Guest post by Vanessa Murray
Everyone’s looking to stretch their marketing dollars these days, especially at tradeshows. As the event marketing manager at Market Leader, I’ve learned that it takes much more than just saving a buck or two to make an event successful. When planning an event, it’s seeking out the gold in every activity and connection that makes all the difference. Here are 15 of my top tips of the trade.

1. Remember the golden rule
Treat everyone as you would want to be treated. Seems rudimentary, yet you’d be surprised how many event planners seem to forget the rules of common courtesy and how valuable every person can be to their event plan. Story: My booth lead stopped at the local Target store to pick up a new cooler and ice for me because, the previous year, I sent him home with a gift from our company and a nice thank you note.

2. Order early and ask for discounts
Most booth subcontractors offer advance pricing, which can be up to 40 percent off regular prices if you place your order two to three weeks prior to the event move-in date. I’ve also run across discounts for day-off orders if they have inventory. Simply ask if they are offering any discounts.

3. Consolidate your shipping
Weight, timing (how quickly you need it there) and type of load are the most critical factors when shipping. Shipping to the advanced warehouse may not always be the cheaper option. Check for cut-off dates, handling fees, and how your load is shipped. If you ship via individual boxes, you will be charged per item, and often there is a minimum weight of 100 pounds. In other words, even if you ship a 20-pound box of chocolates, you will pay as if you shipped the full 100 pounds. Shipping via skid or pallet when sending multiple packages is often the best option. It also reduces the risk of losing items if you request to have your skid shrink-wrapped. And most importantly, don’t ship later than three days prior if you can help it. Overnight priority shipping is extremely costly. If an item is that important, we ask our sales team to carry it with them. I’d much rather pay an extra luggage fee of $25 than upwards of $300 to ensure delivery.

4. Use a shipping carrier you trust that delivers as promised – guaranteed
Your event plans go out the window when your booth materials arrive the day after a show or hours after move-in just because the driver was late making your delivery. Always plan to have supplies arrive one to two days prior to the show start date to ensure they are there when you need them. Always ask for the tracking numbers and ship to your onsite contact’s attention.

5. Take photos
When you want to remember what was shipped to a show or what may have broken during transit, take photos of your booth materials. Photos also help to recall other vendors who attended an event or creative ideas that you might want to consider the following year. Save time on planning by documenting what worked and what didn’t work. Plus, photos of your booth set-up posted to social media channels are a great way to generate booth traffic and buzz.

6. Don’t forget to KISS
Just as I have to be reminded to do this every morning with my kids and husband before I leave the house for work, don’t forget to use this in your event planning: Keep It Simple Stupid. I create three different levels of event categories, each with a template of our staffing needs, marketing support, strategy, brand presence, budget and load list.

7. Ask vendors for quotes
Bid out larger projects to keep your work competitive, and do your homework on vendors. I am willing to pay a little more when I know the vendor will bend over backwards for me when I’m in a pinch, which seems to always be the case when planning an event.

8. Reuse, reduce and recycle
Look for ways to reduce your spending. For example, finding a 32-inch monitor on Amazon, shipping it for free to an event, and then using it as a booth giveaway item will save you the cost of shipping it home. Create signage and collateral that will hold a long shelf life and reuse them at multiple shows. Reduce your staffing to only the minimum people you need, and look for ways to recycle what has worked well.

9. Know your budget and stick to it

I outline a show budget per event broken down by marketing, booth, sponsorship/exhibitor fees, travel and expense, and business development. Evaluating fixed versus variable costs will help determine where you can save the next year and which events you may need to reconsider.

10. Use your connections and play nicely with others
Don’t underestimate the power of networking and relationships, even with fellow competitors. You never know when you’ll be stuck without shipping tape or need an extra pair of hands to carry your booth equipment. At the end of the day, we all know it’s business, but being kind to competitors just makes you look like a classy vendor and earns you respect from industry peers.

11. Be a negotiator
It never hurts to ask for deals – from sponsorship fees to credits on dirty furniture rentals, be bold and ask for them. Be willing to give something of value in return for what you really want. For instance, give up the bigger booth size in return for a discount off the top sponsorship level or speaking opportunity. Counter-offer and come up with ideas that will create a win-win for the event organizer and you. Spin your sales pitch in their favor, explaining how it will benefit THEM, not you.

12. Offer a trade for sponsorship
I’ve saved my company upwards of $100,000 in sponsorship fees by offering a trade for support using a service we provide or our staff as keynote speakers and thought leaders.

13. Be creative
The more “out of the box” I am at events, the more successful they are. Event attendees enjoy vendors that provide them with ways to engage and get educated. Create a way to do that inexpensively, and you’ve won.

14. Buy in bulk
It’s the Costco way, but the further in advance you can plan and the more you can buy in bulk, the more you will save. This includes everything from printing collateral to promotional items. The more you order, the cheaper the per-unit cost becomes.

15. Keep it real
At the end of the day, event planners rely on many key players to make the magic happen and call their event a success: vendors, suppliers, printers, promotional partners, prospects, customers and event staff. So keep it real – incentivize your staff, celebrate your customers, hug your vendors, and most importantly, love what you do.

Events and tradeshows are like weddings: Plan for the worst-case scenarios but hope for the best, and surely no one will notice the imperfections but you. Keep these tips in mind and you won’t trip on your shoelaces. With a little practice, if you’re like me, you’ll wear fewer shoes with laces and more high heels while managing your events.

Have any event stories you’d like to share? I’d love to learn how others manage on shoestring budgets.