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11 Tips for Corporate Event Planning On a Small Budget

Written by Jemanda Hannouf, Event Planner

Gold cutlery, crystal chandeliers and an elephant – yes I had a client who once had an elephant at their corporate event! These are all the essentials for a successful event right? Wrong!

Just because you have larger budget for your event doesn’t mean that your event is going to be more successful or memorable than one with a smaller budget.

Event planning success is about Preparation, Planning and Organisation (PPO) and not necessarily about money. Part of this preparation and planning is having strong event goals, objectives, amazing music, a guest list and not to forget amazing food and drinks. Who doesn’t love food and drinks?

Throughout my experience I have been able to organise events on any scale. I have put together a list of 11 top tips to help you plan your next amazing unforgettable event, even with a small budget.

1. Event Budget

Okay. So we all need a budget, whether large or small, before we start our event. I recommend using an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of everything.

Firstly, list the items that you need to spend money on. This will indicate where you need to cut costs, purchase cheaper or even hire in order to lower the cost. List all incoming and outgoing expenses. Literally track everything you spend regardless of how big or small. It all adds up.

Secondly, once you have your items listed, start obtaining quotes. I recommend getting 3 quotes to compare. This will also be able to help you negotiate a lower price too. Make sure the quote is item for item.

If you choose to hire rather than buy, make sure you ask what additional charges might not be noted on the quote. Sometimes there are hidden fees i.e. returning equipment late or a damage waiver fee that isn’t included in the initial quote. This will help you stick to your budget.

The time of the year and day of the week you choose will impact on your budget. Off-peak seasons are generally cheaper to budget for than a peak season e.g. Christmas. A lot of venues run specials in January and February, as this is their quiet period. Weekends are also more expensive than week nights. If you can hold your evening event between Monday and Thursday, you will see savings of at least 50% on some venues.

TIP: Try holding a breakfast or lunchtime event, especially if your event is a work or networking event. This will also motivate and get people in a great mood for the rest of the day!

2. Pick Your Venue Early

If you can hold the event at your own premise (home or office), it will ultimately save money and stress. You will also have fewer restrictions with catering and dates for the event. If you feel your premise is too small, think outside the box and ask the neighbours if maybe you can use their front area or yard.

If you do not have your own premise and need to hire one, do it as early as possible! This will be the most expensive item on your budget, not to mention the most time consuming.

So where do you start looking? Avoid large city venues or venues overlooking the water – these are generally the most expensive. The areas surrounding the city are great, as they are still easy for most people to access. Generally, there is more car parking available in addition to public transport.

Now, narrow your list of potential venues down to three. Once you have your 3 venues look at the following:

  • Does the venue supply catering packages including drinks or can you supply your own?
  • Is there free parking or does the venue charge to park?
  • Does the venue charge you to use your own decorations?
  • Does the venue charge you to use AV equipment?

If you want to supply your own catering and alcohol, your choice of venues will be limited. If this is the case, look at local community halls. Often you can just hire the venue and supply the rest on your own.

3. Food Costs

hors d'oeuvres

So you have a small budget and need to feed 100 hungry adults? How do you stretch your money without the catering suffering?

This is where you can be creative! If you are supplying your own catering, look at the popular new food trucks. They often offer hors d’oeuvre style food. The sizes per serving are not too small or too big and can also be shared. These vans can also create a funky street style atmosphere to your event.

If your event has to be more corporate, then look at the regular cocktail-style finger food menu or a buffet. This is going to be much cheaper than a sit-down, three-course meal. Also, cut out the dessert option. For most events, you don’t need a dessert.

TIP: Avoid party pies and sausage rolls. Even with a small budget, you do not need to resort to these. While fine for a football party, they are not appropriate for a corporate or formal event!

Have a look at some cook books and ask your caterer if they can make something similar and to offer some of these choices in a special dietary requirement for those guests that may have food allergies.

4. Beverage Costs

The most important things that people will remember you for are the food and drinks!

If your venue supplies beverages, try to stick to the basic packages, which include soft drink, juice, tea, coffee, house wine and basic spirits/beer. You do not need to offer top-shelf alcohol for your event. Most people will have one or two glasses in total.

If you are able to supply your own beverages, try and reach out to the alcohol companies and see if buying in bulk can save you money. Do not go overboard! Your goal is to create a relaxed atmosphere. You do not want to be running around after grown adults that have drunk too much!

Regardless of whether the beverages are venue or self-supplied, serve by the glass as people will waste bottles.

And lastly don’t forget to supply water, you can use glass jugs with refillable water instead of purchasing bottled water. Avoid bottled sparkling water as it is more expensive, tap water will be fine.

5. Go Digital (No More Printing!)

Yay for technology!

You can facilitate the entire management and planning of your event, invitations, registrations and RSVP management online. There are so many free online platforms that will allow you to create everything you need for your event. For invitations, I like to use Canva. You can personalise and then download all of your invitations to PDF, ready for sending via email.

