How to Attend Your First Trade Show As a Business

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Starting your own business is an exciting journey that lets you work by your own rules, for the most part. Some opportunities will still force you outside of your comfort zone. A trade show is a valuable event where you can network with other business owners, dazzle potential clients and feel a greater sense of community within your industry.

However, without proper preparation, you may find yourself flailing and not taking advantage of a show’s enormous networking opportunities. Keep these tips in mind as you prepare for your first trade show as a business.

Do Your Research About the Trade Show

Not all trade shows are created equal. First, you’ll want to locate trade shows specific to your industry or that have clear crossover potential.

Second, you’ll want to assess the caliber of the show. Will industry leaders be there or is it more a low-key operation taking aim at making money off of the dreams and naiveté of new small business owners? Networking with veteran business owners and an internet search can help you find the answer.

Finally, you’ll want to assess costs for attending the trade show. If the best trade show in your industry is in California, but you’re from Kentucky, the cost of airfare could render the potential increase in business null.

On the flip side, maybe you live in Ohio because of the low property values, but your tech business doesn’t have a large Ohioan customer base, so you need to attract business from other parts of the country. Registration rates can also vary wildly. You should have a list of all costs before making a commitment.

Brand Your Trade Show Booth

The stereotypical trade show booths have a white or black plain backdrop. Are you more likely to stop at one of these bland booths or one bursting with flavor? A new business, catchy visuals and a budget usually don’t go hand in hand. This is where your creativity needs to shine. There are plenty of cool ideas that can help you stand apart from the crowd, like setting up a photo op and making it interactive.

This might be the only chance you get to impress people, so make sure you put a lot of effort into your booth. First impressions are everything.

Create a Trade Show Memento

You’ll want interested business partners and potential clients to have a physical reminder of your business. If possible, try making the marketing memento have a strong tie to your business besides simply having your company logo. For example, a Frisbee is a great companion for a dog walking company, while a magnet with cooking measurement conversions provides utility for the avid cook you want to read your recipe website.

The more unique the item is, the more buzz it will create around your booth. Be sure to pick something within your budget and go with a supplier you can reorder from in case you have lots of success. Something as simple as your business card could set you apart. I still remember a fellow marketer handing me her card five years ago because its design was akin to an iPhone. It was a simple and cost-effective way to stand out from the dozens of business cards I received that day.

Plan Ahead for the Trade Show

As with a business meeting, being over-prepared is in your best interest. Consider these helpful jumping-off points:

  • Hopefully you already know your product and services inside and out, but what do you know about your competition?
  • Register as early as possible. Then book any accommodations to guarantee you’ll have them and avoid potential surge pricing.
  • Have a document with names of other owners you’d like to connect with while at the show, a list of all the materials that should be on hand in your booth and the trade show schedule of events, if applicable.

The more actively you participate, the more you will gain from your trade show experience. Don’t go to cower in a booth and hope someone will like your branding enough to initiate conversation. Be bold, be engaging and share your infectious passion.

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Scott Huntington is a writer from Harrisburg PA. Find his work on Business Insider, Yahoo Autos, Time, INC, and more. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington.