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How to plan an event: An ultimate guide to event planning

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

Whether you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur, being equipped with the knowledge and tools for how to plan an event can help you achieve your business goals. In fact, around 65% of businesses globally reported an increase in their events budget, with 52% of business leaders agreeing that event marketing drives more Return on Investment (ROI) than any other channel.

In this guide, we’ll explore the process of planning a successful event, breaking down the core elements of any event plan and getting to the bottom of why thorough planning is so important. We’ll walk you through a practical, step-by-step approach to planning your event, from the initial concept to post-event analysis. 

What is event planning, and why is it important?

In a nutshell, event planning is the organization and coordination of all components of an event, from conceptualizing its purpose and creating a budget to securing a venue and coordinating timelines.

Person organizing objects on a dinner table

Source: via Depositphotos.

While specific goals will differ from event to event and business to business, the ultimate goal is to create a successful and memorable experience, meeting objectives and delivering smooth execution from start to finish.

Why is event planning important?

  • Risk management. Thorough planning is your safety net. It’s all about spotting those ‘what if’ scenarios early on, from unpredictable weather to vendors pulling out last minute. Having a plan B—and even a plan C—can turn potential disasters into minor hiccups.
  • Resource optimization and budget control. Particularly vital for businesses with smaller budgets,  planning well in advance leads to cost savings compared to last-minute arrangements. Planning means avoiding panic-driven decisions and ensuring efficient use of your resources. With time on your side, you can shop around, strike better deals and keep those purse strings in check.
  • Goal alignment. Whether brand exposure, customer engagement or sales generation, well-thought-out planning ensures your event aligns with your goals, meaning you are more likely to achieve them and create real value for the business.
  • Timely execution. For your event to unfold as you imagine it to, timing is everything. Careful planning ensures that every aspect of your event runs smoothly and on schedule, from the attendees’ arrival right through to the last person out the door.

How to plan an event: the ultimate step-by-step guide

  1. Determining event goals and objectives
  2. Figuring out potential event attendees
  3. Choosing a date and time
  4. Mapping an event timeline
  5. Allocating a budget
  6. Finding and booking an appropriate venue
  7. Establishing an event team and assigning responsibilities 
  8. Making agreements with suppliers and vendors
  9. Programming the event’s content
  10. Crafting a marketing campaign to promote the event
  11. Creating and ordering promotional materials 
  12. Executing the event and analyzing its success

Step 1: Determine your event goals and objectives

The first and most crucial step is zeroing in on the goals and objectives you’re aiming to hit with your event. 

Why do you want to organize the event? What results are you hoping to achieve? Who do you want to attend?

Clear goals provide a sense of direction, allowing you to outline the scope of the event and give every step that follows focus. Without pre-conceived objectives, you’ll be navigating your event without a compass.

Identifying your goals will help you figure out the type of event, the ideal audience, the budget to allocate, the marketing tactics used to promote it and the key metrics to analyze its success.

A person sitting at their desk planning in their notebook

Source: via Depositphotos.

Take inspiration from these common event goals and objectives:

  • Increase brand visibility among a wider audience: aim to increase social media following and engagement by a certain percentage; achieve a certain number of media mentions; or use post-event surveys to measure a rise in brand recognition.
  • Create connections and meaningful interactions: aim to facilitate a targeted number of new business connections with potential clients, partners and industry peers; generate a set amount of follow-up meetings or potential collaborations; or record attendees’ networking opportunities.
  • Enhance relationships with existing customers and foster long-term loyalty: aim to increase customer retention rates; achieve high customer satisfaction scores in post-event feedback.
  • Generate new business leads and potential sales conversions: set out to generate a specific number of qualified leads, achieve a target leads-to-sales conversion rate or record a certain amount of direct sales during the event.
  • Celebrate milestones and achievements or enhance morale: strive to acknowledge company-wide milestones and achievements; celebrate individual or team efforts, enhancing pride among employees; or foster improved teamwork and collaboration, as reported by team leads.
  • Collect valuable industry-specific insights, feedback, or data: aim to collect a targeted amount of usable data or feedback from attendees for future strategies.

