How to Streamline and Prioritize Your Conference Budget

Conference budgets can be complex and daunting as there are so many details and moving parts. As an event planner, we also see budgets reallocated at the last minute. As a general rule, 25 percent of marketing budgets usually go for conference expenses. However, things change and budgets get cut so organizational and prioritization skills are a must.

Below are my top tips for streamlining and prioritizing your conference budget.

  1. Know your numbers and review them often

If you are like me and have an annual conference, you can simply revise and edit your last year’s conference budget. However, prices go up and vendors go out of business so make sure you keep a spreadsheet that has a column for estimated costs and real costs so that you can keep your budget on track.

If this is your first time creating a conference budget, I suggest you find a template online. This is basically an empty spreadsheet and is called zero-based budgeting because it is starting from scratch. This is a great strategy for getting current and accurate numbers from the beginning.

  1. Create a conference budget priority list

Take and look at each item on your list and begin to prioritize. What are the most important items? Some of your items will take precedent over others. Create a column in your spreadsheet to categorize each item with its level of importance.  

  • Critical
  • Important
  • Wish list


There are some critical expenses you simply must-have, but there is also a “wish list” item like a 6-foot Ice sculpture. Once you have prioritized your items you can see what is critical and see what else you can add. 

Before you eliminate any items take a look and see if there is a cheaper alternative. 

  1. Big-ticket items warrant more scrutiny

For most conference organizers, the high-priority items are similar:

  • Venue
  • Furniture
  • Catering
  • Speaker fees, including travel and lodging
  • Dedicated internet and other secure technology tools
  • Staff, including security
  • Marketing, advertising, and promotional costs
  • Event ticketing software

Here are some innovative costs we cut:

  • We have lower negotiated rates with our venues
  • We have venues that offer packages with furniture, catering & AV
  • We use private venues to eliminate room blocks and higher catering and AV costs
  • Our venues have 1st rate lodging nearby and some have shuttle services
  • We supplement our staff with volunteers to reduce cost
  • Low-priced social media campaigns are a great way to market
  1. Cost Analysis

Get five quotes from vendors, especially for big-ticket items. Build relationships with quality vendors. With multiple quotes, you have negotiating power. Many vendors will match or beat a competitor if they can.  

  1. Automate with processes

Systems and processes not only help with accuracy and efficiency but also reduces your staffing costs. Here are a few examples:

  • Use Active Campaign, Vertical Response or MailChimp, to automate and track your email announcements 
  • Use Sched to display your event schedule on a mobile device or WordPress site, and enable participants to take charge of their own conference scheduling
  • Use Sprout Social or HootSuite for Social Media Management
  • Use Zapier to link and automate your tools  
  1. Don’t forget to budget for the unexpected

Conferences are complicated and rarely go as planned. Good event planners plan for an additional 5 to 10% for unpredictable expenses. Read the fine print from your contractors as many have “damage fees” for items that are lost or broken. Budgeting for the unexpected is always good practice. It is even better when you don’t have to use it. 

  1. Focus on revenue 

Now that you have your budget created…it is time to focus on revenue-producing strategies to help offset your cost and possibly increase your budget and add some of the items from your “wish list.”  

Revenue can come from multiple sources and strategies, so be resourceful. 

Here are a few to consider:

  • Value-based pricing for your conference will increase attendances
  • Enticing VIP upgrade options will inspire people to pay for more
  • Offer high-value sponsorship options and opportunities
  • Bring in strategic partners to share the stage and the costs

Being creative and resourceful will not only bring in more revenue but it will make for a more successful conference as you won’t be so confined by budget restraints.