How to estimate event planning time

Estimating time accurately when planning and coordinating events is a key skill every event planner must learn. It ensures clients are not surprised with overspend and should ensure profits are maximised.

Unfortunately, estimating event planning and coordination time is not an exact science and luck does play its part. However, by implementing the following simple strategies an event planner should be able to ensure time, and therefore cost, estimates are closer to reality.

With over 20 years of event planning experience the team at Kites International have pulled together this list to help you in the planning.

1. Organise yourself

Lists are key. Use an Excel sheet, a Trello board, Evernote or a simple notebook to list EVERYTHING that needs to be done by EVERYBODY you are responsible for which will affect your budget and time management. Any charges by 3rd party suppliers must be detailed in your invoice to the client unless otherwise instructed by the client. Site visits, AV testing and rehearsal times are examples that should be included so you know how long each supplier needs to undertake their job successfully and can account for that in the final cost estimations. You don’t want to undercharge for the event time but overcharging and having an event set up well in advance of the actual date is wasteful and counterproductive.

2. Factor in the unexpected

No matter how hard you try to plan the detail, there will inevitably be something unexpected that will require additional time. Factor this in when you do your costings. You cannot invoice and plan every minute of every day so make sure that you have a small buffer in your time planning to cater for it.

3. Know your team and event space intimately

Is one of your suppliers really efficient and always ahead of schedule? Do you have inexperienced staff that you may need to walk through a certain process before they can do it quickly? Perhaps your event space has tricky angles or poor access which will slow the build process down? All these things need to be factored in and planned for. Make a list of all these things and work out if you think the effect on event planning time will be positive, negative or neutral and adjust the time estimation accordingly.

4. Add assumptions or indicatives when making initial estimates

There are some things that you just will not know the answer to at the time of quotation and these should be approached in the correct way. If there is no way to get the exact time or cost figure before the deadline, add in an assumption or an indicative cost. This enables you to include it in your time and respective cost management calculation. It also gives you room for manoeuvre if there is a significant change to what you have stated. Food and beverage costs, set up time at unique locations, aspects that are complex in their construction are all things in this category. Don’t forget to state why these are indicative costs and not actuals and definitely don’t forget that if you can reduce these indicative costs and not raise them, your client will see you in a much more favourable light.

5. Break everything down for yourself. Group it together for the client

Your client doesn’t need (or want) to know how much time each part of your event build takes. You, as the event planner should have all of the components listed, estimated timings set and after the event, the actual timings. This will aid you in future events (see point 7. below) and is extremely important. Your client on the other hand will just want an overview of the various categories and will want to see if you came in on budget or not. One of your tasks as an event planner is to reduce your clients stress and work load. By grouping together and categorising certain elements it makes for much easier reading and analysis.

6. Don’t forget people exaggerate!

People want to impress and will often shorten their turnaround times to ‘win’ the business. If you don’t know your supplier very well, make sure you pad out their estimate a little to take into account any exaggerations they may have made. If you find a supplier has exaggerated in any way, find out why. Was it a mistake on their part or something else? Make a note afterwards and remember point 3 above – know your team intimately!

7. Learn from past events

After an event, look at what you estimated correctly and what took more time to plan than expected and make a note in a spreadsheet. Break the event down and compare like for like and if there are discrepancies find out why they occurred and then make a note. Next time you organise a similar event go back to the spreadsheet and use this data to better estimate the new one. Event management is a learning experience. Don’t stop!

To Conclude

Estimating your time accurately is incredibly important and getting it significantly wrong will either cost you money, lost trust of your client or indeed both. However, done correctly, will ensure the opposite and will make your event run smoother and increase your profits.

Learn from each event and over time, if you follow the points above, your event planning time estimates will become more accurate and ultimately help you to win new business and keep current clients satisfied.

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