You don’t have to limit yourself to just one goal—you can mix and match different objectives depending on what’s important to your business at the time. For example, you can organize an event to boost brand awareness and generate leads. However, we recommend not trying to kill too many birds with one stone; otherwise, you risk spreading yourself too thin and not achieving your goals. 

Step 2: Figure out your potential event attendees

Once you’ve established your event goals, it’s time to gain an idea of who you’d like to attend.  

Understanding your potential attendees is a crucial aspect of event planning—it ensures that your marketing efforts are effective and allows you to customize the content to suit their interests and needs. This increases attendee engagement and allows for strategic budget allocation, focusing on aspects that truly resonate with your audience.

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Source: via Depositphotos.

Build a detailed profile of your example attendee:

  • What are their demographic characteristics (age, profession, location, etc.)?
  • What are their general interests, and needs?
  • Why would they attend your event (networking, learning, entertainment)?
  • How do they prefer to receive information and communications (email, social media, etc.)?
  • What are their expectations from an event like yours?

 Find the answers by gathering information from the following sources:

  • Existing customers and subscribers: use the information you have about customers, clients and mailing list subscribers, analyzing databases for trends and common characteristics.
  • Social media insights: use social media analytics to understand your followers’ interests, behaviors and demographics.
  • Market research: conduct or refer to existing market research relevant to your industry or event type.
  • Past event data: analyze data from previous events, including attendee demographics and feedback.
  • Competitor events: look at similar events by competitors to understand their audience.

When you have a clear idea of the crowd you’re looking to attract, you can choose a suitable date and location for your event, ensuring that it doesn’t interfere with their plans. The last thing you want is to lose out on attendees because they’re heading to another industry-specific event happening on the same day.

Step 3: Choose a date and time

Selecting a date and time is so much more than just picking a day on the calendar; several factors must be considered to ensure your event has the best chance of success.

Organizational workflow

  • Internal scheduling: First, consult the company calendar. Is there a crunch time you should avoid? Or maybe a sweet spot where teams have less on and can get involved?
  • Preparation time: Make sure you’ve got enough runway for planning. Last-minute rushing will lead to more stress in the run-up and an increased chance of mistakes happening on the day.

Competing events

  • Market research: What else is happening around your chosen date? Avoiding direct competition with similar events can significantly boost attendance.
  • Audience availability: Choose a date when your audience is most likely to be free and able to attend.

Weather considerations

  • Seasonal factors: You can’t guarantee good weather, but choose a drier time of year if your event is outside. Nobody likes networking in the rain!
  • Indoor events: Weather is less critical for indoor events but can still affect travel plans. Ensure your date doesn’t fall in a season prone to extreme weather conditions that could hinder travel.

Special events and significant dates

  • Holiday check: Be mindful of national holidays, religious observances and school vacations. These can greatly affect availability and attendance.
  • Industry red-letter days: Do certain dates have significance in your field? Syncing your event with one of these could add that extra zing.

Step 4: Map an event timeline

Now your big day is circled on the calendar, let’s chart the course for everything leading up to it. Think of your event timeline as your trusty guide, helping you navigate all the necessary steps and milestones. 

With your event date as the finish line, work backward to figure out what needs to happen and when, like piecing together a puzzle. Make sure to assign a firm date to each task to keep everything on track.

Woman at a computer organizing her day with a timeline

Source: via Depositphotos.

Setting up milestones

Start with the Big Picture. Identify major milestones, such as finalizing the venue, opening registration and launching your marketing campaign. 

Detailing the journey

Break each big milestone down into smaller tasks. For example, under ‘securing a venue’, list out tasks like venue research, site visits, and sealing the deal. 

Keeping the team in sync

Schedule regular check-ins to review the timeline with your team. Ensure tasks are being completed and adjust for any changes or delays.

Final countdown

As the event date approaches, your timeline should become more detailed, breaking down last-minute preparations and setup requirements. Plan the event down to the hour (or even minute, if necessary).

