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Many large brands with big budgets produce significant events. These are great ways for small businesses to build their brands further and attract new customers.

There are many big events, such as Grant Cardone’s 10X Growth Con, Dave Ramsey’s Entre Leadership Summit, Gary Vaynerchuk’s VeeCon and more. These are large events with thousands of attendees. In addition, you have events such as VidCon or SXSW, FinCon and others.

We, small business owners, can also produce and host large events — on a budget.

In 2005, I had the vision to produce a big event. A big event for me means a few hundred or more attendees, not necessarily 3,000. I was tired of applying to speak and being rejected and not being able to craft my own event.

In 2005, I set out to put together my own large event, which I did in New York City with about 300 people. From that day onward, I’ve produced and hosted dozens of events in New York City and several national tours across the USA.

Recently, post-pandemic, I hosted another big event, and I’ll share how I did it on a budget and why I did it.

First, let’s unpack why a small business might want to do a big event.

  1. Events are a great way to build your personal brand.
  2. Events can be direct money-makers. You can make money from sponsors, from ticket sales and by selling your own products and services at the event.
  3. Events can help you bring together your current clients, future clients, and others in the professional community you might want to work with.
  4. Finally, an in-person event is a great way to connect with high-level professionals, who might be difficult to connect with otherwise. Maybe there’s a journalist or a high-level executive who will attend the event.

Related: How to Run an Effective Conference: The 7 Steps You Need to Follow

Here’s how to get it done on a budget. First, let’s look at a few elements of a successful event include:

  1. Marketing. You have to get attendees to come; an empty room is quite depressing
  2. Speakers. While many speakers will speak for free, others will want to be paid for the chance to be on your stage.
  3. Creative and design. Websites, badges, and signage must be created to make the event look good.
  4. Event Manager. It is so important to hire an event manager to help with staffing, production, and all aspects of the event.
  5. Venue. The event has to be held in some location.
  6. Food. Feeding attendees is not necessary, but it’s a good idea.
  7. Technical Details. Stage, lights, cameras, video and other things will help to uplift your event on the day and capture moments of the event itself.

Related: 5 Ways to Make the Most Out of an Industry Conference

1. Marketing your event

Spending thousands of dollars on Facebook ads or other paid marketing is a popular way to attract attendees to your conference. It’s what very large events use to attract attendees.

However, you can also drive attendance with low-cost marketing. Here’s what I did to get 400 people to sign up for my event.

  • Email marketing is still one of the best ways to market your event.
  • Remember the rule of 10% (something I made up). If you have 1,000 people on your list, 100 might open it, 10 might click on it, and one might take action. So, the more of the right people on your list, the more engagement you’ll get.
  • Partner with other communities to share the event with others.
  • Use social media to frequently share the event with others and have the graphics professionally designed.

Related: How to Network at Events Like a Pro and Watch Your Startup Soar

2. Speakers

If you’re hiring Gary Vaynerchuck, Seth Godin, Oprah Winfrey or Simon Sinek for your event, you’ll most likely have to pay them. Most professional speakers, especially at a high level, will not speak at your event for free. Many great speakers will not charge you. Remember, many speakers want opportunities to speak at a great event, be on stage, and get new clients or build relationships.

Regardless of the speaker, find out what’s important to them. Maybe they have a new book that’s going to be launched. They might waive their fee in exchange for you buying their books.

3. Creative and design

The default design tool for many of us is Canva, and it works very well for so many things. Whether you use Canva or not, make sure the images you’ll use to market the event look as good as the other events you admire. I do some of my own designs, and they’re often “good enough” to get me started.

For the designs on the large screen at the event and the pull-up banners, I rely on a professional designer.

Related: The 7 Secrets to Ensure Your User Conference Is a Smashing Success

4. Event manager

A good event manager is a powerful asset to your event. An event manager wants the best for your event and will help you make it a great experience and meet your goals. I pay my event manager, Liz, for her time and experience. I then worked with her to help me produce an event within budget and within the scope of my needs. Oftentimes, I use their suggested vendors, or I can use my own.

5. Venue

The place where you hold your event is so important. A hotel is great, but it can be pricey. An open event space can also work well, but you’ll have to create the space and bring in all the equipment. A conference space, like a convene or a university, is also a great option.

All of these options you should consider and look at with a fine lens.

Related: 6 Steps to Leverage Online Events to Start and Grow Your Business

6. Food

Food is expensive and is probably one of the top two expenses for your event, alongside the venue cost. For my last event, we provided coffee and tea and a light “continental breakfast” for the attendees. For lunch, we had attendees eat on their own, as there were plenty of options in New York City. We then ended the event so attendees could also have dinner on their own, which saved quite a bit of money. For our speakers and other “VIP attendees,” we had lunch for them backstage. Some venues allow you to bring your own food and do your own catering, but many require you to use their in-house caterer.

7. Audio, video, stage and lighting

Another area where you can rack up quite a bit of money is in the event’s technical details.

For a large event, you must have microphones and speakers. Otherwise, the attendees won’t hear anything.

Good lighting is so important and can be the difference between an event looking professional enough for your brand and one that doesn’t. It does not need to look like Disney, but it should not look unprofessional. If you have speakers with brown skin, like I do, make sure you adjust the lighting to make them look their best on stage. These are expenses where you can compare options and prioritize what’s important.

Hosting events is a valuable strategy for small businesses to enhance their brand visibility, acquire new customers and establish lasting relationships, making it a worthwhile investment in their brand’s growth. But they need lots of preparation — remember this as you plan your next event.

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