Meet the Experts - The Exhibitor

Meet the Experts – Event Budgeting with Carole Stacey


Hello Carole, welcome to The Exhibitor! Tell us a little about you and your professional journey.

I was thrust into the world of sales when I started my wedding accessory business. With my shop window being an exhibition stand I had to learn quick. My background was in marketing and accounts, so balancing the books and promoting the business was easy…and a joy.
However, despite having no real experience in sales I suddenly found myself representing my business at countless exhibitions and sales events.
And at my first trade show, I’ll be honest I was terrified. I will never forget that first hour. I realised that I had to step up. I took a deep breath, smiled and spoke to the next person who came past…and guess what, I really enjoyed it and found myself cutting lunch short I was so excited to get back to the exhibit.
At every exhibition I attended I looked around the hall and saw other exhibitor stands empty, where sales teams stood around looking bored and business owners despair as they watched £000s going down the drain.
I knew I could help. So, I put together my own training programme, a mix of exhibiting skills, direct selling, budgeting and business growth strategies to underpin all types of face-to-face promotions.
After my business was acquired I became a specialist in trade show exhibiting and absolutely love helping exhibitors to maximize their return on investment through teaching something I enjoyed doing and came naturally to me.

What exactly is a trade show budget and how important is it?

Simply put, a trade show budget is an itemized summary of likely income and expenses for a given period of time – in this case, for an exhibition stand at a sales event. It is typically created using a spreadsheet, and it provides a concrete, organised, and easily understood breakdown of how much money you anticipate coming in and how much you are spending.
The objective of a trade show budget is to make sure that your costs do not run away with you (which is easy to do when exhibiting).
Planning and monitoring your budget will help you identify wasteful expenditures, adapt quickly as your financial situation changes, and achieve your financial goals.
One very important outcome of a budget is – it will decrease your stress levels because with a carefully monitored budget there are no nasty surprises.
If you have a roadshow of exhibitions then I recommend having a high level overall budget for the complete roadshow and a separate budget sheet for each show.

From your experience, do most exhibitors carefully budget their event?

In my experience, most exhibitors fall short of carefully budgeting for their event. If you’re a small business, you may have almost complete control over the amount of money you can spend on your trade show exhibit. If you work for a large business, however, you might have been given a limited budget for your exhibit.
Believe it or not, the first situation – relative financial freedom regarding your trade show expenses – is often more difficult to plan than the second. Even with control over your total trade show spending, it’s important to give yourself a limit to prevent an excellent opportunity turning into a major sunk cost.
I see too many exhibitors leave a show feeling disillusioned and disappointed. When I ask them why it comes down to not understanding how to plan for a profitable exhibit. Some have fuzzy goals, no clear idea of who their target customer is, they haven’t anticipated how much work is involved in putting the stand together (or the costs involved) and sadly because of these things they failed to collect enough qualified leads or make enough sales, to recover their costs.

What is the right time to start budgeting a trade show exhibit?

Without doubt, the right time to start budgeting a trade show exhibit is BEFORE you book!

What does a trade show budget contain? Is it only about the booth itself?

People new to exhibiting (and those not so new) mistakenly break the cost of exhibiting at a trade show into a short list of expenses, such as:

  1. The cost of renting stand space
  2. The cost of designing and building an exhibit
  3. The cost of transport to and from the event (even if it is their own vehicle)
  4. The cost of promotions and advertising
  5. The cost of any accommodation for staff

This five-item list might seem like the entirety of a trade show’s expenses, however there are far more costs to exhibiting. From food and drinks for prospects to temporary staff (both at the show and in support back in the office), from last minute extras for the stand to last minute accidental damage. Even forgetting the stationery box and extension cables could hit your budget hard as last minute costs for unnecessary replacements mount up quickly.

Could you please outline your trade show budget strategy?

In a perfect world, my strategy begins before the show it booked. However, you and I don’t live in a perfect world so setting clear and measurable goals is the place to start.

Step 1:

Knowing where the money is coming from is vital. Are the funds set aside in your annual marketing budget? Or are they coming out of cashflow? Maybe you are borrowing the money or charging it to a credit card. Each of these have enormous implications to the success of, not only the show, but to your entire business growth.

Step 2:

The goals you set detail what your exhibiting purpose is. These should clearly state ‘what you want to achieve’, ‘how you are going to do it’ and then how you’ll ‘measure the results’. All geared to prove you maximized the opportunity. In short, how many of your widgets do you need to sell to breakeven (the minimum to aspire to) and what timeframe have you allowed yourself to sell that number of widgets. If you’re happy that the business can financially support the costs for that given period then you can move onto Step 3.