Tip

Plan for unforeseen circumstances when creating a timeline for your event. Unexpected delays happen, and having buffer time ensures they don’t derail your entire timeline. Be prepared to adjust the timeline as needed. Flexibility is key to handling the dynamic nature of event planning.

Step 5: Allocate the budget

The budget is a financial blueprint for your event, ensuring that every expense brings you closer to creating an unforgettable experience. 

Let’s dive into the key elements of any budget, with some savvy tips to keep those expenses in check:

  • Venue. A significant chunk of the budget will go to your venue; consider its capacity to ensure return on investment (ROI).
  • Vendors and suppliers. Book these early to secure a better rate. Look for vendors who offer multiple services (like catering and decor) to leverage bundle discounts. Be upfront about your budget constraints when negotiating, as vendors might offer creative solutions to fit your needs. 
  • Catering and decor. The amount of budget allocated to refreshments depends on the type of event and number of attendees. Also consider the costs for all elements that enhance the event’s look and feel, including signage, furniture and floral arrangements.
  • Marketing and promotion. Factor in digital advertising, print materials, and social media campaigns.
  • Event staff and other personnel. To keep on-the-day staffing costs down, consider hiring volunteers.
  • Equipment and technology. Audio-visual equipment and lighting can get expensive, so, if your event requires it, make sure you’ve put enough budget aside.
  • Transportation and accommodation. Include travel costs if the event is out of town.

According to data from SocialTables, event planners tend to spend the most on catering (23%) and venue (19%).

Most costly budget items when organizing events

Items that comprise the largest segments of an event budget. Source: via SocialTables.

Tip

When it comes to managing your budget, keep an eye out for sneaky hidden costs that creep up unexpectedly, such as emergency print runs or extra last-minute audio-visual equipment. A good rule of thumb is to earmark about 3 to 10% of your overall budget as a contingency fund. This safety net covers you for any brilliant last-minute ideas or additional requirements that pop up down the line.

Step 6: Find and book an appropriate venue for your event

With the venue often taking up a significant portion of your budget, securing the right spot is the next crucial step in your event plan. But it’s not just about the price tag. There are several key factors to think about when choosing the perfect venue for your event…

  • Accessibility. Is the venue easily reachable for your attendees? Consider its proximity to public transport, parking availability and accessibility for people with disabilities.
  • Capacity. Ensure that the venue you choose comfortably accommodates your guests. Consider safety and the layout for optimal flow and interaction.
  • Tech amenities. Does it have the audio-visual capabilities you need? Think about sound systems, lighting and any specific tech requirements for presentations or entertainment. 
  • Ambiance and style. Your venue should align with the tone and style of your event. A corporate seminar might thrive in a sleek conference center, while a casual networking event might be more at home in a relaxed, open space.
  • Availability. Ensure the venue is available on your desired date and has flexibility for setup and breakdown times around your event.

Tip

When choosing an event venue, look at reviews and ask for references to get a sense of past experiences. 

Step 7: Establish an event team and assign responsibilities

Once you’ve laid the groundwork for your event, the next pivotal step is to assemble your dream team. Your event’s success hinges on the people behind the scenes.

Your team should consist of an event manager or coordinator, responsible for overseeing the entire event; a marketing and communications lead, handling all promotion and publicity; an attendee and volunteer coordinator, managing customer service and overseeing volunteers; and a tech person, who deals with technological aspects, from the website to audio-visual equipment. If you are a small business owner or organization, then all these roles will fall under your responsibility! Or with a smaller team, some members will have to cover more than one area.

How many people you allocate to carry out these roles depends on your budget and resources, and the size of your event.

Group of people planning around a table

Source: via Depositphotos.

Step 8: Make agreements with suppliers and vendors

Now you have your internal event team, you can work together on securing agreements with vendors and external suppliers to bring your ideas to life. Clearly define the supplies you need for your event before reaching out to vendors.

