For many small businesses, exhibiting at a tradeshow is a major investment. Here are some quick tips to help you cut costs:
1. See if you qualify for any grants
For example, in the UK, UKTI's Tradeshow Access Program (TAP) provides funding in the form of grants for eligible businesses to attend overseas trade shows.
2. Make the most of free marketing
Make the most of the free publicity on offer by the event-team. They often send out press releases and use social media to publicise their event; make sure you have provided them with the information they need to include you in these promotions.
They will also often have an exhibitor list on their website, so give them a well-written description of your company for that. And if you are unsure what they offer, ask them! They might even do a special feature on you if it is your first time exhibiting at their show, if you can think of any angle that would appeal to their visitors - tell them about it.
And of course, your own social media channels can really boost awareness. Maybe reach out to some friendly co-exhibitors and see if you can both share links to each other along with information about the show. You will pick up some new followers and customers that way.
3. Keep travel costs to a minimum
There are so many ways to save on your travel costs, mostly common sense. Firstly, staying local means no hotel charges or train/plane fares. But if you live somewhere that makes this unfeasible, aim to book travel fares and hotel reservations as early as possible to get the best rates. If possible, share hotel rooms with a colleague or friend who is also exhibiting.
4. Book early and keep in touch!
Some exhibitions will offer discounts for early bookings, so get in there early. And if you fancy an upgrade later on, check in with them again just before the booking deadline is reached. Event organisers despise empty spaces and may offer you a heavily discounted or even free upgrade.
5. Scale it down
Big is not always better. You can create an eye-catching smaller stand with the right design. One great idea is to tape out the smallest stand area available on the floor in your office. See what you need, and what fits. If you need a larger space, try the next size up. Be prepared and realistic about how much space you actually need.
6. Consider renting, or even sharing, a stand
You can rent an exhibition stand for a fraction of the price it would cost you to buy one. In your first couple of years this might be a necessity, but also allows you to work out what you want from a stand, and gives you flexibility on size and style.
You may even be able to share a stand if you have a good relationship with another small business. This could cut your costs drastically, although it will obviously have knock-on effects you'll need to consider.
7. Get creative with props and supplies
Most tradeshows will offer furniture and accessories to hire, but at a high cost. It might be more economical to buy most items yourself. Look at places like IKEA, B&M Bargains or larger supermarkets. Even as a one-off it should work out more cost-effective, but obviously if you plan to attend lots of tradeshows you will definitely save yourself a packet doing this. It also gives you the chance to stand out from the crowd a little bit, as you can choose your own colour schemes and styles.
Most trade shows will charge for chairs too. If you are really on a tight budget, bring your own camping chairs!
8. Choose promotional items carefully
Shop around for promotional items, this is a competitive market and you can guarantee that there will be many special offers and bulk-buy discounts to choose from online. To avoid losing your promotional freebies to every attendee who passes your stall, consider placing them near the back of your stand. This way you are saving them for leads who are genuinely interested in your business.
Another option is to forget all about the traditional pens, badges, mugs etc. and instead hold a prize draw where prospective customers put their business card or contact information in a box and the winner(s) enjoy a complimentary product or service. This should weed out anybody who isn’t genuinely interested in your company.
9. Bring your own food and drink
If at all possible, bring your own lunch. Or at least buy a sandwich before you enter the exhibition venue. Tradeshow food is always expensive and often involves queuing too, which can be very frustrating if you’ve had to leave the stand unattended while you grab a bite to eat.
10. Minimise your insurance costs
If you’re promoting actual merchandise, depending on your product type, take it with you in the evenings and you will reduce your insurance for your stand significantly. As long as it is portable, and easily reset in the morning, it shouldn’t cause you too much hassle.
Hopefully this gives you some ideas to make exhibiting less costly, if you need more help with planning take a look at our tradeshow tips archive.
Updated April 2021