4 things you might not know about running a live event

So here we are – Brooke, Alexx and I – 10 days out from A Simpler Way Sydney.

If ticket sales stay where they are, each of us will be significantly of out pocket for the event.

Ticket sales won’t stay where they are, however. We know that. And certainly, if our Perth event was anything to go by, we’ll sell more tickets in the last two days before the event than we have in the past 30 days.

So, we’re not panicking. Yet.

But it’s still pretty stressful.

After chatting with other people who are either currently running events, or have run events for their communities, some common misconceptions have emerged. I thought it was worth sharing them with you today should you ever want to run an event of your own … or if you’re one of those people who always waits till the very last second to buy their ticket.

1. The venue cost is the smallest cost of the event

From the outside looking in, it’s easy to look at the venue selected for an event and think ‘Ooh la la, if the event is there, these guys must have some serious cash!’. Or ‘Hmm, if they didn’t choose to have the event at Venue X, then ticket prices could have been cheaper.’

The reality is, the venue/room hire cost is always relatively small. It’s the audio visual (AV) and catering costs that get you. AV includes projectors, microphones, screens, sound, someone on hand to deal with tech issues and often the stage setup as well. As for catering, even for an event where you’re only providing afternoon tea (like ours) – the catering costs are significant.

2. You pay the venue and AV costs up front, well in advance

Why do all event organisers offer an early bird ticket price miles out from the event? It’s because they pay the venue, catering and AV around a month in advance. Once paid, a large portion of those costs are non-refundable. This means cancelling an event due to low numbers is not usually an option. If you cancel – you’re well out of pocket. If you run the event – you’re slightly less out of pocket. So, you run it.

3. Breaking even on an event is hard

Big or small, a startling number of events struggle to break even (much less make a profit). Those that do are usually run by companies where all they do is events, or those that have managed to attract significant sponsorship.

Sponsorship is a double-edged sword, however; event sponsors now want a lot more for their dollar. This means event organisers, in addition to being responsible for all the logistics of the event, also spend a large chunk of time servicing the sponsors. Which means that even if the event breaks even/turns a profit, when you factor in the time the organiser spent on the event, they discover they’ve been working for $5/hour.

Contrast this with me being invited to speak at an event. My speaking fee is $1500 + travel costs. While I do spend a solid amount of time compiling my presentation and then practising it. And while being away for an event does impact my family and involve a fair bit of logistics on my part … it’s still MUCH easier, and more lucrative, to speak at other people’s events than run your own!

Bottom line, the next time you’re tempted to look at the ticket price of an event, multiply it by the number of people in attendance, and assume the organisers are making out like bandits (I will put my hand up and say ‘I’ve done this!’) … think again!

4. Yet, people continue to run events

Why? Because nothing beats being in the same room as ‘your people’ and being able to chat with them face-to-face. When Brooke, Alexx and I did A Simpler Way in Perth, the vibe in the room was extraordinary – we were high on it for days after. Also, it was just a treat to see each other and work together in a meaningful way.

And that high does tend to wipe away the stress of the week before when you were wondering if you were going to be up for several thousands of dollars if ticket sales didn’t get moving. (Much like the arrival of a baby wipes out the pain of childbirth.)

Take home message

What’s the point of this post? Mainly to educate people.

I’ve spoken to many people in recent months who are running small events like ours. Most have lost money on their event, or barely broken even and are bit embarrassed about it. I want those people to know they’re not alone. In fact, they are probably in the majority.

I also wanted to give a heads up to event attendees in general. If you know you’re going to be attending an event, and you have the means, grab your ticket sooner rather than later.

I can’t speak for other event organisers, but I can speak for myself, Brooke and Alexx. The combined stresses of the weeks leading into the Sydney and Perth events, and the need to hammer our respective networks with event promo posts in the week leading into those events – it makes it very unlikely we’ll run this event in any other cities.

We’re all advocates of a simpler life … and unfortunately, event running is very much at odds with that!

Comments 22

  1. So true I Run a Champagne and Sparkling Workshop and by the time we have finished the winemaker and myself are left with the buzz of ladies like us in a room enjoying new information and the week leading up to these events are so stressful yet everyone enjoys them so much however they don’t book the tickets early they leave it till the last minute.

  2. I can resonate with all of the above but I think the more you do it the easier it gets. And it’s all about the WHY. For me I run workshops/retreats to build my community give value to my guests. At the workshops I give people opportunities to work with me in other ways AND that buzz and energy level just doesn’t happen outside a room physically full of your tribe. Thanks Kellie, for the reminder to get tickets pronto. No overthinking!

  3. I used to promote and run some small very specific theme-based nightclub events as a DJ and entertainment organizer. We didn’t have advance ticket sales. But many of the things you mention still strike home. The stress beforehand of organizing and promoting the event were a headache. During the events, I/we were heavily focused on making sure everything went smoothly and everyone involved was well taken care of. After compensating everyone and breaking down at the end of the night, I could almost relax. But by then it was late, I was tired, and I just wanted to wrap up the responsibilities. Eventually, it became too much like work and didn’t bring enough pleasure, so I lost my motivation to continue.

    I appreciate what you do and what you bring to the community. I hope you don’t burn out any time soon! Keep up the good work! Cheers from the USA 😊

  4. Spot on! I hear the same comments from time to time about my Retreats. Apparently it should be possible to stay in 4.5 star accommodation for 3 nights with ALL meals fully and generously catered for ‘no more than $500 max’ and that adding 3 FULL days of workshops run by Clin Psychs shouldn’t add more than ‘a few hundred’ to the cost. Who knew?! 😉 Fortunately many mamas have said the cost to value ratio is amazing! They ‘get’ the behind the scenes costs.

  5. I totally agree that the in person experience is unbeatable.
    We crave face to face connection with kindred spirits. It makes a pleasant departure from being switched on and online all the time. To just talk and enjoy company and our
    favourite things.

    We risk all by investing in the opportunity to teach our brilliant work. It’s stressful and even though, right now, I’m stressed about ticket sales for my upcoming mother & daughter and women’s circles, I am
    passionate about the work and determined to do it no matter.

    Thanks for the blog article. I will definitely be sharing it around so that my ‘people’ begin to understand me and the whole events pressure that’s all too common an experience.

    1. Such a pleasure Sharyn. It’s so easy to think anyone who is running an event is making heaps of cash just based on a ticket price. When the truth is anything but!

  6. Having attended the Perth event all I can say is get your tickets booked. It was wonderful to be amongst the throng of people who were all in sync with each other despite differences in age and socio-economic status.
    Just to meet the guys in person was awesome. They are as passionate and friendly in real life as I had imagined.

  7. A million times, yes! As an event organiser, I get so many comments presented as ‘feedback’ about how we should lower ticket prices by moving venue. Yet praise how great catering is, that we provide video recordings and never complain about the AV. Well, if only they knew that’s where all the money goes.

  8. You know what I just did? After reading this blog post, I thought, I’ll have a look at the event details. (I have recently been having a social media break, deleted my accounts entirely, so if you have been promoting the event on FB or Twitter, I haven’t seen it.) So, first instincts…I went to your home page. Hmm, not there. Is there an event menu? No. Checked all the other menus and pages. Nup. Came back to the blog post. There’s the link, neatly in the first line. Ha! I love your sleek, clean web design, Kelly, but this morning, pre-caffeine, it was too subtle for me. I needed one of those big, flashing banner ads 😉

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