I’ve signed up for a booth at Bixpo, the local business expo.  I’ve done lots of trade shows during my career, but this is the first time that I’ve been responsible for designing the booth experience.

It’s a learning experience, shall we say.

The cost of the booth itself isn’t that bad, because I can see the value I’ll get out of it.  It will create a professional presence, and give me the opportunity to talk with a lot of people that I haven’t contacted before.

But it’s really interesting how easy it is to spend money on marketing materials.  A few hundred here, a thousand there … how quickly it goes.  But then I started shopping around, looking for opportunities to reinforce my message without spending much money.  I tapped some friends, borrowed some items, and got a bunch of things for cheap.

My biggest expense is a nice high-quality banner, modeled after one that I saw during my Small Fish training down under.  And even that wasn’t bad when I talked with my vendor about the need to save some money while still looking impressive.

I find that this is similar to a lot of other aspects of marketing.  It would be really easy to stick ads in the paper or phone book, and I’d feel like I’m doing something.  But it’s pretty much proven that for my kind of service, that would be a total waste of money.

Instead, people need to be able to see what I do, and how it can be applied in their situation.  So I have a lot of one-to-one chats, and I’ve been ramping up my work in doing workshops.  The workshop last week cost me a total of, oh, $40.  For the quality of interaction I had, it’s far ahead of most other marketing investments.

The lesson here?  Figure out the few investments which will give you the highest ROI, shop around, and let your friends and vendors help drive the costs down.  Then spend your precious dollars where it will make a difference.