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5 Secrets to Planning the Perfect Event on a Small Budget

It doesn’t take a magician to cultivate big success from a small event budget. All it takes is a little practical magic, which event planners have in spades!
It doesn’t take a magician to cultivate big success from a small event budget. All it takes is a little practical magic, which event planners have in spades! Image by

It’s a conundrum almost every event planning business faces at one point or another (sometimes a lot more often than they would like): There’s a big event to plan on a small budget. Even smaller events are expensive when one considers the cost of a venue, at least ten to fifteen vendors, specialized staff, and a host of other items and services. We’re sure you’ve watched in equal parts awe and envy as other impossible resourceful event planners pulled off without breaking the bank.

But the truth is, there’s no magic formula that someone bypassed your knowledge- unless we’re talking about practical magic, which is the stuff event planners are made of. You, too, are clever, resourceful, and a creative problem solver. (All event planners are creative problem solvers and excellent communicators; if they weren’t, they would’ve given up on the first day). Besides your natural abundance of talents, the only other secret ingredients you need are initiative and a little know-how.

Successful events are more about quality than quantity. So discard your self-limiting mindset, think outside the box, and unlock your potential to plan an amazing event on a not-so-amazing budget. Here are five surefire ways to get it done.

1. Go Digital or Go Home

Substituting digital for print media can save you thousands of dollars- and make or break an event on a small budget.
Substituting digital for print media can save you thousands of dollars- and make or break an event on a small budget. Image by

Stationary graphic designers and print materials can cost thousands of dollars that you don’t have on a small budget. Fortunately, many sleek, modern digital alternatives to printed materials exist- and they’re all the rage. With the advent of new, cutting edge technologies and environmental consciousness, attendees are more likely to prefer digital registration and communication leading up to the event. Key experiential marketing strategies rely on social media and emails to engage genuinely with attendees about topics that have meaning and value to them. Keeping in touch with your attendees in the months and weeks leading up to your event- and cultivating meaningful, long-term relationships with them- is something that is mostly done using digital media, anyway.

And going digital never has to mean skimping on creativity. It’s quite the opposite, actually- digital media makes it easier to engage with attendees in more creative, substantial ways than event planners were able to in the past. For example, you can share videography and/or Instagram “stories” featuring past events. People also love bloopers or behind-the-scenes content about the making of the event. Human beings are highly visual by nature, so giving them a window into your event is an immersive strategy that makes them feel like a part of the experience. Attendees get a taste of your event that leaves them hungry for more.

If you’re not a graphics guru and can’t afford to hire one, you’re in luck. While it may take some extra time out of your already busy schedule, learning to create your own logo and infographic has been made relatively simple by mobile apps. Free apps and programs like Adobe Spark, Piktochart, Venngage, and many more have simple, step-by-step instructions that don’t take much time to follow.

You can also create a high-quality, professional website and event page for free. Popular website builders like WIX, Squarespace, and many others. Most free to low cost web builders offer hundreds of designer templates, advanced social and SEO tools, and more. In fact, there’s really no reason to spend any money on a website at all anymore, unless you opt for a premium plan, which is usually low-cost.

2. Choose a Venue That’s Conveniently Located- for You and Your Guests

If people don’t need to travel far to get to your event, choose a venue in a location that cuts down on your transportation and lodging costs. (In fact, if the majority of guests aren’t traveling from out of state, you can probably skip out on lodging altogether). Ridesharing has been a boon to the event planning industry because it offers people an easy, low-cost way to get around their city. Transportation trends have consistently shown that less and less people who live in cities own cars. According to Lyft, four out of five people say they’re likely to flake out on an event if it proves difficult to get there...even if they’ve already purchased tickets!

Both Lyft and Uber offer reasonably priced ride codes that your guests can use to get a ride within minutes. A recent survey conducted by Lyft has also shown that 71 percent of riders say they’re less likely to drive when impaired because of Lyft. Using a ridesharing code for your event saves you and your attendees time and money- everybody wins.

