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Trade Show Tips for Small Business Owners

Trade Show Tips for Small Business Owners
One of the most effective ways to attract new business is to exhibit at a trade show. Nearly every industry has at least one show where businesses can showcase their products and services to potential customers. And if you’re like many small businesses, you’ll find that there are a number of potentially lucrative trade show opportunities that are worth the expense.

While trade shows can be great business boosters, they also require loads of preparation, work, and attention to detail. They can be tremendously stressful and energy zapping. To minimize the headache and to maximize your success as an exhibitor, we wanted to offer a few tried-and-true trade show tips that you may want to consider.

Before the Show

Define Goals
You don’t invest in a trade show just because you want to get a break from the office. Typically, you’re there to drum up new business or to increase the visibility of your brand. Whatever your goals are, make sure you’ve clearly defined them and that you have a way of measuring whether they’ve been achieved.

Create a Budget
This should include the obvious things such as the cost for the booth space, hotel accommodations for the employees who will be attending the show, food, and shipping your booth to and from the show. But you don’t want to forget about those hidden costs that can add up – an internet connection, show listings and advertisements, lead capture devices, giveaway items, and printed collateral.

Carefully Read the Show Guide
Every show has its unique rules and regulations. Familiarize yourself with these to avoid any unexpected problems once you’re at the show. Don’t forget to mark all important deadlines in your calendar.

Being at a trade show is not unlike being on stage. You’re the star of your business, and you want to project the best possible image. To get ready for your appearance, it’s wise to prepare three to five engaging, open-ended questions that you can ask potential customers who visit your booth. And you’ll want to feel comfortable responding to their questions, too. This means having a thorough knowledge of everything you’re trying to promote and sell.

Information on what you’ll be promoting, the number of your booth space, and any special sideline events you’ll be hosting or attending can be shared on your website, blog, social media channels, and emails.

Set Up Meetings
Trade shows are prime time for getting some one-on-one time with existing customers, qualified contacts, industry media, and bloggers. Set up meetings before or after exhibition hours to ensure you don’t cut into your time on the show floor.

Compile an “Everything” Box
You will want to be prepared for whatever is thrown at you at the show, so having a box full of must-haves is essential. This should include pens, a stapler, tape, scissors, paper clips, note pads, business cards, and of course, breath mints and bottles of water.

During the Show

Dress the Part
A trade show isn’t the time to wear your nightclub gear or even worse, your old sweatpants. This means dress professionally so that your clothes don’t become the one thing that they remember about you and your business. If it makes sense, logo embroidered shirts or coordinating outfits can be a good way to strengthen your brand. A professional name tag is an especially nice touch. And don’t forget the sensible shoes. You’ll be spending a lot of time on your feet.

Educate Instead of Sell
Nothing is more off-putting to trade show attendees than getting the hard sell by an exhibitor before they’ve demonstrated interest in buying. The purpose of the show should always be to educate those who take the time to learn about your business. By developing a rapport, you can find out if there is real interest. If so, then you can take the conversation to the next level.

Take a Break
If possible, bring at least one person to help you. Having to stand in your booth for eight or 10 hours without a break is a recipe for exhaustion. By taking shifts with someone else, you can grab a bite to eat, take a breather, and walk the floor of the show to meet other exhibitors. Sometimes the best opportunities are found when you simply strike up a conversation with a fellow business owner as you peruse the aisles of the show.

Make Friends with Your Neighboring Exhibitors
You’ll be beside neighboring exhibitors for hours, if not days, so why not strike up a conversation and make a new friend or two. Be a good neighbor by helping bring traffic to their booth or by offering to buy them lunch. Who knows? They might end up giving you a valuable referral in reciprocation or becoming a customer.

Remember the 80/20 Rule
Listen 80 percent of the time and talk 20 percent when dealing with show attendees. The bulk of your time talking should be asking questions to lean about their specific needs.

Don’t Forget to Say Thank You
Being gracious and polite can set you apart from the droves of other exhibitors who have forgotten their manners. By saying thank you to everyone who takes the time to stop by your booth, you’ll project an impression that will stick with many.

Don’t Pack Up Early
It may seem like traffic is dwindling down during the last hour or so of a show. But don’t be tempted to start packing up. Often it’s the last conversation of the day which leads to a valuable conversation. Hang in there, and get the most you can out of the show.

After the Show

Organize Your Leads
Your work isn’t over just because you’ve packed up the booth and returned home. The first thing you’ll want to do post-show is create a show database of leads that you can follow up with. Ideally, it’s great to connect via phone or a personalized email. But if it’s hundreds or thousands of leads, you might have to send out an email blast to stay connected and start the sales conversion process.

Find Out about Discounts for Next Year’s Shows
If the show was a success, you will probably want to exhibit again next year. Most show organizers offer significant discounts to early bird exhibitors who sign up for the following year. Besides a discount, you are also offered a better position for your booth by booking early.

Schedule Sales Calls
From your lead data base, identify the individuals who were the most interested in buying what you have to sell. You will want to schedule time to either meet with them or for a phone conversation. Don’t let these people slip away. They’re the potential customers who could create measurable return on investment from the show.

Yes, there are many things to consider when you commit to a trade show. But there’s also a tremendous amount to gain by putting in the effort. With each trade show, you’ll gain experience and insight into the best ways to exhibit and the most effective ways to turn these events into valuable marketing opportunities.