Sections of the eBook:
- Index page with clickable links to the sections below (one page)
- How to plan a race event
- Printable ‘Race Planning Checklist’ (one page)
- Printable ‘Race Day Checklist’ (one page)
- Business 101
- Marketing and Promoting your event
- About the author section (one page)
- Event Logo section: “If your race event logo is too text heavy, it might not follow advertising guidelines on social media platforms.”
- Race Swag section: “By providing your participants with high quality race event shirts, finisher medals and custom bibs, you can really set yourself and your event apart.”
- Charity Partner section: “Hosting a fundraising 5k is a great way to get your community together.”
- Aid Station section: “Staff your aid stations with your most energetic volunteers, because they also serve as a terrific cheering station!”
- Business 101, Separate Checking/Savings Account section: “Open up a dedicated business checking account. Do not use your personal checking account.”
- Expenses and Discounts “Most of your participants will register in the month leading up to the event. Possibly 50% or more.”
- Business 101 section, under Rev and Pricing: “Some of your best registration days will be the day before a price increase.”
- Expenses and Discounts: “Most of your participants will register in the last month. Possibly 50% or more.”
- Email link to Mike’s email address in “Event Logo” section.
- Link to Section 3 of this book in Action item of “Social Media” section
- Link to Kassmo.com under “Race Swag” section
How to Host a Race:
An A-Z guide to planning 5ks, half marathons, fundraising events and more.
Section One: How to Plan a Race Event
Race Event Idea: What is your race event idea and why do you want to host a race? This will be an event that you need people to pay for, so you should establish your ‘why’ right away and define what value you are offering them. Will it be an awesome experience, in a unique location, or perhaps a fundraiser for a great cause? The more excited you are about your race event idea, the easier it will be to get others on board. You will need to spread your vision, message, and excitement to potential sponsors, volunteers, and participants.
You should assess what other events around you look like. While creating a unique race sounds great, don’t make it too unique because you want to create an event that appeals to as many people as possible. If your idea is too “out there”, people might be nervous about participating. Think about hosting an event that runners, joggers, and walkers can all support.
Action item: Take some time and dream. In a perfect scenario, what does your event look like
from beginning to end? Research what other events around you are doing.
Date and Time: Now that you have your race event idea, when did you want to host it? What month and day of the week works best for your target demographic? Look at online race event calendars and check for other local events around your ideal date. Races are typically held on Saturday or Sunday mornings, when most people are off work. However, depending on your target demographic, you might want to host the race during the week or maybe even at night. Since you are still in the idea phase, you want to look at dates that are three months out or longer. There is a lot of work that needs to be done, including marketing and advertising for your event, so anything less than three months is difficult. Preferably, you will be planning your event six months to a year out.
Action item: Find a date that works well for you and your target demographic and then claim it! Check online calendars for your city to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
Location: You will need to establish the location of your event as soon as possible. Do you want to host it in a city park, on public streets, on private land? Typically, you need to get permission to host an event, no matter where it is. That generally comes in the form of a permit. Each location will have its own set of rules, pricing, regulations, and availability. Early in your planning stages, try to establish what you need to do (and how much it will cost) to host an event at your dream location. It would be wise to think of a backup location as well, in case your ideal location isn’t available.
Action item: Lock in your event location by speaking with the correct point of contact.
Complete any applications or paperwork needed to get the proper permits.
Event Logo: In my opinion, having a custom race event logo is mandatory. It instantly legitimizes your event and gives you an identity for marketing and branding strategies. You can use this logo for so many things, such as the finisher medal design, as the logo on the event shirt, as the profile picture on your social media pages, for use in advertising and marketing campaigns, and so much more. If you have an annual event, slightly adjust your logo every year. You can keep the main design elements but freshening up the logo creates excitement and shows your participants that you aren’t recycling shirts, medals, and ideas from the previous year. Make sure the event name and date are on the logo. Other than that, don’t fill it up with too much text. If your race event logo is too text heavy, it might not follow advertising guidelines on social media platforms.
I have been working with Mike Carabajal as my logo designer for years. We collaborate and create a great design for each event. After the design is complete, Mike creates several final versions of the logo for all my needs. Having different versions of the logo is important because website, social media pages, and vendors might all have different requirements. The race event package Mike creates also includes a Facebook event banner and a Snapchat filter all for one affordable price. By using someone who specifically designs custom race event logos, you will save time and energy. Mike knows the specific dimensions, file types, and resolution needed to work on all your social media, website, and merchandise needs.
Action item: Email Mike Carabajal at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for a race event logo package quote.
Website and Registration Page: Even if you have a website, you will need a place to send participants to register for your race. There are several platforms available like RunSignUp, Eventbrite, and Active. Pick your favorite platform and set up a profile. Once you are registered on their site, you will be able to create an event. They will ask you simple questions about your event like the date, time, location, etc. Once you are finished, they will give you a URL link for your race registration page. Save this link because this is where you will be sending participants to register for your event.
Each website’s platform makes it easy to link your charity or business’s checking account information to the registration page. For more information about how to get a business checking account, see the “Business 101” section of this ebook. When someone registers for your event, the website will deposit the registration fees into your checking account on a daily or weekly basis. I recommend setting up your registration page and opening it up for race registration as early as possible. At a minimum, your registration page should be up and running 3-4 months before event.
Action item: Set up a profile and create a race event on your favorite registration website. Link your business checking account information to the page as well.
