Trade show tips for small businesses

Promoting your small business at a trade show can be one of the most effective ways to meet new customers and clients, scope out the competition, and showcase your products or services. While these can be a costly investment for many small business owners, the payoff is increased exposure to a very targeted market and the opportunity to increase brand awareness.

I've worked with small business owners who make a point about attending at least one trade show each year, for the sole purpose of handing out business cards, samples, and talking about their business. This "face time" with prospects and other business owners can help you build your client base and also give you some more credibility in your community.

Key Benefits of Attending a Trade Show

Being able to discuss your business, demonstrate products, or provide a presentation about your services to a target market is priceless. Trade shows can be a good match for: restaurant owners; spa and salon businesses; website and technology firms; hotel and hospitality businesses; photographers and wedding planners; and other types of service providers. Small businesses that want to demo a product or service can also benefit from attending these types of events.

Some of the key benefits of attending a trade show include:

  • In-person interactions with potential clients, customers, and industry vendors
  • Opportunity to see what the competition is offering or announcing
  • Networking with other small business owners to develop co-marketing ideas
  • Giving away samples or special discounts on goods you want to promote this season
  • Raising awareness about your company or brand in the community
  • Opportunity to sponsor the event and boost brand awareness
  • Introducing owners, brand representatives, and managers to the community
  • Unveiling a new product

Trade Show Drawbacks

Cost is one of the major drawbacks of attending a trade show - shows can cost several thousand dollars just to reserve a booth and get to the location. You also need to hire a team of people to work at the booth for the event, and make sure you're fully-staffed at your brick-and-mortar location. Finding volunteers to help out with these types of events can curtail some of the costs.

Another drawback is the return on investment. If the show itself has a low turnout or you don't get a booth in a high-traffic location, you could end up wasting your time, energy, and resources. Industry-specific trade shows are your best bet when you are first starting out because you are more likely to get an immediate response. Unless you're a major sponsor, attending just a general, local trade show could result in a very low return on investment because only a handful of people will be truly interested in what you have to offer.

Trade Show Preparation Tips

You need to let your clients and potential customers know that you're attending a trade show so that they can meet you in person and make a point about stopping by your booth. Announcing your attendance on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter can help to generate some buzz - even more so if you can offer a free gift or host some type of contest.

Make sure you've set aside a portion of your marketing budget for trade show costs and try to forecast as many expenses as possible so you know exactly how much you're investing for this promotional activity. You can gauge your success based on how many deals you close or products you sell on location, what type of response you receive after your attendance, or by how many new customers you are able to generate based on a contest or promotion you announce at the show.

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