Trade Show Budgeting for SMEs

At one point of another, most businesses that sell products or services consider attending Trade Showa trade show. For some businesses trade shows and conferences are a must and for others they are a waste of money. Sometimes the only way to find out is to exhibit at one or two.

I will not address the ins and outs of trade shows in this article. Instead I will just focus on how to budget for exhibiting at a trade show or conference for small to medium sized enterprises.

If you are a regular at trade shows and conferences then this article might be boring to you but feel free to continue. You never know what you might learn.

To budget correctly for a trade show is not difficult but it does include many factors.

  • Where will the trade show be held?
    a show in London, UK or Beijing, China will be have much different costs than one held in Omaha, USA.
  • Who are your target customers?
    your booth appearance and the gifts, (swag), you offer will vary depending on who you wish to sell to.
  • Amount of time allotted to follow-up.
    will you need to do follow-up in the conference city? Will you need to travel to customer’s offices? Will you be able to do follow-up from your home office?

So let’s begin the budgeting process. I suggest using a spreadsheet format so you can easily list all the cost items and the daily and total costs next to them.

Sample tradeshow spreadsheet (c) 2013 Jon Shore

Sample trade show spreadsheet for 2 people for 5 days

This is a very simple sample spreadsheet, in USD, for a trade show where 2 people are going for 5 days. Some of the Extension cells contain formulas for multiplying the Price times 5 days. The show is 3 days and there are 2 days added for travel days. There are no days added for follow-up and there are certainly other items that can be added to your spreadsheet.

It is very important that you include as many items as you can imagine. And then add at least 5% of the total for miscellaneous since other things always come up. Better to be surprised that you have money left over from your budget than you are caught short in a foreign city.

Essential items for your spreadsheet include:

  • Booth
  • Furnishings for the booth
  • Gift items
  • Printed items
  • Staff
  • Advertising
  • Hotel
  • Local transportation
  • Flight
  • Meals

What else can you think of?


Now you must consider the costs associated with follow-up. Without follow-up you are wasting your money exhibiting at a trade show or conference. Do you need to meet with your customers in person to close a sale or solidify your relationship with them? Do you need to travel to their offices? In some cultures this face to face business and personal relationship building is essential. For some businesses follow-up can be done via email, phone and video conferencing. Make sure you know what your potential customers expect. My suggestion to most of my clients is that if you do not have a budget for follow-up do not waste your money exhibiting at a trade show. Trade shows are advertising and networking events. Follow-up is when sales are made.

I usually suggest adding at least 50% of the costs associated with the trade show for follow-up. Especially if travel is involved.

If you have questions or need help choosing and preparing for a trade show feel free to contact me at JBS Group, LLC.


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