Trade shows and expos can be the perfect spot for SME owners who want to build industry contacts, but it’s important that you make the right impression.
Business fairs, trade shows, expos – however they’re labelled, these events are usually hard work.
Mentally taxing and physically exhausting, they can take it out of you if you're not prepared. But approached in right way, they can be a great opportunity for small and medium-sized business (SMEs) looking to build relationships, spread the word and generate leads.
Here are some top tips on how to reap the rewards.
Set out your stall
Making a strong and accurate impression at these events is vital, so make sure that whoever is on your stand knows their stuff. Permanent staff members who are familiar with your brand is your best bet, suggests Jacob Thundil, managing director of Cocofina. “If you have to use agency staff, give them a short document containing the brand story and FAQs.”
Also, don't forget to check out how your stand looks before it kicks-off. "Interesting stands often get the most traffic, so invest in banners or pop-ups that clearly state who you are, what you do and at whom your service is aimed," says Alison Shadrack, founder of Adia PR. Clarity is key.
Choose your targets
"Take an hour beforehand to scan the attendee and exhibitor list and make a note of who you want to speak to," suggests Piers Read, director of enterprise at property company, Allied London. "Time can run
away from you and you can easily be side-tracked by stands and other people. Having a plan and sticking to it is half the battle."
It's also worth allowing time for unscheduled meetings, he adds; you never know who you might meet.
Talk, tempt and listen
So much of the success at business fairs is down to the conversations that you have – and how you hold them. "Being friendly and asking open questions is the best way to start conversations," says Chris Ogle of agency, Flow Digital. “It’s also the most effective way to generate leads.”
Howard Lewis, founder of OFFLINE, has a different, but tastier, approach. "I bring packets of Maltesers," he reveals. "Sharing them is a simple way to start conversations and build rapport."
Listening is also a useful tactic. "Everyone likes talking about themselves, so keep people talking about their work," says Matt Tomkin of Relative Marketing. Showing interest will keep you at the front of their mind even after the event ends, he adds.
But if getting heard is a struggle, look for opportunities to talk unhindered. Royston Guest, founder of consultancy, pti Worldwide, recommends securing a stage or seminar speaking slot to start conversations: "After you talk, you see a flurry of people heading to your stand to discuss what you said and share experiences."
Load up on cards
It sounds obvious, but business cards are also essential.
"I always take some with my details on, plus generic company ones without personal details," says Annette Allen, founder of OWL Watches. "If I see an interesting product, I photograph it next to the stand's business card, so that I can track why I have their details afterwards."