Registration Pricing: You will need to do some market research when it comes to pricing your race. Search online for other local events that are similar to yours and see what they are charging. If you overprice your event, you will limit the number of participants who will register for your race and it will set their expectations extremely high. However, if you are priced too low, you might not make enough money for your charity or organization for the time you’ve
invested. Take some time and do your due diligence. If this is your very first event, I recommend pricing your event slightly below other races around you. A slightly cheaper registration price might encourage participants to choose your race over a different one and won’t set their expectations too high.
Most race events use a tiered pricing structure when it comes to race registration. I recommend doing this as well. You will encourage participants to sign up early by offering a cheaper price when purchased months before the race begins. Then, the price bumps up once or twice the closer you get to race day. You can find more information about this in the Business 101 section of this eBook, under Revenue and Pricing.
Action item: Research what other local events are charging. Use a tiered pricing structure and,
if this is your first event, charge slightly less.
Social Media: Use social media to promote your event. This isn’t mandatory, but it is very smart and typically free. Facebook is the #1 social media site and is used by a wide variety of people. Think about who your target demographic is and how you’d like to connect with them. An Instagram page, Twitter account, or Snapchat presence might not be a bad idea either. Having a social media presence allows you to advertise and market your event for free. Inviting people and asking them to share your information is an easy way to get the word out.
Even though posting on social media is free, it might make sense to spend a little money and advertise on social media too. You can target different types of people in specific locations all around the world. It’s a great way to “zero in” on your target demographic. Make sure you spend your money wisely though. Advertising on social media is part art and part science.
Action item: Read Section 3 of this book, “Marketing and Promoting your Event”.
The Race Course: Depending on what type of event you are hosting, the race course itself will play a big role in the overall experience that runners will have during your event. You can provide the best swag, lots of food, and pre/post-race entertainment, but if the course itself is dangerous, not properly marked, or boring, you might not get stellar reviews or as many repeat participants next time. Look for city parks, local landmarks, and other unique locations that provide great scenery during a race.
Unless you are hosting a trail run, find a location that has wide, paved roads or sidewalks to run on. If you run on city streets, you will have to work with the city or county for approval. Running on roads can be potentially dangerous, and you might need a police or security escort to lead the runners or block traffic. For liability purposes, please do your due diligence and get the proper permits and approvals.
Properly marking the course should be a top priority before the race starts. Take your time and look at the course through the eyes of a runner. They will be focusing on running, so it will be your job to show them the way. You can mark the course the evening before the race or even the morning of the event. I don’t recommend marking it any earlier than that, because things can (and will) happen with your signage. Mark the course with something environmentally safe, like sidewalk chalk or flour. Don’t use paint. The easiest thing to do is to draw arrows that point runners in the right direction. You can also draw a big “X” at intersections or turns that you don’t want runners to take.
Don’t underestimate an ‘out-and-back’ course. This type of course has your participants run out a certain mileage or distance, and when they hit their turnaround point, they run back towards the finish line along the same path. For example, if your race is a 5k run (3.1 miles), they will run out 1.55 miles, turn around, and run the same 1.55 miles back to the finish line. This type of event allows runners to cheer each other on along the way. It also allows them to feel more comfortable with their surrounds, and they will know what to expect. Plus, each of your aid stations will get hit twice, reducing the number of volunteers and supplies you will need.
Action item: Get the proper permissions and permits for your race course. Mark the course no
earlier than the evening before the race.
Insurance: I recommend purchasing a one-day liability insurance policy for your event. It is a smart business expense that can offer you a lot of protection. Some event locations will actually require you to have insurance before giving you an approved permit. There are several online companies that allow you to purchase one-day insurance policies. You can search Google for a list of companies, or I have included a couple in the Action Item section below. Once you purchase the policy, they will email it to you in a PDF format. Print out the policy and have it on-hand with you on race day. Hopefully, you will never have to use it, but it will be good to have.
Action item: Visit DirectEventInsurance.com or TheEventHelper.com for a single day liability insurance policy.
Chip Timing Services: Chip timing is a service that a company provides to track individualized race times for each runner during your event. The company provides instant results that runners can see before they leave the race and the company will also post the results online for you hours after the event. Depending on your budget, it is a great value addition for your runners. There are many different chip options, but the most common are placed on the back of a runner’s bib or attached to their shoe.
Depending on what type of event you are putting on, chip timing services might be needed. Usually, runners want a “race” to be chip timed. If you are providing awards for the fastest runners, chip timing is the best way to go. If it is a “fun run” and not a “race”, you might be able to get away without chip timing expenses. The pricing and options will vary depending on what is available in your city. Chip timing can get pricey, but it legitimizes your race and gives you one less thing to worry about on race day.
Action item: Determine if your event is going to be a “race” or a “fun run”. Search online for other events in your area and see what company they use for chip timing services. Contact them for a quote.
Porta Potties: Depending on your location, budget, and the number of participants registered, you might want to rent some porta potties. Races are typically held in city parks or along public streets where restrooms aren’t readily available. Porta potties solve that problem. They can be pricey, but providing them is a great way to add value to your runners. A good rule of thumb is to have 1-2 porta potties for every 100 registered participants. Runners will use them, especially right before the race starts.
Action item: If your race event location doesn’t have public restrooms available, look into
renting porta potties. Provide 1-2 units for every 100 registrants.
Aid Stations: Aid stations provide runners with more than just water and Gatorade along the race course. They are also terrific cheering stations too! Put your most energetic volunteers at the aid stations to help motivate and congratulate the runners when they pass by. Depending on the date, location, distance, and size of your race, one or more aid station will most likely be needed. Each aid station will need to be set up before the event begins. Typically, that means setting them up early in the morning.
