There are some things you just can’t “dot.com.” Here’s one way to beat those online marketing blues by doing some face-to-face networking…
The Internet has been a boon for the home business person, enabling small enterprises to market to and take orders from customers all over the world. But as effective as working a business online can be, there are times when the home entrepreneur may crave a little one-on- one interaction with her customers. That’s when she should consider taking her act on the road… to a trade show.
According to Business Week, trade shows and exhibitions are one of the most cost-effective marketing tools available. One recent survey showed that it costs half as much to close a sale made to an exhibition lead as to one obtained through all other means.
That’s why the number of shows has exploded in the last decade, with attendance up to 123 million people and U.S. expenditures reaching $100 billion on them last year alone. As the exhibition industry proclaims, “There are some things you just can’t dot.com.”
Trade shows provide a unique venue for people with common interests to connect with one another, live and in person. Attendees can learn from experts in their field at a fraction of the cost for a seminar or personal consultation. Exhibitions provide them with a one-stop shop to check out the latest innovations in their industry, compare products and make purchasing decisions. They are also a great place to view the product lines of competitors and network with others. These attractions give exhibitors a highly targeted market of prospects who have pre-screened themselves as interested buyers. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
So you’ve decided that this is an area you’d like to pursue in your marketing efforts…as long as you can find an exhibition that meets your needs. Fortunately, there are several online calendars of trade shows, meetings and conventions occurring worldwide. Here are some of the largest:
You should look for:
If you’re a one-person shop, you may have to close operations for the period of time you’ll be working the show.
Local shows do not require additional travel expenses or overnight stays. If the show you wish to attend is highly desirable and more than a couple of hours away by car, you should factor in the cost of a hotel room, just in case.
• Target Market
If you are selling cookware, you might be interested in taking a booth at the county fair, where you’ll reach a wide audience of local attendees. However, it would be more cost-effective to look into exhibiting at a food festival, attracting people who are interested in how dishes are prepared.
• Estimated Attendance
Important in evaluating the cost effectiveness of your participation, as well as estimating the number of handout materials you will need to bring.
The cost of the booth is only a fraction of what you’ll pay to participate. Read the exhibitor’s agreement carefully before committing to the show: You may be responsible for additional fees, such as security and cleaning deposits, telephone lines and power supplies.
You may also be required to obtain a rider to your business insurance policy covering any injuries that might occur at your booth.
Other expenses at your discretion include the cost of signage, handouts, door prizes (contributed to the show in exchange for additional booth promotion or given away at your booth to entice attendees to leave their contact information). You need to weigh all of these expenses against the potential benefits of new sales and leads.
One aspect of trade shows is the symbiotic relationship between the promoter, exhibitors and attendees. The better the quality of the exhibits and offerings, the more qualified participants will want to attend. Once you agree to be part of the show, you are now partners with the show promoter, who will include your business information in his marketing efforts — thereby attracting more attendees and exhibitors, and giving you more bang for your marketing buck.
In turn, you should do all you can to help increase attendance. Many show promoters will give exhibitors passes to give their customers, allowing them to attend for free or at a discount. Use these liberally. Add a line to your sig and your own marketing materials announcing your participation in the show.
The day of the show will be hectic:
Have all your materials organized and ready to go at least 24 hours in advance. This is a great task to share with your kids, who can help with collating and gathering materials.
Your set-up time prior to the show may be limited. Arrive promptly and note loading dock rules and parking regulations.
Don’t even think of working your booth alone! If you are a one-person shop, enlist a friend or family member (even your teenage kids) to help you work the booth — you don’t want to miss an important lead because you had to grab some lunch or use the rest room.
A trade show is not a good place for your young children. Arrange for a spouse, family member or friend to watch them while you’re working.
Dress as you would for any business event, but keep in mind that you will be on your feet for eight hours or longer on floors that are hard enough to support a semi-truck. Wear comfortable shoes with good support (Rockports are better than athletic shoes and look nicer, too). Stash an extra pair under your booth’s skirted table. Changing into fresh shoes midway through the day will alleviate foot fatigue.
Overall, smile and have fun. This is a rare opportunity to get out from behind your computer, have some “face time” with your customers, get feedback on your offerings, make some new friends and sell, sell, sell! (And what could be more fun than that?)
Donna Schwartz Mills, CMP is a veteran events planner awarded the Certified Meetings Professional designation by the Convention Liaison Council. She is now the webmaster/editor of the NOBOSS ParentPreneur Club. http://www.parentpreneurclub.com/