Events can be expensive if you’re on a budget or just starting. You will be shocked to see some of the rental or hire costs of some venues so anything you can do to the venue for free or at a discount is going to massively help you.
There are six steps to follow to try to get a free venue: Ask correctly, approach venues on quieter nights, use an online venue finding service, Use co-working spaces or use some personal space.
To give you some idea of what a venue can cost, I used to run a 1,000-capacity music venue that had a hire fee starting at £1,000. I also once hired a 10,000-capacity arena for a show, and that cost £20,000 a day.
Tip 1: ASK in the correct way
Asking might sound like the obvious answer to the question, but the reality, it’s about HOW you ask. I’ve seen year after year through my event students, a hesitation in picking up the phone and calling a venue.
Be mindful that a ‘cold’ email to a venue asking for free venue hire is unlikely to get you very far. Venue managers are busy people, and when they see an email like that, they find it very easy to ignore. Trust me; I was that person for over ten years!
The key is to do your research, understand the type of event that the venue has hosted in the past, what would they be looking to get out of any hire agreement, would they consider a profit share deal and what work can you offer to do that will help them to reduce the venue cost?
Put all of that together into a proposal that outlines the benefits of the deal and event. Call them or visit the venue to introduce yourself, tell them about your plan and ask if you can email over the proposal. Offer to follow up with them in a few days.
Most importantly, don’t cut and paste that proposal text into a dozen emails to different venues. You need to add a personal touch to build a relationship with the venue.
Tip 2: Approach venues on quieter nights
Depending on the event you want to organise, approaching a local bar, pub or restaurant may be a great idea. If you’re looking to host a social event, these types of venue will be very interested in listening to you.
They may be willing to let you use their venue on a quiet night for free, perhaps on a percentage split basis or minimum spend.
There can be two types of percentage split. Under a ticket percentage split, you agree to share some of the ticket income with them in exchange for free venue hire. If it is your first event, this can be a great way to keep your venue cost down.
The second type of percentage split is on food and drink. Again, the venue hire is waived, and you split the takings or profits from the bar. Be clear about which of those two figures you will be working to as they will be very different.
Takings are the actual money coming in, paid by customers. Profit can be either gross profit (after the cost of the food and drink has come off) or net profit (after all of the venues costs have come off). Ideally taking a % split from takings is your best option, but don’t expect to get 50:50!
In both cases, you need to have a degree of trust with the other party that they will share accurate data on income. Profit splitting should be recorded in a formal agreement or contract between both parties.
In the case of a minimum spend arranged with any venue, there will not be an upfront hire fee for your venue, so it appears free.
However, the people you bring to the venue will be required to spend at least the amount of money specified by the venue. If they don’t, then you will be subject to a venue hire fee. This method puts the risk on the hirer rather than the venue to make the event successful.
Tip 3: Use An Online Venue Finding Service
The internet is full of venue finding services, and they can be a great resource if you’re not familiar with the area where you want to host an event. That said, they tend to favour business events over social as they are dominated by venues such as conference centres, hotels and leisure facilities.
That’s not to say that if you do enough research, you might be able to secure a free venue. One trick to try is to look at which venues have recently opened or been taken over by new management. Check out the Tripadvisor score (if applicable) and see what kind of reputation the venue has.
A poor venue that has recently been taken over by new management will be keen to get events through the door to try and improve any review scores. You could certainly use this to attempt to secure the venue for free, with perhaps a minimum spend or percentage split on food and drink.
You can find good venue finding websites in your region using Google, but here are some of the more interesting ones here in the UK:
My Community Space (UK-based)
My Community Space has more of a community focus to their listings, although there are some commercial office listings included. Many of the listings have prices attached, but it may provide a starting point for you to negotiate!
Venue scanner allows you to search across major cities in the UK for different types of venue space. Their filters will enable you to search by the number of people, your budget and type of space. They have some venues listed that have a ‘minimum spend’ rather than a hire fee. This will likely mean you won’t pay an upfront cost but will be required to have your guests spend a certain amount on food or drink.
Venuefinder doesn’t carry as much information about prices and search results are mainly restricted to those venues who have paid to be in there, although one-line listings are included for other local venues. The focus is on hotels, business centres and leisure facilities over community spaces, but it might give you some ideas.
Tip 4: Use Community Spaces
Using community spaces is a great way to secure a free venue. Many community spaces will have social objectives (over purely economic ones) that they are required to meet. You should do some research into a venue space to try and see if your event meets those social objectives.
Community spaces include venues like village halls, school buildings, churches, museums or parks. There is a real variety of spaces available out there if you can put in the time for some research.
Community spaces are often run by part-time volunteers so be prepared to wait for a response to any emails. Be nice in responding, understand they are only volunteers!
Tip 5: Use Co-working Spaces
Co-working spaces often have communal areas that they allow people or tenants to use for meetings and events. Approach the space operators to see what they can offer in terms of a deal.
These types of workspace are popping up in towns and cities across the world, so some proper research might be able to help you. Try to pick out spaces that are about to open or have opened recently. They may be more likely to give a discount to get people using the venue in the hope it will attract more regular tenants to the space.
Tip 6: Use some personal space
Finally on this list is using personal space at your own home if you have it. This depends heavily on your personal circumstances, and if the space is suitable for the event, you want to host.
Daytime or early evening meetings with just a handful of people may be possible. If you have a smaller space or a family (particularly young kids!), then this option may not be good for those.
This is not to discount hosting business social events at your house. People (in my opinion) do like to see a personal side and this something that has changed in recent years.
A final thought on this topic: venues have staff and overheads that need to be paid. Be realistic about what you ask for and consider the fact that while the venue may be free, you may have to pay for other costs such as equipment hire and refreshments. Try to make the deal as fair for every party involved; you never know when you might want to use the venue again in the future. Pick up the phone or visit the venue; this shows real interest, emails can be ignored!