Stay in constant communication with the volunteers at each aid station. If something is wrong with the race course or if someone has an injury, the aid station volunteers will hear about it before you will. As race director, make sure the volunteers have your phone number, so they can let you know as soon as possible.
The longer the race, the more aid stations are needed. A good rule of thumb is to have one to two aid stations for a 5k, two to four for a 10k, and three to six aid stations for a half marathon. Any distance above that should have multiple aid station spread out every 2-3 miles max. If it is hot or humid, you might want to provide individual bags of ice, bananas, and oranges at the aid stations as well. When setting up, don’t forget the table, Igloos, ice, cups, extra gallons of water, Gatorade powder, a stir stick, trash cans, and trash bags.
Each aid station should have more water than you expect to use. If your aid stations aren’t set up on time, if they aren’t properly manned, or if they run out of water, you could really let the runners down, especially if it is hot and humid. Avoid the bad PR hit and max out your aid stations with volunteers and supplies. Remember, an out-and-back race course means each aid station will be hit twice by runners. It is a good way to maximize your aid stations and volunteers.
Action item: Make sure your aid stations are set up before the race begins. Stay in good communication with aid station volunteers throughout the day.
Volunteers: Depending on the size of your event, you will most likely need to round up some volunteers. Having extra volunteers is always a nice plan because some don’t make it on race day, even when they confirm the night before. They can help set up, manage the food tent, help with packet pickup, staff the aid stations, pass out finisher medals, or help clean up. There is always something to do. On race day, give them specific jobs so they know exactly what is expected of them.
If you are working with a charity partner for your event, I would start by asking for their help gathering volunteers. If possible, name someone from your charity partner to be your “volunteer coordinator”. Another great place to get volunteers is through schools, scouts, and other clubs that require their members or students to get service hours. At the end of the event, thank them whole-heartily. If you have any leftover race swag, like shirts and medals, let the volunteers grab one as a thank you. If your event is big enough to support the expense, print out volunteer t-shirts. It will help the runners know who is associated with the event.
Action item: Gather more volunteers than needed just in case some don’t show. Assign them specific duties so they know what to do.
Charity Partner: Runners love signing up for races, especially those that support an awesome cause. If your event is already centered around a charitable organization, then you are ahead of the game. Get their help when promoting the event, gathering volunteers, and helping with some expenses. Depending on who your event is for, charities typically have a tax-exempt status, meaning you might be able to get discounts on your event location, vendors, sponsors, race supplies, and much more. Meet with your charitable partner’s event coordinator multiple times leading up to the event to keep communication and expectations clear.
Even if you are hosting a race event to make money, partnering with a charity is not a bad idea. Runners typically like to support events that they know are helping a good cause. Please don’t mislead your runners though. Make it clear that only a portion of the registration revenue is going to the charity. Ask the charity partner if they can help promote your event and maybe even provide some volunteers on race day. This should be a win/win for both of you!
Action item: Is there a specific organization or charity that tugs at your heart? Hosting a
fundraising 5k is a great way to get your community together.
Police/Security: Depending on your location and the size of your event, it might be wise to have a police or security officer onsite. Some locations might even require it and should be able to give you contact information for hiring someone. If you aren’t sure where to turn, you can always call your local police department, explain your event, and ask for an off-duty police officer. Hopefully, they can help. If not, search online for local security companies. It’s best to look for a security company that hires off-duty officers.
If your event is running along busy streets, I highly recommend having a police presence. The officer might be able to bring cones or help you block traffic during your event. Whether they use their vehicle with flashing lights, or they physically block and regulate traffic, your event will be a lot safer. Simply having the presence of a police officer will make your runners feel a lot safer and will legitimize your event. Finally, if anything comes up, the police officer can handle it. Let the officer do his/her job and you won’t have to be the ‘bad guy’ as the race director.
Action item: Investigate whether you need police or security during your event. If so, contact your local police department for an off-duty officer.
EMT and Medical Help: ‘Safety first’ should be a top priority while you plan your event, especially on race day. No matter the size of your race, it’s always a good idea to have a first aid kit readily available. If you can get a volunteer who is an emergency response technician (EMT) or paramedic, that would be even better. The main medical concerns that could arise include cuts, scrapes and bruising from a runner falling, twisted ankles or sprained knees, and heat-related issues like dehydration and heat exhaustion. Having an EMT or paramedic available on race day will mean a quicker and more professional response to any potential issues.
Action item: Purchase a multi-purpose first aid kit and try to get an EMT or paramedic to volunteer on race morning.
Race Swag: Race swag is usually expected by participants. The three main types of swag include race event shirts, finisher medals, and race bibs. This is where providing extra value to your participants can really set yourself and your event apart. At a minimum, provide a high quality cotton event shirt for your runners. A moisture-wicking or “tech” shirt costs a little more,
but is a higher quality product. A typical event shirt will have the race event logo on the front and a list of the sponsors printed on the back.
Finisher medals, or ‘race bling’ as they’re sometimes referred to, will be expected. After announcing your event, one of the first questions you will be asked is, “Will there be finisher medals?” Runners LOVE bling! The cooler the finisher medal, the better. Participants in your event will take multiple pictures showing off their newly earned bling. They will post those pictures on their social media sites, giving you free advertising!
