#331: How to Budget for a Live Event of Any Size

August 7, 2019

#331: How to Budget for a Live Event of Any Size

How to plan your live event

When you have an online business, it doesn’t mean that everything you do needs to happen online. I had been running my online business for a few years when I noticed that I craved to meet other people like myself and talk about online businesses and about how we could change the world together. 

I started watching other people hold live events, kept an eye out on how they did it, what they included and how they organized it. At the time I didn’t know I was going to hold my own conference. But looking at other people successfully doing their live events, I started to envision my own. I liked the events I went to, but I kept thinking that these were not the conferences women needed. That’s when I decided that my conference was going to be about empowering women, accelerating gender equality and giving the stage to women who have become role models in the online business world. The idea felt crazy, but I knew this was what I was supposed to do: I am going to hold the Selfmade Summit in 2020. However, I was immediately worried about the budget. Would I be able to afford such a big conference? 

Of course, it won’t be my first live event. I remember when I was thinking about doing a five-day mastermind retreat in Iceland for the first time, and how scared I was to committing to all the expenses without knowing if anyone would attend. I decided to do a one-day event before doing the retreat, to build up my confidence. I announced the event in October 2015. It didn’t sell out overnight, but I managed to sell six out of eight planned spots. The day went so well that after, I had the confidence and courage to go ahead and organize the five-day retreat to Iceland. 

My advice to you is to start small and build up your confidence for bigger events. I went from building up my courage to do a six people event in 2015 to building up my courage to do a 1’200 people event in 2020. One of the key things I learned is how to budget for a live event of any size. 

There are a series of points you need to consider when doing a live event. Here, I’ll list step by step what these points are and share my personal experiences with you. Let’s go!

Deciding on key elements

This is the first thing you should do when you want to do a live event. Ask yourself these questions: Who is the ideal client for the event? What’s the outcome of the event? Why should your ideal client attend the event?

You need an ideal client, an offer that your ideal client is asking for, even if they don’t know it yet, and the marketing message that makes them want to sign up for the offer. With these things in place, your next step is budgeting.

Room Charge

I knew exactly where I wanted to host my event: Harpa, the conference hall at the Harper in Reykjavik. When I looked up the renting cost, I was positively surprised. Of course it was a huge investment, but I’ve been in business for over five years now and I’m getting used to higher prices when I invest in myself. Harpa costs $30’000, nothing included. 

Of course, the situation was very different when I did my very first live event. I was still testing waters and decided to do it at home to keep costs low and not pay any room charge at all. 

Food and beverage

At my first event, I asked my housekeeper to cook a simple lunch for us and arranged for her to be around for the whole day to serve water, coffee, and juice to my guests, plus a cocktail at the end of the day. My cost was to pay my housekeeper and then purchasing costs of food and beverages. The total cost consisting of the salary of my housekeeper and purchasing the food and beverages was around $500. 

For my upcoming conference, we’re talking about totally different dimensions. Without lunch and just water and coffee, the price will be at least $100 per person. Most conferences I go to do not include lunch unless the ticket price is well above $1,000. That’s why I decided to offer two ticket prices: a regular ticket without lunch and a VIP ticket that includes lunch.

Ticket price

After budgeting for room charges and food and beverages, think about the cost of selling your tickets. Selling a few tickets like I did for my first live event did not cost me much more than my time. I did not run any Facebook ads. 

The conference coming up next year in Iceland is much bigger, and therefore I’m budgeting $100,000 in Facebook ad costs and another $20,000 in Google ads. Maybe you have extra costs for the copywriting or graphic design of your event page. In my case, I’m doing the copywriting myself and my team takes care of the graphic design and the page setup. For a bigger event, you may want to consider getting outside help for both.

Having a special ticketing system is very helpful when you’re planning a big event. I’ve been trying out Eventbrite for workshops that we’re doing for our clients in October and I absolutely love it. 

Keep in mind that once the participants have a ticket, you need to verify their ticket when they come to your event. For events with less than 100 people, I found that it’s enough to have one person to verify the tickets and give the participants a name badge. For events where I had 200 to 300 people, my team or two to three members of my family have been able to take care of this process. However, for my upcoming conference with over 1,000 attendees, I decided to have some extra staff. You can get local volunteers involved who also help during coffee and lunch breaks.

External speakers

You may want to have external speakers at your live event. Usually, you need to pay them a speaker fee. Depending on how well known your speaker is, the fee can be rather high. Sometimes you also need to pay for their travels and provide accommodation. Be careful what you commit to. 

As an alternative to a speaker fee, I’ve decided to invite the speakers for my upcoming conference on a special Iceland speaker experience the day after the conference. It will be an exclusive 12 hour private trip involving jeeps, snowmobiles, glacier-viewing and other fun things. Of course this will make up an extra cost towards the conference budget, but my goal is not to just have people come and speak in my country, but also spend time with them and get to know each other. Plus, who wouldn’t want to come to Iceland and enjoy 24 hours of daylight with a local person like myself? 


Professional venues have AV, audio video. This means that there is a projector and technology to mic you up so that your attendees can hear you. However, be careful, because often AV isn’t included in your room charge. AV can be costly, but you definitely need it: your attendees need to hear you and see you!

Photographer and videographer

Since my very first live event with just six people in my home, I’ve always hired a photographer. I also take a photographer along to all my mastermind retreats with my VIP clients. Having pictures and videos from your live events is really worth the investment because you can use the material for years to come.


Once, I was planning my first event with 90 attendees and almost forgot to hire a hairdresser and makeup artist. I generally don’t use a lot of makeup and if you have a small event, you might not be thinking about this. But for a big event, it almost becomes a necessity. Even if you’re not into makeup, a good makeup artists can make you look even better in front of your audience and on camera.

Name badges, giveaways and small things you might overlook

People should feel included and be able to identify each other easily. Name badges that attendees can hang around their necks or wristbands are ideal for this. These accessories don’t cost much, but they add up to a few dollars per person. You might also want to have something to give away, like a notebook, or have a flyer with some information. Keep in mind the cost for this as it can be high if not planned for in advance. 

The same goes for office supplies, printing costs, your own travel and accommodation expenses and your team’s cost. 

Event agency: yes or no?  

As your events get bigger, you might want to think about hiring a professional event agency to manage it, or at least to consult you. I have done this for my upcoming event. However, bear in mind to look at their offers with care. Some include almost everything I mentioned above and therefore don’t seem too expensive, but there are hidden costs. I’ve been through this, and it has been a frustrating process. It really pays off to take time to consider different offers. 

Your profit depends on the type of event you’re planning

My first live event broke even – my income equaled my costs. That’s quite common for first live events. Sometimes you might even experience a loss. But if this is something that you’re planning to do again, then you’re investing in a product development. Making a one-time loss or break even is absolutely acceptable. You’re going to make up for it with your next event. 

When I consider the conference in Iceland next year, I want to break even by selling 50% of the tickets. I’ve decided that this number is right for me. Since it is a standalone conference and not a sales event, it needs to make sense from a financial perspective. The goal of the conference is not to get people to find new clients. The goal is to accelerate gender equality through female entrepreneurship. With this conference, I want to make an impact. 

In the end, how profitable the event should be is up to you. Are you planning a strategic positioning event? Or is it more of a community event? Is it a standalone event or is it part of a program? Generally I think a break even for your first event is a great place to start, and then try to get it up to a 50% profit. 

Interested in my conference? 

If you’re tired of playing small and want to play big, then attend my conference, the Selfmade Summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, in June 2020. Get on the waitlist right now by hopping over to the show notes at sigrun.com/331.

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