Budgeting can be the most overwhelming part of planning anything — from a kid’s birthday party to a large-scale event. But, just like establishing goals and objectives when planning your event, setting an event budget — and meeting it — proves crucial for the success of any event.

Creating an event budget helps you determine how much it will cost, details total expenses and anticipated revenue, and provides specific ways to measure success. As event planners navigate today’s mixed landscape of virtual, hybrid, and in-person events, creating a budget can seem like quite the juggling act.

Read this guide before tackling your event planning budget breakdown. We’ll show you where to start, how to create a budget, and tips for sticking to it.  

Where to start your event budget

Adult people at conference listen to woman speaker providing lecture

First, establish your goals for the event. What does financial success look like to you? Determining which objectives you’re trying to achieve can dictate how you plan your event budget.

Are you building your event with a loss leader type of strategy? New companies and startups often plan events to attract new customers and raise awareness of their products and services by offering exclusive access at an event with discounted prices. The event may result in a profit loss but ultimately increased demand generation (turning strangers into prospects).

Planning an event with a break-even budget? That’s OK, too, as many association events land in this category. The goals for this type of event typically involve keeping members engaged, raising association revenue, and providing a venue for association members to learn new skills or acquire certifications. A well-planned budget shows you how to break even based on the forecasted attendance.

Trade shows, on the other hand, tend to yield higher profits from events. Planning an event budget for trade show conferences, meetings, and events requires understanding your organization’s needs from a big-picture view. For instance, you may depend on attendees and ticket sales to fund a variety of initiatives, from financing the event itself to fueling operating costs, and delivering sponsor ROI. 

Once you’ve determined the event goals, you must decide how to deliver the content and how that impacts your budget. Will your event be in-person, virtual, or hybrid? Planning in-person or hybrid events means budgeting for common expenses like food and beverages or securing the venue, whereas hosting virtual events requires reliable technology support from an event management platform.

Finally, how will you fund the event? While some organizations allocate an annual budget for hosting events, event planners may still need to fundraise by selling tickets to the event or securing sponsors to offset some of the costs. A financial sponsorship generally means a company pays to sponsor your event in exchange for brand promotion during the event.  

In addition to offsetting event costs, sponsorships can boost your ROI, bring additional media coverage, and add credibility for attracting attendees.

Learn more about finding and securing event sponsorships with our comprehensive guide!

Create an event budget

Serious young biracial woman sit at desk manage budget calculate on machine pay bills taxes online on laptop.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for creating an event budget, we can help you create a basic event planning budget breakdown that captures some of the most common costs for any event budget, whether you’re planning an in-person, virtual, or hybrid event.

Before listing out specific line items in your event budget, check whether your organization hosted a similar event in the past. You may discover a solid event budget template or historical data that can help inform your next event’s budget planning process.

An event planning budget breakdown typically includes:

Venue cost (for in-person or hybrid events)

Depending on the size of your event, choosing the right venue can make or break your budget. It’s generally the largest expense you’ll incur, so it’s important to communicate your specific needs and goals for the event to ensure the venue offers the right type of support. Check historical data to leverage past relationships with certain venues and possibly save money on booking this year’s venue.

Event management platform (for hybrid or virtual events)

Planning a hybrid or completely virtual event requires planners to think a little differently about the budget and allocate the right amount of funds to deliver the event content in the best formats possible with little technical difficulty. Using an event management platform gives you the back-end support you need to execute a seamless event from start to finish.

Speaker fees

To engage and attract the right audience for your event, planners must pay special attention to who they invite to speak at the event. While speakers with strong personal brands can do wonders in elevating interest in a particular product announcement or event, they also (sometimes) charge high fees, so it’s best to plan accordingly. In addition to their speaker fee, your event budget may also need to cover their meal costs, travel plans, and accommodations.

Want to amaze, delight, and engage your event attendees? View our on-demand webinar to learn more.

Signage and branding

From website landing pages to banners in the exhibition hall, signage and branding should be consistent throughout to make it a memorable event. Be sure to budget for the right visual elements that help capture the attention of your target audience.

Staffing costs

Whether your event is in-person, virtual, or hybrid, your budget needs to allocate funds for staffing. For on-site event staffing, you need to budget for a team to help with registration, greeting attendees on arrival, and helping them navigate the schedule of events. You might also need to cover the cost of their meals, travel, and accommodations. For virtual and hybrid events, make sure your staffing budget covers backend technology support before, during, and after the event.

Food and beverages

While it’s probably not practical to plan a gourmet dining experience at your in-person or hybrid event, food and beverages are a necessity to keep attendees comfortable and must be accounted for in your event budget. Negotiate partnerships with select vendors to help deter some of these costs.

Attendee experiences

In 2022, it’s all about leveling up the attendee experience, no matter the event format. When budgeting, think in terms of interactive and immersive experiences that require participation. In-person events engage attendees with trivia games, photo booths, networking mini lounges, and dynamic speakers. For virtual and hybrid events, challenge attendees to answer polls, engage in Q&As, play games, visit breakout video rooms, or connect on social walls.

Need event planning inspiration? See how MAD//Fest leveled up its attendee experience for in-person, virtual, and hybrid events.

Swag 

Decide what swag you plan to offer as part of the event, then determine how attendees will receive it. For in-person events, your budget should account for the swag you plan to hand out at the event. If you go the hybrid route or plan a virtual-only event, your budget needs to cover the costs of shipping swag to virtual attendees.

Marketing 

Promoting and marketing your event also plays a big role in your event budget. You can go the more expensive route by launching a marketing campaign, paying for ads, or hiring a public relations firm to promote your event through local or national media channels. There are also plenty of free or low-cost tools available for marketing your event, which can help you save money and meet your event budget.

Power up your next event with the best event marketing tools for 2022 and beyond.

Emergency fund 

Every event budget needs a contingency fund, just in case things go awry. Shipping delays, staffing shortages, and even a larger-than-anticipated turnout can disrupt even the best-laid budget plans. Set aside a 20% contingency fund to cover any last-minute changes.

You’ve created your budget. Here’s how to stick to it.

Pay attention to details The items listed above are only a fraction of what you might need to include in your event budget. No item is too small! Start by jotting down a list, then keep adding to it until you’re sure you’ve accounted for every single expense.  

Account for fixed costs as well as variable costs. Fixed costs like venue rental or entertainment don’t change based on the number of attendees. Variable costs like food and beverages or swag are per-person based and do change. 

Overcommunicate your event needs 

No matter the event format, it’s crucial to stay on top of communication with everyone playing a role in your event. That means communicating your event needs with your venue, vendors, event platform customer support team, speakers, stakeholders, caterers, staff, etc. If you keep everyone informed along your event planning journey, you can minimize unexpected costs and make sure everyone sticks to their end of the bargain.

Rely on data 

Historical data often provides details on how much you’ve spent on past events and can help guide you as you set a budget for your next event. It can also tell you what worked, what didn’t, and which areas to beef up or slim down.

Start your next event budget with Webex Events, formerly Socio

Webex Events is an end-to-end event management solution that equips event organizers with the best tools to host your event and help you stay on budget. Schedule a free demo today to see how Webex Events can help you take your next event to the next level.

Olivia VanCuren
Olivia VanCuren

Content Marketing Specialist @ Webex Events (formerly Socio). Words enthusiast. Passionate about events that foster meaningful connections.