Budget management is one of the most critical aspects of event management.
In Step 3: Define Your Event Scope, you stated your anticipated profit or allowable spend (approved loss). Now it’s time to line item costs for each aspect of your event, factoring in your anticipated revenue streams to ensure you can comfortably deliver your vision on-, or below-, budget.
Here’s how I do this:
1. Select Your Budget Management Software
While there are many budget management software options on the market, I rely on the simple, yet effective, Google Sheets for every event I produce. Why do I choose Google Sheets over a purpose-built software program?
- GSuite is a one-stop-shop for my entire team - including our clients and vendors - and the fact that it’s a live document ensures everyone is well-informed and up to date on how we’re tracking against our profit goal or allowable spend in real time. No need for multiple versions to be floating around as different people work on their assigned portion.
- I can manage individual access rights for each person between viewing, editing and commenting. I can also lock tabs and set permissions so only those who need to edit specific tabs can do so.
- It’s easily accessible no matter where we are around the globe. #cloudbasedforthewin
- It’s 100% customizable! You can create a million tabs, set up all your formulas and color code to your heart's content.
- It allows you to tag someone, ask a question, send a quick update or task reminder and track conversations, without having to leave the document or rely on any project management or chat software program.
2. Create Your Template
One of the many benefits of Google Sheets is that you can literally design your budget any which way you like.
When setting up my templates, I create a separate tab for every element of the event and then list each individual cost related to that element as a line item within the tab. By doing this, I can see the total anticipated/actual spend of any aspect of an event at a glance.
Here are the tabs I use for a standard large-scale multi-day conference.
Tab 1: Summary
Tab 2: Revenue
Tab 3: Professional Services
Tab 4: Venue
Tab 5: Audiovisual & Staging
Tab 6: Food & Beverage
Tab 7: Exhibition
Tab 8: Signage
Tab 9: Registration
Tab 10: Speakers
Tab 11: Marketing & Promotion
Tab 12: Special Events
Tab 13: Dinners
Tab 14: Ancillary Meetings
Tab 15: Pre-Event Training
Tab 16: Travel & Accommodation
Tab 17: Miscellaneous
3. Design Your Layout
Within each tab, you can include as little (high-level) or as detailed information as you’d like. For example, you can display only the total cost or you can break out each line item to display the unit cost, various taxes, gratuity and discounts etc.
While it may take a little longer to set up, I strongly recommend a detailed layout with formulas in place to automatically calculate each of your totals and link each back to your summary page. Doing this from the get-go will:
- Save you time down the track (especially if you need to manipulate the budget to show the impact of multiple audience sizes)
- Remove a lot of margin for error
- Enable you to easily identify which aspects of the event are costing the most and potential cost savings. To do this, I color code all of my ‘nice to have’ expenses. If I’m working with a limited budget and/or need to reduce spend, I know which line items I can eliminate that won’t impact the actual delivery of the event.
To help with your set up, these are the column headers I use in each tab of my event budgets:
Column 1: Description
Column 2: Vendor Name
Column 3: Quantity
Column 4: Unit Cost
Column 5: Subtotal
Column 6: Gratuity
Column 7: Service Charge
Column 8: State Tax
Column 9: Tax on Service Charge
Column 10: Occupancy Tax
Column 11: Discounts
Column 12: Total
Column 13: International Currency Conversion (if applicable)
Column 14: Notes
4. Enter Your Costs
Work with each of your vendors/suppliers to estimate all elements of your event and enter those quotes into your budget. While I don’t do this for small costs, I always ask my main partners (e.g. general show contractor, venue, caterer and AV provider) to double check and confirm their tabs outline every single cost associated with the delivery of the event.
Doing this not only holds them accountable to their anticipated cost, but also makes them feel and behave like the integral part of the delivery team that they are.
One final tip to help you on your way… Some people call it sandbagging, I call it playing smart. If you come in under budget, add a line item in your miscellaneous tab called ‘Backup or Bank’ and add the difference there.
You should never agree to a budget that doesn’t have a little padding. With live events, one wrong move can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Whatever you do, do not set yourself up for failure.
5. Ensure Your Budget Is Always Up To Date
It is important that revenue and expenses are kept as current as possible since all team members will be continuously referring to your live document to see how the event is tracking against the allocated budget.
As estimates change or items are purchased, the document must be updated by the respective team member to reflect the revised costs straight away.
Make it a habit to update your revenue at the same time multiple days a week. I also put a note at the bottom of the sheet so everyone knows when the numbers were last updated for example Revenue figures were last updated at (insert time) on (insert date).
Stay tuned for the next installment of the 7 Steps to Event Success!
Step 6: Outline Your Project Plan and Event Timeline.
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