If your small business isn’t mindful of details, an event planning budget can easily get out of hand. However, you shouldn't write off business events as a casualty of the recession -- instead, just get a little creative to plan a great event on a scaled-back budget.
“It is sad to see how companies think of events as the first thing that should go,” says Lauren Driscoll, an event producer based in New York. “We have had to become more creative. Events are such a great way to promote your company, to network, and to collaborate.”
Here are a few tips for planning a frugal yet fabulous work-related event:
Research. Research. Research.
It sounds like a given, but it can be so easy to stick with what you're familiar with rather than taking the time to do some comparative pricing. Reaching out to your social media network can be a great resource for getting word-of-mouth recommendations. And some may share discount codes for accessing affordable rates.
Market & Advertise with Social Media.
Use Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and your other social media outlets to get the word out about your event and promote it for free. Invite people who potentially will use their social media accounts to discuss your event, too. Afterwords, report to everyone about how fabulous it was, including images and video if you can. Free buzz!
Be Strategic with the Invite List.
Consider and target whom you are inviting and what they have to offer to the event. You should be inviting the decision-makers, and the people the decision-makers listen to. This takes some researching as well: Just because someone has the title Senior Vice President doesn’t mean they call the shots, or that they’re the only SVP in the office. Research who matters and have them on your list -- cut those that don't
Start the dialogue before the event.
Time is money. If there are key people you want to chat with, it’s best to start the conversation before the big day. Often, there isn’t the time or the access to completely get down to business at work-related soiree, but if you've already got them thinking about the subject, it'll be easier to get into it at the event.
Don’t Cut Back on Manpower.
Don’t skimp on staffing -- people like to be waited on at events. “A line of 100 people at the bar because you hired one bartender, or dirty glassware everywhere because you cut the busser out of the budget, is the worst,” says Driscoll. Local colleges and universities are great sources of bartenders and waitstaff for small businesses that have a small budget; reach out to their students. “These are undergrad and grad students looking to make a little money, and they are about half the cost a professional bartender,” says Driscoll.
Don’t Be Cheap, but Don’t Be Ostentatious.
There is no need to supply guests with Moet & Chandon, but most people can tell when you’re giving them the cheap stuff. Consider other perfectly lovely bubblies like a cava, prosecco, or lambrusco. All have lower price points than a name-dropping champagne. And, when Driscoll works on a tight budget, she rents glass stemware and utensils instead of buying it; she'll also use plastic vs. glass to keep costs down. As a rule beer and wine are much more economical than a full bar, where ice and mixers are additional purchases. And because a large part of budget can go to catering, it is common to find events that don’t have food. Just warn your guests that it's cocktails only so they eat before they arrive!
“If you still want to have catering, bartering is always a great option,” says Driscoll. “If you have a website, trade an ad, or, help promote a restaurant that needs the publicity.”
Be Fun & Functional with Takeaway Gifts.
Keep them relevant to your business. Your guests are potential leads, and event guests pay attention to free gifts, so this is your opportunity to show off your work in a way they will enjoy and want to use again.