Race bibs are used to number and identify each runner. If your event is chip timed, this is typically where the chip timing company will place their timing chip. Bibs are generally thought of as a utilitarian tool and a custom design is often overlooked. Don’t let this be you! Custom bibs are not expensive, and they will set you and your event apart. Also, don’t forget to provide the safety pins!
I love to work with the AMAZING team at Kassmo Products for our race events. They offer great prices, high quality products, and unbeatable customer service. They also have the quickest turnaround time in the industry as well. Turnaround time for race medals is 30 days and shirts/bibs are 10-14 days. We use Kassmo.com as our one-stop shop for all of our race swag. They also have a great art team that will work with your event logo to customize each item you order. They will provide art proofs for your approval and can get creative on designs if needed. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Action item: Order race event shirts, finisher medals, and custom race event bibs from
Packet Pickup: Before the event starts, you will need to hand out the race bibs, safety pins, event shirts and any samples or additional race swag to the runners. This is called a packet pickup. If you have over 150 participants registered for your race, you might want to host packet pickup BEFORE race day. Typically, packet pickup is hosted the afternoon/evening before the race. Local shoe stores, or other specialty sports retailers, generally welcome race event packet pickup at their location and shouldn’t charge you anything. They will get free publicity and you will bring ideal customers into their place of business. If your event is helping a charitable organization, having packet pickup at a location of their choosing might help them gain more awareness.
With a fewer number of participants, you might be able to host packet pickup onsite before the race starts. This is a time-consuming process, so make sure you are properly staffed with volunteers and are fully prepared. Before the event begins, block out one full hour for race day packet pickup. You will get a steady flow of people checking in. I also recommend putting everything together in a bag the night before and writing the bib number on the outside of the bag. That way, when a runner checks in, you just have to find their bib number on your check- in sheet and hand him/her the bag. This will speed up race day packet pickup compared to finding their bib number and shirt size separately.
Action item: Determine if you need to host packet pickup on or before race day. Prepare the bags ahead of time and make sure you have enough volunteers to help.
Photographer: Having a photographer isn’t mandatory, but it is almost expected. If you can’t find a volunteer who will dedicate time to photograph and edit the pictures, I recommend hiring an affordable professional photographer. As a race director, providing pictures from the race is
a great way to build engagement, especially if you plan on hosting more events in the future. Look for a photographer who can put your race event logo as a watermark on the bottom of each picture.
Some big races do it, but I don’t recommend charging for pictures. Consider the photographer and the race event pictures as a part of your advertising budget. When you give the pictures away, runners will post them on their social media sites with your race event logo on the bottom. Your event logo and branding will be shared anytime a runner posts or shares a picture online. It provides great engagement and grass roots advertising. Once you receive the properly edited pictures, post them on your Facebook page to create even more social media engagement.
Action item: Get a volunteer or hire an affordable photographer to take and edit pictures of your
event. Place your event logo on the bottom of each picture as the watermark.
Awards: Race awards acknowledge the fastest runners in your event, above and beyond finisher medals. They aren’t mandatory, but runners really love them. It is easy to provide awards for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, though many events do more than that and include different age categories as well. A high-quality race event has awards for top three overall male and female, PLUS top three male/female in each decade age group (0-19, 20-29, 30-39… all the way up to 70+).
Depending on your budget, I would recommend offering some type of award. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or expensive. As a matter of fact, the more creative or unique your awards are, the more you will stand out. Awards are easy to track if your event is professionally chip timed. If your event is not chip timed, you need to dedicate one volunteer to keep track of the order the runners finish in. Awards are a great value addition that might make your event stand out over the competition.
Action item: Check your budget and see if you can provide awards to your fastest runners, above and beyond the finisher medals.
Race Planning Checklist
-Name your event
-Lock in a date and time
-Reserve your event location
-Design event logo
-Create registration page and price your event -Start taking event registration
-Begin advertising your event
-Map out your race course
-Purchase event insurance*
-Hire a chip timing company*
-Order Porta Potties*
-Plan out your aid stations along the race course -Start gathering volunteers
-Confirm your charity partner*
-Hire police or security help*
-Hire EMT or medical help*
-Purchase race swag (shirts, bibs and medals) -Prepare for packet pickup
-Purchase awards for top finishers -_______________________ -_______________________ -_______________________ -_______________________
Race day checklist – Things to prepare and pack
-Location, check in sheet, bags, shirts, bibs, safety pins, tables, tablecloths, chairs, banners/ advertising, handouts or samples, advertising flyers for future event(s)
-Signs to mark course, bicycle to ride course, first aid kit, aid station supplies, tables, tents, ice chests, Igloos, gallons of water, Gatorade powder, stir sticks, trash cans, trash bags, cups, ice
-Tents, trash cans, trash bags, tables, chairs, ice chests, food, food trays, serving utensils, plates, napkins, Igloos, gallons of water, Gatorade powder, stir sticks, ice, bottled water, PA system, bull horn, porta potties, finisher medals, finisher awards, generator, gasoline, flashlights, sunscreen, dolly/carts
Section Two: Business 101
Business 101: If you want to host multiple events, I recommend establishing a business or a non-profit organization. Taking your time and doing things the right way will legitimize you and your organization. This is important because it will build trust and more people will register for your events because of it. If your business or non-profit is already established, you are ahead of the game.
Starting from scratch: If you are just starting out, there are a few simple questions you need to ask yourself that will help you figure out what type of business you should create.
- How many events do you plan on hosting? Is this a one-time thing or do you plan on hosting multiple events over the next few years?
- Are you trying to make money from the event? Are all the proceeds going to charity or do you plan on being compensated for your time as well?