For reservations, look at using an online ticketing program like Eventbrite. They will allow you to create an event for people to purchase a free ticket to (a creative way to RSVP). You can make these events private or public. Simply create the event and then share the link via email for everyone to RSVP.

During the event look at using the venue’s AV system (check whether they offer it for free first!) and run a PowerPoint presentation, rather than printing flyers. After the event, email the presentation to everyone that attended.

6. Get Creative

Prioritizing your spending. This will allow you to be more flexible and creative with certain event items. The more fixed you are on ideas and items for your event, the tougher it will be to achieve them, according to your budget. Sometimes what is offered to you for free or at a lower cost may not be the exactly the item you had in mind, but might still do the job.

Also consider recycling items from previous events instead of purchasing new ones each time. You can choose to have certain items designed and built in such a way that they can be reused. These items are usually more for functional purposes and can be used over and over again.

7. Negotiate

Negotiation is key!

Negotiate with all your suppliers and explore the possibility of working together beyond just a single event. Holding an event once or twice a year is a great way to build your customer database and increase your revenue, but only if it is part of your long-term strategy.

Talk with your suppliers and tell them the budget you are trying to achieve. Suppliers will be able to work with you and offer alternatives. Do not go to a supplier and try to offer them $10 for an item that is clearly worth $500. This will offend your supplier and they will not be as willing to work within your budget.

Ask the suppliers to try and price match your other quotes. Try to only use one or two suppliers per event. The more you use one supplier for, the more you build a relationship with them and the more willing they will be to help you with your budget.

Sometimes the venue might be able to offer an industry discount with some of their recommended vendors. Some venues may also have decorations that you can hire or use for free.

A thousand confetti cannons and two hundred 75cm table candelabras are not necessary decorations. If you have money left over in your budget and really feel the need to have these items, then buy them. Certain items will not make or break your event.

8. Sponsorship

Talk to your suppliers about your event and see if they want to collaborate or do some sort of sponsorship deal, in return for free advertising. For example, a photographer may come to your event for free and take professional photos in return for a small fee from the customers if they want a copy of the photo. Or you could offer the photobooth operator brand visibility and exposure at your event in exchange for a reduction in hire cost.

Sponsorship isn’t always in the form of money. It can be in the form of a trade value. I have worked with many sponsors and have negotiated small and very large prizes for lucky door prizes.

Ultimately, it is in your supplier’s best interest to try and support you in some way if they can. The more you build your business and customer base, the more your suppliers will sell of their own products and services.

9. Free Event Promotion

There are a multitude of free tools on the market that can help you to manage and promote your event.

You can promote your event in three ways for free:

  1. Emails are the best way to invite your customers and also continue to promote your upcoming event.
  2. Promoting your event can be done cheaply with social media platforms. You can also create a Facebook Event (make sure you select whether it is private or public).
  3. Free ‘What’s On’ websites. Most of them have a ‘List Your Event’ section.

These days, newspaper and billboard ads are costly and less effective.

10. Use Volunteers

If you are running an event and need staff, a really good idea is to contact local universities and see if you can use their event students as volunteer staff. Another idea is to approach an internship program.

When I started out, and even now, I engage event students. In return, they receive mentoring and develop the experience they need.

Make sure you have a basic induction and be very clear on the event objectives. Volunteers need the right guidance and direct access to a key person in the management team, in case something urgent needs to be attended to. Of course, some tasks are more specialised than others and should not be handled by volunteers.

Internship programs are usually in search of more long-term experience. An internship can run for two or three months, or may consist of a certain number of hours that the student needs to complete as part of their course requirements.

11. Online Events

Sometimes running an event on a budget can really require you to stretch your imagination!

Did you know that you can run an event online? You read correctly – an online event!

Now, while running an event online can save you a lot of money (and people don’t need to leave the comfort of their own home and track pants), you will need a strong database of people to make the even successful. Not all events can be run online though, so assess your event before hastily deciding to run it online.

A few benefits of online events are:

  1. The low costs required for running this event
  2. Targeting national and international clients

Here are a few ideas of online events you can run:

Online Workshop

Technology has allowed so many opportunities to exist that before were not possible. Facebook allows you to record live videos and free video conferencing software is widely available.

You can show PowerPoint presentations and people can download useful material such as workbooks.

The focus for this style of event is training.

Online Exhibition

This is a great event where you can showcase a selected number of products to an audience. The focus of this kind of event is the exhibitors.

Sales Event

While this is not an actual event for entertainment, it is an event run by business owners to generate sales. Normally a webinar or a live video is run, the owner will discuss the benefits of the product or service and normally offer a course at the end of the webinar or video. Viewers can ask the speaker questions during the webinar.

Saber Events can make your corporate event a true success, no matter what your budget is. To find out what we can do for your event, please contact us via or call 1300 808 505. Our team run events in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.