If you’re just starting out and new to planning an event, it can be a tough nut to crack. There are so many things to consider. And lets face it, there’s a lot of choice out there for people when it comes to a day or night out.
I’ve been running WhatsOnHub since 2014. I’ve seen a whole variety of events in our guide from big shows to small gigs. So when it comes to planning an event, I’ve seen what works well and what doesn’t. I’ve seen which gigs sell out and the ones that don’t. I’ve seen what event planners and promoters do well in order to sell tickets.
In my tips below, I’m assuming that you’ve already decided what event you want to plan and run. I’m also guessing it’s because you’re passionate about it and want to share the fun with other people. That’s great! And that’s why I really want to help you be successful. But more often than not, first-time event planners don’t do these things and so they often turn people off even if they’re reaching high numbers of people in their advertising.
So here are my top things to consider and the mistakes to avoid when planning an event properly.
1. When Planning an Event, Research the Local Market First
Too often I’ve seen event promoters determined to introduce their event to their local area, only to struggle to sell tickets. You see, for all the marketing you can do, ultimately if demand isn’t there it’s not likely to pay back.
For example, you may love Country Music. And if you were putting on a gig in the USA, you’d probably be quids-in (or “bucks-in?” I guess!). But the UK is just not that big on country music; it’s a niche market here. Niche events aren’t impossible, but you do have to be more savvy. You might spend an awful lot more on advertising when you’re planning an event budget too.
You’ll have a greater opportunity with a niche interest event in more densely populated, cosmopolitan cities; certainly more so than in large town or small city.
So find out first what demand there might be in the area. Look for groups on social media to see if there are enough people interested in your event. You may already be part of some of these groups so ask other members first to see what interest is there.
Take a look at typical prices for similar types of events in your area and don’t over-charge. If it’s niche and nobody else is doing it, but you’ve done your research and there’s demand for it, then that will work well. But remember, you’re the new kid on the block and people won’t really know what to expect. So the price has to be low enough that people are willing to risk it and give it a try. You can gradually increase prices for future events if it’s successful and the crowds grow.
2. Check the Calendar
You must research the dates and times already taken up in your local event calendar. Successful event promoters often get themselves into a position where they’re planning their events up to 6 months in advance. So look at what regular events take place in your area. If there’s an event already taking place on the date you were thinking of that could possibly interest your target audience then look at a new date. You don’t want to compete with established local events that already get a crowd.
Try a different date and bear in mind that people only have so much money to spend in one weekend. Don’t put your event on the same weekend as a huge music festival where people will spend all their money there.
Make sure your event is suitable for the time of year too. January and early February are months to avoid as it’s cold, sometimes wet and people have zero money to spend. They start re-organising their bills to cut down on any excess spend. Mid-February people start spending again for Valentines so you’ll have an opportunity to organise an event aimed at couples.
Spring and Autumn months are good for organising indoor events like gigs, film screenings, comedy nights etc. But be careful in the hotter summer months as people don’t like to be indoors during the summer. In June, July and August, almost every theatre in the country avoids hosting big shows. They don’t start up again until September as they know that everybody wants to be outside.
Come September it all starts up again, but you have a window until mid-November when Christmas festivities start up. Although Christmas is cold, people love activities and fun for the kids. They usually go out shopping most weekends so can you create an event that fits in with their schedule?
Either way, think about the time of year and ask around to check demand.
3. Create Your Ideal Buyer
This might sound obvious but make sure you properly profile the people you’re aiming at. In fact, narrow it down so much to create an imaginary ideal customer.
Visualise them and write down what they look like, how old they are, if they’re male or female, and especially write down their interests. What do they watch on TV? Which films do they like? What music and bands do they like? Do they have children and a partner, if so, how old are they? What income do they have? What do they typically do now when they go out? Who do they go with? And how much do they spend?
Doing this work will really help you create the right messaging, the right price and the right look and feel. It also means you know where you will find these people to advertise to and get them to buy tickets.
4. Gather Images & Video
Far too often, I’ve seen events published on WhatsOnHub without any images or video.
The old adage is always true that pictures really do say a thousand words. Trust me. When planning an event, put yourself in your ideal buyer’s shoes. Think about how you would respond to an event that only had a text description and a date. Would you buy tickets?
So it’s really important that for every site or social media network you use to create your event listing or post, that you use good images and video and be consistent. Use the same images on posters and leaflets too so that when people see your event, that it feels familiar. If it feels familiar they’re more likely to notice and actually take action.
If you’re struggling to get images of your own, then look on Stock Photography website. I usually look on these 3 sites first to see if there are any decent free images I can use:
I usually turn to the following sites when there isn’t something I like on the free ones. They give more choice and a professional appearance. You have to either buy a subscription or prepay for credit bundles but it can be worth it.
Most of the sites offer video too. Again, the paid sites offer more choice and professional options.
