trade show

If you’re a startup, exhibiting at a trade show is a great opportunity for you to get the word out about your company and let everyone know who you are.

By Leslie Pierce

Trade shows and conventions offer businesses a chance to increase their brand awareness and connect with customers and new prospects. They are also a huge investment and require a lot of time, energy and money. If you’re a startup, exhibiting at a trade show is a great opportunity for you to get the word out about your company and let everyone know who you are, what you offer and why they should do business with you. It’s also an opportunity to meet and connect with other exhibitors in your industry—and maybe potential investors, too!

If you’re a new company planning to exhibit at a trade show for the first time, give yourself plenty of time to plan and follow these six essential tips:

1. Choose the Right Show

So, you’ve decided you want to exhibit at an upcoming trade show. Before you make any more decisions, ask yourself a few questions. Why do you want to exhibit? What is your primary goal? Do you want to gain new leads and prospects? Are you looking to improve your relationship with existing customers? Or are you more focused on making connections with exhibitors in your industry? Maybe you’re launching a new product and want to use the trade show event as a platform for promoting the new launch. Not every trade show is going to be a good fit for your specific goals. Use your answers to these questions to help you choose the right show to attend before investing in the wrong one.

2. Prepare a Budget

Whether you’re a startup that’s new to trade shows or a company that has exhibited a few times, it’s important to understand how to appropriately budget for the event. No matter what industry you’re in, you might be surprised to learn just how much exhibiting can cost. Don’t let yourself become discouraged by sticker shock. Before you officially sign up to exhibit at an event, prepare a detailed budget that includes all of the items and services that will be itemized. A few items to consider include purchasing booth space, designing custom trade show displays, creating custom graphics and other marketing materials, renting electricity, setting up Wi-Fi and booking flights and hotel rooms for you and your staff.  

3. Invest in Your Booth

Your trade show display is going to be the first impression your visitors have of your business and your brand as they walk by your booth. Make it a good one by designing a booth that will quickly grab the attention of not only the attendees passing by but competing exhibitors, too! As a startup, you may not have the budget to invest in a large and expensive set-up—but that’s okay! You can still make a huge impact by displaying a trade show banner with your logo and a creative message. You can hang your banner up over or in front of your booth or place banners around the trade show floor to help point attendees in your direction.

4. Market your Exhibit

As a first-time exhibitor, you can’t expect to get a ton of foot traffic at your first show unless you promote your exhibit ahead of time. In the weeks leading up to the show, start announcing that you will be exhibiting at an upcoming trade show to your customers and followers via email and social media. Let them know what the event is called, when it will be and where they can find your booth, as well as whether you’ll be speaking and if you plan on hosting contests or giveaways. If you plan on launching a new product or have a special announcement to make, release teaser videos and other content to help increase the anticipation before the event. You can also further encourage attendees to stop by your booth by offering special promotions ahead of the trade show. Anything you can do to spread the word about your exhibit will help lead to a successful trade show experience.

5. Make an Impression

It’s important to remember that as a startup, you’ll be competing with other, more experienced exhibitors for the attention of trade show attendees and potential customers. You can make a lasting impression on your visitors by offering freebies and hosting giveaways. Promotional products are a great way to influence leads and get visitors to remember who you are long after the trade show is over. Another benefit to offering free promotional items to attendees is all the free publicity you’ll get just from them walking around with products that have your logo on them. Studies show that people keep their promotional items for an average of eight months—that’s eight months of essentially free advertising! Another way to stand out among other exhibitors is by speaking at the event. This is an effective tactic for encouraging people to visit your booth later.

6. Follow-Up

When it comes to following up with leads post-trade show, most exhibitors don’t have a solid plan in place. All too often, they spend so much time and energy on acquiring new leads that they often take too long—or outright fail—to follow up with them after the show ends. Get ahead of the competition by coming up with a follow-up plan. A successful strategy involves promptly reaching out to everyone who gave you their contact information. Studies show that leads that receive a quick response post-trade show are more likely to turn into future prospects. Make sure to personalize each message and include a call-to-action that encourages your lead to engage with you further. Something like “download a copy of our presentation” or “request a product demonstration” would work well.

Finally, remember that it’s okay to start small. Unless you have a really large budget—most startups don’t—you can’t expect to make an enormous impact at your first trade show. Choose an event that is targeted to your specific audience and follow the rest of our essential tips to create a successful and cost-effective first-time trade show experience for you and the attendees.

Leslie Pierce is the VP of Marketing for Her background in retail management for Nordstrom and Helzberg Diamonds has provided her with a wealth of experience in planning successful promotions. Currently, she leads national outreach strategies.

Trade show stock photo by NVS my world/Shutterstock