Selling at trade shows: How your small business can make the most of it

Selling at trade shows: How your small business can make the most of it

Posted: Wed 25th Sep 2019

Trade shows are a fantastic opportunity to get in front of buyers and build your network.

We look at how to get the most bang for your buck.

The benefits of trade shows for small businesses

The main benefit of attending a trade show is the chance to get your product or service in front of customers. However, there are plenty of opportunities your small business can make the most of:

Many trade shows are targeted at a specific industry and attended by people interested in that sector. Others are more general and aimed at businesses in a particular region.

It's important to do your research beforehand and consider which trade show will have the biggest impact on your business.

Choosing which trade show to attend

Enterprise Nation member Katie Morhen founded 52eight3, a marketing and PR agency that specialises in the events space. When it comes to picking a trade show, she recommends following your target audience.

"There's a billion trade shows out there. I'd go super niche, rather than trying to go to the biggest one. Look at where your target audience is. Ask your customers where they go. Ask your PR company for recommendations too."

Katie adds that small business owners can often feel pressured or rush into doing a trade show. To make sure you're prepared and know what to expect, go and walk the show you're thinking of attending before booking.

For Ruth Bradford, founder of The Little Black and White Book Project, it was important to get a trade show under her belt early on. Though the show was successful in the end, she regrets rushing into it so quickly.

"Not having visited one – let alone the one I wanted to do – was a bad idea, but I didn't want to wait. Waiting would have been more sensible, but I'm never that sensible!"

How to prepare your trade show stand

Preparing your trade show stand can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. Some businesses rely on their branding to draw people in, while others prefer to take a more minimal approach.

Before you start investing in added extras, make sure you understand the basic costs of the stand and what is or isn't included.

As well as your stand, you might have to pay for power points, Wi-Fi or extra lighting. Then there's transport, parking and accommodation to consider. When Ruth attended lifestyle trade show Top Drawer, she estimates that extra expenses were probably double the cost of her £1,508 stand.

"It's all those tiny details. Can you paint the walls? What kind of displays can you make? It's not a small expense for a small business, so watch out for the added extras. Talk to people who've done it all before – hearing about their experiences is gold dust."

If it's your first trade show or you aren't sure what to expect, Ruth recommends using a flexible set-up. Her stand was in a position that made it look empty from a distance, so being able to pull the tables outside the stand and rearrange the display made a big difference.

Generating excitement about your business

To give yourself the best chance of success on the day, it's worth spending some time building interest in the lead up to the trade show, as Katie explains:

"The important thing to note is that you've already made a significant investment. Rather than buying a lot of additional advertising, look at what you can do with social media and PR."

Katie recommends posting regularly on your social channels in the weeks before the trade show. Tag the organiser and use the event hashtag, so other people know you'll be there.

A lot of trade shows have a list of media partners. They will already be invested and actively looking for stories to tell, so it's worth getting in touch. Don't just tell them you're attending – think about something that could be newsworthy. Perhaps you're launching a new product or running a competition at your stand.

Katie adds:

"One of the biggest things you can do is invite your customers to come and see you. A lot of people don't want to do it because they know their competitors are going to be there. But if it's the number-one trade show, your customers will probably be there anyway."


Watch this webinar to learn more about planning and executing your trade show, and how to make a positive return on your investment:


Planning your goals in advance

Whether you want to generate leads or build brand awareness, having a particular goal can help to shape your activity on the day.

Katie advises having a list of 20 leads that you want to target. If you're selling to big supermarkets and want to talk to buyers, find them on LinkedIn before the event and send them a personal invite.

If you're targeting quantity of leads instead, consider an incentive that will help you encourage people to share their data. Some businesses will invite people to enter a prize draw, but you don't have to spend a lot of money.

For example, if you are doing a business-to-business (B2B) trade show, put together a white paper that will offer attendees value.

Ruth Bradford found that her visual stand designs were enough to draw people in. People who walked past would backtrack because they were interested. To keep track of everyone she spoke to, she would manually add them to a list – one for orders and one for contact details. She says:

"I had a really good number of orders. It wasn't just businesses that were looking to buy either, it was suppliers. I found a family-owned printing company in the Midlands, a fulfilment company and a scout from the US.

"Ultimately, you're never going to meet that many people with that much power in your day-to-day running of a business."

Relevant resources

Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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