You may think of trade shows as a pain in the marketing budget, but some companies absolutely depend on such events. Hubbard & Revo-Cohen (HRC), a $2-million human-resources consultancy in Vienna, Va., is one example. "We have to participate in trade shows," says cofounder Karetta Hubbard. "That's where we sell our training software."

The Ultimate
Trade-Show Checklist

Although trade-show protocols -- specifically, procedures and timelines for ordering and shipping -- often vary from show to show, your list of what you need to order and ship should remain fairly consistent. You also should order and ship everything as early as you can. HRC's Walter Graham offers a laundry list of items:

? 10-by-20-foot exhibition booth
? Table top, LCD projector
? Carpet, carpet cover
? Electricity, Internet access
? Chairs, computer desktops, monitors
? Business-card reader
? Cleaning service
? Plane and hotel reservations
? Company brochures
? Refreshments for booth staff

But doing trade shows right isn't easy -- or cheap.Hubbard was long vexed by the costs of attending such shows. Everything took a bite, from the space itself to employee travel to the shipping of exhibition booths. Instead of paying for specialty consultants or a show-planning software package, Hubbard and her marketing manager, Walter Graham, devised a do-it-yourself blueprint for trimming trade-show expenses. It saves the company thousands of dollars annually, and it might do the same for your business.

The system is based on the idea that early planning is not enough; it's better to know when you should start and what must be taken care of first. Graham scours the exhibitors' manuals for deadline rules, which he lists in notebooks (one for each show). He then uses his notes as checklists, to order everything he needs for his booths -- from chairs to Internet access -- and as timelines, to ship the goods well ahead of schedule. By bulk shipping early to a warehouse facility instead of using FedEx or UPS at the 11th hour, Graham saves more than $300 a show. (HRC did 18 shows last year.) He can also avoid at-show rates for items like business-card readers, which can cost $80 more to rent at the door than in advance, if any are still available. "If you don't have one, you end up resorting to the fishbowl," he says.

The notebooks help Graham to build a file of custom information about each show -- giving HRC a regionally specific library of pointers that becomes invaluable for planning the following year's shows. "In Chicago, for example, you have to rely on union guys to bring your stuff into the building and switch on your electricity," he says. That prompts HRC to organize early and avoid the double time such unions often charge if last-minute scheduling forces their members to work weekends.

Michael Bandy, president of the Trade Show Exhibitors Association, based in Springfield, Va., agrees that the key to a cost-effective show is responsible scheduling. "So many companies wait until the last minute, when you can get so many significant discounts just by getting orders in ahead of time," he says.

Then there are the savings of self-reliance. For local shows, HRC avoids shipping costs altogether by renting its own truck to transport items. "It's about knowing the details," says Graham, "and I've gotten it down to a knack."