08/13/2012 05:21 EDT | Updated 10/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Taking Your Business to a Trade-Show? Read These Tips


"We're expecting over 3,000 women through the doors at our show," promised the trade show organizer. And therein lies my first mistake -- I believed her.

This was our first trade show, and it turns out it was their first too. Being naïve and not knowing what to expect, we went all out and got banners made, material printed, T-shirts for the team with our logo and 3,000 buttons as free give-aways were made up. Now this was over eight years ago, and to this day, we are still working our way through the buttons.

So how many attended the event? I am being generous if I say 300! In fairness it wasn't a complete waste of time as it forced us to get the banners which we have used since; to think through our print material and of course, there's the buttons. Over the years we have become quite creative in how we use them e.g.: to divide people into groups for discussion, etc...

But bottom line, we spent a lot of money and staff time on something that really did not generate much business, nor much awareness of our business. I've since participated in several trade shows, and here's some practical tips and questions to ask yourself before you embark on what can be an expensive venture.

1. Ask questions. Find out if this is a first-time show, because if it is, it is not likely to draw in the numbers they predict. Talk to other vendors who have participated before to find out the turnout and just who attends.

2. Review all the costs. Some shows make everything extra so you end up paying for tables, carpeting, Internet, etc., which can add up.

3. Marketing plans. How will the show organizers be promoting the event? Do they have material you can use to spread the word. Do they have speakers in place as a further attraction to the event?

4. Audience. Who attends the show? Will it be someone who is there just to while away an afternoon or are they potential buyers? Think through who your target audience is and whether they would attend.

5. Booth set up. So you've decided to go ahead, determine what you will have at your booth. Think about how you can attract people to your booth -- an attractive give-away works. We used to give away a copy of our magazine for example.

6. Take a Team. Have more than one person staffing the booth. It is tiring work and people need a break. You also want to be able to tour the booths and link up with other vendors. Tip -- bring more than one pair of shoes as standing on concrete is hard on your legs.

7. First impressions count. Train your team ahead of time. Talk about attitude. Someone sitting down, arms crossed is not inviting and does not promote your business well.

8. Getting leads. Have a draw and prize so that you can collect contact information. Be specific in how you will use their information. Remember that e-zines, for example, need to be permission-based, so you can't just add their names to your database. Ask first, maybe in your follow up email.

9. Follow up. So many people forget this part and yet this is the key part of being at a trade show. Write down on the back of the business cards received what you promised to send, who you said you would connect the person to, and do it.

Taking part in a trade show can be a costly proposition. It therefore pays to make sure that the event is going to be worth your while.