Business conferences are expensive, and coming up with a conference strategy can be quite costly as well. For a growing startup, it can be nearly impossible to afford conferences, let alone booths at the conferences, unless you get creative, scrappy and willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to get in. This past week, our team at Tint traveled to a large conference for the first time with a huge booth set-up and did not know what to expect. What we learned was invaluable, and definitely worth sharing with our community.
What do normal booths at conferences cost?
- Booth Cost for a 20×20 Space: ~$15,000
- Furniture Rental/Set-up Quote: ~$30,000
What did we spend?
The Booth Cost Breakdown: How did we do it?
Being quoted at $50K, we were wary what would be included (as this would be a big expense for us). For a two-day conference, that money was about to go fast. So, instead of just ponying up the $50K, we did what any startup would do: strategize cost-efficient alternatives. We brainstormed as a team, and this is what we learned.
Lesson #1: Sponsor the conference with your product.
While the booth space would have cost us more than what we could afford, we asked the decision makers of the conference if we could sponsor (and receive a discount) by trading our services for the booth space. If you don’t know what our service does, Tint allows event hosts to implement a social wall capturing social hashtag conversations being shared around the event and displaying it on TV screens and/or projectors– great for engagement! We even went beyond our offering by proposing that we provide our service to one of their major media sponsors.
Tip: Find ways to leverage your own product or something you can offer and offer a trade. Sell the value you can provide and build a great relationship with these conference hosts for future opportunities as well.
Lesson #2: Speak up if things aren’t right.
There were several times during the conference that things didn’t go as planned from vendors we purchased from. Instead of just complaining or waiting, we spoke up when the vendors that did not meet our needs or expectations. For example, the materials handling company did not disclose costs upfront (which were super high), and as a result, our costs were modified fairly for the miscommunication on their end. In addition, when something was promised to be shipped to a location by a certain time, and it wasn’t, the companies would remedy it by giving a discount for the headache we experienced. We were not trying to nickel and dime everyone, but rather trying to be as fair as possible for what we paid for and was promised. Vendors want to make sure you as a client have a great experience since you may be a repeat customer for the next conference you are at (which is likely).
Lesson #3: Consider doing the set-up/breakdown work yourself.
As a startup setting up our first conference booth, we knew nothing about what it took to set-up, what it took to buy the equipment, and how much time it would be to build it. As a result, we did what anyone would do: look for a vendor. Unfortunately, the vendor we found quoted a price that was beyond our budget and we did not see much value from the blueprints/work they provided. We thought we could do it ourselves, and we set out to do just that.
We split the necessary tasks among the team members to purchase equipment, figure out logistics of shipping, and configure budgets. We started realizing some of the costs of buying the furniture and shipping it there would actually be less than renting it from vendors. We didn’t look back and began purchasing and shipping the equipment to either the location of the conference, friends houses near the location, and local FedEx offices. #scrappystartup
When the day came to pick up all the materials, it took much longer than expected. What we thought would be a simple pickup job actually turned to 5 hour pickup journey. Always expect something will go wrong, like boxes being shipped to the wrong location (which happened many times with us). After picking up all the materials, it was time to set it up.
The set-up took about a solid 7 hours that consisted of strategizing a layout, building furniture, setting up configurations, and more. This is where our team started realizing why there were some vendors who charged so much. But after looking at our finished set-up (in the cover photo above), we were proud with our work and felt we still saved a lot of money by doing the work ourselves.
The breakdown was not as tough, but stressful. Again, we realized why the vendor quoted a hefty price. In the end, we believed the opportunity cost was about $10k worth of time with the 5 people we had working on the set-up. That equated to saving over $20k from the original quote. It was well worth it financially, but be aware of the physical/mental work you will need to commit.
Lesson #4: Don’t forget about Craigslist.
As mentioned before, we were quoted around $30k from a vendor for booth set-up and rental furniture that would include tables, screens, stands and other non-branded materials. Just a rental couch for 2 days was going to be $3500. It was surprisingly more affordable to buy equipment/furniture and ship it there. What about shipping it back and storing it after the event (which would rack up costs)? We decided to spend an extra day of our time to reduce these costs by 70%. As soon as we started setting up, we posted all our equipment and furniture on Craigslist! We posted anything we didn’t want to lug back to SF and made most of our money back. It was all new equipment and furniture so it enticed many buyers.
Lesson #5: Donate, save, and feel good.
For all of the items we couldn’t sell on Craigslist or take with us because it would cost a fortune to ship back, we donated. Most conferences offer this option, and participating not only offers you a tax write-off, but a feel-good sensation. You never know what kind of organization you could be supporting, and the relationships you could establish by just doing good.
When all was said and done, we realized we reduced our expected cost of $50K to $15K. We felt happy that as a startup with limited resources and knowledge, we worked hard to keep costs down while maximizing value.
How have you saved costs for a conference booth? Any life hacks we missed out that you have learned? We would love to hear about your lessons learned in the comments section. And if you are picking up what we are putting down, be sure to follow or like us on the interwebs.