Tradeshows on a Shoestring Budget

Jodi Bash on provides some common sense tactics when approaching tradeshows for the first time or with a small budget. It’s important to note that a tradeshow program is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor, so you want to ensure you are aware of all the costs associated with it. Trust me, your booth design cost is the least of your worries. Booking booth space, electricity and carpet, as well as staff accommodations, travel and meals all add up very quickly. But, if you’re focused on what you want to accomplish at tradeshows and understand how to work them, they can be very integral to your marketing plan and offer an excellent ROI. Some things I’ve employed when doing tradeshows:

Walk the show first. If you are interested in a particular show and haven’t previously exhibited in it, attend or “walk” it the first year. If it’s worthwhile and passes your requirements, book a booth space the following year. The well established shows always come around again.

Book a standard 10 ft x 10ft space. Apply the extra money you would have put towards a bigger space, to pre-show and at-show promotion. I have used direct mail programs to drive interest amongst attendees prior to the show, with an incentive to visit us. Many shows are big so get your booth on the attendee’s must-see list before they arrive. Similarly, create interest while you’re there. We’ve been employing a promotion at some three-day conferences where we give out cool t-shirts with our company slogan on it. We give the t-shirts out the first and second day, and let the attendees know that if they want to qualify for our “iPod Giveaway” at the end of the second and third day, they must be wearing their t-shirts. What happens? You have hundreds of people showing up the second and third day wearing the shirt. Now we having walking billboards driving traffic and interest to our small 10ft booth.

Qualify and collect leads. Your purpose at a tradeshow should primarily be to meet as many new prospects and generate awareness. If you’re there to make immediate sales, you will be very disappointed. Tradeshows are fantastic for face-to-face contact with as many prospects under one roof at one time. To take advantage of it, your staff needs to understand how qualify prospects quickly. Spend no more than 5 minutes. Record the information, give the lead a rating (1, 2, 3) to prioritize who to follow up with after the show, and then follow up! This is where most companies fail.

Here is what Jodi Bash has to say:

Tradeshows can be one of the most expensive forms of marketing. Paying to act as an event sponsor with a booth and travel for employees often runs into the tens of thousands of dollars.

But there are options to tradeshow sponsorships that will still get you out in front of the same prospects but cost much less and provide more value.

The first piece of advice: Don’t sponsor every tradeshow you think you need to. Make an initial list of the shows that you believe your target audience attends—and cut it in half immediately. Tradeshow attendance is declining overall, and tradeshows can quickly suck up your entire budget—so pick and choose wisely.

Know how many attendees are expected and whether they are the decision makers for your offerings. Who else has a booth at this show? Your competitors? Your partners? Can you work with another company to share space?

Second, understand the full cost of attendance. Often, the space-rental agreement doesn’t include booth furniture, or travel to certain areas of the country may be particularly expensive. Also keep in mind the cost of pre- and post-show marketing efforts.

Those are all important pieces of information to consider before you sign and tradeshow contract.

Attend, Don’t Sponsor
Signing up to sponsor an event even with a minimal 10 x 10 foot booth can dent the pocketbook of a small budget. Try to limit sponsorships to only those events that you know will give you the return in awareness and leads that you are expecting. For the remainder, especially for new shows that you may not have attended before, send a sales representative or two as attendees to work the crowd.

A main function of these tradeshows is networking and talking to prospects; who better to do this than your sales reps? They can then let you know how valuable this show might be in the future, based on the type of prospects they meet.

They will probably talk to many of the same people who would be stopping by a booth anyway. Tip: Hang out near your competitors’ booths. That will give an indication of who at the event is interested in the types of products or services you offer. The out-of-the-booth conversation can often be more in-depth and informative.

Demo Suite vs. Booth
Another option to sponsorship is to host a suite in the hotel that is home to the event (if it’s in a hotel.) If the event is in a convention center, a nearby hotel would do. In a nice, large suite, your company can put on a demo “event” for several hours. Offer food and drinks, and have professional know-how people on hand for prospects to talk to.

Promote the event with flyers around the tradeshow. To maximize attendance, be sure to plan around tradeshow functions like presentations and networking sessions.

These non-tradeshow functions can be a great way to have informal yet meaningful discussions with the attendees. The cost of a suite and food for one night will certainly be less than a full booth set up for several days. Plus, you get quality time with the people you know are interested in your offerings, not just your giveaways (which will end up going to attendees’ kids, anyway.)

Presenting a Paper
The value of conferences to attendees falls into two categories: social and educational. The education part comes from the papers presented. The technical level or depth of the papers will vary by show and industry.

As a vendor, presenting a paper can be a great way to get into front of your audience. It can also help increase your reputation as a thought leader in the industry—a company up on the latest technology and methodologies, etc. You have to avoid a full-on company commercial, of course: Your audience is looking for a balanced informative session. A case study is often perfect for this.

The catch is that sometimes the tradeshow entities require a sponsorship to present. This is not always the case, and I would recommend submitting papers (there’s no cost) to see where you can get in.

The more problem/solution-specific and valuable the paper is, the better the chance that you will be accepted. The more company-focused it is, the worse your chances. The cost, should your paper get selected, is minimal: travel expenses. Usually, the show will pay for your attendance at the event as a speaker, so you have networking opportunities as well.

If you are already sponsoring an event, try to negotiate a paper presentation into your costs. The extra exposure is great, and the added perception of your company as industry thought leader is invaluable.

1 Comment

Filed under Business, Exhibiting, marketing, Selling, Small Business Marketing, Trade Shows

One response to “Tradeshows on a Shoestring Budget

  1. Chris Hoskin

    I hope a post I made earlier adds to this conversation. It can be found at

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