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Trade Show Booths

Guide: How to Prepare for Your First Trade Show Booth

Many businesses, sooner or later, participate in trade shows. Setting up a booth at a trade show is a great way to attract attention, including potential customers, investors, and business partners. After all, if you don’t get the word out about you, you can’t gather any of those around you, can you? Most other means of reaching out either aren’t timed properly, require a lot more direct effort and networking, or simply are less effective. Trade shows are excellent specifically because they’re a place where everyone is primed, ready, and authorized to make decisions and connections that mutually benefit one another.

So, how do you prepare for a trade show in a way that makes your booth memorable and effective? Let’s talk about it.

Understand Your Audience

The first thing you want to do is understand the audience at a trade show. Unlike something like a B2C convention, a job fair, or a community event, a trade show is specifically for industry influencers and decision-makers. These are the people who have the power to make decisions and build partnerships. They can, on the spot, invest millions in your business, sign up for a long-term partnership, become a client worth a huge percentage of your revenue, or even decide to acquire your company.

As such, you need to be aware that every single person passing by has the capacity to make business-altering decisions and treat your audience as such.

Understanding Your Audience

It can also be worthwhile to know if specific people or entities you want to reach out to will be attending the trade show. Maybe there’s a specific company you want to partner up with, a high-powered individual you want to connect with, or even someone you would like to reach out to for mentorship. Learning if they’re attending the show, and where to find them, can be extremely important.

Know Your Goals

The second most important thing to do before you set foot in a trade show – or even really consider attending one – is to decide what you want to get out of the show and what you don’t.

Do you want to attract the attention of an angel investor or venture capital firm in hopes of funding a new product or R&D? Know this ahead of time, and make sure you have some idea of the funding targets and percentages of the company you’re willing to agree upon.

Do you want to find a distribution partner? Make sure you know who might be at the show, who you can reach out to, and what kinds of needs you have in your distribution.

Do you want to find people to partner with in ways that will allow your two products to work well together? Make sure you know – or at least have ideas – on how that can go, and have people empowered to discuss the concept further.

Setting Trade Show Goals

It’s also important to know what you aren’t willing to do. Are you explicitly looking to avoid selling a portion of your company? Unless they make you such an incredible offer you can’t possibly refuse, be sure to know how to politely refuse.

Depending on how seriously you take your trade shows, you may also want to record everything from your budget spent on the show to the KPIs you measure, with SMART goal development and tracking along the way. This can be overkill for your first trade show, though. You likely won’t have the best, top-tier experience in your first show. Things can and will go wrong, and your booth may be objectively a failure, but even so, it’s a valuable learning experience.

Avengers Assemble

Flippantly referencing the superhero team du jour is actually pretty relevant. You can’t just send a couple of interns and a developer to a trade show and assume things are going to go well. Trade shows are serious business and the people who attend them are expecting to network with decision-makers, influencers, and executives. Your team is both the public face of your business, and the people who can make tangible, lasting decisions about it.

A Team Making Decisions

Your team as a whole must be able to:

  • Discuss your product in detail, from overarching goals and design aesthetics to methods of production to fine-grain details about the inner workings and decisions behind the design. Note that they should also know when not to talk about specific details that are company or trade secrets.
  • Be personable and sociable enough to hobnob with the high-power executives and decision-makers at the show. If your team is off-putting or awkward, it leaves a sour impression on people used to talking to others with charisma.
  • Know the workings of the company at a high level, including tangible financial numbers, distribution numbers, sales figures, production methods, and more.
  • Be able to make decisions, or at least have someone on tap for on-the-spot calls that can make those decisions. Trade shows can often be a high-pressure situation where the future of the company is determined, and an offer made now might not be available later.
  • Have someone, or a team of someones, roam the show floor to look for other opportunities while your booth is staffed to cover all the bases.

You don’t need every person to be able to do everything, but you need to have all of the bases covered.

Don’t Forget the Details

There are a lot of small details that need to be arranged in advance of a trade show. Obviously, you need to book a booth and tickets for everyone attending, but you also need to know details about the size and scope of the booth. Your presentation can be very different depending on whether you have a corner booth in a busy hallway, or a middle-aisle booth in a crowd, and even whether you’re up against a wall or not.