5. The Event Name
One of the most common mistakes I see is the way event planners name their event. Often, a name that seems obvious to them, isn’t obvious to others. I’ll give an example…
It’s half-term and someone is planning an event full of activities and fun games for kids. They run the event at a local school field so they call it “School Takeover”. Now I get the idea, that kids have taken over the school. But the problem is that it isn’t clear what kind of activities they will be doing. They put it in the description, but people see the headline first and make a split-second decision on whether it’s of any interest to them.
A better name, albeit longer, would be “Kids Half-Term Activity Camp”. That HAS to be the headline. Parents who are looking for things to do for their little ones during the school holiday, will be far more attracted to that event name than the first. They will more likely read on to discover what activities will be included, how much it will be, where and when it’s taking place.
Another example. A local aquarium puts on a pop-up restaurant on Thursday – Saturday each week. They originally list the event as “Restaurant Night” which follows with the date, time and aquarium name. But a better event title would be “Under The Sea Dining Experience” or “Live Aquarium Dining Experience”. They may have thought it was obvious because their location was listed, but a headline is what people read first. It has to say, in just a few words, what the potential customer can experience.
I’ve seen football clubs who advertise “hospitality” which is ideal when talking to a business market who want to wine and dine their clients. But the general public don’t often see that. They’re used to seeing “VIP Experience”. So again, think about your audience and your ideal buyer when planning an event. Use words that they use.
On directories like ours, your headline is going to encourage clicks and has to stand out from others. Fewer clicks mean fewer buyers.
Use the space wisely. There’s no need to put the venue’s name in the headline. The venue is secondary information. The same goes for names of promoters. All too often I’ve seen gigs where the artist’s name follows “[Promoter] presents…” yet the artist is the biggest hook that will catch their attention.
Keep your event name to no more than 5 words ideally. I promise you’ll get better results!
6. Your Description
A good solid description can make or break your event because this is when you have your audience hooked. They’ve seen the headline, you’ve caught their attention with the image. Now they want to know more and then they’ll decide whether they’re in or not. So your description has to give the detail they’re looking for. So think about these key questions and then answer them in your description.
- Why would I like this event?
- Who should I bring with me – my partner, my family or friends?
- Why should I come to this event rather than go somewhere else?
- What can I expect to happen/see when I arrive?
- How do I know that this event is any good and worth the money?
- Is it easy for me to get to?
- Is it easy to park my car nearby?
- Can I get public transport easily?
- Is there food available to buy or is it included?
- Can I buy drinks or are drinks included?
These are just some questions to consider, but every event is different. So try to put yourself in your ideal client’s shoes and think about what you would want to know if you saw a similar event.
And don’t be shy on words. You can never really write too much, but you can definitely write too little. I’ve seen many events where planners will add only a few words or nothing at all and it looks bad.
I’d also highly recommend downloading a browser extension called Grammarly. It’s free and will check your writing to make sure spelling, punctuation and grammar are all correct. Trust me, it’s worth it. Poor spelling and grammar looks unprofessional and will leave your audience with a feeling that the event is the same. People predominantly buy with their emotions. So this means they’ll be less likely to spend their money with you if you don’t get it right.
7. Pricing Structure
You might think that a single ticket price is the best way forward. After all, simple is always best, right? Usually I’d agree but when it comes to events, it seems a well-timed, tiered pricing structure is the most successful.
I don’t just mean concessions and child prices, but you should consider those too. People EXPECT that kids, students and OAPs get a discount. If you don’t offer that you could be turning people away.
My main point is that you need to offer an ‘Early Bird’ rate, an ‘Advance’ rate and an ‘Entry’ price when planning an event.
An ‘Early Bird’ rate is a rate you’re willing to offer for people to commit very early on. Generally speaking, people don’t like to commit to something early. They will rather buy on the day because it gives them the freedom to change their minds without losing out.
But what encourages people to book tickets early for an event? Well the first is demand. If they’re scared they’ll miss out, then they’ll book early. That’s a great position to be in. But as this may be your first event, lets assume that demand isn’t there yet. So you need to focus on an incentive for people to buy and commit early.
How do we provide an incentive? It’s either a discount or a freebie – ideally an exclusive freebie. So let’s say your event is in 6 months time. You should make your Early Bird rate available up to 3 months before the event takes place. But remember your timing; if you’ve done your research, you’ll know what other events you’re competing against. A 3 month window gives people plenty of time to have 3 pay-days and buy your tickets.
The first wave of your marketing should focus on this early bird price. Don’t mention any other price at this stage in any of your messaging. Just state “Early Bird Tickets Available Now at £X”.
As a guide, your Early Bird price should be the very lowest you’re able to take should everyone buy these tickets. It should be your “break-even” point. It needs to be low enough where it’s a significant discount on the entry price. For example, if you have 300 tickets available, your event costs you £1,500 to run (including marketing costs), you want to offer your Early Bird price at £5.
