That’s impossible! …is what most people would say. While it might be difficult, we’re here to tell you that organising an event with no budget is completely doable. It requires patience, persistence and amazing negotiation skills, but it can be done with little to no cash.
Keep in mind that money isn’t the only thing you can provide – there are other benefits like exposure, contacts and portfolio that others may find at times more valuable than a paycheck. One of the best ways to host an event with zero budget is by exchanging services or favours. Keep this in mind as we go through everything you can do to execute a successful event without spending a dime.
How to organise an event with zero budget
Think outside the box
Organise a brainstorming sessions in the early stages of the event planning process. You can do them by yourself at first, but eventually you’ll probably want to include other people. Having other people’s objective insight will give you a fresh perspective on your plans. If you can reach out and ask for advice of someone who’s in the event planning industry, then even better.
This is tricky, because if your event is something no one has ever seen then they might hesitate before investing and if it is something that’s been done before, then what’s the point in repeating? The key here is to stand out without looking crazy.
What is your event about? No, really what is it about? You might roll your eyes, but you need to understand the ins and outs of the occasion. If you want to hold it for free, then you’re going to need people to trust you. If you can’t explain what your event is about, then – it’s going to be difficult. Some questions you might want to have an answer ready for are: What’s the idea? What’s the concept? Who’s the audience? What are your goals? What am I going to get out of it?
Try to reach for venues that don’t have a large staff. The more people needed to run the Venue, then the more people you’ll have to negotiate with. It’s important to highlight what the venue will get out of it, if they’re not getting paid – most of the time it will be visibility. Make it clear how the event will appeal to the kind of clients they want to attract. If the venue already has a following, then the easier it will be to convince performers and speakers to participate.
Perhaps you want to check out this list of more than 100 UK awesome venues (secret: some are free!)
Speakers and performers
Some people* will contribute to the occasion, even for free, if they feel like it’s creative or revolutionary. You have to sell it like they’re going to be part of something bigger than themselves. It also helps if you reach out to people who are interested in selling something, like a book or a seminar, as they’ll probably want all the exposure they can get.
* Others will never show up for free – even if it’s charity. Don’t waste your time with those.
Use Social Media
Nowadays, Social Media is the go-to tool to promote an event – or anything, really. It’s free and almost everyone is there. Ask your friends and family to help you out by sharing, liking and retweeting. If you don’t have many followers (we all have to start somewhere) try reaching out to influencers in your area.
Create a website
You don’t need to spend money on a website. Services like WordPress and Wix let you to build a website (hosting included) for free! Sure, you won’t have all of the options as a website you build yourself and you will have to deal with ads, but hey, at least you’re not paying!
Take a look at this list of the best free WordPress templates. You can get a simple, attractive website up and running in a matter of hours — less if you’re tech savvy. Even if you’re not, they’re generally not difficult to set up (we speak from experience). If you get stuck, there are lots of tutorials online that can help you out.
Social media is great, but messages can get lost if your followers don’t check their profiles often. An email will go directly to the person intended and will be read when it’s most convenient.
Set up a newsletter account with a service like Mailchimp or Tinyletter to help you spread your message. They’re both free until you reach a subscriber limit. The first one is 2000 while the second is 3000; in either case, it’s plenty to get you started.
Unless you have a background in graphic design, you’ll probably need to delegate this task. Trust me, people can tell when logos have been made on PowerPoint, or even worse, Paint. Graphic designers can be pricey, though, so you’ll need to do some research.
The best way to find a graphic designer who will work pro bono is by word of mouth. Ask around, chances are someone you know is in touch with a graphic designer who can do you a favour. Sometimes designers (especially young ones) are more interested in building a portfolio than getting a paycheck. These tips could also work with a photographer.
You can also post an ad on free job hunting websites (making clear it’s an unpaid gig, of course), or even ask at your local college or university if they can help you.
If you really can’t find anyone, try using Canva. It has lots of templates set up that are pre-made by professional designers, so you can get a clean look without too much effort. These won’t help you create a logo, but they can be good for supplemental materials.
Think coldly: what can you get rid of of? Is that neon sign really necessary? Will people be really upset if there isn’t a giveaway at the end of the event? Sticking to what you really need will help to reduce costs. You may need to go through this list several times in order to truly get rid of everything non-essential.
Luckily for you, rustic is trending right now! Unfinished and rough looking materials are in vogue. You’d be surprised with what you can accomplish with wooden boxes and a few branches. If you need ideas, you can always check out trusty Pinterest.
You can also always borrow items from friends and family to make your venue look great. Make sure you give them back in good condition, though!
Printsome hint: Have you considered getting a sponsor?
Don’t rule out the possibilities of someone donating to help your event get off the ground. Thanks to technology, nowadays it isn’t necessary to write tons of letters or knock on literal doors to get donations. Tools like Kickstarter and Indiegogo allow you to receive online contributions from people all over the world. If you go down the crowdfunding route, then you’ll have to organise a campaign.
Generally another big paper cost, and this can also be done online using scannable QR codes and e-mail invitations.
Volunteers and Staff
“No man is an island”, as they say, and that is all too true in the event planning world. While one person can get a lot done by themselves, it’s probably impossible to get all of it done alone. That means you’ll need some volunteers!
It’s always easier when the occasion is for a good cause. Perhaps they’ve been personally affected by the subject you’ve chosen to bring awareness to, or maybe they just like to give back to the community.
If your event isn’t for a good cause and you’re not partnering up with one, the best bet is to start by asking your friends and family. Are you doing a professional event? You may have some coworkers or connections who are interested in lending a hand, too. Don’t forget to check out these websites for places you can advertise online for volunteers. There are lots of people out there who would love to get started in the event planning industry and just need a bit of experience.
This may be the trickiest item on the list to get 100% for free — unless you’re a nonprofit. There are quite a few resources out there (like this one, or that one) that have ideas about where you can get food donations for free at a nonprofit event. Again, it’s often easier to get people to donate, whether it’s time, food, or money, if they know it’s going to a good cause.
And what if you’re not a nonprofit? Then you’re going to have to use some of the techniques we’ve already talked about. There are often local businesses, including restaurants, delivery services or catering companies, that are just getting started out. They may be willing to donate food in exchange for promotional space or exposure. You should also network and see if anybody has a contact out there who might be interested. You never know who you’re connected to! If all else fails, start cold calling and visiting businesses in person.
Bonus step: make sure to thank everybody lots! If you’ve managed to pull off an event 100% for free, chances are you have a lot of thank you notes to start writing and grateful phone calls to make.
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