Event production on a low budget

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Creativity over budget

Or how to pull off a cool event with little money

Words by Sabina Fratila

 

No one attends events anymore for the great catering - people's time is too valuable, and take-out is too convenient. Nowadays, we evaluate events almost exclusively on the content they deliver and the interaction they enable.

On the bright side, that means anyone can organize a meaningful event without having to hire an event production company and expensive AV equipment. On the dark side, there are still quite a few elements of event production you need to take care of, no matter how grassroots your concept is, and they all cost money. Below is a list of things you should consider to make your event work with a low budget. 

Plan event production purposefully

Don't underestimate the value of proper planning and research, especially when you don't have much money to spend. Sketch in your event canvas and list everything you would need for an ideal scenario. Then start crossing things off the list by measuring each element against the main, true purpose of your event. Anything that doesn't serve your vision and the event brand you want to build can be left out. 

Do you even need a screen? If the whole point of your event is for people to pay attention to what the speaker is saying, maybe just placing them in a circle around the person who's talking is enough. If - based on your concept, community, and marketing strategy - event photos are important, invest in that. But stay away from chunky photo booths/walls, and rent a hashtag printer instead! 

Who needs a stage when you have a bar counter?

Who needs a stage when you have a bar counter?

Always have your audience in mind: what would they appreciate, what won't they care about? Talk to people who'll participate, ask them to choose what's most important for the event to be a success. They are usually less demanding than you'd expect. 

Choose unconventional venues

You'll likely find better rates if you rent a place that's not made for events, especially if you're bringing them un untapped source of traffic. If you're organizing a breakfast meetup, why not try that cool bakery downtown? Maybe you can also make a great deal on pastry and coffee for the attendees. If you're organizing an event for
your company, how about a concert at your office? You won't need to rent a venue at all, and people will get to know your team and brand much better!

Prioritize sound over video and decorations

In most cases, it's easier and cheaper to make your event sound great rather than look great, with a higher payoff. There's no setting a good set of speakers and the right playlist can't bring to life. There's one catch, however: you need to pay a license for the music you play at your event. Here is an article that covers just that. We still think it's worth the expense, especially compared to alternative costs you would need to consider in creating a welcoming and engaging atmosphere. 

Even without music, sound is still super important in event production. Depending on the location, you need to make sure there is no interfering noise and everybody can hear the speaker - and each other. If you need microphones, go for cheaper, wired ones. You don't need to pretend you're organizing the TED Conference. Instead, the old-school mics could give it a vintage feel, like a stand-up show. 

Be smart about lights

If your event is happening during the day, take advantage of natural light and find a venue that offers plenty of it. If it's nighttime or your event concept requires a dark room, consider LED mood lighting to create the right, well, mood :). It's cheap and practical. For the stage, prioritize backlight - it makes the setting look professional in photos and videos. This event production guide for TEDx events is really helpful and on point with aspects such as lighting, audio, and video. It's focused on events that are meant to be filmed, but you'll find plenty of practical tips no matter the type of event production you're dealing with. 

Forget about catering

It's just not cool anymore, not to mention cumbersome. Instead, consider hiring a food truck. Depending on your audience, they might appreciate the awareness and offer you a good discount. Or search for some cool local eateries that would be willing to sponsor your event. The key is to always think of the identity of your community and look for businesses and services that match it. They will be more likely to naturally want to be part of your movement and cater to (pun intended) your crowd because it's in their interest to reach it.

A Bring-Your-Own-Food concept can save you money, as well as get people to share and connect

A Bring-Your-Own-Food concept can save you money, as well as get people to share and connect

Consider tradeoffs

Building partnerships with suppliers that fit your vision applies not only to food but any equipment or professional service you might need when producing an event. If exposure is not enough for them to team up with you, maybe you can trade off other services. Let's say you are a designer, or a community of designers: offer your expertise to businesses that can help your event production in exchange for their services. You would be amazed how many times this works out. 

Find volunteers who can help

Don't read that as "find volunteers you can exploit". If done right, your volunteers can be the best advocates and supporters of your event and community. But you need to find the people who will genuinely benefit from being part of your project, and offer them your time and attention. Treat them both as your guests and your partners. They are the key element in you managing to create something from nothing, without anyone realizing that you actually don't know anything about event production.   

Crowdfund your event

Yes, you can totally do that! Here's an article on how to crowdfund your event idea. True, this doesn't apply to all event types, but it does to more than you'd expect. Like this dance party for the now famous #dancingman, or this super cool Designers on Holiday camp, or this community event concept called the Human Library. If you're confident enough in the power of the community you're targeting or intending to create, setting a crowdfunding project can be a great source of money for your event's production. If anything, it will definitely help promote the event and create some hype!