Budgeting 101: In-Person Meetings

Estimating and tracking costs of in-person meetings is one of the most important aspects of the meeting planner’s job. In fact, in our recent report ‘The State of In-Person Meeting Planning Trends', survey respondents ranked “ensuring meeting costs stay on budget” as the second most important consideration when planning a meeting. 

Whether you’re new to budget management or feel like you don’t know how to get started, this blog post will help you become a pro at meeting budgets in no time. You’ll learn how to set your in-person meeting budget, and yourself, up for success.

Depending on your unique organization and the meeting you’re planning, you’ve likely been told to create a budget based on one of these scenarios:

  • You’ve been given a budget that you cannot exceed (e.g. $15,000) and now you must figure out how to spend that.
  • You’ve been given some general meeting details, and it’s up to you to figure out how much it will cost to plan a meeting that meets that criteria.
  • You’ve been asked to estimate and propose a budget and get it approved from finance.

Once the budget is determined, you’re not done there. The next steps are to track costs and reconcile the budget once the meeting has concluded. By comparing budgeted vs actuals, you’ll learn valuable insights to use when creating budgets for future meetings. 

Executive Assistant planning for an in person meeting

How To Create an In-Person Meeting Budget

When creating a budget for in-person meetings, you want to do your best to build a budget that is realistic and accurate. A realistic budget is one that uses organizational resources in a responsible manner while ensuring a successful and enjoyable attendee experience.

You will likely need to submit your budget for approval, which is another reason why it’s important to create a realistic and accurate budget. It will be more likely to be approved, especially if you use real-time data to inform your budget decisions. 

Don’t forget to leave room for unforeseen expenses. Unexpected planning challenges happen, such as disrupted flights, additional attendees joining last minute, and more. Ideally these unforeseen expenses shouldn’t derail your spending if you added in some cushion.

Step 1: Solidify Meeting Objectives

Your first step for any in-person meeting should always be identifying and confirming the meeting goals or objectives. Depending on what the meeting is meant to achieve, you’ll need to structure your budget to best support reaching those objectives. Solidifying the meeting goals will also ensure that everyone involved will be working towards the same end. 

We give tips on how to define the meeting objective and how it affects the rest of the planning process (including budget) in our Mastering Meetups: How to Plan In-Person Meeting Effectively guide.

Step 2: Know Predetermined Details Upfront

When it comes to in-person meetings, there are usually a few set-in-stone, or immutable, details that meeting planners simply cannot change. For example, meeting dates, locations, or attendees. Make sure you're aware of all of these factors before you move on in the budget creation process. Knowing these details upfront will help you better estimate major expenses like travel, accommodation, and dining. The better you can estimate your expenses, the more realistic and accurate your budget will be.

Just like with meeting goals, make sure to confirm and communicate these details with any relevant stakeholders. 

Pro tip: If there are any meeting details that are flexible, such as location, take note of them. You might find yourself struggling to make your budget work and these flexible details are often a great solution to budget woes. Even small changes, like adjusting the meeting start and end times to avoid shoulder night accommodations, can significantly reduce costs.

For more smart spending tips for in-person meetings, check out our Mastering Meetups Guide.

Step 3: Create Expense Categories

Once you’ve confirmed the meeting goals and predetermined meeting details, you’re ready to start creating your budget. You’ll want to start by identifying as many expense categories as possible. Expense categories help you to better organize your budget and prioritize spending in certain areas over others. They also help you to create a more accurate budget.

These can be categorized into major and minor “buckets”. Major expense categories are larger ticket items that will likely claim a majority portion of your budget. The most common major expense categories include:

  • Accommodation. This encompasses attendee lodging, meeting rooms, and any other physical spaces that you’ll need to pay for in order to utilize.
  • Transportation. This should include any airfare, gas or mileage, and transportation to and from airports or to activities.
  • Food and Beverage. This should include things like meals, coffee and tea service, snack service, and bar/alcohol fees if applicable.
  • Activities. This covers team building activities, entertainment, group outings, special events, guest speakers, etc.

