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How to Turn an Event into Money – Part 1


Tips & Tools for Venue Owners and Event Organizers.

Awesome! You’ve decided that you want to organize an event. As someone who has organized dozens events over the past two years, I can personally attest to how events can help you grow personally and help grow a community.

Whatever your event is, know that it can help you create a brand around your company, help find leads, and ultimately educate you and your attendees on a topic/topics of your choice. When you educate your customers and clients you become their resource and they will come back to you time and time again to be educated. This is very important in the sales process.

If you haven’t already, be sure to know what your event is and who you think will be your target audience. Once you have that squared away you can start preparing for the actual event itself. You can do this by thinking about your end results and moving backwards. As for the type of attendees you want to attend, ask yourself, where do they work, how can you find them, and how can you get them to your event.

If you have a team working with you, which I recommend, it is vital that everyone is on the same page with a consistent message.

Example. Start Norfolk is a weekend long startup competition, that combines entrepreneurs, developers and designers to validate and build a startup. Your marketing material (Facebook, Twitter, website, etc) must have the same unified definition. A shared Google document with all the event information will work for your team or you can use a project management tool to store all your data. Make sure everyone knows what to say. Have a written template to make sure the message is consistent.

Before you tell anyone about your event you must make sure that the event is easy to understand. Don’t just throw around buzzwords and think that will work. You are looking to be thorough and easily identifiable.

Bad Example: Drop Anchor is a two day conference on Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Startup Community Building in Bangkok, TH.

Good Example: Drop Anchor is about growing and developing yourself, company, community and inner awesome in Bangkok, TH on April 18-19.

The name of your event is important. Make it memorable and when you can add words to the event that can describe what your event is, do so. This will help with search engine optimization as well. This was easy with Start Norfolk, since startups were basically in the title. It was not easy to educate folks on what it was.

Is it a tech only competition, do I have to be technical, what if someone will steal my idea. These are all questions that have come up during each of the three Start Norfolk events. When you run into questions that keep coming up, it may be time to start a FAQ page, don’t worry about it until you start getting receive the same questions.

With Drop Anchor, the name was narrowed down to Drop or Iron Anchor and a Twitter contest found the winner. Days later, many let me know about some of the bad definitions Drop Anchor had, yet I decided to keep the name. Many thought it was a great name.

On every piece of marketing material make sure folks know when and where the event is and how they can find out more information. Consistency.


Back in November 2011, I held Start Norfolk, a weekend long startup competition along with a one track speaker lineup running parallel. This was the first large scale (>100 person) event I had ever organized and I really had no idea what to expect. For months leading up to Start Norfolk, I had hosted dozens of mini-meetups (<50 people) to help promote the bigger paid event. I found it important to produce many smaller events to prepare me for what ended up being a 175 person, 3 day event. I was not prepared during the first Start Norfolk for all of the expenses that occurred (people ate way more than expected) and found myself asking folks for more beer money and if they would sponsor food on the final day.

Two key takeaways were:

1) Know your numbers, cut ticket sales off a week early if you can. This will allow you to get a good handle on food numbers, which typically will be one of your top two ticket costs.

2) Everything costs more than you expect it to, don’t forget about tax too. Before you decide to organize an event, beware of hidden costs that will spring up throughout the process.

Looking back at all the events I’ve organized I saw a trend in expenses. They are high and writing big check is not fun! The highest tended to be food (tip and delivery included?), Speaker Costs and Venue.

If your event has cash prizes make sure you can pay off your prizes and event expenses. Along with each of these are several things most don’t think about on a first look. If you don’t know what to expect or the venue doesn’t notify, you could end up with thousands of extra costs you didn’t expect.

Once you have figured out what expenses you think you will have, make sure you really can accommodate the amount of people you want to have. If you want 100 people at your event, expect 50. I wanted 500 to come to Start Norfolk initially and until I talked to Matt Smith of Insightpool in Atlanta, I had no reason to think that 500 was unreasonable.

If you launched a product tomorrow could you get 500 paid users? Take the total amount of money needed for the event and add 25%. Once you have that number, divide it by the amount of people you want at the event. That should be the bare minimum for your ticket price.

You can offer an early bird price or discounts for group sales, but make sure you know the amount needed to break even.

After seeing all that can go into an event, I encourage anyone who may want to organize a large event to try out a few smaller ones first. This way you will understand the ins and outs at a smaller capacity. 90% of every event is prep work before the event actually occurs.

The last thing you want is to not be ready, physically and monetarily for your event to be a success. When jumping in and just trying you never know what to expect, but there are so many things I wish I knew would have come up during my first event. Had I not put on Start Norfolk, Hatch never would have happened and who knows if the Norfolk Startup Community would exist today. I’m sure glad I did though!

Read Part 2