Trade Show Basics for Small Business

Catamount Marketing tradeshowThe very words “Trade Show” make some small business owners shudder. Attending a trade show or business expo can take a lot of time and money. Quite frequently, those are two things a small business owner just doesn’t have a lot of. With some careful planning, however, a trade show can not only be fun but profitable as well.

These 10 tips may be basic but the best tips usually are; and even for seasoned trade show pro’s, brushing up on the basics is never a bad thing. Tiger Woods, arguably the best putter in golf, got that way by stroking tens of thousands of back to basics practice putts each year.

  1. Set clear goals of what you want to achieve at the show. Do you expect to sell products, launch a new product or promotion, or possibly meet suppliers? You can set more than one goal but be clear and focused on what your participation will involve. Most B2B trade show participants don’t expect to take orders on the spot; but rather look for is hot leads. At each trade show attempt to identify 3 – 5 hot leads. Do this by gathering business cards from participants. If you’re able to engage them in a conversation, even better; but know that like in a retail store, many show attendees are skittish about being approached and will consider themselves just looking. The best way to engage a stranger is to ask them a question about themselves. When you approach people showing interest in them, the walls start to come down. Make this a goal as well and you’ll be in the game before you know it.
  2. Find out everything you can about your space in advance. There’s nothing more frustrating than showing up to a show only to find that your booth is too big or too small to fit the space. Finding out the location of your booth in advance prevents you from lugging around boxes and products in search of the right spot. Finding out everything that is included (table, table cloth, electricity, etc.) in advance is a big time and headache saver.
  3. Have everything you need, like extension cords, tape, push pins, etc. with you when you arrive to set up your booth. It prevents last minute searching for items needed to set up your booth which, if you’re in a strange town can quickly turn into a nightmare. If doing trade shows becomes a fairly regular occurrence, keep a box that contains a hammer, thumb tacks, pens, rubber bands, notepads, band aids, extension cords, replacement light bulbs, tape, breath mints, and anything else that you’ll potentially need, ,and keep this box intact and ready to go for each trade show outing. Another option is to create a checklist of these items to review before leaving for the show. Attending a show can be stressful enough without having to scramble for a push pin at the very last minute!
  4. Make sure your display is appropriate for the group you are targeting. Who is your target market with your trade show display? What kind of questions will they have about your products and services? With a trade show, it is entirely possible that you will be mid-conversation with an attendee when another attendee comes to peruse your booth. Make sure your booth offers promotional signage (if you are giving something away), answers your most frequently asked questions and provides an attendee with something to do or look at while you are otherwise engaged.
  5. Advertise in advance of the show. Let the public know that you are participating in a particular trade show. Invite your clients, customers, suppliers and be sure and give them your booth number. Advertise your attendance to the trade show on your website as well. A couple of email blasts leading up to the show to your invitees or target audience can be very effective. Personalizing your message with a “Hi Mary” by inserting a [FIRST NAME] merge field as part of the salutation is exponentially beneficial for attracting attention and a higher ROI.
  6. Stand out! Don’t just be another booth and vendor at the show – find something different and unique and use that to draw visitors to your booth. Arrange your booth strategically so that everything can be seen quickly by visitors. Put larger items in the rear and shorter items up front. A table runner on top of the table cloth is an effective way of making your table stand out. Be creative with your booth, include pictures if possible and be sure your company name and logo are more than obvious.
  7. Should you give something away? Most people who attend trade shows are expecting some giveaways and food is always popular. Make sure you package your food in a way that allows you to have your company information on it. Gift Certificates for some of your services are another great Trade Show giveaway – there’s nothing better than getting a deal on your services. And when they redeem their certificate, they will learn how great your services are and come back for more. Offer a drawing for a prize that complements your business and appeals to everyone. Have visitors and guests sign a guestbook, fill out a form or drop their business card in a bowl. You can then use this information later to make a follow up contact.
  8. Arrive early enough to the trade show and make sure everything is set up correctly and that everything works. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes – you’re going to be on your feet for most of the day!
  9. During the show, never turn your back to the crowd and don’t sit down unless you’re having a conversation with a guest and you both are sitting. Stand in front of your booth, if possible, saying “Hi” to those that turn and look toward your or your booth. Have your elevator speech ready. More importantly, be ready to listen to what your guests have to say, you may learn a lot about them and be able to fill a need that they have.
  10. A portfolio or display of your work should be on hand for visitors to see. A digital photo frame is an excellent way of showing your work or placing a Power Point® presentation on a laptop – your visitors will find this visually appealing and it will draw their attention. Offering a brochure with your best work for them to take with them will serve as a reminder once the show is over.

These 10 basic steps to Trade Show exhibiting will make your booth stand out, draw visitors in, and save you time, money and stress.

Conversation question… with more and more information and communications being digital, do you think the age of the trade show is dying or still alive and well? Why do you think?

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