A Team Planning a Trade Show Booth

Beyond that, though, you also need things like:

  • Accommodations. How long is the trade show? Where are your team members staying? How are they getting to and from the venue?
  • Food budgets. Often, a good portion of the networking in a trade show is done outside of the show floor. Your team may be tasked with hosting or contributing to lunches and dinners with others to discuss business deals, so you don’t want them worrying about paying for it.
  • Transportation. How is your team getting to and from the location of the trade show, if it’s not hosted in your home city? (Are you avoiding a flight on a Boeing?)
  • Setup and teardown. Planning your booth, figuring out how to set it up, how to pack it away, and how to make sure it’s well-displayed can take engineering and practice.
  • Comfort. Your attendees are likely going to be spending a lot of time on their feet, so make sure there are ways they can be comfortable, from sensible shoes to plenty of water and snacks to keep the energy up all day.

All of this needs to be planned in advance, along with backup options in case something unexpected happens. The less you’re forced to focus on externalities, the more you can focus on the trade show itself.

Implement Lead Capture

While high-power deals are often made on the trade show floor – and around a dinner table afterwards – it’s not all going to happen there. Another large part about trade shows is capturing leads for future outreach. Whether you have a guestbook for people to sign, a folder to keep notes and business cards, or a way to record contact information, you need some way to capture the information you have about individuals who express interest.

Lead Capture

There are many different tools you can use for lead capture. Phone apps, lead capture devices, business cards, and notes apps; some trade shows even allow you to build a profile attached to an attendee badge that others can scan to transfer that profile’s information over. Know what resources are available to you, and use them. You can always follow up on those leads after the show.

Follow Up After the Show

Trade shows are a place where many deals are brokered, but they’re also just the start of many relationships. There’s a lot of work to be done once the show is over and everyone is settling in back home.

First, make sure to filter through your leads and contact information and figure out what is and isn’t worth following up on. Remember that a deal that seems good on the first day might be overshadowed by offers later in the show, so there may be reasons to filter options that originally seemed great.

Following Up With Leads

When it comes time to reach out to your leads, make sure to personalize the communications you send. This applies the same regardless of whether you’re calling a phone number or sending an email; you want to make sure that specific details of your conversations at the show are remembered, to cement the relationship.

It’s also this point where you reflect on the show and, importantly, what went right and what didn’t. There are many possible reasons why something can go wrong, such as mistakes, issues, trouble, and logistical problems. What’s important is how you adapt to it in the moment and how you learn from it in the future. Planning for issues and mistakes helps insulate you from their impact and makes future trade shows go much more smoothly.

Make Your Booth Memorable

There are three main ways you can make your trade show booth memorable.

The first is in the substance of what you have to offer. If you have something truly innovative, something astonishing, something that captures attention with its mere existence, it can be memorable on its own. This is how the most effective attendees will thrive, but unfortunately, only the top 1% of trade show attendees – if not even fewer – will be able to live up to this. There’s nothing worse than attending a trade show with your unique, novel product, only to find someone else has the same idea and is attending the same show on the other side of the hall.

The second is in your presentation. A flashy, incredible, memorable presentation can capture interest and stick in the mind. This can be limited, though. Trade shows don’t give you free rein to do anything you want. You have to be respectful of others in the hall and be careful with things like flashing lights and sounds. The charisma of your presenters can also be important here, but they often can’t carry the whole show on their own.

Trade Show Attendees

The third is with something physical and tangible. That’s where event swag comes in. Swag is a tangible, physical, and retainable way that someone who attends your presentations or visits your booth can walk away with something to remember you beyond exchanging business cards or contact information.

As such, you have to make special considerations because of the fact that you’re at a trade show. Your swag should be:

  • Something unique. You don’t want to be the 35th branded pen someone picked up today.
  • Something useful. The more likely an individual is to make use of your swag during the event, the better.
  • Something lightweight, compact, or easy to move. You don’t want to burden your attendees with something large or heavy they have to carry for the rest of the day.

Wearable swag can be an alright option, but don’t expect anyone to actually wear it while they’re at the show. For one thing, many of them are either in suits or are wearing their own company swag. It’s just not likely to happen.

If you’re looking for cost-effective, ethically-made swag items you can bring to the table, we’ve got you covered. Here at Ethix, we take great pains to make sure everything we produce is top-quality, made as ethically and as locally as possible, and with complete transparency for the entire process. Feel free to browse our catalog or reach out with any questions you may have!

Ideally, with the power of planning, a good budget, and some high-quality swag, your first trade show will go off without a hitch.