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How to Budget for Tradeshows and Events

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At first glance, tradeshow marketing can seem like an expensive endeavor. From creating your exhibition to managing the logistics of the event, even medium-sized tradeshows can mean thousands in expenses.

Like any form of marketing, however, tradeshow expenses shouldn't be thought of as costs, but as an investment: With the right exhibit and the right team, the ROI of a tradeshow can beat the ROI any other form of marketing.

In this brief guide, we'll look at the costs associated with exhibiting at a tradeshow, from basic expenses such as banner stands and exhibition stands to the cost of travel, on-the-day expenses, and entertainment of prospective clients and customers.

Essential Costs of Tradeshow Marketing and Exhibiting

Many tradeshow expenses are unavoidable. Whether you're exhibiting at a small industry event or a massive convention, you'll need to pay for the floor space your exhibit uses, the exhibit itself, and your marketing materials.
 
The cost of renting floor space and creating your exhibit will take up approximately 40% of your budget, according to the Tradeshow Institute. That figure makes the cost of your exhibit a good benchmark for establishing your tradeshow budget.


On average, 28% of the total budget is spent on renting floor space, and 12% is spent on designing an exhibit. The cost of floor space varies based on the event and the space's location within the event.

Floor space costs $22.32 (£13.28) per square foot, on average, although that number will vary based on the event. You can often rent floor space at a discount by paying months in advance. Call the event organizer to ask about an 'early bird' discount.

A small tradeshow exhibit takes up approximately 100 square feet—normally the minimum booth size offered by organizers. Therefore, the cost of a 10 x 10 tradeshow exhibit is approximately $2,232 or £1,328 (100 square feet x £13.28 per square foot).

The cost of outfitting your tradeshow exhibit can also vary massively based on your needs and whether you're building a booth to be used at multiple shows or renting a stand for just one exhibition.

As a general rule, you should allocate about half as much of your floor space budget to developing your exhibition stand, banners, and event furniture. For an exhibition that really attracts attention, you may want to increase your budget.

Travel and Entertainment Costs

The second largest set of costs for tradeshow exhibitors is travel, accommodation, and on-location entertainment. From hotel rooms to dinners with prospects and customers, the costs of fully taking part in a tradeshow can quickly add up.

On average, about 21% of a tradeshow marketing budget is spent on accommodation, according to the Tradeshow Institute. Of course, that amount varies based on the tradeshow's location: Shows located close to your business will cost far less to travel to.

Using our sample costs above, in which floor space costs £1,328 and outfitting your tradeshow exhibit costs £600, you should expect to budget anywhere from £500 to £1,500 or more on accommodation, travel, and entertainment for your tradeshow.

Is your business a growing startup on a tight budget? Save money on travel and accommodation by booking as early as possible, staying in apartments booked on AirBnB.com instead of hotel rooms, and carpooling to tradeshows that are local.

The final factor in this segment of tradeshow expenses is entertainment. Many of the world's largest tradeshows have a culture of post-event dinners, parties, and other networking events; aside from being great fun, they provide great opportunities to network with influencers and prospective clients and customers.

If you think a particular tradeshow has the potential to help your business meet industry influencers, media insiders, or sources of funding, don't be afraid to give your sales team an event budget for dinners and drinks with business prospects.

Are you using your next tradeshow as an opportunity to meet people who could help your business grow? YFS Magazine has a great tradeshow networking guide for young professionals and sales reps for helping close deals after the show ends.

Logistical and Practical Costs

Unless your next tradeshow is located close to your place of business, you'll need more than a moving trailer to get your exhibit to the right location. The greater the distance to your tradeshow, the larger your logistical budget needs to be.

Most tradeshow exhibitors spend around 9% of their budget on transporting their exhibit to and from their latest tradeshow, according to the Tradeshow Institute. Like all expenses, of course, transport costs can vary to a huge extent.

Is your exhibit complicated, delicate, and valuable? If so, the cost of insuring your banners, promotional signag,e and other items can increase your transportation-related costs. Events in faraway cities also obviously incur greater transport costs than those nearby.

Because the costs of exhibiting at a tradeshow far from your place of business can be quite high, it's often best to start with a local tradeshow. Search Display Wizard's exhibition calendar (UK) to find easily accessible local tradeshows in your region, county, or city.

Logistics expenses don't stop once you reach the tradeshow venue. Remember to budget for tradeshow services such as lighting, carpet rental, security badges, high-speed Internet connectivity, and electrical wiring if your exhibition requires them.

The cost of services on the day of the tradeshow can vary hugely based on your exhibit's requirements and the event itself. You should always check the cost of those services with the event organizer, but it's best to set aside a minimum of 10% of your budget for on-the-day logistical and infrastructure expenses.

Promotional and Sales Costs

Do you have thousands of brochures to give away? Interactive displays for prospects to use? Branded gifts, accessories, and business cards? Promotional material can add a significant amount to your total tradeshow budget, especially if it's unique.

Just as with the other expenses associated with tradeshows, it's best not to think of the promotional items you give away as costs, but as investments. An effective brochure or discount coupon can deliver a large return on investment for your business.

In addition to the cost of promotional materials, you need to keep in mid two sales costs when exhibiting at a tradeshow: the commission paid to your sales reps, and the opportunity cost of the show itself (the cost of possible business that you miss out on by spending time away from the office).

(You can learn more about the opportunity cost in Display Wizard's How to Budget for a Tradeshow guide.)

How Much Should You Budget for Your First Tradeshow?

From floor space to exhibit design, logistics to accommodation, the various costs of tradeshow marketing can add up. On average, tradeshows can cost anywhere from £1,000 for a small event to £20,000 or more for a large exhibit at a very popular industry show.

Just like any other form of marketing, tradeshows are all about achieving the right return on investment. Though £5,000 might be a lot for a small, growing business to spend on a one-off event, it could well produce £100,000 in revenue.

Beyond the great return on investment that tradeshows can make possible, there's also the possibility to optimize your spending over time. As you exhibit at a greater number of shows, you'll begin to discover ways to reduce certain parts of your tradeshow budget and increase others to achieve an even better return on investment.

Is your business ready to exhibit at a tradeshow? If you want to generate valuable sales leads and increase your brand recognition with the right audience, exhibiting at a tradeshow might be the best decision your business makes.


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Peter Symonds is a tradeshow marketing expert from Display Wizard, which supplies exhibition stands, roller banners, and other promotional materials for use at tradeshows and events.

LinkedIn: Peter Symonds

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