Attending a trade show, particularly as an exhibitor, can be a great investment for small businesses.
Often, it isn’t the biggest or most expensive booth that gets attention, but the one with the most innovative ideas or compelling sales messages. But in order to get the most out of the experience, you need to have a clear idea of what you hope to gain.
Here are just a few things that trade shows can provide to small businesses:
Whether you’re just opening for business or you’re looking to grow, establishing a strong brand is key to your success. The aesthetic and functional features of your booth are an opportunity to differentiate your company from others. It’s a great way to showcase your design ability and creativity. Consider not just what information you include but also what the “feel” of it says about your brand.
For many small businesses, the challenge is letting people know you are there. Trade shows provide you with an opportunity to make your case to an audience. Since most trade shows are organized around a particular theme or industry, it means that the people who are attending will actually be interested in what you have to say. It’s also likely that a high percentage of the attendees are locally-based, which is a benefit for location-based small businesses.
Trade shows aren’t just an opportunity for potential customers to discover you, but also a chance for you to discover potential competitors. Dedicate some time to spend away from your booth, just walking the floor and learning what others in your field are up to. What are the new trends in your industry? Are you ahead of the curve, or do you have some catching up to do?
You can also use your trade show experience as an opportunity to find out more about your current customers. Ask those who are currently using your services or products for feedback, either formally by providing them with a survey or just by engaging them in conversation. Similarly, you can ask those who aren’t using your company (yet!) what they look for and what would make them consider you.
Also, this may be a time when many of your out-of-town clients are available in person if the trade show is big enough. Reach out ahead of time and plan to meet up in a venue that’s appropriate. For some, it may be just encouraging them to check out your custom booth. For others, you may want to plan for a lunch or coffee meeting. And if you’re planning a more formal meeting, you may want to reserve a meeting room at the conference itself or in a hotel nearby.
Want to reach out to your target audience on a regular basis? Well, you need a mailing list to do it! Trade shows are a great way to gather contact information. You can ask people to sign up for a free e-newsletter, send them promotional emails, get mailing addresses to send out print ads, or even get phone numbers if you want to do some cold calling. A great way to encourage people to hand over their details is to give them an incentive like a raffle ticket for a big ticket item, like an iPad, or by offering them a discount on your products or services. Think of it as a way to reward them for giving you their contact info.
About the author: Juliana Weiss-Roessler runs Weiss-Roessler Writing with her husband Josh. Together, they offer press releases, blogging, website copy, and other writing services to small and mid-sized businesses. She regularly covers trends in the networking and tradeshow scene for Nimlok. Her writing has been featured on high-traffic websites, such as Yahoo.com, and in major publications, such as PARADE and People. Along with her husband, Juliana lives in Austin, TX, with their two tiny-but-rambunctious dogs and one tiny-but-rambunctious baby boy.