Now if everyone bought at your Early Bird rate, this would cover your costs for your first event and you don’t need to worry about making a loss. No it wouldn’t make you a profit, but you’ve secured your event and you could possibly make a profit on food and drink sales, and possibly even sponsorship (see below).
There’s also an option to offer the Early Bird rate a little higher in price but include an exclusive freebie. Giving added value is always better than discounting, especially if the perceived value is much higher than the actual cost of the product. Maybe if you’re running a music event, could you offer an exclusive signed T-Shirt from one of the bands? Your ideal buyer would be willing to commit early if it means bagging something they would value more than money.
Now lets assume, that not everybody is buying your early bird ticket by the 3 month deadline. It’s time to focus on your ‘Advance’ rate. This should be offered right up until the latest point possible. If you can offer it right up until the time of the event that would be good but logistically it might not be possible.
Your Advance rate should also be the rate you wanted to charge all along; that original idea on price you had in the first place. Lets assume this is £10. It represents good value and would make you a tidy profit if all 300 tickets went at this price. At this stage of your marketing, you should happily mention that this is a discounted rate compared with your Entry price.
Finally, your ‘Entry’ price should be around 80% – 100% more than your advance rate. Sounds a big jump and you’re probably scared to charge that sort of price, but don’t worry. People coming last minute are likely to be influenced more by what’s in front of them and clearly don’t care enough to save money. So if your entry price is £20, you’ve been able to offer a clear 50% discount for people to book early. And then any people who turn up at the last minute, you’ve got your own discretion to offer a discount at the door if you need to. It gives you room to manoeuvre.
That pricing structure works for you because it should provide you with committed sales before you’ve even done the event. And the buyer feels like they’ve got a good deal too. If you’ve sold tickets online (my next point) then you’ll have the benefit of collecting email addresses too.
8. Sell Tickets Online
We live in a digital world now yet I still see many event organisers not offering the option for people to buy online.
They either offer an entry price only or ask people to email or message them. It’s crazy! And it’s likely because they’re scared of “giving money away” in booking and card processing fees. The fact is though, people EXPECT to be able to buy online there and then.
Think about it, you’ve advertised, you’ve got them interested enough in finding out more about your event. They’re now considering it. You’ve done all the hard work, you just have to get them over the line. And then you’re saying “Don’t buy now, even though you’re ready and willing to give me money, buy later when you’ve had chance to change your mind”. Many will turn away at this point and look elsewhere. Even if they’re interested, they could forget about you and end up going to something else. Even then, when buying tickets online in today’s world, people don’t usually object to paying a small booking fee.
There are many great ticketing platforms out there which let you choose to soak up the fees or pass them onto the buyer. If you followed my pricing structure above, you’ll have room to be able to pass on the booking fees to the buyer, and they still have a good discount.
Check out my compiled list of 5 Great Event Ticketing Platforms in 2020 that you should consider when planning an event. One of two offer a telephone booking service as well as online which offers more choice to the buyer. Fees are all quite similar across the board so I’d advise that when choosing your platform make sure it’s easy for you to use and implement. It’s no good saving 1% on fees but then it takes you twice as long to set up and manage later on.
9. Marketing Budget
One of the biggest mistakes I see event promoters make when planning an event, is that they don’t plan their budget to actually advertise their event. They budget for the activities, the main act, the venue cost, etc. But marketing is absolutely key to a successful event.
So factor in your marketing budget, before setting your ticket price. It’s no good charging £8 for an event but you have no money for marketing, when if you charged £10 but people actually know about it. Don’t be scared to invest. As a rule of thumb, I’d suggest at least 30% of your overall budget should go into marketing.
Take a look at my Top 10 Ways to Advertise An Event which will give you ideas on the best way to spend your budget. Also, watch and do my 12-Week Step-by-Step Event Marketing Plan which breaks things down into a manageable plan.
10. Consider Sponsorship
You may not have considered this before but running an event with a potential audience means you could attract some sponsorship from local businesses who want to get seen in front of your crowd.
Say you want to run a family fun day. You could potentially sell stands to local businesses including Toy Shops, baby shops, home made crafts, baby groups etc. There may be a business who wants to be the main sponsor and just have their logo in prominent positions on your marketing leaflets, posters, website and event listings like on WhatsOnHub.
Same goes for a business networking event, a weekly fitness class or a film screening.
But do consider how much time you’ll need to spend attracting sponsors. It can be a good way of boosting your profits, but it usually takes a good number of phone calls or emails before you can something. Think about your own contacts first and start there.
That’s all for my tips. These tips are all based purely on my experience of seeing thousands of event listings while running WhatsOnHub since September 2014. Hopefully these tips can lead you to a successful first or next event for you. Let me know in the comments below how you found it and any tips you can offer of your own, to others planning an event.