If you’re planning a conference or workshop that requires people to travel long distances, you may want to cut costs by more than half and make it a virtual event. Or if that doesn’t make sense for your agenda, consider making yours a hybrid event where non-local guests can participate digitally.

3. Staff Your Event with the Best Volunteers Money Can’t Buy

What’s in it for them? Incentivize your volunteers by offering them personal, professional, or experiential value in exchange for their hard work.
What’s in it for them? Incentivize your volunteers by offering them personal, professional, or experiential value in exchange for their hard work. Image by www.smartercx

Yes, there are some jobs best left to the professionals. But there are so many others that can be done just as efficiently by well-trained volunteers. As you well know, planning an event takes a lot of brain and manpower. Before you can recruit volunteers, you need to know exactly what your needs are. Volunteers can easily learn how to work registration tables, act as ushers, sell merchandise or food, give out samples or swag, or just be on hand to direct and assist attendees. You can supplement your staff with volunteers or take the time to train volunteers to perform these tasks themselves.

How do you recruit volunteers, and how can you be sure they’re qualified to work your event? Let’s answer the latter first. It goes back to your needs. Our best advice is to be straightforward about the job requirements, explaining them all in clear detail. For example, if certain tasks require heavy lifting, make sure volunteers know exactly how much and how often they will be lifting throughout the event. If you hire volunteers to assist professional technologies, do a run-through in which volunteers perform the tasks they will be expected to do when your event goes live.

Now let’s talk about recruitment, which isn’t as hard as it may seem. One option is to look for volunteers on LinkedIn. Because LinkedIn is a professional development platform, many entry level event planners use it to network and jumpstart their careers. Many entry level professionals are willing to do volunteer work if it gives them valuable experience, helps them build their resume, and provides networking opportunities. In fact, events are networking opportunities by default. Volunteers will be in contact with your staff, vendors, and attendees. To offer tangible networking opportunities, incentivize them with free admission to your next networking event.

You can also offer exclusive (and Instagrammable) VIP experiences at your event when it goes live. For example, registration volunteers could be rewarded for their time at the tables by seats in a VIP section, where they have the best view of a music performance or speech. If you’re planning a conference or workshop, you could offer a free private tutorial on how to use a new technology.

The goal is to give volunteers something of personal, professional, or experiential value. Make them feel like part of the experience, and give them a sense of belonging to your event. Every staff member, whether paid or volunteer, wants to be recognized for their hard work and unique contribution.

Consider offering perks on a tiered scale. Volunteers who do more work get the biggest perks, such as a VIP experience, a live shout-out on social media, a feature in promotional videography for your event. On the lower end of the tier, volunteers could take home special swag with your logo on it, such as monogrammed t-shirts, electronic items such as earphones, or even Polaroids from the big day.

Of course, training volunteers may take more time than training paid staff- but not always. And during your life event, management staff should be present at all times for guidance and assistance.

4. Cater to Your Budget

Unless yours is a culinary event and food is the star of your show, there are many clever ways to cut catering costs- without compromising quality and deliciousness. Opt for a chic vegan/vegetarian bar or themed buffet. Guests will get less variety but more specialty, which is usually well-received. In fact, choosing a theme or offering signature cocktails or virgin beverages is a fun way to personalize your event.

5. Stay Ahead of the Game!

One of the most valuable skills an event planner can have is the ability to think long-term. Another is the ability to communicate and negotiate. If it fits into your long-term strategy, why not offer vendors a perk in exchange for a discounted service? Extending business beyond one event cultivates long-term relationships that are beneficial in the long run. So be resourceful enough to turn your event into a networking opportunity, and save some money while you’re at it.

Speaking of networking, don’t be afraid to ask your venue to recommend vendors that come cheap but do quality work. After all, they know the city and location well. Sometimes if the venue recommends vendors to you, you’ll receive discounted rates. Businesses like to reward other businesses that give them referrals. In this case, the vendors your venue recommends may reward them by giving you lower rates.


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