Marissa Taffer
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The trade show industry is vast and encompasses many different areas of business and even hobbies. There are plenty trade shows and exhibits happening all over the world, with benefits such as finding new clients or vendors, networking or getting continuing education credits.  

What is a trade show? 

By definition, a trade show is an exhibition where businesses in a particular industry promote their products and services. 

Trade shows can be a great place to learn about an industry or profession for those just starting their careers. Usually, there are large exhibit halls with booths or areas for each vendor or sponsor. Representatives are on hand to discuss their business with attendees or collect their information so they can follow up with details or schedule a meeting to further discuss the product or service. 

Why should you participate in a trade show as a vendor? 

You should participate in a trade show as a vendor if you are looking to promote your product or service and grow your customer base. It also might make sense to exhibit at a trade show if you are a recruiter or are hiring people in the associated industry. It's a good way to meet available talent and grow your network.

Before you decide to participate in trade shows, you'll want to ensure that you pick the show that will get you the best return on your investment. This means you should have a clear understanding of all of the costs associated with the show, such as:

  • Booth space

  • Registration for booth staff

  • Sponsorship, if appropriate, for your business

  • Furniture and/or carpet for your booth 

  • Food and beverage on the exhibit floor 

  • Admission to the conference or any sessions on top of your registration 

  • Travel, hotel accommodations and meals for your staff

  • Collateral and giveaways for the booth 

  • Shipping cost for show materials (to and from the show)

  • Lead scanners or a method of collecting information from booth attendees 

How to make the most of a trade show.

Once you have decided to invest in a trade show, you want to ensure you are making the most of your time there. There are plenty of things you can do before, during and after the trade show to ensure you get the most out of your experience. 

Before the show.

Decide how you’ll participate.

Determine what size booth makes sense for your business. Many shows offer multiple sized booths and even the option to bring an interactive display. Understand that some trade shows take place in a union building, and you will need to hire union carpenters, electricians and riggers to assemble your booth, which can drive up the cost significantly. Other venues allow you to hire your own labor and set up your own booth.  Another decision you’ll need to make is if you want to be a sponsor for the show. This can impact your total cost for exhibiting but could also have many additional benefits including registration for a certain number of staff and additional advertising and promotion of your participation. 

Let attendees know you’ll be there.

Many shows will send out the attendee list to exhibitors prior to the show, often for an additional fee, so you can promote your attendance and let people know where you’ll be. Depending on the size of the show attendees may be inundated with emails from exhibitors. You could consider using direct mail, LinkedIn or even calling on the phone to promote your attendance. You may even consider hosting a happy hour one night after exhibit hours or offering a great raffle prize to entice attendees to visit your booth and meet you. If you choose to do this, don’t forget to factor the cost into the budget for the trade show. 

Plan your booth.

There's nothing sadder than an empty booth with one or two employees sitting at a 6' table with nothing on it but some brochures. Think of some ways to make your booth exciting to attendees so they want to stop by and learn more about your business. This should tie into your overall marketing and branding strategy. For a large trade show, it's of critical importance.

Practice your pitch.

If you are introverted or don’t think you’re a great networker, practice before the trade show. Grab some friends or colleagues and practice starting a conversation or talking about the business. Feeling prepared and confident will help you be successful during the show. 

Plan your schedule and coordinate with your team.

Make sure the booth is covered at all times. Try to bring enough staff that everyone has an opportunity to leave the booth to recharge, check emails and walk the show floor or attend sessions. It's amazing what you can learn at a trade show, so don’t miss out. 

During the show.

Make sure your booth looks professional.

Ask your team to be sure to clear coffee cups and left-behind collateral. Have a professional display for any information you want people to take with them. Ensure your team is well-groomed, and have some mints available — you’ll be talking a lot and in close proximity to many people. 

Make sure your team is easy to identify.

Consider matching shirts with the company logo, or if that's out of your budget, be sure you’re dressed professionally and have your badge prominently displayed. 

Take notes.

Jot down key details of a conversation on a notecard or the back of a business card. Over the course of the show, you’ll meet so many people and want to make sure you follow up correctly. 

Visit other vendors and learn about what they do.

This could even be a good opportunity to scope the competition. You’ll also spot trends and see what is important to other attendees. You might find some partners, new career opportunities or who knows what else? 

After the show.

Follow up on any open items and send any information promised.

Don’t forget to thank people for stopping by your booth. They gave you the most valuable thing they can offer: their time. 

Track the return on your investment.

Track sales you made or any other metrics that came out of your participation in the show. This will help you evaluate if your participation was a success 

Plan for your next show.

Will you attend again next year or look for other opportunities? By planning in advance, you’ll set yourself up for success. 

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