Creating a virtual event budget is a vital step in the process of planning any virtual or hybrid event. Once you’ve developed the budget, you don’t just have a spending plan—you also have the beginnings of a framework for planning the entire corporate event.
Virtual Event Budget: Creating a Budget Framework
When you plan a virtual event, setting the budget is one of the very first tasks on the list. You’ll complete it at least several weeks before the event takes place. For a large event with a lengthy planning process, you might develop the budget several months or even a year in advance.
Step 1: List Expenses
The first step in creating a budget is to determine which elements of the virtual event will incur a cost. Depending on the event and the host organization, some elements may not involve a financial outlay.
For instance, virtual events don’t typically require a venue, and there’s no need to budget for travel or accommodations for out-of-town guests. However, if you’re developing a hybrid event budget, then these items likely will be event expenses.
Step 2: Itemize Expenses
Once you’ve decided on budget categories, the next step is to itemize expenses for each of those categories. This requires that you have some idea of what the event will involve, in terms of location, schedule, and content, but you don’t need to know every single detail.
Step 3: Structure the Budget
Once you get to this point, you’ll need to decide how you want to structure your virtual event budget. This may sound like a big undertaking, but it’s really a matter of deciding what software you want to use. If your event is fairly small and simple, then it’s fine to just use a spreadsheet program, such as Excel or Google Sheets.
If you’re planning a large event, then you’ll probably benefit from using budgeting software to organize your virtual event budget. Monitoring expenses for a large event can get complex, and using a dedicated budgeting program is the best way to stay organized and on track.
Pro tip: Even for a small budget, make sure you track both expected and actual costs. If you’re using a spreadsheet program, it’s easy to do this by adding separate columns for expected and actual expenses. Then for each line item, you can note actual costs right next to your projections, so it’s easy to make comparisons. Budgeting software may have different methods for recording expenses. However, these programs have tools that let you compare individual line items and categories.
Step 4: Build-In Budget Overrun
Whatever your budget is, make sure to set aside 5% to 10% of the total. Make this available for emergencies or unexpected expenses, or for budget overruns.
Step 5: Explore Ways to Save
Once you’ve completed the budget, spend time exploring different options for reducing event expenses. This might mean looking for ways to complete certain tasks in-house instead of hiring a contractor. For others, it might mean looking for partners or sponsors.
It’s also important to identify those categories or line items you’re not willing to compromise on. For instance, if you have a particular hybrid event platform in mind, you may decide that expenses in that category are set in stone.
Spending Categories for a Hybrid or Virtual Event Budget
A typical budget includes four to eight spending categories, depending on whether you’re planning a virtual or hybrid event budget. Virtual events will include categories for expenses associated with:
- AV equipment
- Speakers or entertainment
- The virtual events platform
For a hybrid event budget, you’ll have categories for:
- Audio/video (AV) production
- Speakers and/or entertainment
- The virtual events platform
- Physical venue, food and beverage
- Staff and vendors
All events should have a miscellaneous category for the budget overrun, along with other stray expenses.
While it’s important to be as thorough as possible when preparing a budget, it’s also important to allow room for last-minute adjustments and emergency expenses. Setting aside that 5% or 10% may seem pointless when you’re in the organization stage of planning an event. But it’s likely to be useful down the line because it will let you make any necessary changes without blowing your budget.
- For hybrid and live events, venue hire is usually the biggest single expense.
- The virtual events platform is considered the “venue” for a virtual event and is also needed for a hybrid event.
- Some virtual events make use of a staging location; for instance, a theater or auditorium may be used for a broadcast panel discussion.
- Confirm what amenities are included before signing a contract. The inclusion of amenities, staff, or vendors can sometimes make a more expensive venue a better deal than it seems.
- The above also applies to virtual and hybrid events platforms. If you need specific features for your event, confirm they’re offered by the platform at the price point you’re considering.
Staff, Vendors, and Personnel
- For hybrid events, depending on the event and the venue, vendors may include kitchen/catering vendors, servers, bartending, and others.
- Some venues have on-site vendors or preferred vendors.
- Some venues have general-purpose staff available. Check whether using venue staff incurs an additional fee.
- For virtual and hybrid events this category also includes any personnel needed to operate recording and broadcasting equipment.
- Includes items such as microphones, lighting, sound equipment, and other items of recording and broadcast equipment.
- For a hybrid event, consider whether it makes sense to budget the live and the virtual arms of the event separately. An alternative organization method is to budget separately for on-site and remote AV equipment.
- When hiring a venue, ask whether any equipment is provided.
Food and Beverages
- These are items not covered by the catering vendor.
Speakers and Entertainment
- This includes fees, honoraria, or per diems for speakers, presenters, and entertainers.
- Budget for any gifts or perks provided to guests.
Travel and Accommodations
- Flights and overland travel for out-of-town guests
- Hotel bookings for speakers and guests
- Including market research and advertising in all formats; for instance, online ads; social media; podcasts or videos; and traditional formats like TV, print, or radio.
- May also include signage and branding for the venue or staging location
- Event website and app
- Overrun/emergency funds
- Items that don’t fit elsewhere in the budget
How to Record Budget Items
Once you’ve worked out the budget format, categories, and line items, you’re ready to finalize your projected costs and create the budget itself. What the finished document looks like depends mostly on the software you use to create it and the size and scope of the event. For instance, if you’re using a spreadsheet program, a small event budget might fit in one spreadsheet. For a larger event, it may be more effective to put each budget category in a separate spreadsheet. Each category will include several columns and all the associated line items for that category.
Regardless of the specific software and format you use, it will end up with much the same information. At a minimum, each line item should include:
- Item name – If you have multiple similar items, make sure to give each a unique name.
- Item description – Describe the item and its purpose. Add enough detail so that you can easily differentiate similar items.
- Projected cost – What you expect the item to cost. If you have a vendor quote, it goes here.
- Actual cost – How much you actually pay for the item. Fill this in once the item is paid, even if the actual cost is the same as the projected cost.
- Payment date – The date on which payment for the item is due. This should be on the item’s associated contract.
- Paid – Whether the item has been paid for
Review Your Budget Regularly
Your virtual or hybrid event budget isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it thing. It’s important to review it regularly and update it any time you get new data—such a payment date from a vendor, or when an item is paid for. It helps you stay on track with expenses. Just as importantly, it keeps you focused on the event as a whole.
A living budget is especially important if you have a team of people working on the event. Everyone needs to be able to access up-to-date information, so keeping the budget current is essential.
Good Virtual Event Budgets Make Great Virtual Events
Organization is key to holding a successful virtual or hybrid corporate event. Plan your budget carefully, keep it updated, and it will help you and your team stay on track throughout the entire planning process. It’s an essential part of the event-planning puzzle that helps you organize events that are successful and valuable for all attendees and stakeholders.