The Events Industry Council reports that there are more than 1.8 million conventions, meetings and trade shows held in the U.S. held every year. Big hotel chains and convention centers make oodles of money providing the space. Along with the venue special events sales staff, whose careers are built on selling space to sponsoring organizations, the waiters and bartenders, concierges and doormen, even the cab drivers, love to see the events roll in.
No doubt, each of those meetings brings a lot of value to the target audience. The speakers can be top drawer and topics compelling, the venue fabulous and audience members fascinating, but if none of this leads to even a limited number of billable hours, then you will not have received what you paid for. Writing it off on your taxes yields only about a 35% savings and you don’t receive it until many months after the fact.
Many industry and premier networking group conferences can cost $500 for a one-day event that along with the speakers includes continental breakfast, lunch and light refreshments at two breaks. Oftentimes, the admission fees are calculated with the expectation that attendees will be high-ranking corporate execs who are able to expense the cost to their companies. As a result, independently employed professionals regularly forgo a number of conferences that draw the decision-makers they need to meet because unless one has been to a given conference previously, there is no telling if the networking will be good and therefore worth the risk of paying a high ticket price.
If you decide to go the high-profile marketing route and become an exhibitor, your cost is likely to resemble a full-page 4-color ad in an industry magazine. The exhibitor booth fee can be $3500, with additional costs for Wi-Fi and branded give-aways like tote bags, pens, umbrellas and the like and the custom table-cloth you must order to display your company name and logo. If you will stay overnight, add hotel bills that will include a discount but can nevertheless exceed $200 daily and the cost to park can be $40 per 24 hours. Figuring out the attendance profile of a conference is paramount, so that you can calculate your ROI.
First, think about your business products and services and your ideal clients and start filtering out what doesn’t align with your objectives. If your business is B2B, you’ll look for an audience of business people who give you either product sales or billable hours. If you’re a start-up looking for investors, then you’ll look to attend programs that draw venture capital specialists. You don’t need to attend the largest conferences, just those that put you in front of those people who have the motive to do business with you.
Further, if you are investing in an exhibitor booth, check the conference schedule and look for down time between speakers that will encourage attendees to visit the exhibitor area and get to know who is there. If time has not been scheduled, you could find out that you’ve paid dearly to look at the other exhibitors and not interact with the target audience you hoped to meet.
But whether you will attend to make a marketing splash, find an investor, or recruit a good client or two through networking, you never know until you get there because every conference has its own personality. At some events, the people talk and at others I’m sorry to say, they don’t. Before you jump in and commit big money as an exhibitor, attend as a civilian and test the waters. If the conference is two or more days, attend one day and be sure to attend the day that has a scheduled networking dinner or reception.
Now, may I share good news with you? My eighth anniversary as your faithful diarist, the author of “Freelance: The Consultant’s Diary,” occurred in June. I’ve earned the special citation from WordPress that you see here. Heartfelt thanks to those of you who read!
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