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How to Profit at Trade Shows as a Small Business

6 Aug 2019

Small businesses all share a disadvantage at trade shows – the high material costs inherent in the role of an exhibitor. Accommodation and flights are not the only big financial drains, but you’re also divesting funds into booth design, transportation and installation on the day. Let’s not also underestimate the burden of printing costs for promotional materials and any unforeseen expenses that may arise (and will most likely arise) once you’ve boarded the plane. Marketing budgets at a larger company have the capacity to absorb these costs without any risk, whereas for someone not of the same financial calibre the risks are pronounced.

How do you transform risk into profit at exhibitions?

1. Rather Than Exhibit, Just Visit

Although not the same efficiency in selling, there are excellent opportunities to still have an impact in your field as a trade visitor at a show or a convention. You cull attendance costs as there’s not much you need to pay for as a visitor than for a pass, accommodation and flights. That’s far more manageable for a smaller company, while allowing you the same access to potential buyers. You’re in a position to investigate direct competitors, see new releases, research market trends and hear thought leaders and experts discuss real-time solutions to current challenges. There’s much to be gained from technical programs. Not to mention most events will have matchmaking opportunities.

2. You Should Always Be Networking

Network as if there’s no tomorrow, because that’s how a business survives in a competitive field. Combine it with the advice from step one and attend conferences and fairs with the intention to be recognized later on. Companies have an easier time buying from another company, when they’ve had prior experience. Break the ice and lay the groundwork for when you do come to back to the same event but as an exhibitor. As a small business, reputation is one of the most valuable assets in your arsenal and networking will grow your recognition and respectability at the same time. It’s a slow process and can expect results in the mid- to long term. Set the right expectations, because you can’t expect for anyone to trust you the moment you arrive on the scene.

3. Know Who You Are Meeting at the Exhibition

Bigger companies can take the risk to make an appearance at a trade show without having a very clear idea about who they’re going to meet, but smaller companies need to have a smarter, detailed plan about their appearance at a trade show. We emphasize the importance of this especially when you’re there as an exhibitor. You have to reach the optimal ROI per a single sales lead and what this entails is doing preliminary research. Does this trade show attract the right kind of buyers for your company? Are there specific companies you want to become your clients? Can you identify good for your business? The answers to these questions gives you a competitive edge. The next step is to engage with these visitors. You might reach out via social media at the day of the show or contact them before hand and arrange for business meetings in between their appointments.

4. Engage with Items on the Supporting Program

Even the smallest event will dedicate space, time and resources for a conference, practical or any other informational track that shares expertise from leading professionals in the field. Although you might be inclined to focus only on extracting value from foot traffic at your exhibition booth, we advise you to send out a person who’s going to represent you at conferences. Listen to speakers, take notes and always ask questions afterwards. Not only do you receive valuable market data, but you are also far more likely to be remembered by these speakers, which is exactly what you want. These men and women often occupy high positions in respected, established companies. Gaining their attention and possibly fostering a relationship only further your company’s wellbeing in the long run. Direct sales are good and all, but it’s the connections that matter most at this stage.

5. Take Advantage of Your Status as a Start-up

This last piece of advice is aimed at start-ups, which are all small businesses by their nature. But not all small businesses are start-ups. You will find a thriving support base for start-ups. There are many industry associations, which are likely to offer financial support to facilitate your visit as an exhibitor. Do some research ahead of time about the resources available to you and initiate these conversations as early as possible. However, we also advise you choose strategically which trade shows are worth reaching out, because there’s no guarantee you may receive financial assistance indefinitely for every single attendance.

Another way you can do away with the financial burdens of exhibiting is to ask about discounts from organisers. Most trade shows and exhibitions have a showcase, area or village dedicated to start-ups and you can be certain that they’ll also provide discounts. Before you make any purchase of show floor space or exhibition booths for that matter, ask about any relevant and applicable discounts. There’s a high chance that you can receive discounts and financial support from associations at the same time, which will considerably lower your exhibitor expenses.


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