Look for vendors with positive reviews and a track record of reliability. Shop around and compare quotes, and leverage relationships and partnerships. Vendors are more likely to offer favorable rates if you’re a repeat customer or have a long-term partnership. Don’t hesitate to negotiate and ensure clarity in all agreements. Always have written contracts to avoid misunderstandings and establish clear terms.

Step 9: Program the content of your event

The next big step is to craft an agenda. The agenda is the storyline of your event, where you decide what your attendees will experience from start to finish, guiding them through the journey you’ve carefully planned for them. 

Identify and emphasize the main attractions of your event, whether it’s a renowned speaker, an important announcement, an impressive entertainer or a unique workshop. These are your selling points.

Consider the flow of the day—you don’t want to overload attendees or leave them with too much idle time.

Once your agenda is finalized, share it with attendees to drum up excitement. This can be done via your event website, email communications or event apps. This is where the marketing part of event planning begins. 

Step 10: Design a solid marketing campaign to promote your event

With your event taking shape, it’s time to shift gears to promotion. A well-crafted marketing campaign is the key to filling those seats and creating buzz.

While digital marketing is a powerhouse in its own right, traditional methods like posters, flyers and banners still hold significant value. Distributed or placed in strategic locations to attract attendees, they catch the eye of the community, acting as a physical presence in the daily lives of your audience.

Complement these printed promotional materials with online campaigns to create a cohesive and multi-faceted promotional strategy.

Printed promotional products on a table

Digital channels for promoting an event

  • Social media: Leverage platforms such as Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), Instagram and LinkedIn to reach a broad audience. Regular posts, event pages and targeted ads can increase event visibility.
  • Email marketing: Send out invites, updates and reminders to your mailing list. Tailor your messages for a personalized touch.
  • Website and blog: Use your website or blog to provide detailed information about the event. SEO will ensure your event pops up in relevant online searches.
  • Partnerships and sponsorships: Collaborate with local businesses, influencers or community groups for cross-promotion. They can share your event with their networks, increasing reach.
  • Press releases: Reach out to local digital media outlets and radio stations. A well-written press release can garner free publicity.
  • Online event platforms: Platforms like Eventbrite or Meetup can help manage registrations and spread the word.

Step 11: Create and order all promotional materials for the event

Promotional materials help bring your brand to life in a fun and engaging way while making your event more memorable.

Here are some ideas to inspire you:

  • Banners and signage. Backdrops are ideal for photo ops and reinforcing your brand, while directional signs, schedule boards and informational posters help navigate attendees smoothly through the event.
  • Event programs or brochures provide attendees with essential information about the schedule, speakers and sponsors.
  • Name tags and lanyards aid networking while adding a professional feel to the event.
  • Giveaway items like T-shirts, tote bags and pens add a personal touch and keep your brand in people’s minds long after the event is over.

Tip

Getting a test batch of your promotional materials is wise before placing a large order. This ensures that everything looks and feels just how you want it to.

a woman packaging her products

Step 12: Execute the event and analyze its success

You’ve planned meticulously, and now it’s showtime! Execution is where your plans come to life, but your job doesn’t end when the last guest leaves. A post-event analysis is crucial, offering valuable insights for business growth.

Use surveys, feedback forms or informal conversations to collect attendee opinions, helping you to understand what did and didn’t work. Hold a meeting with your team to discuss the event, allowing each member to offer their perspective.

Go back to your initial goals and objectives. Did the event meet them? Analyze areas such as attendance, engagement and overall satisfaction. Review your budget versus expenditure. Understanding where you went over or under budget can inform future financial planning.

This step is crucial for evolving your event planning skills. Make notes of what you learned and use the insights to improve subsequent events. What would you repeat, and what would you do differently next time?

Ready to plan your next event?

With a global rise in event spending, understanding the nuances of event planning has never been more important. Remember, whether you’re aiming to boost brand visibility, engage customers or celebrate milestones, the essence of a successful event lies in its planning. Following this step-by-step guide will create an experience that resonates with attendees and achieves your goals.

Start early, stick to deadlines, make informed decisions and have fun. You’ve got it!

Ready to get started?

Order your event promotional materials today.