If you want a bit more granularity to your budget you can create subcategories within the major expense categories (e.g. flight, airport shuttle, and rideshare subcategories within transportation). Once you have major expense categories listed out, you should then identify minor expense categories. Minor expense categories are the smaller spending buckets that help you budget for the fine details that make in-person meetings go off without a hitch.

Unlike major expense categories, minor expense categories vary wildly depending on the meeting type, attendees, and organization. However, here are a few of the most common minor expense categories for in-person meetings:

  • AV Equipment and Technology
  • Swag
  • Shipping
  • Décor
  • Printing
  • Photography and Videography
  • Health and Safety

Pro tip: If your organization has held a similar in-person meeting in the past, see if you can track down an old budget. They can serve as a great frame of reference when creating a new meeting budget.

As we mentioned before, this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means. It’s a jumping off point to help get you started. You can always change your expense categories as planning progresses.

Executive Assistant budgeting for an in person meeting

Step 4: Research and Allocate

You have officially reached the most time-consuming aspect of budget creation: the research phase. We’ve mentioned the importance of an accurate budget estimation and research is what will get you there.

First, you will need to do some research to estimate how much you will need to spend in each expense category to support a successful meeting. Use flight cost estimators, hotel reservation sites, and request quotes from vendors to get the best estimates possible. You might feel tempted to skip the research and instead make guesses. Resist the temptation, as that is a sure-fire way to end up over-budget and look under prepared.

Pro Tip: Try using software like TROOP ONE to save hours of time and effort during this stage of budget planning. After entering your attendee origins and company’s travel policy TROOP will use flight and hotel prices plus dozens of travel data points to recommend ideal destinations for your unique meeting, in minutes. Furthermore, you can compare locations side-by-side, allowing you to quickly see which one will work best for your budget. Even if you already know your meeting destination, TROOP can help you estimate costs of big ticket items.

Once you’ve completed your research, you can begin allocating budget to the various expense categories. Use your meeting goals, predetermined meeting details, research, and any historical information (e.g. past meeting budgets) to begin assigning a total dollar amount to each major and minor expense category. If you are responsible for identifying the budget for the meeting, allocating budget is a pretty straightforward process.

However, if you’ve been given allocated spend upfront and are now responsible for creating a budget that won’t exceed a maximum dollar amount, you might be feeling like you are fitting a square peg into a round hole. Remember to think of any flexible meeting details and how you can leverage them to make your budget work without sacrificing the objective of the meeting.

Step 5: Finalize Your Budget

You’re nearly done with your in-person meeting budget creation! The only thing left to do is review your budget and, if applicable, submit it for approval. When finalizing a budget, here are a few important questions to ask yourself:

  •         Am I missing any major or minor expense categories?
  •         Does my budget reflect the goal(s) of the in-person meeting?
  •         Is there room in my budget for unexpected expenses? If so, how much?
  •         Does my budget allow me to provide meeting attendees with a reasonably comfortable and enjoyable experience?
  •         Can my budget absorb fluctuating costs such as taxes, fees, and tips?

Use your answers to the questions above to make any final adjustments. Then review your budget to ensure accuracy and clarity. State where you got your data to back up your estimations. Then send it off for approval and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done!

Step 6: Reconcile The Budget

You’ve got your budget approved and now it’s time to track actuals. As attendees RSVP, bookings get confirmed, and details are finalized, be sure to record those costs. Do your best to record expenses in real-time as they occur. By tracking costs diligently, you’ll be able to reallocate any budget you may have categorized as other items into a new bucket, see where you are saving, and what is more expensive than you had originally thought.

Post-meeting, reconcile your budget to compare your estimations versus your actuals. This will help you plan even more accurate budgets for your next offsite.

Closing

If you’ve followed the steps outlined above, you should feel confident knowing that you created an accurate and data-informed budget, tracked actual costs diligently, and learned how to better prepare for your next meetup. 

Planning in-person meetings can be a challenge. Meeting planners must juggle hundreds of details, from budget and expense management to coordinating agendas, and attendee communications. Schedule a demo with a TROOP team member and discover an easier, simpler, better way to plan your next meeting.

See how TROOP can help plan your next meeting

Get in touch
Share this article: