For every industry, there’s always the big, annual trade conference. Or several.

(Over the span of the last ten days alone, there have been four significant gatherings for those in the world of insurance, including IASA 2019, Connected Claims, DigIn, and the NAIC Summit.)

Fresh off Gain’s big event – the annual IASA event in Phoenix – it’s interesting to consider the different approaches to conference attendance.

For fresh-out-of-the-gate startups, conferences present a unique opportunity to network with potential investors, potential partners, and potential customers. As such, the travel expense and price of admission are easily justified, even for very young companies with small budgets. Additionally, if you have flexibility, there are also ways to further keep costs down.

Fast forward to more mature, but still early-stage, companies, and the calculation changes. Instead of settling for networking at cocktail receptions, break-out sessions, and through Brella, you’re likely looking at staffing a company booth to meet customers.

It becomes quite an investment – from the design of concept, layout, and graphics; to staffing expenses including travel, hotel, and company-logo clothing; to other conference-related expenses such as the steep cost of renting real estate in 10’ x 10’ increments and usurious rates that Freeman charges for, well, everything.

Factor in the staffing levels – a bigger team arriving earlier and staying later – and you’re talking a decent expenditure.

This presents an interesting balance act: as an exhibitor, you’re looking to present a professional image without breaking the bank.

To put this in context, our booth at IASA was adjacent to two other companies whose conference budget was likely about the same level as the monthly expenses for our entire company. At the end of the day, our booth fit the bill, albeit at a lower cost relative to typical exhibitors, but at the same time far more expensive than any other context.

On the second point: some expenses are unavoidable. Last year, we were able to economize on travel as the show was “local” (okay, more like a 10-hour drive).

Transporting a booth is surprisingly inexpensive if you don’t value your time. (And startup founders typically don’t.)

This year, no such luck. Expenses increased with plane tickets, and shipping of supplies, not to mention the unavoidable (i.e. mandatory) costs of Freeman’s “help.”

It cost more to transport four boxes 150 feet than it cost to transport the whole booth 1,400 miles.

So, you do whatever you can to control price, but the real measure of a conference are the benefits you receive.

And, at the end of the day, there’s most certainly a set of best practices for making the most of the event, but the true basis, at the end of the day, is how good a job did you do designing and building a product with real market need?

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