- How big are you trying to make your event? Will you have sponsors, vendors, large participant numbers, and multiple moving parts to manage?
Answering these questions will let you know what type of organization to create. You can establish a business as a Sole Proprietorship (or D.B.A.), you can create an L.L.C. (Limited Liability Company), or start a 501c3 (Non-Profit Organization). Please go above and beyond and do more research on what works best for your specific situation.
Sole Proprietorship or D.B.A.: If you only plan on a one-time event with a relatively small number of participants, you might be able to establish your business as a D.B.A. (doing business as). This is the easiest and cheapest type of business to create. Typically, the only thing you need to do is complete some paperwork at your county courthouse. Before taking my word for it, research these requirements for where you live. One potential issue with a company being established as a D.B.A. is that you can open yourself up to liability and lawsuits. If you plan on doing multiple events, large events, or races where there could be liability concerns (dangerous trails, excessive heat, etc.), I’d recommend looking into creating your business as an L.L.C.
L.L.C.: When your company is established as an L.L.C., any potential liability or lawsuits stay within the company. That means you can’t be personally sued for something that happened during one of your events. Unfortunately, we live in a litigious society and if you are hosting multiple events, with several moving parts, vendors, sponsors, and many participants, I’d highly recommend creating your business as an L.L.C. I recommend using a lawyer to properly establish your L.L.C. or use a reputable website like Legal Zoom.
501c3: A 501c3 is a non-profit organization, or charity, in the eyes of the IRS. These are a little more complicated to manage due to additional IRS rules and regulations. Having your race events business operate as a non-profit organization, allows for tax savings and the potential for additional sponsorship opportunities. You won’t have to pay sales tax as a non-profit and many organizations like to donate to charities. It is a lot easier to get donations of water and bananas from your local grocery store if you are a non-profit, compared to an L.L.C. (a ‘for
profit’ company). Again, we recommend using a lawyer to properly establish your non-profit organization or use a reputable website like Legal Zoom.
Separate Checking/Savings Account: Once you establish the business, your very next step should be to open a business checking and savings account at your local bank. Do not use your personal checking account for any business whatsoever. If you do, you are asking for trouble. Books get messy, revenue and expenses aren’t calculated properly, and things get missed. Keep it simple and do all business through the business checking account. The I.R.S. is not someone you want to get on the wrong side of.
Your registration website can easily deposit any registration fees into your business checking account. You can even use point-of-sale apps like Square with your business checking account. If you only take one thing away from this information, please make sure you open up a dedicated business checking account. Never use your personal checking account for your business.
Revenue/Expense Tracking: Since you are doing business the right way, and only using your business checking account to purchase necessities for the race business, it will be easy to track your revenue and expenses. Keep personal purchases separate. Revenue is any money you make that is deposited into your checking account (race registration fees, sales, donations, etc.). Your expenses are anything you spend money on to prepare, plan, and create the event (shirts, medals, food, chip timing, permits, etc.). Naturally, the remaining balance would be your profit: Revenue minus Expenses equals Profit.
Properly tracking your expenses doesn’t need to be complicated. Simply get a folder and keep all your receipts in it. You can tally up your expenses on a piece of notebook paper, or you can get creative and use an Excel spreadsheet if you are comfortable doing so. There are programs that you can use like QuickBooks or Wave Apps that can link to your business checking account. No matter what you do, diligence is required. I recommend updating your folder or spreadsheet at least once a week. Do not let it go too long or get out of control.
Categorizing your Expenses: Depending on how you file your taxes, you might need to file a Schedule C with your 1040 at the end of the year. There are only a handful of categories that your business expenses will fall into. By creating these categories ahead of time, you can easily categorize each transaction. By staying on top of this, you will make your life (and possibly your CPA’s life) so much easier during tax season. You can see each category in Part II of this link: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1040sc.pdf
Revenue and Pricing: One of the great things about operating a race events business is that participants register for your event BEFORE race day. That means you will have registration revenue in your account before you need to spend it. What a blessing! In almost every other industry, customers pay for the service AFTER it is provided. For example. if you get your roof replaced on your house, the contractor purchases the shingles and supplies, brings a team to your house, does all the work, and then invoices you later. They have to “float” thousands of dollars and hope that their customers pay quickly. If you set your registration page up 4-6 months before the race, like we recommend, you should have minimal out of pocket expenses. If possible, let the money in your business checking account build up until you need to purchase expenses for the event.
Many races have a “tiered” pricing structure, which I recommend. Registration fees start out at one price when the race is announced and then bump up the closer it gets to race day. The reason I recommend doing this is to incentivize as many people as possible to register early. Doing so allows you to have more registration revenue to purchase expenses with and it will give you an idea of how many people will participate in your event. If everyone signs up the day before the event, you will have no idea how many shirts are needed, finisher medals to order, how much food to purchase, etc.
A typical pricing tier looks something like this: Your event is announced, and the price is $x. Three months before the event, the price goes up by $5 or $10. Then, one month before the race, the price goes up again by another $5 or $10. Finally, if you take packet pickup or race day registration, the price might even go up another $5 or $10. That is a $15 – $30 price increase from start to finish. This tiered pricing structure is standard for the race events industry, but it still needs to be clarified on your website and registration page. Always be transparent with your participants. By announcing an impending price increase, you can motivate participants to sign up. Some of your best registration days will be the day before a price increase.
