To Thrive At Trade Shows, Small Businesses Need Extra Prep

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Trade shows are a great opportunity for small businesses to connect with others in their industry, learn about trends, and even network with the big players, but they can be intimidating. After all, it’s hard to compete when you’re a small startup operation without much money and you’re at a show with some of the biggest names in your field.

That’s why, if you’re a small business preparing to attend your first trade show, it’s important that you think carefully about your goals for the event. Proper preparation will determine your success on the big day.

Do Your Homework

When choosing your first trade show – or even if you’ve been to a few before – it’s important to do your research to make sure you’re choosing an event that’s a good fit. There’s little point of a tiny tech company paying for a booth at an event where they’ll be competing with Apple and Microsoft, for example. You might want to attend and see what’s going on, but you don’t need to be a presenter.

As a small business, you’ll be more successful if you attend a trade show specifically targeted to other small companies, especially while you learn the ropes. Your local chamber of commerce or small business bureau might host such an event, or you can look for a niche trade show like the event Etsy hosted for Wichita’s craftspeople.

Scale It Back

What do you think of when you think of trade shows? If you conjure up images of elaborate booths, you’re certainly not alone. The thing is, those booths are expensive and if you’re attending small-scale shows with other businesses like yours, you probably don’t need to pour a fortune into a large booth that’s hard to transport or that’s going to overshadow your presentation. Instead, opt for a smaller, budget-friendly table top trade show display. These displays are perfect for local events and you can always scale up as your business grows.

Hatch A Plan

Any company with experience on the trade show circuit will tell you that it takes weeks to prepare for each event. You can’t just show up with a poster and a portfolio and hope to make a successful pitch. Take your cues from these experienced presenters and spend the weeks leading up to your event defining a plan and determining what equipment you’ll need. You may need to rent audio-visual gear, lighting, screens, or set up presentations on tablets. You’ll also want to create any signup sheets and print fliers or pamphlets that you plan to distribute.

Make Connections

No matter how you feel when you finally arrive at your trade show – whether you’re confident and excited or think you’re in over your head – the most important thing you can do is focus on networking. Trade shows are one of the only opportunities you’ll have to be in one place with others from your industry, especially with such a relaxed agenda. Take advantage of that time to talk to as many people as possible. You may even want to come prepared with a few questions to ask or thoughts about who you want to prioritize talking to. You’ll get more from talking to other participants than from any other part of the trade show.

Participating in a trade show is an opportunity to learn more about your industry and introduce yourself as someone who’s excited to make an impact, but you need to be prepared. As a small business, be sure you’re focusing on events that will support you, not just companies that are household names, and that will help you develop the skills you need to be successful.

Most of all, be sure to have fun. Being a presenter at a trade show means that you’re putting in the work and have earned your place in your industry.

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Anna is the founder and CEO of Johansson Consulting where she works with businesses to create marketing and PR campaigns.