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Budgeting: Advance Budgeting For Shows

Q. My agency's fiscal year ends Oct. 1, which means I'm planning for next year's trade show budget in June. However, some shows have not yet set costs (space, drayage, labor, etc.) for next year. They're still concentrating on this year's shows. How do I set a budget if I don't know what the show is going to cost?

A. The easy way out is to simply add a 10-percent increase to last year's show budget. Another method: Pad for increases by budgeting the full cost for furniture, electricity, etc., knowing that you will pay in time to receive the 50-percent or so discount offered for early payment. Also, the Trade Show Exhibitors Association publishes an annual report that projects average percentage cost increases in 35 trade show budget categories. You can use this to estimate cost increases from last year's show budgets:

  • Cost per contact. If you know how much you are willing to spend to reach each contact you make at a show, then multiply that number by your potential audience. Use historicals as your guide for average cost per contact. To calculate, simply divide your total show budget by the number of contacts you made at the previous year's show.
  • Booth space as a multiplier. If you know how much you will spend on exhibit space, you can easily ballpark an estimate of your total show budget. Booth space typically accounts for 25 percent of the average trade show budget. (If booth space costs $20 per square foot, and your exhibit is 400 square feet, then your total booth space cost is $8,000. Multiply $8,000 by 4 for a total show budget of $32,000).
  • Cost per square foot. Using historicals, you can calculate how much on average your company spends per square foot at shows. First, add up all your exhibiting expenses for one show. Then divide that figure by the exhibit's total square footage. Do this for all your shows to determine an overall average cost per square foot.

Keep in mind that using historical data and simply adjusting for inflation is not always the most accurate method of budgeting. It assumes that the previous year's budget is a valid base from which to work, which is not necessarily the case.


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