Things I Wish Somebody Would Have Told Me About Exhibiting

December 21, 2017

Candy Adams

Candy Adams, aka “The Booth Mom®,” is a hands-on trade show exhibit project manager and trainer. She helps exhibitors maximize the return on their exhibit investment using the best strategic, tactical and training practices. 

No. 4: Add 10% “slush” to your exhibit budget.

I’ve found that there are two kinds of corporate budgets:

  1. The “it-would-be-nice-if-you-hit-this-number” kind and
  2. The “if-you-go-over-this-amount-your-job’s-in-jeopardy” kind (Well, maybe not your job, but maybe no bonus or promotion?)

If you don’t know which budget method your company subscribes to, this is a good time to have a heart-to-heart talk with your boss about your exhibit budget and company policy on managing it.

Since the only figure we know for sure when we sign up for a show is the cost of booth space (usually on a square foot or package basis), budgeting for trade shows is definitely an inexact science. Since I’m not big on disappointing clients with unexpected budget overruns while liking to keep my options open for opportunities that might arise, I subscribe to the CYA theory of adding 10% to all budgets, just in case…

There are three basic ways that most exhibitors compute the budget for a trade show exhibit:

  1. Zero-based budgeting, which is starting from scratch and computing each and every line item’s anticipated cost
  2. Historical budgeting, using the cost of similar past shows as a basis and making adjustments for change of show location, distance to ship, union labor rate variations, etc.
  3. Percentage-based budgeting, which uses industry-average percentages in a number of categories i.e. booth space, exhibit properties, on-site services, promotion, personnel costs, etc.

If you need more info on budgeting, check out this article from Exhibitor magazine, called “Budgeting: Stats and Formulas.

Regardless of which method of budgeting I use to set up an initial estimate per show, I’ve learned to add 10 percent to the budget that I call my “slush fund.” It’s there if I get hit with unplanned expenses like fuel surcharges on shipping, overtime material handling (drayage) and labor charges or if I have the opportunity to pick up a last-minute sponsorship at a reduced price.

And if you don’t spend it, that’s okay, too. The sooner you can get through to your boss that trade show expenses are far from fixed and what your biggest budget unknowns are, the better off you and your budget will be.

And, if you’re lucky enough to have a boss who has managed shows as part of their career ladder, adding a 10 percent slush fund will be a no-brainer.

P.S. If you don’t have a budget template for compiling your exhibit budget, drop me a note via my Contact page and I’ll be happy to email you the one I use at no cost.


This blog is part of an on-going series. Read the previous installment here

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