How to Design a Trade Show Budget

Lela Barker

April is all about trade shows here at the Lucky Break blog. Last week, we chatted about how to find the right trade show for you before shelling out the big dollars. This week? It’s all about budget, baby.


One of the biggest mistakes new exhibitors make when preparing for their first show is failing to properly budget. Many makers look at the booth fee and think “Yea, I think we can swing that, ” but the booth fee is just the tip of the iceberg! (click the image below for a mondo-sized version which is much gentler on the eyes)


Trade Show Budget: How to plan for expenses


Who doesn’t love a good pie graph, right? Below is a visual representation of where the money typically goes in within a trade show budget. It’s of paramount importance that you put pen to paper, whip out that calculator and design a realistic budget for each show.


trade show budget breakdownA good rule of thumb? Take your booth fee + multiply it by three to arrive at a total trade show budget. 


For example: a booth fee of $2700 x 3 =  $8,100 total trade show budget

That figure will vary, of course, depending on: how elaborate your booth design is, how many materials you need to ship in, how far you must travel and if you’re staying in the swankiest joint in town. But failing to design a target budget now will almost certainly lead to a financial panic later as miscellaneous expenses add up over time.


Let’s walk through an example…

Imagine that we’re going to exhibit at the National Stationery Show in NYC.

The show lasts 4 days and we’ll need 2 additional days for set up + take down.

That necessitates 5 nights of hotel accommodations.

Two people will be manning the booth and we’re all the way in Kansas, so we’ll be flying in.

I’ve upgraded to a hardwall 8×10″ booth at $43 per square foot and I’m going to pay the $400 upcharge for a corner booth.


$43 per square feet x 80 square feet = $3,440

 + $400 booth upcharge = $3,840 total booth fee

$3,840 booth fee x3 = $11,520 total show budget *

$11,520 show budget


How might we spend that $11,520? So very glad you asked!

$2,304 for travel expenses (20%) 

$1,728 for show services (15%)  

$1,728 for booth design + furnishings (15%)

$1,152 for printing + promotion (10%)

$1,152 for shipping + related services (10%)


These are simple approximations and I’m committed to staying in budget, though I may need to make adjustments within that allocation. For example: I have $2304 reserved for travel expenses, but two plane tickets to NYC at $400 each and 5 nights hotel at $300 each already puts us at $2300. I’ll need an additional $600 to allow for $100/day in meals and ground transportation for the 2-man team.  But my hardwall booth already has electrical services included, so I can pull $600 from the kitty reserved for show services in order to bulk up my travel budget. Viola! Still in the black.


Play with your numbers until they feel good to you, but- whatever you do- don’t fail to sketch them out. That’s how makers who thought they were biting off a $5,000 show end up choking on a $20,000 commitment.


Click here to download my free “Designing A Trade Show Budget” worksheet!


Need help designing your trade show budget? Click riiiiight up there to access my  fancy + free worksheet. It will help you wrap your head around the process of planning trade show expenses in a way that might just save your sanity + your tuckus.


Was this post helpful? I certainly hope so! It’s excerpted from my LBU: Secrets to Wholesale Success program, which just-so-happens to be opening for enrollment on Tuesday, April 22nd. If you’d like to know how to wholesale, then I’d love to give you a backstage pass to my empire. I sell my Bella Lucce products through more than 1200 shops worldwide and my 8-week LBU mentoring program shows makers of all stripes how to crack the wholesale code + get their products out into the world in a big, big way.

About the Author

Lela Barker

Lela Barker hails from the deep-and-dirty south (ATL, represent!), where she spends her days helping makers and product designers navigate the pitfalls of product pricing, brand development, and wholesale strategy. She launched her apothecary brand in 2003 and bootstrapped the hell out of that little business to cultivate a portfolio of 1500+ stockists worldwide, generating $12million in revenue and establishing successful distributorships in the Middle East, EU, Scandinavia, and South Korea. Lela is the keeper of a well-worn passport and the maker of the finest lemon meringue pie you’ve ever put in your mouth.

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