Conference Costs: How Much Should I Budget?

Attending a small business conference will help you grow your business in ways you can’t even imagine. But how much do conferences cost? Read on and I’ll spell out all the costs and why they are worth it.

I’m a huge believer that entrepreneurs should attend at least one small business conference a year. You can try to search the Internet for answers, read books, and take online courses, but the benefits of attending a live event and business conference can be a big game-changer.

If you’re worried about the average cost for attending a conference, the return on investment from networking with influencers, finding mentors, connecting with like-minded colleagues, and investing in yourself and the business will far outweigh any costs.

If you’re new to business or feeling strapped for cash, how do you afford to attend these business conferences? The most important step in understanding the all-important, “How much will it cost to attend a conference?” question is to identify and understand the three different types of costs to attending small business conferences.

Image of a business conference with attendees

Three Types of Conference Costs

  1. Obvious costs
  2. Not so obvious or optional expenses
  3. Opportunity costs

How Much Does A Conference Cost? 

Let’s look at those three types of costs and what they cover. Then you’ll be able to create a budget and invest in your business appropriately.

Obvious Costs

First, there are obvious costs. These are the most basic ones and they include the following items:

  • Conference fee
  • Flying: airfare, Uber to/from airport or airport parking fees
  • Driving: mileage/gas, tolls, and hotel parking fees
  • Lodging
  • Meals & Entertainment

Not So Obvious or Optional Expenses

In addition to the basic expenses, you’ll also face optional ones. These costs aren’t as obvious because they pop up at conferences unexpectedly. You can avoid these or budget and plan ahead for them.

  • Conference: upgraded pass (*to meet influencers, get all the recordings, all-inclusive food, etc.)
  • Vendor Booth: vendor booth fees, vendor booth swag
  • Health: cough drops, vitamin C
  • Marketing/self-promotion: business cards, company branded t-shirts, swag, etc.

Want a great example of marketing costs? I decided at the last minute to get a tumbler branded with my logo for $17.99, but unfortunately, it wasn’t ready in-time before I left for FinCon18. Oops.

tumbler cup with a custom logo for a business conference

Other optional costs you may need to budget or plan for include:

  • Family: babysitters and/or after-school care for kids while you’re out of town, especially if you’re typically the parent who does school drop-offs and pick-ups, homework, dinner, etc.
  • Flight: baggage fees, upgrade to early check-in, upgrade to premium seats, change fees
  • International travel: passport or visa
  • Hotel: tips for bellhops, hotel maids, gym fees, deposit and/or late cancellation fees if you have a life event and can no longer attend
  • Postal costs: shipping items ahead of time to the hotel, especially if doing a vendor booth and have boxes of swag and marketing material.
  • Portable charger (*Worth having! This is the one that I bought and absolutely love:  Anker Compact Portable Charger)
  • Transportation: Uber or taxi costs going back and forth between off-site lodging and conference hotel, or to off-site events and meals. (related: find out what conference attendees spent on transportation costs when staying off-site.)
  • Books (*especially if you want to meet the speaker and get a signed copy of a book or photo opportunity after the keynote)

Purchased books to get a signed copy and photo opp with keynote speakers!

Opportunity Costs

Finally, there are some costs involved in taking time off of work. These things might not be able to be financially quantified, but you still plan ahead for them.

  • Revenue: missed sales from taking time off from your small business to attend the conference, especially if you trade time for a dollar.
  • Sleep: if you stayed up late networking and/or shared a hotel room with a roommate and had different sleep schedules.
  • Time: while you’ve been away, your business and personal life hasn’t stopped. You may have to put in extra time to catch up or do your part in helping the family get back on track.
    • Example: Emails have piled up, especially if you don’t have a virtual assistant helping to respond and prioritize your email. (*Tip: Put your out of office reply on and tell people to reach back out to you after you return.)
    • Example: As soon as Grayson Bell, owner of iMark Interactive, walks in the door from his out-of-town conferences, his wife drops the kids off in his lap and leaves the house for her well-deserved “me” time.
  • Stress: it’s easy to feel stressed after hearing so many of your colleagues’ success stories. You may feel like you have to do everything all at once to catch up. But, a few weeks later, you’re so overwhelmed and stuck in analysis paralysis, that you get nothing accomplished.
    • Example: If this is something that you battle with, I highly suggest purchasing the FinCon18 Virtual Pass and watching Rosemarie Groner’s session, “Streamlined Results: How to Skyrocket Your Income While Working Less than 20 Hours a Week.” She shares tips on how to avoid shiny object syndrome.

Rosemarie Groner, The Busy Budgeter, shares great advice about shiny object syndrome after conferences.

Once you’ve identified these three different types of costs, you can estimate your specific expenses and calculate the total costs to attend the business conference. If it’s higher than you expected or want to spend, keep reading for tips for decreasing the costs to afford to go to the conference.

How Much Does it Cost to Attend FinCon?

As mentioned in 21 Reasons Why All Small Business Owners Should Attend FinCon, I’ve attended a money meets media conference called FinCon for the past four years. I’ll share how much it has cost me to attend this four-day conference.

It has widely varied due to driving to my first one in Charlotte, flying across the country to San Diego for the second, using points to fly to Dallas for my third FinCon, and then driving one-way and flying back one-way from Orlando for FinCon18.

This should give you a good example of how the total costs for attending a conference can vary given the flight and lodging costs.

Breakdown Costs and Total Costs to Attend Four FinCon conferences

Total Costs to Attend FinCon Conferences

Here is exactly how much I spent to attend each FinCon conference, from 2015-2018.

