Meeting planners often ask me, “What on earth do I include in the budget?” The answer is very easy: “Everything.” If you have historical data from a similar event, you're in luck, because then you will have a good idea of previous expenses. However, if this is your first event, know that you have your work cut out for you. You'll need to identify all possible expenses: fixed (expenses that remain constant no matter what, such as room rentals or speaker fees); variable (expenses that are calculated on a per-person basis); indirect (administrative costs such as staff salaries and equipment); and hidden (unpredictable charges such as overnight shipping or rush charges for signage). I wouldn't recommend that you try to do this all in one sitting; rather, plan a few sessions so that you do a thorough job. The more meticulous you are, the more accurate the end result will be.
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Since you probably have a limited budget, keeping costs under control is a skill that you need to learn — fast! Seven important rules to remember are:
- GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING
Don't make any verbal agreements because, in a court of law, they're worthless.
- LIMIT AUTHORIZATION
Only a select few people should have the authority to charge items to your master account at the hotel. Make sure that the hotel has a list of these people, and instruct hotel staff that under no circumstances can anyone else make charges.
- SEGREGATE ACCOUNTS
Work with the hotel to create a variety of master accounts so that it's easier to separate your bills and review the accounts. Arrange that, along with the master account, you get copies of the invoices, checks, and banquet event orders.
- REVIEW ACCOUNTS DAILY
Consider going over your accounts with the facility on a daily basis. That will make it easier to spot errors or make necessary changes if costs are escalating in certain areas. For example, if you are using the hotel's business center facilities for photocopying and find that they are charging 25 cents per page, you might want to make alternate arrangements if you have a significant amount of copying.
- CHECK ALL INVOICES
As soon as you receive an invoice, check it against the written quotation. Question anything and everything that doesn't seem to compute. Make sure that you scrutinize your hotel and food and beverage invoices while you are still on-site. It's so much easier to iron out discrepancies in person than to do it over the phone. This is particularly critical for overseas events. Don't sign off on any bills until you are totally satisfied.
- BE FLEXIBLE
Remember to allow a certain amount of flexibility with your financial figures, because you will probably experience some unexpected expenses or emergencies. Be prepared, and build in a contingency of 10 percent of your total budget to take care of unforeseen costs, such as overtime, speaker substitutions, overnight mailings, phone and computer hookups, and things you just didn't think of.
One of the best gifts that you can give yourself for future events is a post-event consolidation report. Take all the budgetary data, notes, and your tidbits of pertinent information and summarize them in a computer spreadsheet. Instead of having file folders stuffed with scraps of paper, you'll have one wonderful, information-rich document that you can refer to and build on.