One of the things I enjoy about the work I do is meeting amazing entrepreneurs at trade shows and conferences. Unfortunately, the recession caused many small businesses to scale back on their participation in off-site meetings and events, but I’m beginning to see attendance pick up again. I imagine most of you would agree that there’s really nothing better than face-to-face interactions. Trade shows/conferences offer an incredible opportunity to meet many customers and potential customers all in one place.
Regardless of the type of industry you’re in, there is probably at least one major industry-wide trade show each year. Attending and particularly exhibiting at trade shows is expensive and it can take a significant bite out of your marketing budget. There’s the cost of booth space, displays, literature, shipping, airfare, hotel, and meals – not to mention the toll on your feet and back.
However, with careful planning, participating in a trade show can reap huge rewards. In order to ensure you get the best return on your investment, here are some trade show tips.
1. Research your options.
Know which trade shows will give your firm the best exposure with your target audience. If you’ve never attended the event, ask for references or use your network to identify people who have participated previously. Ask about attendance. Find out how well-managed the show is. Will there be educational programs available too? Learn as much as you can before you choose.
2. Consider the location.
The ideal situation for any business owner is attending a conference in a city where clients or potential customers are located. In addition to attending the show, allocate time to set up meetings while you’re there. You’ve already spent money to travel there, so leverage that expenditure. Also, some cities are simply more expensive than others. Attending an event in New York or Los Angeles is generally more costly than one held in Indianapolis.
3. Set goals for your participation.
It’s important to be clear about what you want to achieve by attending the event. Are you there to learn? Do you want to meet potential business partners? Is your attendance primarily to market your company? Too often companies attend trade shows and return to their offices with a stack of business cards and that’s about it. Make a list in advance of who you want to meet. Plan your follow up strategy beforehand. Decide how you’ll measure your results.
4. Plan your space.
If you are going to exhibit, make sure you book your space early so you’ll be in a high traffic area. Nothing is worse than getting stuck in a dark corner of the exhibit hall. Find out everything you can about your space, including what kind of other exhibits will be around it. Make sure your space looks professional and inviting. All signs and display items should be pleasing to the eye and designed to get attention.
5. Make your booth the buzz of the show.
A giveaway or gimmick will attract people to your booth. Having some sort of prize drawing or contest is a great way to collect contact information from booth visitors. A demonstration or interactive display will draw people’s interest and get them to cluster around your display. When I managed trade show participation for a major company, we’d rent a popcorn machine. It wasn’t expensive, but talk about drawing an audience. When that popcorn fragrance filled the hall, people followed the scent straight to our booth.
Are you planning to attend any trade shows or conferences this fall? How do you choose which events to participate in? How do you measure your success?
Susan Wilson Solovic is an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, author of three best-selling books, multi-media personality and contributor to ABC News and other outlets, public speaker and attorney. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.