Career College

Paying to Network: The cost of trade shows

Trade shows are where industry experts and professionals gather to network, show off their wares, and close business deals. Whether you have a great idea you're looking to introduce to the public or just want to break into the industry, trade shows are where to do it. However, trade shows can get expensive -- preparation is the key to a productive event in which you maximize your return on investment.

Application and attendance
Trade show administrators sell tickets up to six months in advance, so start checking early. If you don't know what trade shows applies to your industry, check the U.S. Domestic Trade Show website. Tickets start around $100 per day for an attendee ticket, while booth spaces can cost between $5,000 and $50,000, depending on the size of the show and your exhibit size.

If you don't have a ticket, show up anyway. You can purchase tickets at the door, or, if you're really bootstrapping, you can simply network outside near the entrances and exits. You can also attempt to get a free admission by applying for a media analyst or press pass.

Promotional materials and product samples
To maximize the value of your trade show appearance, you'll need promotional materials. Large corporations often spend millions of dollars on giant statues, models, booklets, and product samples, which means you'll probably need your own bag creative and competitive swag, too. Everyone has a pitch, so you'll need to show and prove in order to backup any claims you make.

At a bare minimum, you'll need business cards, which you can purchase from companies like VistaPrint at $10–$20 per 500, depending on how many extras you add. We may live in a digital world, but nothing makes you look more unprofessional than lacking a business card. Without it, you risk not being remembered the next day.

Travel expenses
Once you have confirmation you can attend, don’t forget to budget for travel, food, and hotel expenses. Luckily the trade show hosts will have a hotel block with special pricing negotiated during the show. These discounted tickets must be booked through the trade show website.

If you miss the special booking, prices can skyrocket, even when booked through booking agent websites. It's not uncommon for attendees to simply camp outside of town or sleep in their car in the parking lot.

Another unexpected cost of attending trade shows is your trade show outfit. Determine the appropriate attire for a trade show by considering the show and industry you're interested in--business professional is a good place to start. The event may be a fun business trip, but it is still business, after all. You'll often only get one shot at making an impression, so you'll want to look your best and dress to impress.

After-Parties and Special Events
Trade shows are known as much for the after-parties and private events as they are for the actual exhibitions and conferences. Consider after-hours events you're budgeting for your trip to avoid missing out on those opportunities. Maximize those events by accessing attendee lists early and preparing to make the right connections. Research who will be there and contact the PR reps for information about events they are hosting at the trade show.

While attending can be costly, the investment can be worth it. If you're interested in an industry, there's no better way to keep your ear to the streets than attending trade shows. Trade shows feature new products, industry information, business deals, and great networking opportunities. If you're looking to make a name for yourself in an industry, invest in your career and enjoy networking in the trade show circuit.