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Effectively Marketing Your Business through Trade Shows

Effectively Marketing Your Business through Trade Shows

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: March 24, 2010

Where can you make connections, cement relationships, find potential customers and keep up to date on your industry-all in one place? At a trade show, of course.

Even in today's online world, meeting people face-to-face is still important to building a business. A trade show lets you come in contact with hundreds or even thousands of prospective customers, vendors and partners. But effectively marketing your business at a trade show requires some smart strategizing. Here's what to do.

Pick the right trade show. The costs of exhibiting at a trade show can add up quickly, so you want to make sure you're selecting a show that will pay off. (*) and Tradeshow Week (*) are comprehensive directories of trade shows worldwide. Search for shows by date, industry, event name or even location. Your industry trade association may have its own show, and will be able to tell you about other relevant shows.

If your budget is limited and you can only go to one show, you'll most likely want to focus on the biggest one in your industry. Don't just judge by size, however. Contact the show organizers or visit the Web site to find out how many attendees are expected and what kind of attendees they will be. For example, if you sell business-to-business, make sure you don't end up at a show where most attendees are consumers, or from the wrong industry. Find out what other companies will be exhibiting. Also ask other business owners what shows they've found most useful in the past.

Before the Show:

Set goals for the show. What do you want to accomplish at the event? Make your goals specific and quantifiable. Do you want to talk to 250 potential clients? Leave with contact information for 100 qualified leads? Get at least 10 orders?

Plan your logistics. Once you register, the show organizers will give you detailed information about booth options and technical requirements. Think about everything you might need for your booth - from signage to sample products to laptops for making presentations. No detail is too small to ignore. Know what's included in your booth space rental and what's not. How many outlets will you need to power your computers or other devices? Is it worth springing for a fancier booth or bigger signage? Figure out the costs of shipping everything you'll need.

Sweat the small stuff. No detail is too tiny to consider when making your exhibit run smoothly. If it's not included in the list of items provided to attendees, you probably won't get it-so don't assume you'll be able to find things like scissors, tape or an extra extension cord at the venue. Bring them along.

Staff adequately. Your staff is part of your marketing message, so make sure they're dressed appropriately (business casual is fine for most trade shows), high-energy and friendly people. Rather than just sitting and waiting for people walking by to talk to them, the people in your booth need to reach out and engage passersby. You should have at least two people in your booth at all times, which means you really need at least three people so one person can take breaks.

Bring marketing materials. First rule of trade show: Bring twice as many business cards as you think you could possibly need-and then bring a few more. If you're doing it right, you'll always run out. Also figure out what type of marketing materials you should bring for the goals you have in mind. This could be brochures, samples of your work or your products, forms people can fill out for more information. Promotional products such as pens, caps and tote bags are always huge hits at trade shows. To get the most from these, ask for something in exchange by having the recipient fill out a form with their name, e-mail and other information.

Get known as an expert. Most trade shows feature seminars, panels or workshops. Share your expertise by offering to participate in an event that's relevant to your business. You'll have a chance to promote your business and will meet lots of new contacts.

Socialize. Much of the key business of trade shows takes place after the exhibit booths close. Don't hole up in your hotel room; attend mixers and make plans to meet up with other attendees for drinks or dinner. If you're on Twitter, it's easy to find out what people are doing and start to build relationships.

After the show:

Follow up. If you don't follow up on the leads you obtained and the contacts you made at the show, all your work will be for nothing. Follow up within two weeks of the event; any longer, and you'll have faded from their minds. The specific follow-up depends on the relationship you want to establish. If a person expressed interest in buying from you, follow up to set up an appointment for a sales call or presentation. If they could be a potential partner, ask about meeting for lunch. If they're just someone you'd like to keep in touch with in the future, send a quick e-mail saying that you enjoyed meeting them, refreshing their memory about your business, and including your contact information in case they've lost it.

Not sure you want to spend the money to travel to a trade show right now? Consider exhibiting at a virtual trade show, which is held online. A virtual show can run the gamut from an online directory to a 'virtual world.' Typically, it has all the same elements of a real-world show, such as booths, seminars, and spaces to socialize online with other attendees. You man your booth from your computer, interacting with attendees via e-mail, message forums and chat. Attendees can view digital versions of your marketing materials. Seminars, discussions and keynote speeches are given using videos or podcasts. Just like trade shows in the offline world, virtual trade shows are held for a limited time-usually one to three days. The benefit is there's no travel time, virtual trade shows cost less to attend, and you can staff your booth yourself without ever leaving your office.

Rieva Lesonsky is founder and president of GrowBiz Media*, a content and consulting company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Visit* to read more of Rieva's insights. Visit* to buy her newest e-book, 23 Hot Businesses to Start Right Now!

*links to non-government web site

About the Author:

Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky

Guest Blogger

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and President of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at and visit to sign up for her free TrendCast reports. She's been covering small business and entrepreneurial issues for more than 30 years, is the author of several books about entrepreneurship and was the editorial director of Entrepreneur magazine for over two decades