Planning An Event Without Losing Your Mind

When we created The HBIC Project, an online interview series that highlights the accomplishments of 20-something women, we knew we wanted to eventually expand into events. We liked the idea of creating a space online for women to inspire each other (need an ultra-inspiring pick-me-up? Check out our interview with Spire & Co founder Emily Raleigh!), but we also felt it was important to bring that community offline. On September 18, 2014, we hosted our first event in New York City. It was a networking happy hour called Women's Night Out. Young women could meet and mingle, share career aspirations and stories over discounted drinks, and enter a raffle to win office hours with some of the most accomplished women in business, media, and the arts. 

Two months before the event, we dove into event-planning. It was a daunting task, but we learned a lot along the way. No matter what kind of event you're planning – a fundraiser, a dinner party, a conference – the process is more or less the same. Here's what we learned about how to make event-planning go as smoothly as possible.

Nail Down Your Location First

When we started planning Women's Night Out, we were dying to jump ahead to plan the date, guest list, our raffle prizes, and swag bags. But until we had our venue secured, we couldn't begin to plan the rest of the fun details. This needs to be the first step, and you should do it as far in advance as possible.

If it's a smaller event, consider hosting it at home. Your house, apartment, or yard can make a lovely space for a small party or fundraiser. You can also consider public spaces, such as parks or public squares, but keep in mind that you may need a permit for the event. (Call your town hall or local official to see if a permit is needed.) Depending on the atmosphere you're going for, you might consider hosting your event at a restaurant or bar... the latter only if your guests are all over 21, that is. Call the restaurant or bar to see if you can host a private party or reserve a table for a certain number of people.

When we started planning Women's Night Out, we decided a bar would be the best venue. We wanted a lively environment for about 50 guests in their 20s. Our co-founder and CEO Madeleine asked the bartender at one of her favorite bars if she could use the back room for the event, and he said yes. Once we had our location set, we could start planning the rest of the event.

Create A Timeline

Whether you're planning the event on your own or you're working with a team, it's important to set a timeline so everyone involved knows what needs to happen when. Here are a few items you may want to include on your timeline:

  • Contact any necessary vendors or people helping out. (Whether it's a caterer or your Aunt Jen who offered to bake chocolate chip cookies.)
  • Create a plan to publicize the event.
  • Create a guest list.  
  • Design invitations or write the Facebook invitation.
  • Mail invitations or invite guests on Facebook.
  • Create a swag bag of freebies to give to guests.
  • Contact reporters for publicity.
  • Plan the event's itinerary.
  • Day-of coordination, like cleaning the venue or arranging for deliveries.

Guests should receive their invitations about two weeks prior to the event – or earlier if it's a formal event. Set reminders on your phone or jot down each timeline item on your calendar so you can stay on track with any deadlines.

Stay Organized

Depending on the complexity of your event and the size of your guest list, the event-planning process could be simple and straightforward or a total headache. No matter how big or small, stay organized by keeping track of everything in one place. Google Docs, a binder, color-coded notes... whatever you need to stay organized, work out a system and stick to it. (We have to give a shout-out to Google Docs, which allow multiple people to view and edit the same documents. How did teams get anything done before the advent of Google Docs?)

And remember, no matter how much planning goes into the event, please – have fun!