How to Use Exhibitions to Grow Your Small Business

From finding a suitable exhibition space to making the most of your stand, read this guide to find out how exhibitions can help your business

How to Use Exhibitions to Grow Your Small Business

If you are a small to medium sized business looking to promote your product/service, exhibitions can be a godsend.

They give you the opportunity to meet potential customers and other interesting parties face to face, and allow you to showcase your offerings in an environment conducive to discussion and selling.

If advertising and PR are proving to be ineffective or overly expensive promotional tools, an exhibition might be just the thing for you.

This guide will help you find a suitable exhibition, assess whether to exhibit and learn how to place design and run a stand effectively.

What business objectives can exhibitions help achieve?

Exhibitions can help your business in a variety of ways.

Being able to meet customers face-to-face is perhaps the most obvious advantage of an exhibition as it creates a good environment for you to talk to your customers in detail about their needs, interests and queries.

Similarly, selling is another reason why exhibitions are thought of so highly. If you put on a good show you should be able to generate some direct sales.

If sales aren’t as expected, compile a database of leads and a mailing list of potential customers for future contact.

Debuting and demonstrating a new product at a trade show can also provide you with the opportunity to liaise and network with industry specialists and get coverage in the press.

Finally, many parties simply go to exhibitions just hoping to find others to do business with.

How do I choose an exhibition to attend?

You should investigate all the exhibitions that your customers and competitors attend.

If the exhibition is in its first year, consider attending as a customer first before exhibiting – many exhibitions can be badly run and won’t yield the benefits that you’re after.

Key considerations

When choosing what exhibition to attend, consider the following:

Find out when it is. Can you cope with any extra work exhibiting will entail, in terms of both organisation and extra demand?

Find out where it is. Can you and your customers get there easily?

Find out how big it is. Is it large enough to generate sufficient notice? Or small and specialised enough to be worth the cost of exhibiting?

Find out how much it costs to exhibit. What are the rent costs? Can you afford them?

Look at last year’s catalogue. Who was there? What was shown? Does it look suitable for your business?

Find out what else it offers. Are there other events it would be useful to attend? What services does it provide?

Research the previous year’s attendance records. How many people turned up? How many industry leaders and decision-makers from your target market were there?

Find out what publicity it receives. How is it advertised? Which media outlets cover it?

Ask customers who attend. Why do they go? Do they find it useful?

Ask competitors who attend. Why do they go? Do they find it useful? Most will be happy to tell you.

Will it be cost-effective?

You should also calculate how cost-effective an exhibition is likely to be.

Calculate your total costs. Add the floor space rental to the cost of your resources, staffing, transport and publicity.

Estimate the value of potential sales. Compare your forecast cost-per-lead with anticipated profits.

Estimate the value of potential press coverage. Compare this to that which could be achieved by other forms of PR.

Once the exhibition is over, measure your results. This will help you decide whether it was worth exhibiting, and decide whether or not to repeat the process next year.

How do I find and secure a space to exhibit?

Exhibitions will offer a number of different spaces for you to set up your display in. However, some of these spaces will be more effective than others. Make sure you are in as visible a spot as possible and facing onlookers. The more frontage you have, the better. Try and get near either the aisles or walkways as this will hopefully ensure traffic.

Make sure you are in as visible a spot as possible and facing onlookers. The more frontage you have, the better. Try and get near either the aisles or walkways as this will hopefully ensure traffic.

Also, securing a space near a popular meeting point such as a café or vending machine will ensure lots of exposure. Getting a suitable and optimal space should be a priority, as it can have a huge impact on how you perform at an exhibition. In possible, request a map and look for the potential best spaces.

Make sure you also book as far in advance as possible. This will ensure you get as suitable a space as possible, and that your name is included in all the promotional material for the event.

Finally, organise the resources and supplies you need. Find out what provisions there are for electricity, lighting and internet access. You may need to hire your own contractors to make any instalments that you need.

How do I design a stand?

A professional looking stand is a must. In an exhibition context, it is the ‘front’ of your whole business. Before attending the exhibition, make sure you find out what the organisers provide/allow for.

Most exhibitions offer ‘shell schemes’ which gives you control over the display on the back and side walls of your stand, as well as a carpet, name board and electrical socket. Some may offer more (lighting, internet access, etc).

You could also consult/employ a designer, however, if you think you need something more than what’s provided. A reputable one will work to the organiser’s rules, and provide a clean and professional design to your specifications. Agree a timescale and budget at the outset of the project.

As an unlit stand will leave you in the shadows use lighting to illuminate the stand. Multimedia such as a laptop or TV display could also help you stand out and make you look professional, though be careful not to overcrowd the stand. Make sure the relevant information and details are prominent and don’t overdo it.  Sometimes a minimalist approach will work best.

Above all else, make it functional. Leave space for visitors – they have to be able to approach the stand.

How do I promote the stand?

Compose a press release. This should ideally include a description of your stand and product, as well as contact details for enquirers.

Advertise by declaring your attendance at the exhibition through online/offline advertising, or by direct mail.

Request complimentary tickets and send them to your high-value customers.

Ensure you’re listed in the exhibition catalogue. Enquire about listing as early as possible to avoid missing the publication date.

Also, enquire about the exhibition’s PR plans. If they have a press office, see if you can include anything in their promotional material.

How do I run my stand?

Prepare your resources by ensuring you know where you will be, and have adequate supplies of all the resources (brochures, business cards etc.) you will need.

Rehearse your message constantly, and work out what you will say to customers, to journalists, and to competitors. Brief everyone involved in running the stand to ensure that they all remain on-message.

Recruit helpers but make sure you choose people who are enthusiastic, personable, and able to speak intelligently about your business. Of the people you recruit, appoint roles. You should have a stand manager who will be responsible for managing everyone running the stand and sticking to schedules. Finally, schedule shifts and distribute work evenly amongst your helpers. Ensure everyone working is given a break, and does not work for too long, exhibitions can be really tiring.

How do I attract people to my stand?

Stand outDo everything you can to make your stand visible, without going overboard and looking cluttered/vulgar. As stated earlier, good design should help with this.

Offer branded freebies, pens, keyrings, USB sticks and other giveaways can be cheap to buy and brand. Handing them out to visitors ensure they take away something with your name and logo on it.

Similarly, refreshments give your visitors a reason to linger at your stand.

Host prize draws by tempting potential customers to sign up you can compile a list of names and addresses.

How do I sell to visitors/potential customers?

Just simply approach them. Don’t allow your helpers to chat amongst themselves if visitors are present. However, it’s important not to pester them. Allow them to browse – more tentative customers might be put off if you approach too forcefully.

Ask them about themselves. Find out what kind of customer they are, what their interests are and why they are viewing your product.

Make sure your helpers are briefed on answers to common questions and queries.

Don’t be aggressive. Visitors won’t respond well to blatant attempts to generate a sale or enquiry.

Finally, take down their contact details. Get them to leave their name and number so you can follow up with them later. If possible, record their job title and area of interest as well.

Where can I find out more about exhibitions?

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