So you want to host an evening event. This could be a launch party, a networking event, a job fair, an informative panel discussion. Regardless of the purpose, you want to get a great group of at least 100 people together and you’ve got just $1k to do it. Remember, people come for primarily two reasons: there is going to be relevant content and/or there are going to be attendees they want to meet. These two things can be provided by you for no cost. All the frills you pay for are just that: frills.
So a confortable successful event for under $1k is not impossible. In fact, it’s entirely reasonable, so long as your needs are reasonable as well. Which takes us to step one.
1) Be realistic.
And make sure your boss/client is, too. Know your needs, your limits, and the bare costs of everything you want. I am telling you right now, for $1k you can get a small space for a panel or speaker, some basic A/V depending on your venue, and appetizers. You cannot get drinks for 100 people. You cannot get mics AND a projector AND a video camera. You cannot provide everyone with dinner. You cannot rent space in a hotel.
2) NOT on a weekend.
Venues on weekends are either closed or incredibly expensive. You will not find a free office open on a weekend, and you will not find a bar or club for under $3k.
3) Find a Free Venue.
If you have over 200 drinkers coming, ask a bar if you can use their space for free with a bar minimum guaranteed. On a slow Mon, Tues, or Weds many bars will close the space for you if you promise them $2k in profits at the bar. With 200 people, this is 1-2 drinks/person, so not too bad. For fewer people, there are a number of offices that offer free space in exchange for letting them pimp their business for 5mins at the start. This is especially great for panels or speakers. In San Francisco, sfCube, Pivotal Labs, Sandbox Suites , MySpace, and more offer this to events related to small business development and startups. Churches, YMCAs, and community centers frequently offer this to nonprofit events open to the community, too.
4) Order Grocery Store Food.
If you are REALLY cheap, get Safeway to deliver some bread, cheese, meat, and fruit platters. For 150 people, this will run you a few hundred plus delivery costs. I’d estimate about $650 for this. You can reduce that by picking it up yourself, but when planning an event, I dont think it’s worth my time.
5) Negotiate A/V.
Only use A/V if you really need it. If you have a panel or speaker, I suggest finding an office or community center to play host, and they usually have AV they are happy to lend for cheap or free. Think about the space and if it needs mics – a space for under 50 people shouldn’t, any larger and it will. Ask if the venue has some to supply. If they don’t, you will need to rent. Projectors should run you about $75 to rent, $150 with set-up. Mics are going to be about $30-$50 each, much more for wireless. But get a quote and then negotiate. I promise you can get them down at least 30%. Take the number they give you, reduce it by 30% and tell them your A/V budget is just below that. They will find a way to make it work. They want your business.
6) Get Volunteers.
If this is a paid event, get some volunteers to run the door for a few hours, if you really dont want to spend money. Now, volunteers are flakey, untrustworthy, and untested, so use with care. Set about 30% more volunteer hours than you think you need (have 3 each hour rather than 3, have a back up on call the whole night, etc.) Every event I get volunteers for I have had atleast one flake or come incredibly late. I’ve also had unprofessional people Ive had to suffer through using. For me, I cough up about $100 – $200 to hire some help at $20/hr from Krystyl. Again, it costs me more, but for my events which people are paying for, it is generally worth it.
7) Promote It.
Don’t ever pay for promotion. I have gotten the best responses from Facebook, Twitter, Mashable, and GigaOm. I also post it to going.com, sfist.com, zvents.com, upcoming.org, and eventful.com. I ask relevant groups to promote it to their members, like Girls in Tech, Women 2.0, HackerDojo, and Startup Weekend. I also personally invite the most recent incubator grads and TC50 companies. This takes time, but it doesnt cost a penny. For an event NOT in the tech sphere, you will need to do some research. But once you have that research, you can use the contacts over and over again.