There is no easy way around a tradeshow and the best protection you can have is to prepare with a budget for the show. Otherwise, before you know it you’ll be throwing money left and right at anything and everything.

In breaking down a tradeshow you have your major purchases, supporting purchases and minor purchases. The show you are exhibiting at will determine your focus and spending power for each area. By setting aside a total dollar amount and then breaking it down by importance and percentage you will be more confident in sticking to your budget and not feeling overwhelmed at the large amount of cash you are going to throw down. This post is going to outline a budget for attending the show. New product develemt and cost will be broken down in a second post that is more related with your business plan and marketing for the show.

Starting off with the big ticket items for NSS:
Booth Fee This is at the top of my list because while it might not be the most expensive thing on the list, it is the first thing you pay for, and you must pay via cash/check – no credit cards for this one. For a small business I find this important to note because cash on hand is more variable and you don’t want to be caught ready to launch new product and no booth space to show it at!

Booth Expense Your NSS booth fee pretty much covers your “land” on the tradeshow floor. Think of it like this: you buy the land then build the house. Your booth fee is “buying the land” and your booth expense is “building the house”. Everything budgeted in your booth expense will be the house building portion of your budget. Including but not limited to: walls, hardware, electrical, flooring and aesthetic.

Booth Furnishings Your booth, once the house is built, now needs to be filled. No one will walk into an empty booth. Have you ever toured a home show and thought “Wow, everything is so perfect!” that is because the homes are shown fully furnished. It makes them more buyable and more welcoming. Having a place to seat your buyers (even though they most likely won’t sit) is enticing to sore tradeshow feet. Don’t underestimate the power of a welcoming interior.

Shipping When building your booth consider transportation. Even if you store onsite from year to year you have to get it out there in the first place. You will be hating life if you don’t work that into the process. After all, a 130 lb. average woman is going to have a hard time hanging sheet metal by herself with chicken arms. Consider booth construction in your shipping. More compact shipments are cheaper to ship. Lighter weighted walls make for a less expensive freight quote. Broken backs cost money too. 

Travel Whether you live next to the convention center or on the opposite side of the country you will want to make sure that you have budgeted in gas/flights, hotel and food – eating out for every meal can get expensive!

Unions Like it or not, most tradeshows use them. It helps with liability and trying to coordinate and schedule a couple thousand booths in one convention center. I include this in the budget because depending on your contract, you will be most likely required to hire the union for some of your setup. NSS specific rules include no standing on chairs, hanging lighting in the amount of 7+ lights, electrical, hanging hard walls (most people can get around this) and anything that requires the use of power tools. If you want catered food, you are supposed to hire the union. If you wand special foam walls you are encouraged to hire the union. Be aware of Freeman’s cost (NSS’ official contracted labor union) when you start planning so you can be aware of the costs associated with it when deciding what to hire out.

Promotional Material While your product should be budgeted with your business plan, all your promo pieces pertaining to promoting your business at the show should be included in this budget. Chances are that you won’t get the exact same booth number year after year so this will be a “throw-away” expense that should be budgeted each time you do a tradeshow. Promo pieces to include in the budget should be direct-mail pre-show promos (and postage), press kits for the media that introduce your business to them, post-show mailers, catalogs, line sheets, giveaways, business cards and product samples.

Signage Even though this is at the bottom of the list, it gets it’s own mention because without great signage and a visable booth number, all that hard work promoting your business pre-show will have been fruitless. Don’t overlook the most important element of your booth – your business name should be front and center as well as easily recognizable.

With all that said, start thinking about these big ticket items first and then come back next week for the breakdown with a budget worksheet to help you get started!