Whether you’ve planned hundreds of events or are just starting out in the industry, it never hurts to have a read of articles like this one to ensure you don’t overlook something that could tarnish your event. We’ve used our own considerable experience of event planning to put together a list of 20 golden rules that will help you avoid the common pitfalls that can catch out even the most experienced event professionals. Some might seem obvious, but when you’ve so much to think about, it’s surprising how easily things can slip through the net.
Of course, help is at hand if you need it. There are plenty of first-rate event organisers who know what works, and who will save you time by handling the correspondence between the venue and suppliers. They'll buy in bulk and have relationships with industry experts, meaning they can get you better deals too, so you might even break even on the cost of hiring help in the end.
If you’re set on organising the event yourself though, it’s definitely worth having a read through our tips below. Many are a simple matter of confidence – knowing your worth and using your bargaining skills to get what you need. Don’t relish the idea of negotiating? Another top tip of ours is an oldie, but a goody: fake it ‘til you make it. No one has to know you’re not a bargaining extraordinaire and it could save you a fortune.
Lastly, don’t forget to enjoy the event yourself! Obviously getting drunk is a no-no, but do allow yourself to enjoy a glass or two towards the end of the event, once you’re sure that everything is under control. Don’t think that you’re not allowed to enjoy an event just because you’ve organised it all – if anyone’s earned it, you have.
1. Budget Carefully
Setting a budget is easy; sticking to it is the tricky bit. Inexperienced planners can come a cropper by not keeping on top of the small expenses, which can soon add up to create a scary surprise when the bill gets totted up. Don’t fall into the trap of spending on no-shows. A 20% dropout rate is normal for events, so book for fewer than you invite (but negotiate a good rate for last-minute confirmations). Set aside a portion of the budget for any surprises.
What’s most important to you: lots of flowers or ample amounts of booze; a grand venue or first-rate AV? Make a list of what you need, in order of importance, then be prepared to make sacrifices in the less crucial areas.
3. Know your audience
Remember, you’re creating an event for your guests, not your MD. We’ve heard too many stories of venues being chosen because of their proximity to the boss’s house, for instance. Think about what the majority of your guests would like, and plan around those logistics.
4. Ask around
The internet is a great resource for finding venues and suppliers, but it’s not as good as recommendations from people you know. Ask around to see if anyone knows the companies you're considering before booking. Use the SquareMeal Concierge service and if you organise lots of events, then get on Twitter or Instagram. Social media is invaluable for advice and deals, and can give you visuals of a venue without having to leave your desk.
5. Know your power
This is a competitive industry with a lot of suppliers chasing your business. Insist on a designated account manager – a single point of contact is a necessity, not a luxury. Ask how many events your suppliers have worked on within the past month. If it’s fewer than two, there’s probably a good reason. Find a balance between accepting their advice and being pernickety: bad suppliers may try to guide you down the path of least resistance to make life easy for themselves.
6. Book ahead
You could decide to hang on for a last-minute deal, but most event companies offer good discounts for early bookers. You’re also much more likely to get what you want if you give plenty of notice. Take venues: the most popular alfresco spots tend to get booked for summer dates by mid-March, while the best Christmas venues can be taken more than a year ahead.
7. Be flexible
Looking for a bargain? It makes sense to book on quiet days – Mondays and Tuesdays tend to be cheaper. Instead of holding a party in December, you could pick up a bargain in January, a slower month for event suppliers after the rush of Christmas parties. Another option is to book an afternoon, as lunches are cheaper, and there’s a definite cut-off, so guests can be left to their own devices and the corporate card can cool off.
Your budget shouldn’t be a closely guarded secret. Be upfront and approach suppliers who are beyond your budget – they’ll often be prepared to do a deal, especially if you’re booking your event in a quiet period. Increased spending means better rates (which is why it often makes sense to use an established event organiser who is booking suppliers all the time). But, be reasonable. Driving costs down is one thing, but go too far and you will end up creating ill feeling between you and your suppliers.
9. Don’t forget anyone
Be sympathetic to teetotallers. Offer soft drinks that look like the real thing – not orange juice during the fizz reception – so that abstainers don’t have to answer the same impertinent question again and again. Need to make room in the budget for booze-free libations? There’s a reason why prosecco outsells Champagne these days. Making everyone feel included is important.
10. Take time to choose your venue
Don’t just pick a ‘hot’ venue and shoehorn your event in. Think about what type of event you want to put on and pick the venue to match that. A grand Victorian ballroom might not be ideal for a hi-tech product launch. And why spend a fortune decorating a venue if one with the right look exists already? Don’t be scared by a high headline price either. Costlier functions will usually have a more switched-on events team, possibly making it cheaper in the long run.
11. Plan the arrival
Queues for the cloakroom will put guests in a bad frame of mind from the outset – ditto waiting for name badges. If you expect lots of people to arrive at the same time, have extra staff on hand to avoid bottlenecks and make sure that there are drinks waiting on the door. For a networking event, try to have greeters ready to provide introductions.
12. Try before you buy
Be sure to sample both food and drink before committing to a caterer. Good suppliers should offer a tasting as a matter of course. If a venue has a party booked in, ask if you can sneak along beforehand to see what the space looks like when prepped.
13. Tinker with tax
Staff events are tax deductible. Businesses can offset £150 a head per year against any annual events that are open to all employees, such as the summer barbecue or Christmas party. It’s worth dropping a gentle reminder of this to your finance director if he or she is being shy with the company card.
14. Bring in entertainment
You want to create a fun environment that allows guests to interact and get to know each other, and not get stuck talking about work. Whether you decide on a quiz, or a novel game, bring in a DJ, or for a more sophisticated take, why not do a wine tasting? The options are endless, and it’s a great way to let people connect and bond over something unexpected.
15. Don’t skimp on food
Remember, you’re the host and you have a duty to feed your guests. At evening events, many people will have come straight from the office and won’t have eaten properly since lunch. Hungry guests aren’t happy guests. Consider bowl food rather than canapés – it’s more filling and usually cheaper.
16. Control the speakers
Everyone’s been to an event which has been spoiled by dull speeches. Lay down the law to any speakers, as far as you can. Set them a strict time limit, especially if there is more than one involved. And do insist that they prepare. Nothing annoys guests more than a speaker droning on interminably without making an intelligent or witty point.
17. Spell things out
It’s vital to make sure that your guests have all the information they need in advance. A map is a good idea and you should always include the full postcode of the venue, as many of your guests will be navigating to the party using a smartphone. Be clear about dress codes too. If jeans and trainers are unsuitable, then tell everyone well in advance.
18. Check the diary
A simple one this, but often overlooked. What other events are happening on your chosen night? Will you be chasing the same guests as another function? Always check the sporting fixtures, particularly the UEFA Champions League. Some guests are likely to dodge an event if, say, Chelsea are playing Real Madrid. If it can’t be moved, or it’s too late, consider making a feature of a clash. For summer events, why not screen Wimbledon?
19. Arrive early
Get to the venue early to check everything, from the sound system to the lights. Enter the venue the same way as your guests will. Test your door team with a tricky question or two: are they creating the right initial impression? Can anything be improved? Have the timings been properly worked out and does everyone know them? Continue to spot-check things throughout the evening.
20. The getaway
Nothing’s more frustrating than wanting to escape a party but having to queue for ages at the cloakroom. Be prepared for the exodus. If you want the party to continue, make sure you’ve arranged somewhere appropriate, preferably nearby. Remember: your company could be held liable if something happens to an employee on their way home, so don’t shirk from booking cars.
Searching for a venue for your next event? Check out our round-up of cool party venues.