We're barely into February and already we are getting enquiries about how one goes about performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. That, of course, is a good thing: to leave it much later would be to risk not finding the right venue. So, here's our guide for companies wishing to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe 2003!

The first thing any would-be participant has to accept is that the very best the majority of shows can hope for is to break even. Most fail to do even that.

So, what expenses are you likely to incur?

First there is the fee to the Fringe Society, which runs the festival. This covers your entry in the programme, listing on the website and the use of the press office and greenroom. Last year the charge was £397.16 (including VAT) for a group with one show. There is also 6% commission to be paid on tickets sold through the Fringe box office on High Street. Most venues sell most of their tickets through the Fringe box office.

Then you have to pay for the venue. This entitles you to a time slot, the use of the venue's technicians, the sale of tickets through its box office and, in most venues, the services of its press office. Prices vary not only from venue to venue, but also from time slot to time slot. You'll pay far less for a show at midday than for one at "prime time". For the 2002 Fringe, a rough average for medium sized venues for reasonable time slots was around £100 per 100 seats per day.

Then, of course, you need accommodation. Edinburgh in August is far from cheap. if you go for B&B, expect to pay around £35 a day, which is far too expensive for the maority of companies, so they tend to book student accommodation, usually in halls of residence. The last time I enquired after that kind of accomodation was in 1999, and the cost was then £90 a day for a four-person flat. Reckon on at least £110 this year. The further out of town, the cheaper: I know of one company which was in a hall of residence six miles out!

You may well think, "Well, we've got the company van, so we can drive in and out," but I sometimes think parking in Edinburgh is more expensive than living accommodation, and parking spaces are usually more difficult to find than somewhere to stay. For most of the summer, too, Edinburgh streets are slow moving car parks rather than roads in the proper sense! Think of rush hour on the M25 compressed to one lane and you have Princes Street in summer. The last time I took my car, it took me an hour to travel the length of Princes Street - in fact, it took twenty minutes to get past Debenhams! Now I go by train and walk around.

There are other types of acommodation available, including some which could flatteringly be described as grotty. I know of a number of companies which take a two-bedroom flat and manage to have half a dozen or more sleeping on the floor!

And then, of course, there's food and drink. Fortunately Edinburgh is rich in places to eat, from cheap and cheerful to fantastically expensive and gourmet. As everywhere, pub meals tend to be good value, and then there's Burger King, McDonalds, Bella Pasta et al.

So, how do you set about organising your participation? You can register yoru interest with the Fringe Society and, by paying the £12 registration fee, get loads of helpful information aabout venues etc. without committing yourself. You then contact your chosen venues to ask about availability and cost. Don't just contact one and wait until you find out that (a) they haven't got space, or (b) if they have, you can't afford it. Then pay your fee to the Fringe Society and you're on your way.

Oh, but I didn't really mention publicity, did I? Edinburgh in August is smothered under a few mountain ranges of paper - posters, fliers, fancy postcards with show details... You'll need them. But don't think the way you do at your local venue where, if you print a thousand fliers, you have loads left. In Edinburgh you'll go through a thousand a day, just handing them out in High Street.

Now, set against this the fact that there are hundreds of other companies competing against you, not to mention the dance companies and the comics and the bands and the musicals and the reviews, and you begin to see why your chances of even getting your money back are vanishingly slim. There is an oft-bandied figure - six - supposedly the average audience for a Fringe show. I've been in audiences of less.

So what's the point of going? The chance to be seen by thousands of people. The chance to be seen by many promoters, with the possibility of a national or even a European tour. Even the chance of a London transfer. The chance of being reviewed by the national newspapers, The Stage, the BTG. The chance of being on the tele. A fantastic experience. The chance of a Fringe First. A lesson in theatre which you will remember all your life.

The best place to start your enquiries about Fringe participation is the Fringe's own website at www.edfringe.com