No matter what industry you’re in, there is at least one event each year that seems like you should be there so you can tell your story to potential investors, customers, journalists and other thought leaders.  But do you really need to exhibit – and spend thousands of dollars – to reap the benefits of being at a trade show? There is no universal answer because it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish, but here are a few things to keep in mind as you weigh your options:

1. Spend your money strategically: If your budget is limited, focus on a limited set of objectives in order to make your dollars count. For example, if you can find the right investment (i.e. a limited sponsorship or involvement with ancillary events) it’s a lot easier to make a splash without investing in a booth.

  • If you want media buzz, a lower-tier sponsorship could get you access to the press room — or at least a media list — and also help get your news release into the show daily.
  • If you’re looking for customers, find out which panels will attract them and which sponsorship tier will get you a seat on that stage.
  • If there are certain investors you want to meet, find out if any of their portfolio companies are throwing a night-time bash and offer to kick in some cash in return for an intro. But be smooth about it.

2. Know your hidden costs: Beyond the “official” show costs, like booth/badge fees and sponsorship levels, there are other matters to consider.

  • If you do purchase a booth, how much extra do you have to pay for a decent location?
  • What will it cost you to design and produce a high-quality booth?
  • How much extra will you be charged for carpets, cleaning and even electricity when you exhibit.
  • How much will you spend of airfare, hotels and even taxis? Those add up in a hurry.
  • How many lost person-hours will your company experience. Sending five people to a four-day show is the equivalent of losing a month of productive work from one employee!

3. Trade-show “hacks”: You don’t have to be “at the show” to be at the show, and various time-tested tricks can allow you to meet your goals without paying top dollar.

  • Reserve a nearby hotel suite for sleeping and stock the fridge for pitches, interviews and parties.
  • Get your hands on a list of pre-registered media so you can send out your press release and try to book interviews in advance.
  • Use the booth meeting areas of more established business partners, who have made larger investments. Just pay it forward once you’ve closed your first round of venture funding!
  • Sponsorship and booth packages are negotiable, so wait until a week before the registration deadline when you’ll have more leverage and show reps will have more leeway.
  • If you have a customer who is willing to appear with you to co-present a case study, you can often get onto a panel without paying for a sponsorship.

Like anything in life, money talks. Making the right investments will make life a lot easier and more enjoyable. But by no means does this does mean that you need to, “go big or stay home.” By targeting your spend on supporting specific goals while trying out some workarounds, you can take full advantage of the rare opportunities that exist when every investor, reporter, customer or blogger who matters are all within the same square mile at the same time.

Share With Your Network

Looking for startup advice, connections, and insights?

Tap into a global network that enables you to answer questions, build relationships, and gain the perspective you need to move faster.
Peer mentorship with fellow tech founders
Pitch practice with Tier 1 VCs
Accelerator grade discounts