Here's a crash course in Budgeting 101 from the author of Meeting Planning For Dummies, Susan Friedman, aka The Tradeshow Coach (www.thetradeshowcoach.com).
Meeting planners often ask me, “What on Earth do I include in the budget?” says Friedman.
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 will 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 would not 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.
For starters, the following budget categories will help you to organize your revenue and expenses.
Take each one and list all the expenses, fixed and variable. Again, the more thorough you are, the more accurate the final total will be.
- Marketing and promotion
- Food and beverage
- Travel, transportation, shuttle bus
- Meeting facility
- Labor charges
- Shipping/freight charges
- Flowers and decorations
- Special function expenses
- Miscellaneous services (such as translation and interpretation)
- Revenue details
Your Next Step: Save!
Since you probably have a limited budget, keeping costs under control is a skill you need to learn — fast! Seven important rules to remember:
- Get everything in writing
Make sure that all the agreements you make with suppliers are in writing. Do not make any verbal agreements — in a court of law, they are 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. Refuse to pay for charges signed by unauthorized personnel.
- Segregate accounts
Work with the hotel to create a variety of master accounts so that it is 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 makes it easier to spot errors or to 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 F&B invoices while you are on-site. It's so much easier to iron out discrepancies in person than to do it over the phone. This is particularly true for overseas events. Do not 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 that 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.
Choosing Your Site
Susan Friedman's top 10 site-selection tips:
Schedule your meetings during low-usage times, either during low seasons or days of the week when the facility is less busy. Booking near holidays (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, and so on) can be advantageous to your bottom line.
Ask for the best rates. Do your research. Check out the rack, corporate rates, AAA discounts, etc., and compare them to the group rates that you're being offered. Call the toll-free reservation desk as well.
Consider on-site versus off-site meeting space, especially for your smaller meetings.
Confirm and reconfirm your dates and event details. Overlooking a detail could cost you big bucks.
Insist on a site visit before making any final decisions. Have the convention and visitors bureau do all the preliminary work to set it up for you.
Consider using local destinations or smaller cities that offer you more bang for your buck.
Request a discount for on-site payment of your bill.
Be conservative with your room blocks, because you'll have to pay for unused rooms.
Book your meeting with the same chain hotels or properties to give you greater rate negotiating power. You want them to value you and your business.
Negotiate comp rooms for speakers, discounted rates for your staff, and/or upgrades for VIPs.
Here's an area ripe for innovative thinking, says Bonnie Wallsh, CMP, of Bonnie Wallsh Associates LLC, Charlotte, N.C. Follow her 12 easy money-savers and you'll make out.
Use centerpieces such as a Lazy Susan with a buffet lunch.
Theme events using ethnic foods that are less costly.
Serve light lunches such as salads rather than heavy entrées.
Cut down on portions.
Use boxed lunches, if appropriate.
Reduce the number of courses served at dinner.
Serve continental breakfast.
Piggyback off other groups' events.
Organize optional group dinners at which attendees can dine while making contacts with colleagues.
Negotiate complimentary receptions.
Shorten the length of receptions.
Use butler service instead of buffets.
Behind the Scenes
The best places to cut costs are often the least visible: audiovisual, signage, printing, post-age. Here are 12 tips from Wallsh:
Work with one AV company as the preferred supplier for volume discounts.
Assign meetings with the same AV and setup arrangements to the same rooms.
Bring your own flip charts, markers, and blank overhead transparencies.
Rent equipment such as a fax machine or a photocopier if you anticipate heavy usage.
Create permanent generic reusable signs with updated information on hook and loop tape.
Prepare room signs listing all meetings to be held in that room throughout the event.
Use hotel sign boards rather than buying your own.
Use a printing outlet in the meeting city to reduce shipping charges for printed materials. Always request a proof before printing.
Do layout and design on your own software.
Prepare a timeline with deadlines that take advantage of the least expensive shipping rates.
Check post office regulations before creating mailings.
Barter with shipping companies to send your shipments at no charge.
Build in a contingency of 10 percent of your total budget to take care of unforeseen costs.
Hire a Multitasker
Imagine you need a keynote, a moderator, a master of ceremonies, and an awards host for your meeting, and you have a budget for each. Why not hire a talented speaker who can do two or even all of the jobs? Booking a professional will help you to save on expenses, and many speakers' full-day fees are not much more than their keynote fees.
Learn the Lingo!
The clearer you are with your graphic design and printing needs, the more easily the printer can supply you with exactly what you need.