You don't need your own booth to make a trade show work for your business. There are a number of other ways you can benefit from a trade show without incurring the time and expense of creating your own exhibit. Here are some you can try:
Be a speaker
Many larger trade shows have comprehensive seminar programs. You can exploit your expertise by participating in a panel or a technical session. Look for ways to create a good fit. For example, an accountant might want to speak at a software developer's conference to discuss how recent tax code changes will impact their industry. Similarly, a Web designer could speak at an accountant's meeting to show ways CPAs could design effective Web sites. Be sure to have copies of your presentation available, along with a stack of business cards, so members of the audience have a way to contact you. Be available after the speech for questions and conversation.
Hold private meetings
One of the chief benefits of trade shows is that they concentrate your buyers in a single area. You might want to consider arranging meetings with a dozen or so of your top clients and prospects instead of buying a booth. These meetings can take place at the Exposition Hall, at a nearby hotel or restaurant, or in your own hospitality suite (an unused part of your hotel room). You'll incur significantly lower costs -- just your hotel, meals and transportation). Plus, your clients may appreciate the ability to take a break from the frazzle of the show floor.
Demonstrate your products/services at someone else's booth
Look for companies whose products complement yours. These could be your marketing partners, your suppliers, your customers, or another company. Then see if you can have space at their booth to demonstrate how your product works with theirs. For example, a software developer can demonstrate a new package at a computer dealer's booth. A home furnishings supplier can display pillows and accessories for a furniture maker's couches and chairs.
It can also be worth your while to visit certain trade shows just to do research. They can be an excellent opportunity to learn about your competitors, and see how they merchandise, market and price their products and services. You'll also get a first-hand look at how customers react to competitors' efforts. Or you can look for manufacturers of complementary products, and meet with their executives to come up with strategies that will benefit your respective businesses. Finally, trade shows are excellent places to hook up with suppliers, distributors and reps, who are likely to be either exhibiting or working the show floor.