Dear Dan - Even though we're a small company, we've always sponsored an annual event for clients and employees. But cost is now a much bigger factor. How can we plan unique events on a budget? - Eventful
Dear Eventful: As the economy struggles, spending on business events has plummeted. But it's still possible to host a unique event on a modest budget. Celebrating a new product launch, big sale or other business milestone at a local watering hole can be a nice diversion for employees. And inviting clients, prospects or colleagues to a business meeting at a conference center will get the job done.
But many business event planners these days are looking to low-cost non-traditional venues to spark interest in less-frequent shindigs. Thanks to some new web resources, meeting organizers for everything from big corporate events to small family reunions are tapping special interest or non-traditional venues such as resorts, campgrounds, ranches, inns, country clubs, museums, and other alternatives to traditional hotel and restaurant locales. Bargains abound right now as these venues compete for business, and some new web solutions are making them easier to find and book.
Smaller, specialty venues can offer a broader range of activities - from BBQs to horseback riding - or offer a new twist on an old routine. "It's all about creating a new and unique experience for attendees," says Steve Robertson of the event search website Eventective (and doing it affordably).
Non-traditional venues often pull out the stops on service, offering more creativity, flexibility and personal touch than the usual suspects. Specialty venues also tend to be more enthusiastic about helping you hold down costs.
Another reason for the move to more varied business event locations is simply the availability of choices. More and more non-traditional venues are getting into the conference business. Many already have the accommodations and catering resources in-house, or have partnered with someone to provide them. They're adding larger meeting and breakout rooms with the required Internet and wireless connections and technology.
Eventective, which launched in 2003 with a handful of searchable event listings, now lists nearly 110,000 venues, 324,000 meeting spaces and 80,000 related service providers nationwide. The site claims to be the web's largest small business meeting and event space search engine. Another site, Unique Venues is all about unusual and non-traditional meeting venues, including colleges, theaters, wildlife reserves, historic sites and others.
Investigating venues at this site is easy. You can search by city, state, venue type and capacity. The site delivers venue profiles with a description of facilities, amenities and features, along with photos, directions and contact information. Reviews written by other businesses that have used the venues are also helpful, and there's even a tool you can use to invite attendees.
Here are some money-saving strategies you can use when planning events for your business:
- If you are planning a large event, negotiate for deep discounts on food, beverages, and accommodations. Ask for use of complimentary event space. If you like one space but have a lower price from another, don't be afraid to ask the other venue to match it.
- Explore surrounding areas for non-traditional locations. They often have greater availability and lower costs.
- Look for meeting locations that are free or waive the event space fee if you use their onsite catering services.
- Find creative ways to save on food and drinks. If catered, ask if passed hors d'oeurves will be less costly than buffet style appetizers.
- Be clear up front about your group's needs and get everything in writing. This will confirm event selections and prices, and avoid surprises such as fees that weren't mentioned.
These resources can help:
Eventective puts a huge number of venues and services providers just a click away. The site offers easy-to-use search functions geared to the needs of small business.
Event Solutions is a trade magazine covering events, meetings and incentives. The website offers news, articles, event blogs and a resource directory.
Meeting Professionals International can help you find a professional event planner.