Why a budget is vital
You need to have a detailed budget, to keep that budget up to date during the run-up, and to use the budget to guide your spending decisions.
This is a difficult job. The numbers are large and scary, there are unknowns, there are parts of the project you don't understand yet. You need to make one anyway. Getting your costs under control becomes much harder the later you leave it, and doing it during the event is nearly impossible.
Consider having a treasurer. If you are 100% happy with being, essentially, the Chief Financial Officer then feel free to do that but if you aren't then it is much better for you (and your BJC) to find someone else who is, who will report to you. If there is no-one in your existing team who is comfortable in that role then look at the Who can help? page or put out a call on Facebook, Twitter or Juggling Edge.
Your BJC needs to avoid making a loss. You can't aim to make exactly zero money, because things not under your control will mess with the numbers in ways you don't expect. This means that you need to aim to make a small profit.
The only way to run an event to make a specific minimum amount of money is to plan for it. You need to
- identify your costs
- identify your likely income
- maintain a good sized gap between the two that allows for unfortunate events (such as low attendance or unexpected costs).
- work with your plan so that the costs are lower than your chosen break-even point
- regularly monitor your plan so that you will notice if the costs you're incurring become higher than you intended
- change your plan if this happens.
Losses aren't imaginary negative money. Losses are you personally calling your suppliers and telling them that you cannot pay them. Losses are your reputation on the line, as well as the reputation of the BJC itself. Also you don't want your security team to come knocking on your door asking to be paid!
If you are thinking, "I can't possibly make a budget, because I don't know any of these things": FIND HELP. People can help you with this. See Who can help?. Lots of people would much rather help you out at this stage, than see you making a loss later.
Writing a budget
How much might you take?
An easy way to make a BJC budget is to calculate how much money you would make, at 2/3 of a realistic estimate of your attendance. So that might be 600 or 650 for an average BJC. Don't include sales of clothing, food and bar takings, or any of that; just include the door takings. You want to be reasonably sure that you will not make a loss, even if attendance is down for reasons outside your control.
If you're messing with the usual formula, for example by changing the dates, then you may want to set your break-even lower than this, although this may mean running more of an "austerity BJC".
What will you need to spend money on?
Write down every single thing you will spend money on.
Now work out what you have missed from the list, and add that. First, look around the edge of people's areas of responsibility to find things you have missed.
For example: Do the buses to the show come under the show budget? How about the performer accommodation? Is the fencing in the "site" budget? How about sound and lighting services for the show? Will you need a plumber or a spark to connect up your services? Does your venue have enough tables and chairs for everywhere people will want to sit? How much AV equipment will you need? Do your passes need ribbon to put them on?
Now, take this list, find a recent BJC organiser, and see if they can spot more things you have missed.
How much will it cost?
You need to cost everything on your list, and then add ten percent for the unpredictable. Don't forget the VAT. A lot of VAT-registered companies can claim back VAT so suppliers often quote for things excluding VAT. Make sure you know whether the quote you've been given is including or excluding VAT as 20% added on to a quote can make a BIG difference to your budget.
If you don't know the costs of something, you need to find out. If you can't find out yet, you need to use the best estimate you can, and make it a priority to improve the estimate as soon as possible.
Ways to cost things:
- Get quotes from companies. If you don't know enough to get a quote, then:
- Ask someone who's done it before; preferably someone who's done it before at a BJC.
Don't estimate on the "lucky" side of everything. If you're thinking "Maybe we could borrow some AV gear", start with an estimate for hiring it in. At an event the size of a BJC there is exactly zero chance that you will be lucky in every one of your budget items.
Every time you firm up a quote or learn more about what you'll need, go back and improve your budget.
Does the budget add up?
If the budget says you will be spending more than you will make, find something to cut and cut it. Ask previous BJC organisers; they can help you find things to get rid of.
Cutting the budget
Cutting things from the budget is hard, because of course you want your BJC to be fantastic. But remember, being able to pay all your suppliers is EVEN MORE IMPORTANT than everybody on site having a great time.
The easiest way to make cuts and still maintain your "artistic integrity" is to have a strong vision of what you want your BJC to be about. Can you explain it in 30 seconds?
The stronger your vision, the easier it is to say, does this thing here contribute to our vision? If not, cut it. If your BJC is the Happy Community Love BJC, then you can cut the paid entertainment and find a way to encourage people to make their own entertainment.
If you're still in trouble, you need to decide what's essential and what's nice to have. You need a site, you need security and toilets. You don't need to have shows and bought-in entertainment every night. You don't need to have beautiful passes. You don't need a professionally printed booklet.
