Navigating Trade Shows with Ease

No matter what industry your small business might be affiliated with, trade shows are probably associated with it. These annual events can be a part of your buying, selling, and service process.

It can seem overwhelming to attend a trade show, but it’s important to prepare in advance to make the most of your time as trade shows can be extremely valuable assets to your marketing and sales organization. Here are a few tips for maximizing your next trade show appearance:

Have a Game Plan before You Attend a Trade Show

The first step to trade show success is to have a game plan of what you want to achieve by attending the show. This can include learning about new products, services, or group benefits, networking to expand your business, and much more.

Trade shows usually publish a list of vendors and attendees ahead of time. Go through that long (and somewhat intimidating) list. Make notes on vendors you want to work with in the future. Bring your “hit list” with you to the event either on your smartphone or on paper so you can cross off vendors you aren’t interested in. This will allow you to navigate the trade show with ease as you’ll know which booths you’ll want to visit.

Have specific goals as to why you are attending the trade show for maximum gain. Being specific with your goals doesn’t mean you must be rigid and can only visit certain booths. You should enjoy your time there and be flexible for impromptu networking opportunities. Create a “hit list” of booths you want to attend, but also immerse yourself in the trade show experience and have fun!

Be Prepared for the Trade Show

Don’t underestimate the importance of business cards at a trade show. Bring more business cards than you expect to hand out. Having too many is always better than running out. For example, if you estimate that you will give out 50 business cards at an event, bring 100 for good measure.

A wonderful perk of many trade shows are the door prizes and/or raffles. Submitting for these raffles using your business cards is a great way to pass on your contact information and hopefully win a great prize! It’s also a great way to network and get your card out to others in your industry without having to hand your card to someone, which gives them the opportunity to say “no thanks” or tuck it away in their pocket and forget all about it.

Looks do matter—for both vendors and visitors—and it’s important for you to dress for success. The adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” is unfortunately not something most people follow at trade shows. It is well known the trade show industry tends to fall on the more casual side. But that doesn’t mean wearing those comfy fleece sweatpants and your favourite t-shirt with that defining oil stain. Have a friend be candid with you in regards to the ensemble you want to wear to a trade show. First impressions are vital in the business world and can make the difference between gaining a new client or vendor and striking out.

Create a Trade Show Budget

Prepare a budget in advance of the trade show. If you don’t want to prepare a full-fledged financial statement, at least have an idea of how much your business should spend. Yes, there are usually fun freebies at these events, but there is a cottage industry around trade shows where expenses like food, drink, and transportation are marked up more than usual and add up very quickly. Work these costs into your trade show budget so that you aren’t surprised by all the expenses from the event.

If you’re looking to pursue a new business opportunity with a vendor at the show, consider having some money set aside for that purpose. Some vendors will have in-show specials, which will allow you to purchase goods or services that you need at the show. If this interests you, do some research before the trade show so you can get a better idea of competitive pricing. Be prepared to make a bargain or a big purchase at the event to get a great deal that you wouldn’t otherwise get.

Don’t Forget the Post-Event Follow Up

Be organized and refer to your “hit list” of vendors and service providers that you are interest in. Although it can be a little tedious, take the time to go through all the materials you have picked up. Don’t just leave them in that free tote bag you received at the event and forget all about it. You came to the trade show for a reason, so make the most of it.

Carefully sort through business cards you have received immediately after the show. Enter those contacts into your CRM database or Outlook before you get too busy and aren’t prepared mentally or financially to pursue a new supplier/partner anymore.

In such a busy industry, it’s easy to forget things and have them slide off your to-do list without even noticing. You don’t want to wake up one morning and realize it’s the day that your old employee benefits plan is terminating and that you haven’t negotiated a new one yet.

A final word of advice is to stay focused while attending trade shows and similar events. There are so many attractive booths to visit as well as persuasive salespeople with free food and giveaway items. It’s important not to get too distracted by these things that aren’t going to benefit you and your business in the long run. Following these four helpful tips will ensure your next trade show or event is a success and well worth your valuable time.


Links to other resources:

Finding the right trade show:

Trade shows in Canada:

Trade shows in Toronto:

Questions to ask exhibitors at a trade show: