For most major companies, exhibiting at a Trade Show is a no-brainer. With large marketing budgets, they can afford to set up booths.
But when you are a small to mid-size company, exhibiting at a trade show can be a major expense. In fact, just attending one trade show could eat up half of your marketing budget for the entire year.
- Airline or travel expenses.
- Hotel room reservations and food.
- Shipping fees of your booth and related supplies.
- Marketing material to display and hand out during the show.
- Scanner rental fee (for badges worn by attendees).
- Ground transportation to and from your hotel and the convention center.
- Designing the exhibit booth.
- Labor Fees for unpacking and setting up your exhibit booth, and then tearing it down and packing.
According to Smart Trade Shows, the rental fee alone for floor space is about $20.00 per square foot, but the pricing will vary depending on the event, organizer, location, and attendance. So for a 100 square foot booth area, you may be paying about $2,000.
(To help you budget your trade shows, please download the free “Trade Show Budgeting” booklet from Red Cedar PR and Marketing).
So, what should you consider before exhibiting at a trade show?
1). What are your goals?
Most companies attend trade shows to gather new leads, meet with existing customers or launch a new product or service. Others may attend to expand their brand awareness.
There is nothing wrong with those goals, but you need to ask yourself if you can achieve the same objectives without going to a trade show? With so many sophisticated social media and communication tools now at your disposal, attending a trade show at the early stages of your business may not be a good idea. For example, if your website is attracting and converting a lot of prospects into customers, or if you have a good outbound and referral sales campaign, is it really necessary to exhibit at a show? In addition, more companies than ever are conducting webinars and offering free trials.
My suggestion – take a hard look at your budget and your goals before exhibiting.
2). Attend the Trade Show, but don’t Exhibit
Rather than exhibiting at a trade show, consider going as a regular attendee. Odd? Not really. As a regular attendee, you can spend time networking by walking up and down the aisles, and be attending social events and workshops. If you know of key clients that will be at the event, you may want to schedule a lunch or dinner appointment. Plus, by going to the show as a regular attendee, it will give you a firsthand look at whether it may be a good event to exhibit next year.
3). Partner with another company or join a collective
Rather than pay for an entire booth space yourself, why not partner up with another company that is related to your industry but is not a direct competitor. In other words, share the booth space by having two display table and signs. Sometimes, you may join a collective of several companies and share a larger space. However, be careful with this approach – some trade show sponsors may frown upon this, or have very strict rules about who should occupy the space. So read the exhibit contract carefully before partnering up or joining a collective.
4). What are the best trade shows to attend in your industry?
If you have been in your industry for a while, you probably already know this answer, but it doesn’t hurt to dig deeper. In almost every industry that I’ve been in, there is always one or two “must go” trade shows – the ones that are so large and well attended that your phones don’t ring for nearly a week, or if you call your clients or prospects, they are not in the office because they are attending the “big” show.
However, exhibiting at large trade shows can be expensive. So maybe you should consider going to some local or regional events.
5). Does size really matter?
The large attendance at a trade show does not guarantee that you are going to get a lot or the best sales leads. You need to determine the type of prospects who will be attending the show to see if they match your client profile. Sure, the event may attract 10,000 attendees, but if only one percent of that number matches your client profile, is it worth the time and expense of exhibiting at the event? And even if one percent sounds good to you, there is no guarantee that all 100 attendees will even stop by your booth. To help you, some organizations will provide statistics on who normally attend the events, e.g., industry types, geographic locations, business size, etc. Read that information carefully. Ask good questions. Make sure that the attendees are in fact your best prospects.
6). Contact previous exhibitors for their advice
Most organizations will publish a list of previous or current exhibitors on their website. Obviously, this is done to encourage new exhibitors and make them aware, indirectly, that some of their competitors will be attending the event.
My suggestion – call some of the non-competing exhibitors and solicit their advice. Maybe they can offer you some tips on how to be successful or if it’s a good idea to even attend.
It’s in the mutual interest of both the event organizers and exhibitors to have a good walkthrough traffic during the trade show. As a result, many organizers will seek out sponsors to provide free lunches and happy hour snacks and drinks throughout the event. However, it doesn’t hurt to ask specifically what the organizers plan to do to encourage high traffic.
8). Contact your clients for their advice
If you know that some of your clients have attended a trade show, contact them and find out if they think it’s worthwhile for you to attend the event. It doesn’t hurt to get the client’s perspective. And while you’re at it, why not obtain pointers from your clients on what they consider to be the best practices of exhibitors, and what they look for when they attend trade shows.
9). Does the event organizer have any advice?
If the event organizer has been sponsoring the trade show for several years, they may provide tips or a Q&A sheet on how to get the most bang for your buck while exhibiting. Of course, their advice is going to be biased because they want you to exhibit at the show; however, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Will you have an opportunity to network to find clients? While most trade shows have after hour social events, sometimes just going to lunch or attending a workshop related to your product or service could be a great way to network. Review the agenda carefully to seek out the best networking opportunities. Also, keep your eyes and ears open for exclusive social events with high attendance.
To learn more about how to be effective at trade shows, I recommend that you read How to Get the Most Out of Trade Shows, by Steve Miller.
Also, please check out some of my previous posts on trade shows, including “What to bring during Trade Show,” “Good Questions to Ask during Trade Show,” and “What to do after Exhibiting at a Trade Show.”
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.