Starting an event planning business with limited funds may sound like an oxymoron, but it doesn’t have to be. With all of the technology we have access to, more and more people are finding creative, unconventional ways to kickstart careers in events and entertainment. What you lack in funds, you can make up for with innovation and a clever business plan. Here’s a guide to getting your business off the ground when you’ve got more creativity than capital.
Set Goals for Your Event, and Allocate Your Money Accordingly
When it comes to deciding which expenses to spare and which you can’t do without. When you’re just starting out, your biggest priority should be hosting your first event, and making it a memorable one that brands you well. For an event planning business, your first event is your first impression- and first impressions tend to last, especially in the event world. It may be tempting to throw your first event together hastily, thinking that a bad event is better than no event, but that’s a mistake you literally can’t afford to make. It’s much better to take as much time as you need to allocate your funds in ways that benefit you long-term.
When you budget for your first event, write down all projected expenses, and then list them in order of priority. Most likely, your brainstorming process was overflowing with creativity- after all, event planners are visionaries, and ideas tend to come all at once as you rush to write them down. That’s the way it should be. Don’t limit you creative process. Write it all down, and then prioritize at the budgeting stage. The budgeting stage is when you decide what you really need to make your first event a success and shelve the things you don’t for a later date. (Keep yourself focused by remembering that if your first event is a success, there will be more money later to throw more elaborate events and expand on your vision for your brand.
As you set priorities and allocate your money, that’s when your vision for your first event really starts to come together. Of course, your priorities should be based on the goals you set for your event. For example, a more established event planning business might host an event with the goal of appealing to a new niche audience. A first event can and should be planned with niche audiences in mind, but with the idea of establishing your brand, not expanding it.
Compromise Creatively (Without Compromising Your Creativity)
A first event should give your attendees a strong, solid first impression of your brand. Choosing the right venue is more important than spending money on lots of elaborate giveaway goodies. Instead, give your attendees something to take home by putting together small swag bags. For example’s sake, let’s say you’re a tech startup or are launching your very own social media tool, and your event is a way to introduce people to your brand. You can fill swag bags with a few useful items, such as pens and mini “event planners” where people can record their plans in more detail than phone calendars allow. Also, everyone loves to take home free electronics. But that doesn’t mean you have to go all out with expenses. Include a pair of cheap earbuds, a small charger, or even a month’s worth of free access to your app or product. Of course, these are just general ideas, but the point is that you get more value for your buck when your budget supports your priorities.
It cannot be said enough: Invest in the right venue. The venue accounts for much of the experience at an event, so make sure your venue is one you want to be associated with for years to come. There are the practical things to consider: Is it conveniently located and easily accessible by public transportation? Is it surrounded by any popular, well-loved restaurants or shopping centers? But you also want the look and feel of it to match the mood of your event and be aligned with the culture of your brand.
Sweat the Small Stuff Ahead of Time
As much as we creatives would like to deny it, event planning is as much about the details as it is the bigger picture. Sure, the creative details might be infinitely more fun to plan, but it’s best to deal with the practical ones in advance. When budgeting, remember to account for small-business expenditures. Starting a small business means securing licensure and insurance as well as paying taxes. Some of an event planning business’s expenses depend on local as well as industry regulations. Look into these regulations ahead of time so you can take them into consideration as you budget.
Be specific when you make revenue projections. Even if you’re way off base, which you’re likely to be the first time around, your projections inform future business decisions. They let you know where you overestimated or underestimated revenue, and whether you’re meeting your goals. Your event ticketing platform should allow you to break down how much revenue you’re bringing in from each specific event, and which ticket types are earning the most.
Revenue projections are also vital to your business because these numbers are what you’re going to show sponsors or investors. The revenue you expect helps convince sponsors that investing in your first event will pay off. That leads us to the next step involved in starting your own event planning business.
Score the Right Sponsorship and Support
Generally, there are two ways you can go about getting financial backing for your first event. One increasingly popular option is to use crowdfunding, which we’ll get to very soon. For now, let’s talk about sponsors and how to score the right ones for your event.
You may not think you’re in a position to be choosy- but trust us, you are. Since people will associate you with your sponsor and they help shape the event experience, it’s important to choose a sponsor that is aligned with your company’s values. Does your potential sponsor’s demographic audience match yours? If so, this person or brand is much more likely to attract attendees to your event. (And sponsoring your event is more likely to give sponsors the right exposure they need to build or expand their brand). It’s an association that helps you build your brand, which is one of your biggest needs as a new event planning business. When you interact with a potential sponsor, pay attention to whether this person shows more interest in ROI or vanity and exposure. Ideally, sponsors should be invested in the outcome of your event, not just the exposure they will gain from being associated with it.
Securing a sponsor can be challenging when you’re first starting out, so you’ve got to go the extra mile to prove to them you’re a risk worth taking. Your projected revenue helps give sponsors confidence that your event is geared toward success. But securing the sponsor you need will depend on a lot on the effectiveness of your proposal.
