If anyone asks me what the 3 most important things to get straight when planning an event, I always say the following:
This post is about why these 3 documents are my bible during the process and how they can keep you on track and create a really strong framework to operate within. A lot of the time, events can seem like an unruly shopping trolley rolling down a steep hill, with an inevitable crash at the bottom. That sense of the impending deadline of event day and a hopelessly long list of things to do before then, can be overwhelming. If you have these things sorted, it really helps.
The first things to think about are how much do you want to spend and who do you want there. Generally speaking, the more people you have the more it will cost, so it’s worth figuring out how much you’ve got to play with and who you can’t bear to leave off the invitation list and then crack on with everything else.
Budget. How much do you want to spend? Then add in a contingency, 5% of total is usually a safe bet. Because things always spend more than you think they will, or there will always be an added extra you’d like, or something you didn’t allow for (venue security not included in hire fee for example, that’s stung me before). Be realistic here. Don’t be like those couples on Location, Location, Location who expect a 6 bedroom house in the Cotswolds with a huge garden and great transport links for £150k. Do your research and make an excel spreadsheet. Email me if you want a hand remembering all the things you’ll need to think of.
Now to guest list. Especially in the case of weddings, there will often be ‘political’ invites - friends of your parents or second cousins’ girlfriends you’ve never even met who take up valuable chair space and will eat your canapés and into your budget. It can be frustrating if these people mean you can’t have the event you really want or even some people you really want there.
So draw up your invitation list with everyone on it and mark them as ‘non-negotiables’ or 'nice to haves'. This is ruthless but essential and if you're in a bitchy mood then do it with a cackle and a glass of wine. 'Non-negotiables' are the people that you need to be there in order for it to go ahead. People you will not hold the event without. Then your ‘nice to haves’, are maybe people you would like to come but if you can’t invite them it isn’t the end of the world, they’ll understand, or you can live with them hating you for a while. Once you've done this, prepare to have tricky conversations, allowing for some compromise and flexibility where you can but also remembering (and gently reminding others) that it’s your event. You can also stagger the invite process into an A and B list to gauge interest and gather some RSVP's before sending out further invitations if that helps accommodate more people.
Then make a master document with all of this information on it (anyone who likes colour coding, go wild here) and keep it up to date with everything you need; for example whether or not someone is coming, who their guest is, what their dietary or accessibility requirements are, what table they're sitting on...etc. This is all essential information for your caterer and venue as well so a very useful document for various stakeholders. Try to avoid holding different versions of it for different things (like a separate document for dietary requirements for example) - this is the pathway to disaster and things falling through cracks. Have one central document, that everything feeds into.
Finally, the schedule, and I always keep two versions.
Firstly, before you pick a date, it’s worth creating a schedule planning backwards to plot out all the things you need to do and whether you have enough time to do it all. I call this the critical pathway (not sure why, I had a client once who used that term and it stuck). List everything, from site visits to invitation mailing to menu tastings, and then week by week what the deadlines are, all the way up to event day.
Then, event day itself. Perhaps the day before as well depending on the scale of set up but this is your hour by hour (or minute by minute!) schedule that tells you and anyone who has a copy exactly what is happening and when. And who is responsible for each part.
So three documents, creating a really strong foundation for your event. The key to minimising stress is preparation, as well as delegating where you need to. Identifying the pressure points and planning around them to leave your hands free. Yes there will be unexpected things that crop up along the way and surprise you but if you have laid the groundwork they will be much easier to deal with. And you might even get to enjoy yourself rather than just collapse in a heap at the end when it's all over.
I’ll be doing more in-depth posts on each of these elements as well as some case studies, but if you need any advice or have something in particular you’d like me to cover then send me an email, I’d love to hear from you.
I’ll also have some nice juicy free downloads available soon that I hope will help anyone planning an event so stay tuned for news of them going live!