How to Fit that Pricey Conference in your Startup Budget

If you’ve ever worked in a large, established corporation, planning your annual trade show and conference attendance may be something you’re familiar with. Large companies send their employees to industry conferences and events to stay fresh on emerging technology, new products, and/or strategies and best practices that can benefit the employees’ professional performance and boost their contributions to the company’s success. Attending these coveted events is often seen as a perk to employees, as they normally attend fully on the company’s dime. Sending your employees to these events is no sweat for big-money corporations, but often a luxury that small businesses and startups aren’t able to offer their people… which ultimately sucks because trade shows and conferences tend to be beneficial and rewarding not only to the employee but equally to their organization.

Why Attend These Events?

Trade shows, conferences, and exhibits give you the opportunity to network and step out of your everyday office life, gain cutting-edge knowledge, and bring back some insightful information you can apply at work. The hands-on education and experience you receive at such events are often far more energizing than anything you learn in the office. Even more, while the big keynote presentations and celebrity workshops may be the initial draw, it’s often said that it’s what happens in between the main events; in the connections and conversations in the halls, where the real conference magic happens.

About that Hefty Pricetag

Given the high cost of so many of these gatherings, how do innovative small businesses and early-stage companies with little to spare for “discretionary expenses” stretch their tight budgets and take advantage of a smart conference strategy? Wonder no more. Here are my tips and tricks to get you and your employees to these expensive trade shows on a low dime. 

At Neoware Studios, our anchor member and small business neighbor, Viewstub, just sponsored SUP-X, a massive tech trade show and small business competition in Ft. Lauderdale. Not only did they attend, but the entire event was streamed on their website and anyone was able to purchase tickets to watch the event online. By working with SUP-X, members of the Viewstub team were able to exhibit and promote ViewStub at the event for no cost in exchange for a discount on the services they provided. Viewstub’s Director of Marketing, Mitchell Buchanan says “we always try to find a way to create a win-win scenario by providing an exchange of services. It’s all about finding the person who is running the event, understanding their goals, and creating a value-driven relationship.”

Think about the value your business can add to the trade show or conference that you want to attend. How can you provide services in exchange for access to these events? Reach out to event coordinators and see if there’s an opportunity to work together so that you and your team can make the most of everything your industry has to offer. In addition to a potential need for your company’s specialized services, many conference organizers are willing to trade out attendance for volunteer time. Sometimes they’ll post a call for volunteers on their website or social media profiles. If not, you can’t know unless you ask. It can cost thousands of dollars to attend, but by making that call and connection, you may serendipitously work together and add value to both your team and the event. And with all that, you could find out that your registration costs are completely waved.

Alternative Tips & Tricks

There will be cases when offering services in exchange for attending events doesn’t work out. But don’t sweat it. There are a few other ways for small businesses to gain access to these educational exhibits. Often times, trade show and conference grants from your state government are available to small businesses, which can give you access to the funds needed to attend the event, and provide room and board for you and your crew. If there are exhibits and trade shows that you want to attend, take advantage and apply for grants. Check out enterpriseflorida.com and sba.gov to see what kind of assistance could be available to your small business.  

Neoware Studios wants to see your small business succeed! Attending international trade shows is one way to build strategies and connections to help you scale. Check out Neoworks Inspired Networking every 4th Tuesday of the month. This month, on August 27th, three early-stage companies on our panel will dig into our topic for the night: conference strategies to grow your business. We hope to see you there!