HOW TO RUN THE MOST UNSUSTAINABLE, SUSTAINABILITY CONFERENCE EVER
So I have been putting off writing this article for the last few months because people kept telling me to stop ‘giving away all our secrets’ in concern that people would copy what we do here at The Better Business Network. However, I know it’s not that easy, here’s why.
I know that putting on an event and creating a community is complicated, hard work and can be stressful. Anyone that thinks they can just read an article on it and then do it themselves is absolutely bananas.
I have been project managing and putting on events for nearly 20 years now. But the Better Business Summit was the first event in fifteen years that I had full autonomy over. By this I mean it was my money, my business and ultimately my loss if the event failed.
But since starting the Better Business Network during Covid, we always talked about putting on a flagship conference to bring people together, discuss ideas and grow the purpose driven business movement. When a coffee catch up meeting at Manchester Business School turned into talking about putting on a conference, the timing seemed perfect. And we thought WHY NOT?
But before we get into it, check out the amazing highlights video from last year.
HOW MUCH WE SPENT
I posted on LinkedIn how we had come up with our ticket price. To be honest when we first put the tickets on sale we hadn’t accounted properly for all the expenses that would come along with the event, or the amount of work that we as a team would have to invest.
Leaving capacity for speakers and sponsors, we were able to sell 300 tickets for the Summit. But £155 was the highest ticket price. With early bird, BBN Member and partner discounts, rather than the £46,500 we thought we would get, we actually had a turnover of £40,000. This included additional sponsorship money we received across ten generous businesses who exhibited or financially supported the event. I have not put in a lot of the free support as a cost line here, but have described it below. I would argue this would bring the costs up by tens of thousands. See what I mean below..
Accessible event £8,500 (plus £2,000 still to go)
Paid Sign Language interpreters and a filming crew for the panel discussions, filming workshops and audio recording catalyst conversations. This was a heavily discounted package as a sponsorship initiative by Standby Productions. We have put all these onto our YouTube Channel so anyone can view and enjoy the Main Stage Sessions for free.
We still need to invest around £2,000 to get these videos subtitled and transcribed to make them more accessible.
We also paid for an Accessibility Manager on the day, hiring of a quiet room, prayer room space and provision for carers or support to join those with accessibility issues for free.
Breakfast networking, unlimited tea and coffee throughout the day (in china mugs!), a hot buffet plant based lunch (reducing food waste) and an evening drinks reception on both Wednesday and Thursday. All included in the ticket price. Additionally we had lunch at Home MCR on the Wednesday for our Carbon Literacy training attendees.
We had again some sponsorship support here to make the costs lower, from the amazing Manchester Met University, Time and Tide Content, Krystal and People, Planet, Pint as well as Sandbar on Oxford Road who provided free pizzas at our Pizza Party.
Speaker Fees and Travel (and support) £7,300
Every Speaker was paid or if requested we donated their Speaker Fee to a 1% for the Planet non-profit. No one spoke for free! This also included the curation fees of our media partner and our Moderators on the day.
These costs were higher than expected, but also we covered any outstanding cancellation costs from having to move the Summit from November to January.
This also doesn’t include the facilitation of the Carbon Literacy on Wednesday as I did that for free to the 40 attendees on the Wednesday conference day.
Event staff £4,700
All our event staff were paid the real living wage or more and ensured our attendees had the support and customer experience they deserved. This was a mixture of freelance event crew and University Students we needed to put on our payroll and cover their payroll, tax and NI.
I’ve also grouped in the costs of working with a sponsorship support team and the Freshwalks team. On Friday the Freshwalks hike ticket money went to them as a fee for facilitating the hike, so while it’s included in our turnover, this came straight out.
Also, this doesn’t put in any of the time Team BBN worked on the project, more on that later…
Paid advertising campaign £2,000
This was INSANELY cheap because the amazing Serotonin offered all their services for free, including creating the branding, logo and advertising management of the campaign. Full price this would have easily been in the tens of thousands.
Signage and marketing £1,000
We actually had some amazing support from our Sponsor B&B Press who created some excellent sustainable signage which we can use at future events.
The University printed a lot of signage to help, so the above cost covers things like lanyards, photographers and website fees. We also had help from Avery & Brown who helped us design our signage.
Trey and I built the website ourselves over two days on Squarespace, saving us thousands of pounds again.. See the running theme here!
Venue Management £500
As you can see this is extremely low, as Manchester Met University allowed us to use their space on Thursday as part of our sponsorship deal.
We did need to hire out Home MCR on Wednesday for the Carbon Literacy Training as well as a few additional costs here and there.
Additional Costs £2,700
There were also lots of other things we did at the event we classed as ‘Surprise and Delight’. We wanted to give some thankyou gifts in our Closing Speech, thank all attendees with Seed Bombs to grow their own ideas in 2023.
We also had live rug tufting at the after party to create our own ‘The Better Year’ Rug, as well as Trey roaming around with a Polariod giving away keepsakes for the evening.
What I left out… £800 plus… £35,000 (!!)
Apart from around £500 on our Hotel rooms and the Carbon Literacy certification costs over the three days of the Summit a big internal expense was Staff time.
I would say between September and the February after the Summit, Trey and James were working almost full time. I also had a huge involvement with the organisation. Between us I would conservatively estimate I spent around £30-40,000 in staff wages on resourcing the event.
HOW MUCH WE MADE
Well for those of you that can do quick maths, you’ll see that, well, we didn’t.
In fact, out of the £40,000 income we had from ticket sales and sponsorship.. we spent all of this. We then lost around the same amount as staff resources costs. Even with all the deals and additional support.. OUCH.
SO WHY THE HELL ARE WE DOING IT AGAIN?
We want to build on the foundations of an amazing event. We are much better resourced and organised this year. We have a better understanding of what to expect in regards to staff time and knowing what will work.
We also have the incredible support of a Summit Committee who have a full budget overview and have helped us come up with a solid 2024 plan.
We are expecting next year’s Summit to reach double the amount of attendees over a full two day packed conference schedule.
We also are looking forward to offering better sponsorship opportunities as well as networking and generally a stand out event for people attending.
We also know how important it is for the members of the Better Business Network to have an in person connection and opportunity to reflect together. Having the Summit in January really helps our Business Leaders set their intentions for the year ahead and gives them the empowerment and inspiration they need to continue to build their powerful businesses.
My Final Thoughts…
In conclusion, yes it was a hard event and we did lose money. But I truly believe in the power of community. We need to create strong, affirmative and positive action to make the world better.
We also gained a lot from putting on the Summit. It put our community on the map as a group to be taken seriously when it comes to taking action. You could argue the costs were just a marketing or business development cost (well, let’s be honest that really helps me sleep at night!) in helping us build our community.
And it has worked, we have grown our Membership by 50% since the Better Business Summit. We see continuous monthly growth and an incredible attrition rate of members, alongside a very engaged membership.
In fact we know by Industry Benchmarks, our attrition rate is excellent and our weekly digest to members open rate is, according to Campaign Monitor, well over double the industry average. Our Members DO care and they do need a space to connect. That’s what our role is to provide.
Our 2024 Summit Theme is Radical Utopia. The Conference will be centred around the idea that the ingredients of a better society are present within human nature. We are extending to two full conference days packed with debates, panels and workshops curated by our amazing Summit Committee.
In my latest LinkedIn post I have shared our highlights video and announced we have shared live recordings of this year’s main stage sessions online for you to check out too!
BBS 2024 tickets are still available to purchase here