Budgeting for a conference

One of the most important things while planning a conference is Budgeting. After all, you don’t want to spend more than you are going to earn as revenue from ticket sales and sponsorships. As a part of a team that organises technical conferences in India, I have some experience that I would like to share with you. There are several tools that may help you plan the budget but, a spreadsheet with columns for the expense and income is perhaps the most simple and adequate tool for creating a financial plan to calculate the costs. The exercise starts much earlier than the event is scheduled, with getting quotations from vendors and filling out the relevant columns in the spreadsheet. Following are the heads that one should consider in financial planning of a conference

  • Location/Venue – choose a venue depending on the kind of money you are expecting to raise along with the expected audience. The venue costs should not be more than 30-35% of your entire conference budget.
  • Travel and Stay arrangements of key speakers/personnel of the event – How you treat your guests is important in getting good reviews from your key invitees. The boarding arrangements need not be top class, but they should be clean, easily accessible and should provide for basic necessities like hot water, coffee and breakfast.
  • Conference proceedings and properties required – If you do not plan and provide for the properties like projectors and computers that are needed for the seminar, you will be running around just before the conference is about to start. In the least, you will miss out on important work scheduled for that time, and the worst –you may not get the equipment at the eleventh hour.
  • Public Relations (Advertisements, handouts, posters/stickers and other allied expenses) – Advertisements are expensive. Plan for them well in advance. Posters/stickers and handouts need to be ready in advance too for them to reach your target audience.
  • Meals for the attendees and speakers – The food should be fresh and filling. Remember, a starving audience is not a happy audience and irrespective of other things they will give negative reviews for your event. If you plan a special meal for invitees, budget that too.
  • Entertainments (if being hired) – It is a good idea to entertain your guests at the end of the day. Plan for this expense if you have the budget.
  • Coffee/Tea supply during the event – Techies need coffee or tea through out the day. Having a constant supply of hot beverages through out the day is a good idea – and it is not expensive either.
  • Expenses related to creating and maintaining the event website – Your website will give you exposure in the virtual world, and it is important. Don’t cut corners on website related expenses.
  • Printing (conference tickets/booklets/attendee speaker and team badges etc) – You will require these to be printed prior to the conference. The numbers for printing will depend on the number of registrations you get.
  • Stage decor (flex prints, floral decorations etc) – Apart from whatever decorations you wish to have if you have sponsors, their logos need to be displayed on the stage.
  • Vigilance (security, emergency arrangements, etc.) It is always a good idea to arrange for security at the venue. Budget for this.
  • Hardware and Stationery (Computers, phones, printers, copier, papers etc) – These are basic necessities for any conference. Arrange for them in advance so that you don’t go running around for small things.
  • Personnel and Volunteers (food, conveyance etc) – You will need volunteers to run the event smoothly and you should take care of their needs.
  • Insurance costs – If you wish to have an insurance (fire, theft, or general), it would be a good idea to find out costs and provide for it.
  • Bank costs (money transfer fees, online ticket sales fee) – When you sell tickets to the conference online, there are always costs involved. The credit card company takes their charges (in India it’s around 5%) and the ticket selling site will take it’s commission. Likewise, if your sponsors are making payments to you telegraphically, there would be transfer costs involved.
  • Miscellaneous expenses – Account for 5-10% of the total budget as Miscellaneous / Emergency fund.
  • Govt Taxes if applicable – In India, if you earn money or take sponsorships, you need to pay the government it’s due. Most sponsors would deduct this and give you the cheques, but you have to be vigilant and account for taxes (from the profit if any)

While it is good to plan your expenses, economizing on your budget by reducing costs wherever possible is equally important.

  • If an event like the one you intend to organize has been done earlier then talk to the organizers of past events; they will have pointers for possible vendors.
  • Getting quotes from several vendors and then zeroing on the one that gives most value for money. When the vendors know they are pitted against another they often give you their best rates.
  • Look for barter sponsorships – The sponsor gets free publicity and in exchange, offer their services. It’s a win-win for both parties.
  • According to www.smoothlinefences.com.au you need to limit the food choices – you need not have a seven-course meal at the conference (unless it is a food related conference) – simple, clean and tasty food comes at a reasonable price.
  • Tea/Coffee can be sold by the vendor at the venue instead of being distributed free. It costs little, so the attendees don’t mind paying for it.
  • Estimate the number of attendees correctly so that you neither fall short or have left over (food and conference goodies). However, be careful, falling short of food and goodies will give your conference a bad name. With online ticketing, it is easy to do the estimation.
  • Ask the attendees during the registration if they would take part in the evening events, especially when the costs are affected by numbers. This will help you plan better.
  • Sell some conference goodies at the venue. People often like to have extra conference memorabilia (like T-shirts, you can get them made by companies like The Clothing People) – estimate this number by asking the attendees about it during the registration process.
  • Have an exhibition space – the sponsors will need booths to exhibit their stuff and you can sell the extra stalls to the companies who belong to your industry.
  • Send “Request for Sponsorship” documents well in advance. Most companies take a lot of time in finalizing the sponsorship, and the process is often long drawn. You wouldn’t want to keep waiting for funds long after the conference gets over.

Hope these pointers help you in planning your conference budget. Please feel free to comment if you have further insights. The accompanying graph has % spending based on my experience of handling accounts for a leading conference over the years. Some conference organisers may spend their rupee differently.

Conference Budgeting Pie Chart

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