How to Plan an Event on a Budget

Hosting promotional events is one of the best ways to market and generate publicity for your organization. Events can be used to build or change your image, introduce new products or services and create goodwill between your company and its surrounding community. However, events can be costly, and startup or growing companies may not even include them in a marketing budget.

Here are 10 tips for creating events that will allow you to gain exposure and goodwill for your business without breaking your bank account. If you’re seeking new ways to promote your brand, business, organization or cause, create a dynamic Organization Profile on the all-new!

  1. Volunteer your company’s services to help with a local, newsworthy event. Be particularly conscious of the media involved, because you may have a chance for a free “plug” on the air or in the newspaper. By investing your time in return for access to such exposure, you have the opportunity to publicize your company’s services to your community, region or state. In addition, you can capture the attention of your local leaders who are, more often than not, willing to refer you if you’ve contributed to their organization’s efforts. Again, try to be a part of an activity that is highly newsworthy and offer a unique skill or service that will capture the attention of a reporter.
  2. Find out if a local organization (Lion’s Club, church, community center) will offer you the use of its facilities, such as an alumni organization, small business association or community group. As the rental of a site is often the biggest expense of an event, you will save a great deal of money by using donated space.
  3. Become friendly with your local caterers. Food is another huge expense in staging an event, but is necessary – people love to gather in a group and nosh. Remember, the caterers in your community need exposure just as much as you do, and will likely be happy to offer you a discounted menu for the exposure they may gain at an event. Feature the new caterer in your mailings with a word of thanks.
  4. Talk to a local restaurant owner and ask him/her if you can reserve a few tables on a night that isn’t very busy (Monday or Tuesday is usually best, but note that many restaurants are closed on Mondays). Send out flyers to publicize your mixer, and charge a minimal cover ($5) to cover your food costs. Buy a few plates of hors d’oeuvres and some pitchers of soda. Have a cash bar, and be sure to invite enough people to recover most of your costs! Remember though, events are a cost of doing business, and you may not always recover your expenses, so be sure that the publicity you will receive is well worth a few dollars. If you are staging something unique, such as a winter luau, be sure to invite the press.
  5. Coordinate with other young entrepreneurs and stage an event as a group (e.g. an end-of-summer picnic) – this will allow each participant to contribute to costs and labor.
  6. If you can only afford to invite and feed a small number of people, make sure you fill the event with friends, family and anyone else who will be willing to stay for a few hours in order to create the image of a large attendance. (Make sure they eat before they come if you are really tight on funds, so special guests can enjoy the food! It’s a lot to ask, but if they’re your friends and family, most likely they’ll make the sacrifice for you.)
  7. Offer to stage an event with a portion of the proceeds going to a local charity or organization. Be sure to stage activities which are somehow related to your company. For example, if you run a day-care operation, hold a parent-child picnic with a cover charge of $20, with $5 going toward the purchase of books for the local children’s library or the March of Dimes. This is a win-win-win situation, as it will allow you to create goodwill in your community, funding for the organization and exposure among the press. Additionally, as organization executives will be thankful for your efforts, they will be more than happy to refer you to others.
  8. If you wish to be involved in a trade show, barter your services for a booth space. (for example, you may be able to help with set-up or mailings). This may not work if the show is large, so be prepared to negotiate. No one has to know you are doing these activities – keep in mind that your primary objective is a spot on the floor, and sometimes there is sacrifice involved. Do what you must to get exposure. Besides, it will provide you with a good story for later on.
  9. If you can’t pay, barter. This can’t be stressed enough. Bartering is a mode of survival for many small businesses. If done well, and if your time donation is large enough, you may even be considered a sponsor of the event.
  10. Once you commit to an event, be sure to tell people about it in enough time to get the crowd you’re looking for. There is nothing worse than an empty event! Try to get listed in your local newspaper’s calendar of events (sometimes requires a lead time of a few weeks), post on the web, through online meetup boards, and tell all your friends and colleagues to tell their friends and colleagues. Word of mouth helps!