These 8 Ideas for Alternative Event Venues Will Save You Money and Wow Your Attendees
By Alice Barry
Are you a small business owner who wants to host an event but struggles to find an affordable venue? Choosing the right venue is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when organizing an event. But as a small business with an even smaller budget, finding a space that’s affordable and marketable can feel next to impossible.
Having spent several years planning events in the technology industry, I was used to working with large hotels and conference facilities on a multi-million dollar corporate budget. Now that I produce my own events through my home-based business, I have had to find space for a shoestring budget without looking like a shoestring business. So, I rolled up my sleeves and researched the options available. My findings were staggering.
Facility rental can account for more than 20% of your budget, excluding hefty food and beverage minimums often imposed by a traditional facility or its on-site caterer. Alternative venues offer more affordable and more flexible options since events are an added source of income and not the main source, as is the case with traditional venues. They also provide a stylish backdrop for your event.
The following eight alternative event venue ideas for small business owners vary in capacity and aesthetics, and invoke their own distinctive palate of themes that will get the attention of your attendees and put your personality and creativity in the spotlight.
1. Independent Theaters and Movie Theaters
These ready-made event spaces are often owned and operated by nonprofit organizations who gladly accept a renter on “dark” nights or during the day when no shows are scheduled. They provide great ambiance, offer built-in sound and lighting equipment (A/V), and can even supply a technical staff for a low fee to run A/V for you. Ranging in capacity from 25 to 2,000+ seats, these spaces are great for medium to large group presentations, seminars, and events that include video, movies, or musical guests.
2. Art, History, or Children’s Museums and Zoos
What do you get when you join educational and artistic exhibits with a well-groomed building? Lots of creativity! A museum has multiple spaces of various sizes designated for special event rentals. Often they have everything you need for your event, including chairs, easels, A/V, and even catering contacts. To add flair to your event, consider what types of art or exhibits fit in with or relate to your theme. These are great for receptions, small groups, roundtables, workshops, large group presentations, and seminars.
3. Art Galleries
What do artists whose works hang in galleries want more than anything? People to see (and maybe even buy) their art. Hosting your event in a gallery creates a win-win situation for artists, gallery owners, and you. You get space, flexibility, and beautiful art for your event while bringing in a group of potential buyers. These are great for small to medium-sized receptions, roundtables, and workshops.
4. Historic Homes and Bed and Breakfast Inns
These gems are a particularly smart choice when you have out-of-town attendees at your event and need built-in lodging. Homes vary in size and capacity, but two constants remain: beautiful surroundings and cozy intimacy. These are great for small groups, workshops, and seminars.
5. College and Community College Campuses
Not just for academia, campuses have become conference savvy and are well-equipped to welcome anyone from dignitaries to sporting camps. They offer a range of services, including state of the art equipment and classroom facilities, as well as catering and event entertainment by campus groups. From small conference rooms to large lecture facilities, these are great choices for seminars, workshops, receptions and retreats.
6. Nature or Interpretive Centers
Providing natural light and views of gardens and greenery, these spaces lend a sense of calm and openness to your event. They can be found in medium and large-sized cities, in smaller cities located on college campuses, or in State or City park preserves, and often have programs to include as part of your event for a low cost. They work best for evening programs with small or medium groups, workshops, seminars, and receptions.
7. Farms, Orchards, Wineries, and Rustic Outbuildings
As farmers diversify their land and businesses, several orchards, farm markets, wineries, craft havens, and harvest destinations are cropping up. Found in outer areas of large cities or small towns away from it all, these destinations are perfect for day retreats, workshops, seminars, and receptions for a variety of group sizes.
8. Private Rooms in Restaurants
Increasingly restaurants cater to a variety of events in private spaces that are some of the most imaginative and accommodating spaces around. You can’t beat the convenience when ordering food and beverage in these private spaces, not to mention the sheer variety of theme choices to add pizzazz to your event. Ranging in capacity from 6-250+, these are great choices for small, medium, and large-sized receptions, seminars, and workshops.
Many of the venues on this list will have a fee schedule for nonprofits as well as for-profit organizations. Ask about both rates, and then let them know you’re a small business. You just might be able to negotiate to pay the nonprofit rate (or something in between), or ask if they will waive the catering minimums. A small budget doesn’t have to generate small results. Just be as creative with finding event spaces as you are with your event ideas! HBM
Alice Barry is the Founder of Entertaining The Idea, LLC in Minneapolis, Minnesota and consults with small businesses across the country about marketing, event planning, and creative ideas to get your business noticed. She also produces regular gatherings for Inspired Entrepreneurs to keep creative business owners inspired, motivated, and connected. She can be reached at email@example.com or www.entertainingtheidea.com.
Previously published in the October 2009 issue of HOME BUSINESS® Magazine, an international publication for the growing and dynamic home-based market. Available on newsstands, in bookstores and chain stores, and via subscriptions ($19.00 for 1 year, six issues). Visit www.homebusinessmag.com
V16-5 – Add: 11/09 – HP: 10/29/10