Whether you like it or not, eventually it will be necessary for you to take your small business on the road to do the whole “dog and pony” show at a major trade show.
The benefits? Reaching a huge new audience in the span of a few days, meeting new partners, connecting with a new client base, generating new ideas.
The disadvantages? If you’re not strategic about it, trade shows can be financially crippling, physically exhausting, and potentially a huge waste of time. So here are a few productive tips specifically for small business owners who are thinking about hitting the trade show circuit.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Before you commit to any particular trade show, do your research. Go as an attendee and make sure that the show is all it’s cracked up to be before committing to becoming an exhibitor.
There are an increasing number of green business trade shows out there, so be sure to do your due diligence and make sure that the show is reaching the right audience for your business. There are great resource sites out there to help in the research phase.
Taking the show on the road is not something that is open to improvisation. Know exactly what you’re going to be showing, what products you want to showcase, and which new initiatives you want to push. Only the clearest of messages can be heard or discerned from the cacophony of a crowded show floor.
Deciding this early will also help you mount a clear PR campaign in advance of the show. You cannot always rely on the show’s internal PR engine to promote your brand, so the earlier you lay out your own game plan, the earlier you can start telling people about it. Logistically speaking, the more details you have nailed down before show, the less money you’ll spend on last minute expenses (such as drayage, transportation, etc.).
Since prime booth space can be costly, think about potential partnerships with like-minded brands. At the recent Dwell on Design show in Los Angeles, Inhabitat partnered with local design gallery TOUCH to create a pop-up eco gallery and shop, making the most of TOUCH’s experience curating and designing compelling booth space and relying on the blog’s wide reach to draw an audience.
Likewise, retail brand Gilt Groupe partnered with French luxury furniture brand Ligne Roset to create a sexy and sleek co-branded space, each gaining brand recognition through association. Two brands can be better than one, if both are getting something out of the experience.
Designing a compelling booth space is actually a fine art. Besides showcasing your product or service, a booth space should be visually attractive and completely understandable at the same time.
That said, it’s possible to create a compelling booth on a budget. For example, TOUCH was able to use simple recycled materials, essentially painted cardboard boxes, to create an elegant pop-up shop and gallery for the Inhabitat booth at Dwell on Design. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but you need to think of your booth space as a blank canvas. Don’t scribble on it. Make sure to paint a masterpiece.
You’ll always need more people than you think to mount a successful trade show campaign. You can’t be in five places at the same time, so be prepared to enlist friends, family, employees, and volunteers to help you cover all the bases. You’ll be thankful to have extra hands. This is not the place to cut corners.
AVOID THE SCHWAG TRAP
Press rooms are pointless. Don’t bother printing collateral for journalists who most likely will not want to schlep a bag of press kits around with them on the show floor. It’s time to go electronic.
Don’t give away useless schwag that will only end up in the nearest trash can. Rather than giving, you should be taking. Collecting, that is. Think up creative ways to collect e-mail addresses, business cards, and other information so you walk away with a way to keep in contact with the people you’ve met at the show.
If you’re going to give anything away, make it something substantial and meaningful. If you’re running a green business, the days of schwag are past.