / ticketing
  • Streaming service cost
  • Producer cost (if required)
  • Professional live stream and video production costs (if you prefer to be hands-off)

You will also have some variable costs such as speaker fees and engagement items including swag boxes. 

Expenses for Hybrid Events

Unsurprisingly, hybrid event budgets are a mixture of line items typically found in an in-person only and virtual-only budget. However, there are some additional technical costs that need to be budgeted for in order to create a shared experience between your in-person and virtual audiences.

Hybrid event planners should budget for two A/V costs. One for your onsite A/V equipment, and the other for your remote A/V equipment. Onsite, it is preferable to have two camera placements with an operator for each, an IMAG operator, and a video switcher. For your remote A/V equipment, you will need:

  • a solid, wired, and dedicated internet connection with minimum speeds of 100mbs download and 30mbs upload
  • Streaming and encoding hardware/software like OBS (free) or vMix (paid) to capture the cameras, presentations, and audio of the presenters

Having two separate A/V teams with the necessary equipment allows you to create the best experience possible for your audiences. This is particularly important if you want to keep engagement high with your virtual attendees.

Sources of Revenue

In order to cover expenses, different revenue avenues can be leveraged. For example, advertising revenues, concession, exhibit or exposition booth rental fees, management fees, registration, and sponsorship fees would be considered sources of revenue. This is by no means a complete list,  especially for sponsorship revenue.

Recommended Read: How to Create a Sponsorship Strategy that Maximizes Event Revenue

Despite multiple technology solutions on the market, most meeting and event planners use Excel or Google Sheets for their budget planning process. Each of the expenses and revenues mentioned above would each be one line item in your budget. Group your expenses and revenues in a way that makes sense for your specific event. For example,  ‘site’, ‘decorations’, ‘publicity’, ‘swag box’ and so forth could be potential categories. If you’re organising a hybrid event you may find it useful to create broad categories such as ‘in-person’ and ‘virtual’ and then subcategorize.

We recommend assigning specific titles or categories to make tracking and reporting simpler. You should also have two columns for estimated and actual numbers. The most practical way to forecast expenses and revenues is to look at past years, and use an average of those numbers as a starting point. However, if you have never organized a hybrid event before, it can be useful to source quotes for additional technical costs from suppliers, and ask other planners how close their forecasts were to actuals. It’s important to understand all the numbers in your budget and be able to explain where they come from. Always save all invoices and receipts to back up your event budget.

Another fundamental line item in your budget should be a contingency fund; it’s always better to plan for additional unforeseen expenses so you’re prepared for the unexpected during your event. This is particularly relevant today as many countries are frequently revising their restrictions on in-person meetings. Having a contingency fund can be a saving grace if your host country requires any additional health and safety measures ahead of your event. Think about what else could trigger additional costs and develop a plan to address these.

There’s no point in planning your event any further unless you have a proper budget in place. It’s critical to know if your meeting or event is financially viable. Once the budget has been determined, you can then consider your virtual and/or physical venue, promotions, equipment, staffing and any other elements related to your meeting or event.

Calculate Cash Flow For Your Meeting or Event

Two key elements are often overlooked when forecasting expenses and revenues for a meeting or event: cash flow and starting cash. Especially for events, expenses will most likely occur before the first revenues are generated. When booking a physical or virtual venue, you often have to put down a deposit; an expense that will likely happen before you sell your first ticket. In short, you need to be able to pay your bills while you await payments.

To calculate your cash flow, add up all your revenues and subtract the uncollected accounts receivables (money that is owed to you for services/work performed). This is your cash on hand before expenses. If you then subtract all of your accounts payable (money you owe for services/work provided to you) from that number, you will have your cash on hand. If the number is positive, you have a positive cash flow.

Cash Flow Calculation

All Revenues – Uncollected Accounts Receivable = Cash on Hand Before Expenses

Cash on Hand Before Expenses – Accounts Payable = Cash on Hand

Starting cash is the amount of money you have readily available at the start of any given period. Below is a simplified cash flow example.

Review and Track Your Event Budget

The planning stage during event budgeting is just the starting point. As mentioned earlier, not all expenses can be forecasted and your budget will most likely change during the event planning process. This makes it crucial to review and track your budget. If possible, it’s a good starting point to arrange a meeting with your company’s accounting or financial officer to review the format of your budget. Depending on the size of your company, you might want to meet with the owner instead. This way, you can ensure that you are in good shape before continuing the event planning process. As demands for your meeting or event might change, it’s also a good idea to confirm in advance who would have the authority to spend beyond the approved budget. However, the earlier mentioned contingency fund will come in handy when dealing with unplanned expenses.

Tracking your budget throughout your event, including the planning stages, is important. There are a number of helpful technology solutions on the market that will support you in this quest like Expensify.

One of the many ways that technology can help you achieve your financial goals is through the real-time speed and accuracy that allows you to communicate and collaborate with your team. Transferring all of your financial systems to a cloud-based system will literally enable you to manage your financial operations anywhere, and anytime.

There are a range of products and services available to support your current and future financial management needs, such as CendynArcaneo, FreshBooks, or Certify. Before making a decision on a particular product, ensure that you have spoken with all stakeholders within your organization. Ask yourself if the technology solution can be easily implemented or if training is necessary. In addition, you should have processes in place that will help you evaluate past performance and forecast future financial performance.

Analyze The Financial Performance of Your Meeting or Event

Once your meeting or event is over, you need to close the loop and add up all expenses and revenues. This is not only important to show your stakeholders but also for you to learn from your experiences and improve your next event by analyzing your financial performance.

First, go back to your success measures and benchmarks that you set before your event to determine if you were successful. In the past decade, the emergence of new technologies has enabled planners to measure the overall performance of an event in multiple ways. Using qualitative and quantitative event data you are better able to quantify the performance of your event and show impact.

Return on Investment (ROI) is a performance measure used to evaluate how successful your event was. It is a percentage that shows the return of your meeting or event relative to the costs that occurred. You might also want to compare different budgeting strategies based on their ROI. For example, do you get a higher ROI from the money you invest in outbound marketing, or from nurturing your existing attendee base?  

Moreover, there are additional options for you to measure non-monetary business impacts that will help you calculate your event ROI, for example:

  • Social Listening
  • Event Surveys
  • Event App Insights and Engagement
  • Sponsor Recognition

At Eventmobi, we offer advanced analytics to enable you to calculate your event ROI and easily share it with stakeholders and sponsors. With Eventmobi you can track:

  • Attendance numbers, both on a macro and micro level
  • Traffic to specific sections of the platform
  • Attendee interest, engagement and actions
  • Content viewing duration (including sponsored and non-sponsored video views, banner clicks, and more)

These data points can highlight the most valuable leads to sponsors whilst demonstrating the ROI of participating in your event.

Summary

The ability to evaluate and analyze your overall financial performance is complex but simultaneously ripe with opportunity to promote continuous improvement through careful scrutiny of your past efforts. Prioritize which measurement areas are most important and then assign a key performance indicator (KPI) to target each of these crucial areas. Your KPIs should be chosen based on relevance to the measurement area as well as the ability to accurately track and measure that indicator. After that, you can measure your performance year over year and also set a target for an overall aggregate measurement of your financial performance.

Event budgeting tools are just one aspect of how today’s planner is taking advantage of event technology.

To learn more about how EventMobi can help you host a successful in-person, virtual or hybrid event, book your personalized demo with one of our event tech specialists today!