Ways to lose money
If you try and budget up to your full expected attendance, you will lose money. If you do not have a budget at all, you will lose money. If you add on lots of small random "nice to have" items without keeping an eye on the budget, you will lose money. If your budget total is vastly more than last year, you are at serious risk of losing money.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of ways to lose money. There are plenty more!
What do we do if we are losing money?
This is a truly horrible situation to be in, avoid at all costs! On the Wednesday of BJC 2013, it looked like the event was going to lose a vast amount of money. The team panicked for a bit, each team member had a bit of a meltdown, then they gathered some of the previous BJC orgs together for a brainstorming session. This was incredibly helpful.
Suggestions that came up:
- Hard sell on Merchandise (cute kids and persuasive volunteers)
- Hard sell on DVDs (cute kids and persuasive volunteers)
- Sending volunteers out into the community with flyers to send members of the public to the BJC and to the show. Two volunteers with amazing skills, one with amazing people skills.
- Planning a second one-dayer on the cheap to help cover bills (Chocfest 2.0)
- Negotiating with contractors for delayed payment and reduced payment
- Negotiating with friendly caterers to see if they can give a bigger cut
- Asking Traders to give super shiny prizes, instead of using these as games prizes, running a raffle
- Publicising the raffle (cute kids and persuasive volunteers and mentioning it at the auction at Open Stage)
- An auction of some special prizes (signed props from the show, signed t-shirt etc)
- Putting a note in with performers' fees explaining the situation and explaining we would accept money back
- Donation bucket on reg desk at the end
- Telling the community the situation (in the open stage interval, as a lead up to the auction)
The BJC2013 team were truly amazed by people's generosity, in the raffle and the auction, and in their donation bucket at the end, and by performers' willingness to donate. They had a really positive business meeting, where none of the team felt blamed, but felt able to acknowledge where mistakes were made. They also had donations from previous BJCs, and from other one-day conventions. The juggling community really helped them out.
Following merch and cake sales and auctions at one-day conventions, and by using the profits from Chocfest 2014 , BJC2013 eventually made back the money that it owed.
Negotiate every quote. Don't be embarrassed about this, it is common in business and especially in events. Get quotes from different suppliers and play them off against each other. Some companies will reduce their prices, some won't; but you won't know if you don't ask! Get your bulk supplies from a cash and carry, not from a supermarket. Put things like your big top under contract, and spell out precisely what you expect. Big top company are supplying sound and lighting for the top? Put it under contract. Big top can run on two 13amp sockets? Under contract.
If you're not sure about the size of big top/marquee you need then talk to the company about booking a smaller one with the option to upgrade it to a bigger one closer to the event (if available) when you have a better idea of numbers. If you're not sure about confirming something then put it on hold (or reserve) and keep it on hold as long as you can before you confirm and commit to spending money on it. If registrations are not going well and you no longer have a need for something then better to cancel it and lose the deposit then pay for the whole (no longer necessary) thing.
Do not agree to pay up front. Deposit, yes; full payment, no.
Do not over buy clothing. Every item you fail to sell will impact your bottom line, and a couple of boxes of unsold hoodies will eat up every penny of clothing profit you make. Pre-selling clothing at pre-reg means you will have a much better idea of what will sell and lower your risk of unsold stock.
Do not extend cheap pre-reg for too long. Once you have enough money to cover your deposits, every discounted pre-reg sale is losing you money.
Do not have a free hand with complimentary tickets. Free tickets are not free. They are costing you the headline price of that ticket. Even for people who would not otherwise be coming, extra people cost you in terms of passes, toilet provision, venue capacity, and so on.
Money for deposits
You will need money for deposits, particularly for your chosen venue (it's not wise to advertise a venue/dates until you have a signed contract. Most signed contracts require a deposit). There are a number of ways to get the money for the deposits, including:
- Asking previous BJCs with surplus money for loans
- Selling (non-voting) shares in your limited company - to date only BJC2k has done this (talk to Lorri, she'll tell you exactly how it was done back in 2000)
- Putting in your own money as a loan
- Selling pre-reg tickets before you have the venue/dates/budget confirmed (risky unless you're willing to refund people who can't make it if you have to change dates/venues or are prepared to ask for extra money/refund money if your budget says you need to charge more/less)
Help is at hand
If you are thinking of organising a BJC, talk to previous BJC organisers, they may be able to let you see their accounts to give you an idea of how much things should cost.
There is a table showing some of the previous convention costs.