Expenses and Discounts: Estimating expenses is tough. Depending on the vendor, you might need to purchase finisher medals, shirts, and other items a month (or longer) before the race begins. If you are estimating, I recommend that you overestimate. You might end up with some remaining items after the event is complete, but you never want to run out of finisher medals when the last runners are crossing the finish line. They are the ones who need it the most! If you do place an order for shirts or finisher medals and registration outpaces your expectation, I recommend capping your event and selling out when you hit that number. Simply monitor the amount of daily registrations and then turn off registration. You can even create demand for the event and sell out quicker if participants know there are only a certain number of spots left.
Do your best and take detailed notes. You will get better over time if you use your previous experience, or precedence, to make decisions. You might come up short in some areas the first few times and way over in others. Most of your participants will register in the last month, possibly 50% or more. It makes it hard to order so many shirts and medals ahead of time, but you might have to take a leap of faith. Use your best judgment and precedence as much as possible.
Another way to save money and forecast expenses is by receiving a bulk discount from suppliers. Many companies you work with will offer a discount if you order a higher quantity of items. Ask your vendors and suppliers if they have price breakpoints. You might be able to save a considerable amount of money by actually ordering a few more products or supplies.
As a hypothetical, if you use a vendor for race shirts and they charge $5 for quantities 1-100 and $4 for quantities 101-200, you’d never want to order 95 shirts. 95 x $5 = $475. Order 101 shirts because, 101 x $4 = $404. Stretching for these price breakpoints might help you forecast expenses.
Sponsors: Working with sponsors is a great way to bring the cost of your event down. The sky is the limit for businesses that are looking for exposure. Some businesses may be interested in simply donating money to get their logo on your website, race shirt, or on an event banner. Some other companies might be more comfortable donating their time, services, or products. For example, your local grocery store might not want to donate money, but they might be able
to donate ice, water, bananas, or oranges. Be grateful for anything they offer because you don’t have to purchase whatever they donate!
Get creative in who you ask. The people running in your event could be the target demographic for many businesses including specialty running stores, sports stores, gyms, specialty workout classes, restaurants, grocery stores, etc. As a quick FYI, if your event is working as, or with, a non-profit organization, it might be easier getting donations. Some businesses will only donate to charitable organizations.
Withholding and Paying Taxes: When your event is over, and you’ve properly tracked your revenue and expenses, it is easy to figure out what your profit is. It’s simply the remaining balance, or whatever is left over. Depending on how your business was established, you will need to pay taxes on this amount. A good rule of thumb is to withhold (or set aside) 25%. Simply transfer 25% of the profit into the business savings account that you opened. Leave it there. Forget about it. Pretend it doesn’t exist! You will need it later when it is time to pay your quarterly or annual taxes. The other 75% is the amount that you get to “take home” and enjoy. Congrats!
Simple explanation: If your race revenue was $4,000 and your expenses were $3,000, your profit would be $1,000. You would transfer $250 (25%) into your business savings account and then simply write yourself a check out of the business checking account for the remaining balance of $750 (the other 75%). That would be your owner’s draw.
Paying taxes as a D.B.A. and L.L.C. generally lands on YOUR personal tax filling. These types of businesses are known as “pass through” entities. The business doesn’t get taxed on the earnings, you do. You will file this information with your normal tax return every year. There is simply an additional part, called a Schedule C, that you will need to complete. This should be easy for you or your CPA to do because you have been saving your receipts, keeping great record of your revenue, and you’ve been categorizing your expenses along the way.
If you are established as a business, you might need to pay your taxes quarterly. This is called paying quarterly estimates. Confirm how you need to pay your own taxes with the IRS. The funny thing is that quarterly estimates aren’t every three months. For the federal government, the first quarter is January through March, which is normal, but the second quarter is only April and May (two months). The third quarter is back to normal, being June through August. Finally, the fourth quarter is September through December, four months. Weird. Just make sure you stay on top of your tax filings because there are potential penalties if you miss filing. You don’t want to mess with the IRS.
Written Race Recap: Review everything you purchased and used for the event. Did you order too much of something? Not enough of something else? Write down the number of participants who registered, and more importantly, how many participants actually ran. Compare what you bought versus what was used. You can use this information in the future at your next event to hone in on proper expenses and increase your donations/profit margins. The better you get at a written race recap, the better you will be at estimating expenses moving forward. Don’t let too much time go by. Keep it in mind and do it shortly after your event concludes.
Section Three: Marketing and Promoting your Event
Overview: Marketing and promoting your event is probably the hardest part of hosting a race. Spreading the word and getting people to register for your race can be a challenge. It takes time, daily effort, and a lot of patience. Even if you have an awesome location and your event is for a great cause, how are people going to hear about your event? Commercials, radio advertising, newspapers, and other sources of “traditional” advertising are too expensive. Plus, you won’t be sure if your message is going to be heard or seen by your target demographic. If you don’t have a big advertising budget, I would stay away from traditional advertising.
I recommend using word of mouth and social media. This type of marketing is usually cheap, but it will take some creativity and effort. Since you will be working with multiple vendors, sponsors, and possibly even a charitable organization, ask them to help you spread the word about your event. They can put up a flyer at their place of business, tell their clients in an email newsletter, and even give your event a shout out on their website and social media platforms. Anything they can do is going to help and is better than nothing.
How to use Social Media: Social media is the new word of mouth. Information about your race event, a picture of your event logo, or a single post about your event can easily be shared and can quickly gain momentum if done properly. Do not underestimate the power of social media. Below is some general Social Media advice first, before diving deeper into the four most popular sites.
