At the most fundamental level, ROI starts with a good budget — one that takes into account the many nuances of the meeting.

At September's Affordable Meetings National Conference in Washington, D.C., speaker Bonnie Wallsh, chief solutions officer, Bonnie Wallsh Associates, Charlotte, N.C., showed attendees how to create a budget planner and outlined three keys to an effective spending plan.

First, she said, planners should know the objective of the meeting. “I look at this as the foundation of the building,” said Wallsh. Knowing what the company — and the participants — want from the meeting helps to determine the destination, the program, and the cost.

Once that has been established, it's critical to assess the needs of the event, such as the amount of space required, the program and functions, and what days of the week the meeting will occur. All of these elements affect the budget.

Third, planners need to familiarize themselves with the attendees. If they are high-level employees, costs will probably be higher. Special requirements, such as dietary needs, can influence food and beverage costs. Where the guests are traveling from can influence the location of the meeting and again, the cost.

After gathering this information, Wallsh says that planners should begin to draft a “budget planner,” a spreadsheet that enables them to project expenditures and revenues. Consulting the meeting history, if one exists, is a good way to get a sense of the breakdown of costs associated with the event.

She then suggested compartmentalizing expenses into nine categories: sleeping rooms, transportation, F&B, audiovisual, printed materials, administration, recreation, speaker fees, and miscellaneous. In each category, the budget planner should include three columns: one for projected costs, one for actual costs, and one to capture the variance. “It doesn't matter if you're off in any one of the categories, because what you're looking at is the bottom line,” said Wallsh. “What you need to do is document how you arrived at the projected figures.” Within each category, look for every possible associated expense, including all taxes, fees, service charges, gratuities, and incidentals, such as golf club rentals.

If there is any revenue from the meeting, such as from sponsorships, she suggested creating an income spreadsheet. Obviously, the exact number won't be known until after the meeting.

Wallsh warned planners to always expect the unexpected. “I like to have a cushion of about 10 percent for unforeseen expenses,” she said.

20 Ways to Keep from Breaking the Budget

  1. Limit the number of people who have “authorized signatures.”
  2. Rent a fax machine or copier if you anticipate heavy usage.
  3. Assign meetings with the same AV needs to the same rooms.
  4. Contact entertainers who are in town for other shows/functions.
  5. Bring your own flip charts and markers.
  6. Serve continental breakfasts.
  7. Shorten reception times.
  8. Order F&B by consumption, not per person.
  9. Reduce the number of courses at dinner.
  10. Serve light lunches, such as salads.
  11. Use box lunches when appropriate.
  12. Negotiate reduced room rates for staff/speakers.
  13. Use local speakers.
  14. Get sponsors for meal functions.
  15. Recycle badges.
  16. Hire students.
  17. Organize optional networking dinners that attendees pay for themselves.
  18. Book during “value” season or off-peak dates.
  19. Use “butler service” for meals instead of buffet tables.
  20. Do printing in the meeting city to reduce shipping costs.

SOURCE: Bonnie Wallsh, chief solutions officer, Bonnie Wallsh Associates, Charlotte, N.C.