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As an event marketer, you’re used to being asked to achieve more with less.
But pulling off a rockstar event on a tribute band budget can definitely feel impossible. The good news is, it isn’t. 🙌🏻
We consulted a range of business leaders and event marketers to collect expert tips for maximizing your event budget — including clear advice on how to save and where to splurge.
If you’re ready to see more ROI with every attendee, lean in. These proven tactics will help you make the most of your budget planning, no matter how tight it gets!
💸 Ready to tackle that event budget? Save yourself some time and grab our free event budget template with tailored line items for in-person, hybrid, and digital events!
We partnered with Caryl Lyons, Founder of ROAR Events, for a full session on creating high-impact event experiences on a budget. Caryl has over 20 years of event management experience, so she knows a thing or two about managing budgets and creating exceptional events.
Check out the full session below for an in-depth rundown on what to keep and what to cut. ⤵️
Creating a budget can be stressful. Whether it’s trimming the fat or completely cutting back, when it comes to squeezing every ounce of awesomeness out of your event budget, our event planning experts recommend focusing on these nine areas.
For Founder of ROAR Events Caryl Lyons, branding is a common culprit for event overspending. Her advice?
Think strategically about which aspects of the event you’re branding and why. Don’t feel pressure to brand every inch of your event space. These items can add up quickly and eat through budgets. Instead, think about what’s going to make the biggest impact and focus on those areas.
Start by getting an estimate on what your ideal brand vision is for the event, and then decide what items are essential and which ones are simply nice to have.
Simply put, a minimal but thoughtful approach to branding can still pack a punch without breaking the bank.
🎨Curious about how you can level up your next digital event with eye-catching branding? Check out expert tips in our free guide.
Across the board, event planners and pros suggest tapping into your existing business relationships to get more event ROI without overspending.
Here are three proven ways to make the most of your event budget, all with a little help from your friends.
1. Negotiate deals and discounts
Designbro.com CEO Christiaan Huynen is a big believer in the benefits of repeat business. The way he sees it, working with suppliers long-term means they’re “invested in your success and are incentivized to give you discounts or freebies.”
And for Wizve’s Jim Campbell, those discounts can usually be attained through a little friendly negotiation. He believes this is an especially effective approach for events with high attendee counts. “Vendors are willing to offer discounts for large events. It’s worth asking for a lower price,” explains Jim.
2. Aim for annual contracts
Jeff Goodwin, Marketing VP at Orgain, also recommends thinking long-term when it comes to the fine print. “Ask preferred vendors about yearly contracts for reduced rates,” he suggests.
3. Barter for items and services
Or you could take a page from Snackable Solutions’ Dennis Consorte’s playbook and “try bartering for the things you need for a successful event or look for sponsors who can provide gifts for your swag bags.”
If you choose this route, Disrupter School’s Charles Tichenor IV suggests focusing on finding compatible partners first and foremost. This way, your “sponsor can either provide funding or their brand’s services in exchange for exposure.” Win. Win.
Of course, there’s no reason to stop at partnerships.
Caryl from ROAR Events also recommends getting strategic about your swag spending.
While she’s all in favor of a high-impact swag bag, she recommends capping your spending on cheap branded items (that often end up in the trash anyway 😬).
Here are a few suggestions for swag ideas that won’t break the bank:
🎁 Swag isn’t just for in-person! Make your digital event attendees feel like VIPs with a smart gifting strategy.
Owner of Foundations First Marketing, Michelle Tresemer, is all about event budget ROI and creating an event that drives impact.
One of her go-to tactics for stretching that event budget is to get creative about repurposing content.
“When budgets get tight, it's key to focus on doing the right things instead of just more things,” explains Michelle. “20% of your time and energy should go into the event itself, and 80% should go into repurposing the event content. Sure, we all want attendance and participation at the event itself, but that only lasts a day or two. What you do after the event is where you can really shine.”
Whether it’s turning presentations into infographics, talks into articles, Q&A sessions into case studies, or videos into TikToks — by saving big bucks on your content creation strategy, you can reallocate funds to use elsewhere during your event.
If you’re hosting an in-person or hybrid event, your venue is likely to take up a significant portion of your event budget.
And according to Personnel Checks’ James Parkinson, the secret is in how you use the space.
“Finding a creative way to utilize space is key,” says James. “For example, if your budget doesn't stretch to hiring a conference center or hotel ballroom, consider using a local community center or even an ample office space. And if you're planning a digital event, utilize creative and interactive platforms.”
But if you really want to get every ounce out of your event budget, it isn’t just your choice of venue that matters — it’s how you choose to maximize the space you’ve got.