Step 3:

Knowing the 3 main areas where costs are incurred are the next items to pop into a spreadsheet. When I’m preparing a trade show budget I use these headings:

  1. Money you must spend– which break down into (a) Unavoidable Fixed costs (pre-set, non-negotiable and generally relate to the services of one supplier) (b) Unavoidable flexible costs (relate to services you choose to use from a selection of suppliers eg leaflets, pop-up banners).
  2. Money you largely choose to spend (discretionary costs, these relate to the way you decide to participate at an exhibition, such as giveaways, refreshments, travel costs, branded clothing etc).
  3. Money you end up spending (you didn’t specifically plan for (contingencies) like the forgotten stationery box, car parking fines, underestimates on food and drinks, and last minute stand extras such as a vase of flowers).

Could you please share your best tips with us?

Cutting costs without drawing blood is a great topic to talk about. Here are my 10 top tips:

  1. Be absolutely clear when briefing your graphic designer about what the message is you need to get across in the graphical design of your marketing materials – aborted design costs can completely ruin your budget. Stick to a schedule.
  2. Get the appropriate people to sign off on all materials as early as possible to avoid rush-order fees and overnight delivery charges. Use stock photos rather than engaging a photographer for a new photo shoot.
  3. Work within an existing advertising campaign. Instead of reinventing the wheel, use artwork from a current promotion.
  4. Allocate a per diem rate for refreshments for you and each member of your team.
  5. Either make ’business attire’ your standard clothing to wear, or insist that each member of the team where branded shirt / tie / blouse / other, with appropriate footwear each and every day. Don’t forget these should be freshly pressed at the beginning of each day. I’ve known staff be sent home because of how they looked when they turned up at the stand!!
  6. Book accommodation ahead and double up staff in rooms. Or book a serviced apartment using AirBnB, which is more affordable (and often more practical) than staying in a hotel.
  7. Hire cars to travel to and from the trade show to avoid spending hours waiting for expensive taxis.
  8. Ask yourself if you really need the latest type of pop-up, or modular stand, or a purpose-built stand and if you do, make sure it suits your purpose?
  9. Capitalize on lighting. Effective lighting can boost the impact of smaller, simpler stands. Well-placed spotlights can create atmosphere, add a sense of drama and highlight your products without breaking the bank. Do check from the aisle to make sure any glare from the bulbs doesn’t obscure your important messages or call to action.
  10. Staff training is imperative. Everything within your stand is for your staff to use to actively attract, engage and qualify prospects as potential customers of yours. All the team need to understand why they are there, how to use the exhibiting assets, what your purpose is and how their contribution will be measured.

The Exhibitor’s prime focus is exhibitors ROI. Could you explain how ROI and budgeting are related and how you can improve one working on the other?

Great question. There are only two ways to make a positive ROI.

  1. increase your price or make more sales at the current price.
  2. reduce your overheads or costs.

A financial ROI is easier to measure. A financial ROI is the difference between the total income (after cost of sales) from the show (measured in the correct time frame set by your goals) and the costs. For example: Net Income £5,000 less costs of £2,000 = a profit of £3,000 or expressed as a ROI percentage 150% – not bad at all.

It’s more difficult to measure ROI if you’re attending a show for brand awareness. Here you’d put in place measures that record where your new customers heard about you; social media, promotional materials, brochures, sales calls etc and track these through to sales made.

Any additional tips for our readers?

Yes, I do have one.
When I first work with a client I always ask the same 3 opening questions:

  1. Are you and your business ready for the exhibition floor? By this I mean do they have the resources (human and financial) to cope with the extra demand for their products or services after the show?
  2. Are you promoting your product or service in a geographical area where you can properly and fully service the new customers?
  3. Does your chosen show clash with any important events, like national or staff holidays, planned absences of key members of the production or sales team or do any of their suppliers have planned shut downs?

The reason for these questions is to make sure they are investing in an exciting and rewarding opportunity at the right time, in the right place and in front of the right audience (their ideal customers).


Carole StaceyCarole Stacey is a creative Trade Stand Trainer and commercially minded entrepreneur. She brings clarity and opportunity to new exhibitors and seasoned pros through her happy mantra of “rethinking what’s possible”. With extensive knowledge on marketing and business growth Carole is superb at direct sales, and dovetailing exhibit-marketing opportunities into overall business growth plans.
Meet the Experts – Event Budgeting with Carole Stacey
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