Every event—from the most intimate cocktail party to the grandest festival —requires careful planning and organization. How well you manage the many details determines whether you have an outstanding event or just an average one. Whether you’re planning a dinner party at your home or are part of a team of seasoned experts organizing the fashion show of the century, there is a fundamental process to planning a successful event.
Here are seven steps to help ensure your event is successful and your planning process is organized:
1. Create Your Wish List
It’s always a good idea to start with a concrete sense of what kind of event you want to have and, most important, how much you want it to cost.
The first step is to do some brainstorming to create a wish list. On a blank sheet of paper write down every idea that you’ve ever had for your event, no matter how outlandish it may seem.
As your list starts to take shape, be sure to answer the following questions:
- When do you want your event to take place? If you can, try to identify 2 or 3 dates that will work for your event—especially if you need to coordinate schedules with other people.
- Where do you want to hold your event? Indoors or outdoors?
- How many people do you want to have at your event?
- How much do you expect it to cost?
- What kind of atmosphere do you want to create? Are you going to have a theme?
- How do you expect your guests to dress for the occasion?
- What memories do you want to have as you look back on the event a few years from now?
- What is the ultimate goal of your event?
Once you’ve gotten all of your ideas down on paper, go back and prioritize everything on your list in terms of their importance to you and/or your client. For example, if you can only hold your event on a particular date, make sure that date is at the very top of your list. Or if it’s important to have a larger event, give a high rank to the number of attendees, and so forth.
2. Create a Supplier List
The next step is to identify items on your list that you will need—or would prefer—to outsource to an event supplier. Completing a supplier list makes getting quotes and creating a budget much, much easier.
To identify the services you’ll need, print out this list and use it to create a supplier list customized to your event. Remember that you can eliminate some suppliers later if you need to reduce costs.
- Audio Visual (lighting and sound systems, etc.)
- Entertainers (clowns, comedians, magicians, etc.)
- Event Staffing & Services (bartenders, wait staff, on-site managers, etc.)
- Guest gifts
- Health & Beauty (hair styling, make-up, etc.)
- Party Equipment Rentals (tables, chairs, linenes etc.)
- Web Site
- Marketing and Promotions
3. Create A Budget
For most events, the venue and catering represent the largest costs, and you will get quotes from the suppliers for those services. Use a program like Excel to create a spreadsheet that calculates total costs for each category based on the number of attendees, but you can also do this by hand or using a calculator. Either way, you’ll need to come up with an approximate total cost for your event. How does it compare to the figure you had in mind in? Can you afford to do everything or do you need to cut some event aspects out?
4. Book a Venue
Finding a venue for your event is the most critical task in your planning process. Without a confirmed venue, it’s impossible to continue planning your event.
To make your process more efficient, it’s a good idea to create a short list of 3-5 venues that would be a good fit. Be sure to also include venues where you’ve attended events that you enjoyed. As you create your shortlist, keep your wish list handy to ensure that the venue will meet your needs.
Then contact the most interesting venues on your short list to arrange an on-site meeting and inspection. Contacting venues by telephone allows you to conduct preliminary interviews and potentially eliminate any venues that you might have been unsure about.
When you visit venues, be sure to take your time. Bring your wish list and any questions with you, and thoroughly check out the facility, including the bathrooms, entrances, parking and public areas. Does the venue provide the ambiance that you are looking for?
In addition, it is critically important to find out what services the venue provides and whether it allows outside vendors on its premises. For example, some venues have in-house caterers and don’t allow outside catering companies to serve events on their premises. The venue might also have preferred relationships with caterers and other vendors and can coordinate details with those companies, making your job easier.
If the venue is a good fit for your event, be sure to check its availability for your date(s).
Once you’ve selected a venue, be sure to review the contracts carefully and ask a lot of questions. What happens if you have to cancel? What is included and not included in the price? Don’t be scared to negotiate, especially if you have some flexibility with your dates.
5. Hire Suppliers
Once you’ve booked a venue, the rest of your planning gets easier. At this point you know when and where you event will be held, and the venue will have told you which services it can provide and which you will need to arrange on your own.
Using the supplier list you created, you now need to start getting concrete quotes for your event date. As the quotes come in, update your budget accordingly. Keeping track of your budget as you plan will ensure you don’t end up over budget.
Ask for references or, where appropriate, a sample of their work. (For caterers, this can include a tasting or a sample menu. DJs, musicians and entertainers can provide a demo CD. And so forth.)
6. Create A Web Site for Your Event
Having a private web site for your event can be a tremendous time-saver for you, and is also a great way to build buzz about your event. It also helps people to find out more about the event, building interest and engagement.
7. Send Invitations
When you need to send invitations to your event depends on how far in advance you start your planning. In some cases invitations are mailed well after all of the planning is complete, while in others you could still be looking for a caterer after invitations are in the mail. If you are planning your event at a popular time of year such as a holiday weekend, it is a good idea to send a “Save the Date” reminder in advance (i.e. more than 8 weeks before your event).