- Only use the social media platform(s) that you are comfortable with. It will show if you don’t know how to use a platform. People will see the sloppy or out of place posts and it can actually hurt your race event and branding. There is nothing wrong with staying in your comfort zone.
- Since each platform has its own feel to it, you need to create a new and unique post native to that site. Meaning, don’t create a post on Facebook and then copy/paste it onto Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. Each platform has its own limitations and nuances. You can use the same content, picture, or video, but make sure they are properly edited for each platform when you post it. Take your time and do it the right way.
- Set up your profile properly. Make sure you have a properly cropped profile picture and background image. Unfortunately, each social media site has different dimensions for each of these. You might have to get creative with your logo/branding and possibly have multiple versions of your logo for each platform. This is important though, because this is what people will see and judge you on. Each platform also has a place where you can write a description about your page and place a URL link. Make sure they are both up to date and that the link sends them to your website or race registration page.
- Post frequently, at different times throughout the day. Since there are so many people on the top four social media sites, each platform has its own unique algorithm for distributing posts. You’ll notice that different times of the day will work better than others. Try different types of posts as well. You can post a standard text-only message, you can post a picture, and you can post a video. You’ll find different engagement with
each. You need to try them all and see what works best for you and your target demographic.
- Engagement is key. If someone comments on one of your posts, engage with them! Thank them for commenting. Like their comment, reply, and ask them if they can make it to the race. The more you engage, the more community you build. This is extremely important because the more likes, comments, and shares a post has, the farther it will spread. Each platform’s algorithm rewards engagement and community.
- Hashtags make your posts instantly searchable. Properly using hashtags can make your brand or race event instantly discoverable by people who might not have ever found you otherwise. You can even search through the day’s most popular hashtags and include them in your posts. Even though they are more popular on other sites, hashtags still work on Facebook.
With over two billion users, Facebook is king when it comes to using social media for promoting your event. If you are only going to use one social media platform, use Facebook. You can post in the traditional manner, but Facebook has several other options that will help you grow awareness for your event, like Facebook Events, Facebook Stories, and Facebook Ads.
Inviting someone to like your business page doesn’t work like a personal Facebook page does. To keep spamming down, Facebook doesn’t allow you to ask random people to like your page. However, if someone has interacted with one of your posts, you can invite them. After each post, click on the names of the people who have liked your post and the option to invite them will pop up. This is the best way to organically grow your audience and number of page likes. I recommend doing this after every post you submit and even go back to your previous posts to invite everyone you might have missed.
Creating an event on Facebook is the perfect place to get the word out about your event. Use your race event logo as the Facebook Event’s profile picture. Fill in the date, time, and all other information about the race. Be as specific as possible because this might be the first and only place people hear about your event. As the event moderator, Facebook will allow you to invite your personal Facebook friends to the event. I recommend inviting as many people as possible.
Facebook “Stories” are currently an underused part of Facebook. The pictures and videos will disappear after 24 hours, but they bypass the algorithm and put your content front and center on everyone’s page who likes you. You need to get as much attention as possible when posting and this is a great way to do it. Get creative with your posts and change it up. Don’t post the same thing all the time. Try to provide value as much as possible as well.
Facebook Ads can be an effective tool in spreading the word about your event. They cost money, but you can target specific cities, audiences, and people relatively cheaply. You can simply boost your Facebook Page to grow your audience, you can boost your Facebook Event to get more people interested, or even boost a single post that you create. Facebook Ads can be a little daunting, so I recommend that you research “how to create a Facebook ad” on Google and YouTube first.
Instagram is all about the visual. Whether you are posting a picture of your event logo, sharing pictures of your beautiful race course, sending out a motivational quote, or just sending out a meme, you can get a lot of traction on Instagram. The more content you share the better, but don’t over think it. Stay diligent and post relative pictures and information about your upcoming race. The point is to build awareness, an audience, and generate some excitement for your upcoming event. So, don’t post the same thing over and over again. Get creative!
InstaQuirks… For some weird reason, Instagram doesn’t allow URLs to be clickable when you type them in your image’s caption. That makes the link in your bio extremely important. You can change it as often as you like, but for the purpose of a race event, I’d recommend that it simply links them to your website or your race event registration page. There is no use in posting your URL in the caption of an image. What you can do is simply post “click on the link in my bio” within a caption. That will have to be your ‘call to action’. Also, paragraph formatting within an Instagram caption can be a little goofy. If you need to, use “.” or “-“ as a place holder to separate paragraphs. Even though Instagram is all about the visual, I have noticed that some posts with a relatively long caption can get some decent attention. Every other image on Instagram has a short caption, so mix it up from time to time to stand out.
On Instagram, hashtags are mandatory. You can put them in your image’s caption or simply reply to your own post and place them in the first comment. Think of all the important and specific hashtags that your target demographic might be following or posting about. This will help your event become more discoverable by the people you want to register for your race. As an example, if you are hosting a 5k in San Antonio for cancer awareness, you might want to post the following hashtags: #5k #Run #Running #Charity #Fundraiser #SanAntonio #Texas #BeatCancer #StandUpToCancer #RunChat. If anyone searches or clicks on one of those hashtags from another post, your post will pop up as well.
Instagram Stories are a big hit. They are a great way to release quick, up-to-date content, but it disappears after 24 hours. If you have an established Instagram account or presence, I would highly recommend that you use Instagram Stories to promote your event. If you are just starting out, give it a try. However, your main focus should be on building your content and presence. If you don’t have enough previous posts, some people might not take you as seriously as they should. With disappearing content, Instagram Stories makes that hard to do.