As a new event planning business, you need to define and essentially sell your company to potential sponsors. Telling your company story shows your brand has character. If you grew from humble beginnings or have a unique inspiration for creating your event planning business, share that with sponsors. What are your company’s values, and how do they align with those of your sponsor? If your company appeals to your sponsor emotionally and is aligned with the culture of their brand, you’re likely more than halfway to securing sponsorship.
Another little tip that goes a long way: Research and observe your sponsors for at least several weeks before making your pitch. Find out if they’ve launched any new products or seem to be undergoing any shifts in the culture or goals of their brand. Do they seem to be trying to reach out to new niche audiences? Is there one subject in particular that they’re extremely passionate about? Before making your pitch, ask yourself how your event can help your sponsor market new products, build their customer base, or attract niche audiences.
Describe how being a part of your event could help further a cause they care about. For example, many inclusive fashion brands reach out to popular plus-sized models to sponsor their clothing or events. New companies that sell sustainable products often reach out to eco-friendly sponsors to support their products and events. The list of examples could go on and on, but the main idea is to show sponsors that your values and goals are aligned with theirs. Also, let sponsors know what you love about their brand, and why you chose them in particular for your event.
Take Advantage of Crowdfunding Resources
The second way you can obtain the financial backing you need is to use a crowdfunding resource like GoFundMe or Kickstarter. (We like Kickstarter because it’s primary use is to raise money for business or art and media projects, whereas GoFundMe is also used for personal fundraising. Families often use GoFundMe to raise money toward serious healthcare or survival needs in a disastrous event, so people understandably tend to prioritize giving to these causes).
As with sponsorship proposals, your crowdfunding page should tell the story of your brand and share its mission. Any crowdfunding page (or sponsorship proposal) is compelling and unique when it’s well organized, has emotional substance, and clearly expresses who you are as a brand.
An important part of incentivizing people to donate money toward your event is to make them feel like they will be part of the experience. If you can’t afford to give away products (such as mugs or T-shirts featuring your brand logo), set up a tiered system in which people who make donations get to participate in your event. For example, if you’re a production company who is in the process of making a film and throwing an event to promote it, offer extra roles or set experiences to people who donate the most. The greater the amount of the donation, the bigger the perks. Why not offer free admission to your event for anyone who donates above a set amount? The added benefit here is extra exposure. (Of course, you don’t want to offer this to anyone who donates any amount- it could result in more of a crowd than you can handle!)
Some other ideas for incentives that won’t put you in the red? Offer a custom product demo, a free brief tutorial with you or one of your speakers, or another insider experience at your event. You can also offer access to future discounts to people based on the amount they donate.
Invest Your Revenue Wisely!
As you start to profit from ticket sales, you’ll be able to invest the revenue in ways that grow your brand-new event planning business! Firstly, make sure your vendors, speakers, and staff are paid in a timely manner. It’s important to build good relationships with vendors, keynote speakers, and others who play a major part in the experience of your events.
Next, use what’s left to strategically invest in effective marketing. A lot of event planning businesses take out paid promotional ads, which can help give you the exposure you need. (But keep in mind that savvy use of social media can do just as much, and sometimes even more, to promote your business and events). Invest whatever you can in better promotional packages, better sponsorship packages, and improved experiences at your next event.
Use Data to Improve Your Next Event (and Build a Long-term Relationship with Your Attendees)
It’s a lot of work, but it’s so important to maintain an interactive relationship with your attendees before, throughout, and after an event. The long-term success of your event planning business depends on your relationship with your customer base- and your ability to keep up with its ever-changing needs. As your business grows, you will be able to invest in more sophisticated data software, such as attendance tracking apps, RFID, and near field communication.
For now, you can get the demographic information you need from registration activity and post-event surveys. Initially, the most pertinent information you’ll learn from registration activity is who is showed up to your event. (This is very useful demographic information, by the way). But across more than one amount, keeping track of registration activity can give you valuable insights into the effectiveness of your marketing plan.
Take a closer look at which attendees pre-registered online, and which registered on-site at your event. Is one demographic more likely to pre-register than another? If so, what can be done to encourage the demographic who buys tickets onsite to pre-register for your next event? When you give attendees incentives to register in advance, you secure more early bird registration and have less guesswork to do when estimating the number of attendees you need to accommodate. Are certain times of year really great for ticket sales, and others not so great? Do certain demographics register for your event more often at specific times of year?
Don’t only ask yourself the important questions- ask your attendees, too. The most effective post-event surveys are concise and time-efficient, but they ask open-ended questions. When you do use multiple choice questions, design surveys that ask attendees to rate how much they liked certain aspects of your event. For example, instead of asking if they liked the catering, ask how much they liked it, and have them rate it on a scale of 1-10 (or “extremely liked” to “extremely disliked”. Then ask open-ended questions about what could be done to improve key aspects of their experience. Then plan your next event based on this feedback, and attendees will feel as if you really listened to them.
Ultimately, that’s your main goal as an event planning business- to build a loyal customer base that keeps coming back! We hope these tips have given you the framework you need to introduce your brand to the world with a slam dunk first event. Remember, your first event is the key to your second, and everyone starts somewhere. With these tips in mind, you’ll have a head start in the right direction.