For example, it’s a good idea to experiment with monetized sponsor booths, paid-for advertising opportunities, and in-house sales rooms. If it generates direct income or facilitates deal-closing conversations, you’ll be able to drive ROI even higher. 📈
When it comes to upping your event game on a tight budget, Will Yang, Head of Growth at Instrumentl, believes in going back to basics: specifically, format and delivery.
“Get creative with your format and delivery methods,” suggests Will. “Think outside the traditional keynote presentation and consider alternative ways to engage your audience. This could include interactive polls, Q&A sessions, live demonstrations, or even virtual reality experiences.”
Boosting your attendee engagement scores doesn’t need to involve six figures in speaker fees or celebrity cameos. With the right programming tools — like live Q&A, video chat, photo booths, and games — you’ll be onto a winner in half the budget.
Looking for a tech-savvy way to keep things current on a stretched event budget?
MPOWER Financing’s Sasha Ramani says it’s time to double down on digital.
“Take advantage of free digital media. For example, a live Twitter feed in a section of the event space can do wonders for exposure, and it is free.”
According to Sasha, tapping into free digital channels isn’t just great for free event promotion — it can also help boost your results during the actual event.
“The same can go for live-streaming workshops, brown bag lectures, or breakout sessions. If possible, incorporate Q&A from the digital audience through an instant messaging channel on social media,” Sasha explains.
And if you really want to amplify your digital offering, look for an event platform that offers plenty of integrations — including just-for-fun features like photo booths and event gamification.
No two ways about it, event promotion is a must.
But if you don’t have the cash to splash, don’t worry. There are still plenty of ways to boost registrations on a budget.
For Debbie Meeuws of Nature's Arc Organic, incentivizing your audience to do the work for you is a smart savings move.
“Promoting the event by word-of-mouth or through the voluntary dissemination of your audience can help you save on the costs for promotion and also be an effective way to increase brand awareness. You can encourage your audience to share about the event and reward them through perks like more entries for a raffle.”
Will Yang from Instrumentl agrees. He believes free event promo is just one more area to leverage in your existing partner and supplier relationships. And if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
So why not reach out to your network and ask if they’d be willing to cross-promote your event? The way experts like Debbie and Will see it, tapping into your built-in audience is a great (free!) way to expand your reach.
If a hybrid or in-person event budget simply isn’t within reach, experts like Jenna Nye, Director at On the Strip, aren’t afraid to keep their budgets on track by leaning into the power of digital.
“Reduce costs significantly by eliminating a venue and keeping it all digital. Virtual events require fewer expenses, giving you a bigger budget to focus on event marketing, lead generation, and brand awareness.”
Today, there are a wide range of modern virtual event platforms offering powerful features that help replicate the magic of an in-person event. With a little help from the right tech, there’s no reason you can’t have it all (for less).
Your company is putting their name on something — it can’t just be Zoom. What would you do for an in-person event? Just because it’s virtual, you still need to maintain that level.” — Belinda Joseph, Head of Events & Community, Goldcast
Alright. By now, we know there are some key areas where you can cut back without cutting corners. Phew! 🙌🏼
But there are also some key areas where honestly — you get what you pay for.
Here are the core event areas that are usually worth the investment to nail your event goals.
“You may have the best event in the world, but if no one knows about it, it won’t matter. So make sure you allocate enough of your budget to marketing and advertising so you can reach your target audience and get them excited about attending your event.”
— Will Yang, Head of Growth at Instrumentl
“Investing in good-quality audio and visual equipment is necessary. The last thing you want is for your audience to see and hear a fuzzy, low-quality event.”
— James Parkinson, Head of Marketing Content at Personnel Checks
“You’ve invested time, money, and energy into hosting an event that draws leaders in and educates them about your brand. Don’t cut on sending out an event summary, a note from your company, and tailored content your prospective buyers will want to see next.”
— Marina Vaamonde, Investor at HouseCashin
“Invest in high-quality speakers and develop robust, comprehensive material that genuinely educates and engages your audience.”
— Will Yang, Head of Growth at Instrumentl
“Never cut the budget on the price or freebies for your event. This is how you will grab your audience's attention and pique their curiosity. The more tempting the price inclusions for your event, the more attention you will garner for your brand.”
— Debbie Meeuws, CEO at Nature's Arc Organic
If you can’t afford a big keynote, find someone who’s very well known within your space, someone that your audience already looks to for guidance and best practices.” — Belinda Joseph, Head of Events & Community, Goldcast
Rocking a champagne event on a lemonade budget isn’t easy, but with the right approach, it can be done.
But to execute an event that feels five-star (even if your budget isn’t even five figures), you will have to get creative. Prioritize the aspects of the event with the biggest potential impact while utilizing your existing network and resources to the absolute max. And break down your budget to identify what’s essential—and what’s just “nice to have.”
At the end of the day, attendees want a value-driven experience that’s worth telling their friends about. And with a little creativity, there’s always a way to deliver.