By Lexie Lu

No matter what industry you’re in, there’s probably a trade show or conference that’s related to it. From travel professionals to bridal salon owners, there’s a trade show that will allow you to get the word out about what your company does and powerfully reach your target audience.

However, it’s vital that you choose the right trade show to attend. The costs of buying promotional products, traveling to the trade show, setting up a booth and paying for space adds up. Results can vary widely, so you must be smart with how you spend your trade show dollars.

Benefits of Attending Trade Shows

There are many benefits to attending trade shows, including a high return on investment (ROI) when you get in the right market with a booth that’s unique enough to attract some attention. Trade shows garner more sales in fewer calls than cold calling — closing a sale runs about $550 and 1.4 calls, compared to $997 and 3.6 calls for cold calling.

You’ll also network with others in your industry and make valuable connections. These people can mentor you, offer advice or even send customers your way. Look for complementary companies to yours. For example, if you sell heating and cooling systems, team up with a home builder or a plumber. The key is to find businesses where you can be mutually beneficial to one another.

Another benefit of attending a trade show is the ability to see what your competition is doing. Study the techniques they’re using that are working. At the same time, try to figure out if there are any customer needs your competitors aren’t meeting. How can you address these needs? This can give you an edge.

Be aware, however, that it can be expensive to attend a trade show. Do your due diligence and research who the average attendee is. You’ll also want to look at past trade show booklets and see if your competition was present. Are you at the point with your business where you can compete with competitors’ booths?

Which Industries Attend Most Shows?

The top trade shows by industry can vary between how many different trade shows are held for that industry, how many people typically attend or even how much money an industry takes in at one time.

Looking at trade shows across these various factors, some of the popular sectors include building and remodeling, electronics, medical, product fairs, bridal and professional organizations like dentists, authors, doctors, etc. Within each of these industries can be more niche trade shows, such as romance writers, heating and cooling, home builders and so on.

No matter what industry you’re in, there’s likely a trade show that matches your needs. Gather the stats on who attends, where the trade show is hosted — this can make a big difference if you’re seeking local customers — and the associated costs.

Consider the Keynote Speakers

A keynote speaker can attract more attendees to a trade show. These speakers can vary by industry. A comic con, for example, might request a famous actor who played a superhero to speak as a keynote. On the other hand, a technology show would be more likely to invite someone like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerburg.

Keynote speakers aren’t always celebrities, though. They can also be someone who has something unique to say about the industry, such as the inventor of a new product. If a person has a life or industry lesson to teach to trade show attendees, they may be a good speaker for the event.

Setting up an Eye-Catching Stand

Think about the way most trade show floors are set up. There are aisles upon aisles and endless rows of booths. Standing out from all the noise becomes necessary if you want to attract people to your booth and ultimately teach them about your business.

The first thing you need to look at is how to make your booth stand out. This includes everything from the signage and how it looks from a distance to what swag you’re handing out. Promotional items can drive traffic to your booth — just make sure it’s a product your target audience would specifically want. If you cast the net too wide, you’ll attract a lot of fish who will take the bait but not get hooked.

The goal is to grab interest and gather information so you can build a list of future customers to stay in touch with through a newsletter or some other form of communication.

Choose Best Trade Show Space

Arguably, one of the most important aspects of whether your trade show booth will be a success is where it’s placed. Obviously, a booth that’s near the entrance is going to do better than one that’s tucked down a side aisle near the back of the event.

Look for a location in a wide aisle, because you’ll stay away from congestion while still having the same number of people pass through. You may even wind up with more foot traffic, as some people will skip past congested aisles. There’s an entire psychology behind the behavior of trade show attendees and where you should place your booth.

Consider things such as where people enter and at what point they’ll begin to get tired. Of course, you’ll also have to think about the cost of the space you want versus your budget.

Ultimately you must decide if the expense of the trade show is worth the investment. Will you be able to generate enough new leads to make it worth your time and money? If so, it makes sense to take the time to plan a booth that will give you the most bang for your buck and leave a lasting impression with your target audience.

Lexie Lu is a freelance graphic designer and blogger. She keeps up with the latest design news and always has some coffee in close proximity. She writes on Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.