I get the odd inquiry about the work involved in organizing a conference, particularly a WordCamp. Rebecca, John and I have organized several WordCamps, but WordCamp Whistler was undoubtedly the hardest of the bunch, mainly because none of us had the opportunity to assess the location until the night before.

While the event was really successful in my mind (the speakers were great, the staff at the Fairmont were helpful, and everyone I talked to felt that they got good value from the event), in retrospect I might have organized something a bit more local. The costs associated with the event kept ballooning over time, and it was extremely stressful near the end when we were operating the event in the red, especially since I was basically bankrolling the event myself. We were forced to raise ticket prices at the end higher than I had wanted, simply to recoup some of the costs, and also reached out to a few of our sponsors, several of which helped shore up the difference. Initially tickets started at $35 (we had assumed most of the costs of the event could be handled with sponsorships), but eventually went up to around $75 as the deficit grew (since sponsorship ended up being low).

We had originally budgeted for only two drinks per person at the social, and assumed only about 75% of the people would come. I’d guess only about 40% of the people showed up, and of them, only about half were serious about drinking. That combination basically made it so we could open the bar up, which we were happy to do. Ultimately we had about $1,000 put aside for the social, but only spent around $800 or so.

In the end, I think we ended up about $100 short with the event, which was no big deal, especially considering we were about $2,000 short about 10 days before.

Here’s a quick run down of the associated costs with the event:

  • 120 person conference room – $840
  • Internet access during the event – $210 (the venue actually wanted $15/head, but I managed to convince them to simply give us an internet drop, and mostly Dale took care of the wireless at the event)
  • Insurance – $210
  • WordCamp Whistler Toques – $910
  • Social at the Longhorn Saloon – $800
  • Rooms + Travel – $620
  • Catered lunch – $2,506
  • Audio/visual/power for the event – $1,191
  • Coffee – $1,240

The grand total for the event was close to $9,000. In terms of revenue, we received $4,150 in sponsorship, and $4,478 in ticket sales. As you can see, coffee and food took up a sizable portion of the budget, something I tried very hard to reduce with the venue.

So if you’re organizing a WordCamp in a prime location such as Whistler, this might be a fairly good guide for how it works under the hood. A simple way to reduce costs is to ask everyone to be responsible for their own drinks and lunch, as they amounted to nearly 50% of the cost.