When you are running your own business you have to do a certain anount of marketing when you first start out. It might be creating a website, having leaflets, copious amounts of social media and lots of networking. The fact is that you need to get your name and brand out there in whatever way you can and Business Exhibitions are another tool in the bag
.In the last 12 months I have visited 4 exhibitions as a delegate and actually taken a stand at another with very mixed results and I've learned much from the experience. I make no bones about the fact that not all businesses would find this the right way of marketing but I for one am not so dismissive of the concept despite some poor results which were in hindsight, largely my fault. The reason is that you are only as successful as your ability to attract the potential clients onto the stand and the organisers ability to generate footfall.So some lessons for me:-
- You still need marketing collateral. A business card and a few sweets will not suffice! You do need something they can take away with them to remind them what you do.
- A decent banner that is designed so that people can easily see what you do and position it well. It's no use if you block it off.
- A second or third pair of hands. You cannot stand around all day and besides you want to meet with some of the other exhibitors.
- A competition? Well yes as it is an excellent way of collecting business cards but "not another bottle of champagne"!
- Location, Location, Location. If your stand is not in a good position you will not be seen. If possible make sure you are nowhere near the competition but near to a stand where their business fits nicely with yours. Cross referral even in an exhibition is a great way of generating goodwill.
- Let people know where you are. Get it out on social media that you are at Stand Number such and such and invite your contacts along. Yes you may be already doing business with them but a constant flow of visitors to your stand does create a bit of a buzz.
- Support the organisers in their advertising of the event. You need their help to get good numbers to the exhibition so help them to help you.
In fact I didn't get a single new lead from taking a stand. What I did do was create a lead for both of the people who helped me with my marketing collateral so now they owe me one! In addition I cemented some relationships and reconnected with some people so it all helped with profile.
What about being the visitor to the exhibition. Well as long as you don't get offended by all the sales people manning the stands and accept that they think you are there to buy, you can benefit greatly. If you think its an easy way to sell then you would be wrong.The people manning the stands are largely NOT the people who have the authority to buy so unless it's the MD or owner of the company think again. Likewise unless you are genuinely thinking of being a buyer don't waste a good business card on a competition. Call me cynical but the winners will magically be the owner of the business card who the exhibitor thinks is their best potential sales lead. What you will find is again the opportunity to reconnect with some previous contacts, some opportunities to network over tea and coffee in the refreshment area, some good speakers at some of the keynote presentations and occasionally someone or some company who can genuinely benefit you or your clients.
Yes at some shows when you get five marketing companies at the same exhibition along with four website designers, six IT companies and three firms of accountants, it all gets a bit repetitive and there are only so many apprenticeships you have available as well as so many hotels for all these conferences you are going to put on. However don't despair! I've picked up at least one good idea and often more from the exhibitions over the last year and you will too. Just pick and choose your exhibition and where you work in a niche market, look at those exhibitions where the punters are most relevant.
And the very best of luck to you!