Twitter is America’s water cooler. This is where people go to discuss topical events and ideas. However, I don’t think Twitter is an easy-to-use resource for marketing and promoting race events. It is hard to build an audience without putting in a lot of time, effort, and energy. If you have limited time, I would use Facebook first, Instagram second, and then Twitter third (if at all).
One thing that makes Twitter unique is its search function. You can go to “search.twitter.com”, type in a keyword or phrase, and then search for it against a location or zip code. This will pull up everyone’s public post containing that phrase and area. This could be a unique strategy if you are targeting people in a specific zip code or city. For example, you can search for people who are talking about ‘running’ in ‘Dallas’ and then you can tweet them to let them know about your upcoming event. However, this could be a time-consuming process.
Twitter was the originator of hashtags. You can type in a hashtag and see who is talking about #running. Chat with them and provide value. See if anyone is asking a question that you might be able to answer. Try to provide value first and not just bug people about your upcoming event. You can actually hurt your brand and event if you come off too spammy online.
Snapchat pioneered the idea of disappearing content. Not only do the “snaps” you send to other people disappear after a certain time, your public snaps disappear as well. The 24 hour “story” feature that we now see on Facebook and Instagram all started on Snapchat. Similarly, it is hard to build an audience and awareness about an upcoming event when the content keeps disappearing. Unless you are currently active on Snapchat with a decent audience size, I wouldn’t recommend using Snapchat to promote your event.
However, I do recommend using Snapchat’s geofilters. You can create a fun and unique filter, specifically targeted for your event time and location. Think of it as a delay in advertising because your return on investment will come during and after the event. People will take pictures with your filter and share them on all of their social media platforms, not just Snapchat. This is a great way to build brand engagement and awareness about your event, but unfortunately it comes after your race. It might sound counterintuitive, but the cost is relatively low, and it is a great value addition for your participants. Who knows, it might give one of their friends who saw their post a good reason to sign up for your next event. Snapchat has a very simple and user-friendly tool at snapchat.com/create. You can use their software or upload your own .png file. There are tutorials on YouTube and Google if you want to find out more.
About the Author
Jon FitzSimon is one of those people who actually enjoys running. He has run in 5ks, half marathons, marathons, and even an ultra-marathon. His favorite running events are off the beaten path, not the large capacity runs filled with thousands of people. After running for a few years, Jon started searching for a unique challenge. He wanted to find a race event that had two half marathons in one day, one race in the morning and another race in the evening. He was willing to travel, but he couldn’t find a race like that anywhere, so he created one and the Double Half Marathon was born.
It turns out that other runners from all over the United States were interested in this unique challenge as well. Over 200 runners signed up for his very first event. Logistically, it was tough to plan. Two half marathons, at two different locations, in one day meant twice the setup, twice the tear down, and twice the number of volunteers, but it gave Jon great experience in race planning. After the first event, he was hooked.
Jon and his wife Jaclyn have been operating their race events company, Inspired Race Events, for over five years now. Their number one goal is to stay unique and provide runners of all ages and ability levels with something new and exciting. Most of their events are pet, stroller, and family friendly. Since that first event, they’ve hosted a variety of events including double half marathons, trail runs, color runs, beer runs, 5ks, 10ks, half marathons, scavenger hunts, adventure races, and endurance events. They’ve even helped consult and manage race events for charities, companies, conferences, and friends.
Jon and Jaclyn have four children and live in San Antonio, TX. Even though starting a race events company wasn’t something they originally set out to do, it has been a blessing for their family. Their two oldest boys help at each race and many of their volunteers are from Jon and Jaclyn’s family. “We wouldn’t be able to do it if it wasn’t for the amazing support we continuously receive from our family and friends,” Jon says. “We didn’t expect this to turn into a business when we started, but we are so grateful that it has.”
Note from the Author
Nothing in this ebook is theory. Everything written is practical, firsthand knowledge and advice from my experience while operating a race events business over the last five years. I have tried to be as specific as possible to help you find your way. I’ve learned things the hard way, and after reading this, hopefully you won’t have to. Thank you for letting me share this information with you. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to email me anytime.
Jon FitzSimon jon@InspiredRaceEvents.com
This material is being provided by Inspired Race Events, the opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and may not encompass all details necessary to successfully operate your own business. It is highly recommended to seek outside counsel or hire a consultant to manage your specific needs. The information herein has been derived from sources/vendors believed to be accurate and up to date as of this publishing, no assurance of quality is being made of service providers mentioned herein of the services or products offered outside of those mentioned. This information should not be construed as business, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purposes of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. Inspired Race Events does not provide business, legal or tax advice, research and due diligence is required if the services of an Attorney or Qualified Tax Professional (CPA) is needed. This is neither a solicitation nor obligation to purchase any services available through service providers mentioned herein and should not be relied upon as such. Service providers mentioned are used as a reference to the types of services necessary to operate your event, Inspired Race Events and Services Providers mentioned herein are separate and unaffiliated entities. Due Diligence is necessary when hiring third-parties and suppliers. Seek counsel from your local jurisdiction or reference your State and Local Laws when operating a race event in your area, permits, insurance coverage, restrictions in every jurisdiction are specific to each area. Additional research and Due Diligence will be needed when selecting your company name and logo to avoid copyright infringements, pricing, and which types of events to host. Each geographic location is particular and unique, types of locations and time preparation for events will fluctuate, no guarantee is being made to profitability or success of every event, utilizing these tools will provide you the basic understanding on how to plan your next event.