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  What are the hidden costs of a trade show?

When you schedule your company's participation in a trade show, you have to plan carefully for all hidden costs, which can sometimes account for half or more of the total. Avoid the trap of budgeting only for the cost of renting the exhibit space and the booth from the trade show organizers. Here are some other costs of a trade show:

- Booth setup. Depending on the complexity of your booth, you might be able to set it up on your own, or you might have to hire local workers to do it for you. It's not only a factor of whether you know how to use a screwdriver, but of local labor laws and unions. In some cities, you are NOT allowed to build your booth yourself if it requires more than 1/2 hour for 2 people. Don't try to circumvent this regulation—the last thing you want in a trade show is to get in trouble with the local union!

- Equipment rental. In addition to the counters, chairs, tables, brochure displays, etc. that you will need to furnish your booth, don't forget the badge reader. No trade show visitor is ready to spend 10 minutes filling out a form without any kind of incentive when other booths simply scan their badge. If you want to come back from the trade show with leads, rent the badge reader with both paper print capability along with an integrated disk unit to backup the database on a daily basis. You may also need to rent a projector and a large-screen monitor to show demonstrations of your products. This is the best way to bring home qualified leads.

- Literature, demo CDs, and giveaways. You need to be ready to give a brochure and/or demo CD to all visitors who come to your booth. You should also plan on having a giveaway as an incentive for visitors to let you scan their badges. Depending on how qualified the audience is, you may want to opt for a nice (but always inexpensive) giveaway that will drag traffic to your booth and motivate vistors to fill out qualification sheets.

- Travel costs. If the show is not in your local area, you will need to fly a certain number of people to the show's location (3 or 4 for a 10'x10' booth, at least 5 or 6 for a 20'x10' booth, etc.), pay for hotel nights and meals, etc. Book flights at least 3 weeks in advance to get the best fares, and don't forget to look at alternate airports (for example when going to San Francisco from the East Coast consider flying to Oakland; when flying to Boston from the West Coast, consider flying to Providence, RI or Manchester, NH). Book your hotels through the show organization company to take advantage of their negotiated rates. But keep in mind that some cities, like New York or San Francisco, will always cost you a fortune in hotel rooms—negotiated rates or not. Don't let everyone rent a car—if cars are required, get one for every 3 or 4 people attending the show.

No matter how careful you are, trade shows are expensive. But they are also a very good source of leads when the shows are well targeted—so make sure they are budgeted carefully.

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