Getting the word out about your business can be an endless stream of marketing initiatives including emails, ads, flyers, articles, and more. So, why should you add trade shows, conventions and conferences to the list?

Simple answer: a captive audience. People who come to such events have already been sold on the benefits to their business of attending. They are primed and ready to receive new information, make new contacts and discover potential new suppliers or partners. Your business could be one of them.

Which trade shows are the best to attend?

The ‘best’ shows or events for your business are the ones that best suit your business goals. if you’re looking to be seen alongside the big hitters in your business, you’re likely to choose a larger event linked to a trade association or group in your marketplace. However, these can be expensive, and there is a danger your small stand will get lost amongst the corporate giants’ major exhibits.

So, instead, think outside the box/shell stand:

  • Look for local or regional trade associations shows that are cheaper to attend both for you and your target markets
  • Exhibit at events your competitors are NOT attending

In other words, you’re looking for a good ROI in terms of who you will meet at the event, and how much it will cost to reach them.

Why should I take a trade stand at a conference?

Conferences are not just about listening to speakers, and not everyone attending will want to hear every speaker. Often, a major part of their visit to the conference will be to check out the trade stands with the latest services and products, and talk through their requirements. That could include your business. You can further promote your presence by sponsoring a session or speaker too.

Our hint: always have an attraction or game that conference delegates can PLAY. They have been sitting for several hours, and are probably a little punch-drunk from information overload. We find trade stands who have a fun have-a-go or an ’earn a giveaway’ competition attract bigger crowds and help delegates relax.

How much should I spend?

Exhibit booths can be eye-wateringly expensive. To that hire cost, you’ll need to add the time taken to design and prepare your stand, plus the set-up costs and the staff to man it. You may need to pay for accommodation near the venue, plus travel and van hire/delivery costs. Add in the extra materials required, from brochures and giveaways to catering and champagne for the VIPs, and the bill can soon mount up.

Your online PPC ads, for example, may have a budget of $50 per lead. Once you’ve added in the extras, a conference lead may cost more like $150 each. However, conference and trade show leads have one major advantage; the personal touch. Once you have met and chatted to a prospective customer in person, they are far more receptive to follow-up sales messages or calls. After all, they know who you are now.

Ask for a discount

The trade show or conference webpage might say it’s $xxx for their smallest stand, but always ask for new exhibitor rates or an upgrade at no extra cost, especially if your business is a little different from their normal bookers. Attendees like variety, and you might just be the break from the norm that catches their eye. As a micro-brewery amongst (say) a row of software developers for example, your business will stand out without being a competitor. If your product or service has a universal appeal, the more likely you are to stand out at a specialist show.

Equally, conference organizers or venues might have a space that others don’t want but would be the perfect shape for you to set up your cart, van or teepee.

Make time for meetings

Make the most of the opportunity to reach out to arrange meetings with experts, vendors and even speakers in advance. One industry expert suggest that the best response rates come when an email and a LinkedIn message are sent at the same time. Simply request a few minutes’ of their time and see who bites.

Try and meet your new contact away from both your stands and in a quieter places. (Some expos have dedicated meeting rooms just for this purpose.) It will give you and them a break from the noise and bustle of the hall too. This is why having sufficient staff at your stand is crucial, so you can go and network while they continue to amaze potential customers with your products or services.

No money for a stand? Attend instead

if your business cannot afford a stand, you can still make conferences and trade shows a rich source of new leads and contacts simply by walking the floors. Come to the conference with pre-prepared questions for specific suppliers, even your competitors. Ask for advice, and the conversation will usually flow. Bear in mind, however, that the sales person you meet on the floor could be just be an out of work actor hired to hand out information and scan your badge. You will need to make an appointment in advance to meet the real powers behind the business. (See paragraph above.)

Take time to talk

Never neglect an opportunity to chat to people, especially if they too are on their own. Talk to the person next to your in the coat check line, or the seat next to you in a presentation. Don’t rush to check your phone every break time, but treat them as an informal networking opportunity. Exchange business cards at every opportunity – you literally never know who you might meet.

One other opportunity is to thank a speaker or presenter you enjoyed or learned from in person, citing one particular part of their presentation you found most valuable or informative. Hand them a card if you wish, and make sure you follow them on social media and connect on LinkedIn.

Be a social media star

Conferences and trade shows are a great opportunity for social media moments, from taking photos of the venue to selfies with a superstar speaker. (Just go easy on these!) However, what often gets the most attention are regular tweets and posts using the event’s official hashtag. These show up on the organiser’s own feeds as well as your own, and some can even make it to a final roundup of the show on their website too, giving your business extra publicity. Try to make the tweets/posts useful beyond the conference or event; share a tip, an insight, or an innovative trade stand design. Always namecheck the source as they may go on to retweet your tweet.

Always follow up

Make time on your return to the office to follow up any leads you might want to take further. Leave a decent timeframe between attending and following up. Whilst you may be back at your desk, the person you spoke to may still be dismantling their stand, or have another full day of travelling to get home. Follow up just a handful of leads a day rather than a whole load at once, so you don’t get overwhelmed with responses.

Trade show or leisure show?

There are plenty of shows dedicated to hobbies, interests and niche interests, from Comic Cons to camping shows. These can be very useful if your business services or products tie in with their interests. Again, try and spot the opportunities your competitors may have missed. Ask your sales team if customers have been asking for your product to use in an unusual way, for example, making cosplay archery bows from PVC plumbing pipes. (Yes, that is a thing!)

Be innovative with your business stand, and the social media reach could be huge. However, always bear in mind the ROI;

  • how many of those attending would actually buy your products?


  • how valuable is the resulting publicity and exposure?

Think outside the box

If an indoor trade show stand for three days is your idea of purgatory, then look for outdoor summer events where you can meet people who won’t know your brand yet and may want to use your services. This is particularly true if you are a very local business and are looking for local clients. Go where your prospective clients will be, from school events to community occasions. Find yourself a ‘hook’ or distinctive attraction that draws people in. Again, the more interactive this is, the more you’ll draw a crowd. Just make sure it’s safe, fun and robust enough to stand a day or two in the hands of an enthusiastic general public!

Sponsoring an event

If you want the exposure without the hard work, consider sponsorship at local events. Our popular annual golf tournament is just such an opportunity, with lots of options to suit any budget. See our Sponsorship page for more details, or call Kim at the office. And no, you don’t need to play golf to be a sponsor!