by| Featured Contributor
Everyone’s attended at least ONE exhibition in their lifetime as a visitor. I’ve attended dozens. I love the energy and productive engagement that happens at trade shows. The experience of seeing rows of interesting vendors displaying wonders for me to experience. And I love having it all in one place to explore, investigate and get the inside scoop on!
But what is it like on the other side of the table? What if I told you that, as an entrepreneur, each exhibition you attend as a VENDOR is like marketing GOLD? How many of us can say we’ve attended a trade show as an exhibitor?
There are plenty of exhibitions that entrepreneurs can attend that are affordable and reach a good chunk of their target market without breaking the bank. Consider how much of your marketing budget you would spend trying to reach the same group outside of that exhibition hall. Just a quick mental look at that picture should be enough to convince you.
I recently did a Comic Con to promote my science fiction novel, We Are Mars. I chose it for a few reasons:
- It was inexpensive to participate.
- I was getting a booth in the HEART of an interesting segment of my target audience.
- I can relate to the Comic Con environment, being a HUGE sci-fi geek myself.
I set sales targets for the weekend and achieved them easily. I made connections with the regional library to have my book put on their shelves, and I made a number of valuable new contacts and a few friends while having the greatest time! It was a WIN-WIN-WIN for me. It was worth the additional outlay for travel costs, food and display preparations.
When I first saw mention of Kelowna Comic Con, I knew I had to take advantage of it. With only a week to go, they still had space for late sign-up vendors. I worked, with the help of my family, on creating an eye-catching display and preparing a variety of marketing materials.
In acting quickly, I was able to achieve some major annual growth goals for my business:
- I attended a major regional event in my market and got my book in front of a large audience of potential readers.
- I collected data on my market – their likes and dislikes, their fandoms and genre preferences and enough email addresses to start a great new fan-based communication stream.
- I spoke to my customer base. They got to see me, interact with me, ask me questions about the book and engage about their experience of the exhibition.
- I sold books !!
- I networked and established some very useful contacts.
As an entrepreneur, little else will give your business more forward momentum than attending an exhibition in your business market space. The internet gobbles up so much of our time and marketing budget these days and I think we’ve lost sight of other ways to get our message out there. If you haven’t attended an exhibition as a vendor representing your business, now’s the time to try it. The attendance numbers are staggering (I won’t get into stats, they’re not the point of this article, although you are able to find many useful stats to support this argument elsewhere on the internet).
Knowing how to put a show-stopping exhibit together is also part of the secret, and the best part is, it doesn’t have to break the bank. Use a little creativity and enlist the help of co-workers and family to get you over the prep. The most solid advice I can offer is BE PREPARED! Yes, that old Boy Scouts motto is your best friend when it comes to getting ready for a show.
Here’s the formula I followed that I found was really successful:
- Create an eye-catching display. Google award-winning displays and find something that appeals to you and looks easy to put together, then adapt it to fit in with your product or service, and get creative. I created a wall of ‘crates’ that mimicked those in some dusty storage room in my Mars colony. They look a little messed up, a little old, but they also look a little ‘sci-fi’. They are a collection of moving boxes with some quick paint and a bit of duct-tape – that’s it! And they made an impressive display area I could hang pictures and accolades from, including a replica of Mars I made. I also put stacks of books into some of the spaces. Visually, it was a strong attractant.
- SHOW the product if you have one. Put it out on the table so people can touch it, pick it up, see it, and ask about it.
- Have as many payment options at your disposal as you can arrange. We use SQUARE to capture credit and debit transactions and cash, of course, is still king!
- Make marketing materials people can take away with them and HAND THEM OUT. A lot of people won’t take something, unless it is offered. Offer it – over and over again.
- Create a contest to collect valuable audience data. It also creates a ‘stickiness’, and people hanging around your booth is a great attractant for other visitors. It also provides you with an opportunity to start a conversation and to HAND THEM YOUR MARKETING FLIER!
- SELL your product or service. Speak highly of it. So many people asked me if We Are Mars is a good book. I said it is – OF COURSE!
- Make the displays a little messy. People are reluctant to touch things if the pile of fliers is too neat and the book stacks line up perfectly. A little crooked, a little casual and not so much attention to detail and, VOILA! – you get crowds hanging around and PICKING STUFF UP.
- Lastly, STAND. Have as few people as possible tending the booth. More booth helpers behind the tables or milling about makes for an intimidating and unapproachable booth.
- PROMOTE the event LIVE on social media. Invite specific people to attend the show and have them stop in to say, ‘Hello’. Take photos and make memories to share. This gives the experience a lingering marketing footprint that you can refer back to time and again.
I hope I’ve given you the encouragement you need to jump into the exhibition experience. If you’re like me, you’ll be hooked and scouring the media for your next opportunity to show your wares. Do your research, set goals and budgets and don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t hit your stride until a couple of shows in. Consider other factors that can influence the success of the event – competing events, weather, seasons, etc. when making decisions about attending. And best of luck to you all! Maybe I’ll see YOU at one of my exhibitions. Don’t forget to stop by and say, ‘Hello’.
Hello, my name is Cheryl, and I am a serial entrepreneur. I have owned and operated small businesses, with my husband and partner, since 2003. I have 25+ years as a graphic design professional, have run a photography stock library, art and crafts studio, and more recently, turned my attention to writing. In 2016, I indy-published my creative manifesto. Since completing that project, I have indy-published my first science fiction novel, We Are Mars, released in May 2018. I believe we have the power to learn new things every day and I employ that belief to propel myself forward through everything I set out to do.