  • FinCon15 (Charlotte, NC): $607.78
  • FinCon16 (San Diego, CA): $1,532.49
  • FinCon17 (Dallas, TX): $1,211.91
  • FinCon18 (Orlando, FL):  $1,848.97

Notes:

Here are some things you should know about each FinCon and why the costs varied so much from one year to the next.

  • Both my home and my business are based in Raleigh, NC.
  • FinCon15: I drove from Raleigh to Charlotte. Brought groceries and snacks from home. I bought my pass only 3 months in advance.
  • FinCon16: I used United Airlines points for a flight from Raleigh to San Diego. A family member dropped/picked me up from the airport. I was promoting my book and had business cards and bookmarks to distribute.
  • FinCon17: I upgraded to priority seats to guarantee not having to check bags on the Southwest flight. I also took an Uber one-way to the airport on the outbound flight, then a family member picked me up on return flight.
  • FinCon18: I drove from Raleigh to Orlando one-way (*remember to calculate mileage reimbursement and factor in wear-and-tear on using your personal vehicle). Then I flew home one-way on Southwest.

How Much Does A Conference Cost?

The short answer is about $1,000.

In total, I’ve spent over $5,200 to attend the last four FinCon conferences, and it’s been worth every single penny. My advice –  in general, I would budget at least $1,000 to attend a small business conference.  If you’re in sticker shock, have limited funds, and it would break the bank to go to a business conference, keep reading for tips on how to reduce those costs.

Audience at the conference hall.

17 Tips to Decrease the Costs to Attend Conferences

Don’t let budget keep you from attending a must-attend conference that can be a game-changer for your business. Here are tips to make it more affordable if $1,000+ seems outrageous to spend on attending a business conference.

How to Save Money On Conference Registration Fees

Don’t spend more money than you have to on the basic registration fee. Here are my best tips for how to save money on tickets to the conference.

  • Register for the conference during the early-bird period
    • Example: FinCon16 attendees could purchase FinCon17 passes at $260 off the regular price if they made a decision within four days of leaving the current conference.
  • Volunteer to work at the conference for a lower rate (or sometimes free)
  • Apply to be a speaker (if not paid, may get some or all of your registration compensated)

How to Save Money on Conference Travel 

  • Buy flights ahead of time, watch for promotions
  • Consider carpooling if within driving distance

How To Save Money On Conference Hotel Stays

  • Consider sharing the hotel room with 1 or more people. (*Note – I am a huge advocate for always staying on-site at the official conference hotel.)
  • Seek out lower-cost hotels and/or Airbnb.
  • Check to see if you have a friend or relative near the conference location, and ask if you can stay with that person. Treat them to a nice bottle of wine, dinner, etc. to repay the kindness.

How to Save Money on Transportation

  • When at the conference, walk whenever possible instead of taking a cab or Uber.
  • Catch a ride with other colleagues from the conference and split the costs.

How to Save Money on Meals and Entertainment

  • Check if the conference will be providing any meals. Be sure to send any food allergies/preferences ahead of time.
  • Pack and bring your own snacks, tea bags, instant coffee, etc. (*Example: protein shakes, tumbler, tea bags, and travel mug. By the way, this is my favorite type of travel mug for tea or coffee, so it doesn’t spill on you on the plane:  Contigo AUTOSEAL Stainless Steel Travel Mug.)
  • Find a grocery store and purchase food to keep in your room for snacks breakfast, etc.
  • Ask the hotel ahead of time for refrigerator and/or microwave.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol that you purchase at the bar. (*Not a fun option, but if the conference has sponsored event parties, be sure to get your freebie drink.)
  • Purchase alcohol from the grocery store ahead of time and have an unofficial hotel “party.”
    • Example: The FIRE folks did this at FinCon18 and requested everyone to bring a 6 pack of local craft beer to attend the hotel party. Cody Berman shared that it cost him $6.99.
  • Get invited to VIP events and have a happy hour or dinner provided for free.
  • Pay the gym fee and get special perks that are worth more than the fee.
    • Example:  Echo Huang, the founder of Echo Wealth Management, shared that she took advantage of the special rate for FinCon attendees to use the spa and gym in Orlando, which was only $10 for the entire stay of five nights. The unlimited supply to bottled water and chocolate strawberries in the spa was worth more than $10 per day! She went to the gym twice, stayed healthy by running 5k on the treadmill, and used the whirlpool alone. It was a mini-vacation for her!! I wish I had known about this awesome deal sooner!

 

 

How to Make Sure You Get Your Money’s Worth at Small Business Conference

If you’re wondering if spending over $1,000 to attend a conference is worth it, then make sure you have very specific goals. Determine if you are going for training, networking, or a little bit of both.

If you’re just going for training, then you may want to just invest in a $199 virtual pass or take a third of that money and just buy books and take online courses. Networking is one of the biggest benefits of attending an in-person event and conference. Recognizing that is the key to making sure that you get your money’s worth in attending small business conferences.

Other Great Articles on Small Business Conferences:

 

Did these total costs and breakdown costs to attend small business conferences surprise you? Are there any types of expenses that you think that I missed or other ways that you’ve decreased the costs to afford to go to a conference? Drop a comment and share your experience. I’d love to hear from you!

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • I’m a big fan of having a $20 hot plate that i can make simple meals with. If i use it for breakfast alone, I’m surei start the day with my routine meal and feel better about buying meals when I can network.

    Reply
    • Matt, thanks for reading and sharing your “hot” tip! Any hotel and flight considerations when packing and using a hot plate? I’ve thought about bringing a kettle in the past to make hot tea, especially since using the coffee maker in the hotel rooms will still leave a coffee smell in my tea.

      Reply
  • Business Cash Flow
    October 24, 2019 8:52 pm

    I think that attending business conferences will definitely help to improve as a business owner. This article gives me an idea on how much does it cost to attend one. This article is very helpful.

    Reply

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