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Successful Trade-Show Tips

Trade shows offer tremendous exposure and networking opportunities for all kinds of businesses. They’re great for strengthening existing customer relationships and forging new ones. But the competition is stiff. It’s tough to stand out in the crowd, especially if you’re a small business. That’s why you need to approach each trade show with clear goals and a plan of action.

Choose a Trade Show
Depending on your industry, you may have dozens of trade shows to choose from. Don’t try to attend them all or dive into the largest events too soon. For new businesses, it can be rewarding to try regional trade shows. These smaller shows generally offer reasonable fees and they tend to help you better connect with local customers. You’ll be able to get your bearings and refine your communication with prospects without overspending. Bonus: You’ll be a bigger fish in a smaller pond, which has its perks.

Before the Show
Once you’ve reserved your spot, find out who else is going to be there and learn as much as you can. This helps you formulate a plan for acquiring leads and connecting with the right people. Next, work out a budget that includes all of your expenses. You’ll have to pay for travel fees, lodging, booth rental, meals, and more. Trade shows can be highly profitable, but they require upfront expense and careful planning to maximize the return on your investment. Many small business owners focus on making money at a trade show, but odds are that the biggest payoffs won’t be immediate. You’ll usually reap the rewards later, with greater customer loyalty, brand recognition, and rapport with others in your industry.

Pre-Show Prep
Your first priority should be attracting people to your booth so you can make contact. Don’t wait until the day of the trade show to connect with attendees. About two weeks in advance, send out a fun promotional gift along with an invitation to all of your existing contacts. Invitations with a gift receive an overwhelmingly positive response, much better than coupons or mailers alone.

At the Show
Your outreach is intended to generate a buzz, but you’ll need to work hard during the show to keep your booth lively. That means offering enticing prizes and promo gifts. There’s a lot of competition among vendors and a lot of swag floating around, but people will come to your booth in droves if you’re offering useful or interesting items. It isn’t just about giving things away, either.

Attendees will hang onto these items and see/display your logo thousands of times.

  • Bags: Attendees accumulate a lot of stuff throughout the day, so they’ll be eager to pick up a personalized tote or drawstring backpack to carry it all.
  • Business Card Holders: Business cards are trade-show currency. You’ll come home with a big stack, and so will all of the attendees.
  • Pens: Lots of people are taking down names and numbers. Custom pens are a sure winner, but make sure yours stand out in the crowd. Choose pens with bells and whistles like built-in styluses or LED lights in order to get your brand the most attention. Colorful markers and highlighters are also good options when it comes to standing out.
  • Novelties: In addition to traditional trade-show standbys, consider offering fun, unexpected promotional items, like selfie sticks. People love novelty and will tend to gravitate toward what is different and interesting.

It’s worth the investment to offer up a few generous, bigger ticket items as prizes. For the cost of a few sleek Bluetooth® speakers or golf clubs, you’ll get a priceless list of contacts that you can target in all of your future marketing campaigns.

Whatever you do, choose your promotional products wisely. Project the image of a successful business with a cohesive, appealing message. Get creative with promo gear and make sure every piece accurately reflects your brand.

After the Show
You’ll be wiped, but your work isn’t done. The most valuable outcome of any trade show is the contacts you make—both customers and industry leaders. Connect with both as soon as possible, sending personalized messages and including details about your interaction at the show. Gather up the registrations you collected and follow up with an e-mail or special offer. As you wrap up, reflect on your trade-show experience and look at the numbers. Recall what was working for you—or for others—and what wasn’t. This information will often guide you as you work to formulate a solid trade-show strategy for next year.

Happy showing!

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