WomensNet News

How to Get the Most out of Trade Show Attendance

February 18th 2024

With cost estimates for exhibiting at national industry trade shows as high as $40,000-$60,000, small businesses may wonder if they can even afford to participate in such events. After factoring in the cost to design, build, and ship a show booth, plus marketing materials and equipment, exhibition fees, labor, and accommodations, making trade show participation pay off may seem almost impossible. 

And yet there are some industries where one trade show can generate enough sales to keep a business busy all year. It is for that reason that all small businesses should at least explore how they might add trade show or conference participation to their marketing budget.

To ensure you’re making the most of any level of trade show attendance, here are some tips to maximize your return on investment (ROI):

Weigh exhibiting versus attending

If the cost of reserving exhibition space is out of your budget, you can still participate. It’s not an all-or-nothing decision. In addition to going to network, attend workshops, and make early buys of products (if that’s possible), you can also explore other marketing opportunities that don’t involve shipping a trade show booth cross country.

Advertise in the show magazine

Many larger shows provide participants with a glossy show guide or magazine. Explore whether buying ad space in it could be worth your while, even if you aren’t exhibiting.

Publish your own show guide

Producing your own newsletter or publication to hand out to show attendees is another way to share your story, educate your audience, promote what you’re selling, and invite discussion. If you can convince other companies to co-sponsor it, including information about their complementary products and services in it for a fee, they can help cover the cost and make it look and feel less self-promotional.

Explore publicity opportunities

Can your business be included in any articles slated for the show guide? Could you have the chance to submit an article on an approved topic? Can you place marketing materials in the show’s press room? Do the publicity opportunities change if you buy ad space (sometimes the two are intertwined)?

Inquire about speaking

Most trade shows and conferences have a learning component. If that’s the case at yours, ask the show organizer about speaking opportunities. Do they have a planned slate of workshops or could you submit a proposal for a topic? Or are speaking opportunities only available to exhibitors? Speaking on stage positions you as an industry leader and can set you apart from your competition.

Set up a sales suite

If renting space on the main exhibit floor is out of your price range, get estimates to rent a hotel suite close by. Unless you’re marketing major equipment, having a quiet space with food and drink available can work even better than trying to have an in-depth conversation on the noisy exhibit floor. And if you’re advertising in the show guide, you can even highlight that you’ll be in Suite #1234 for anyone who wants to chat about your products or services.

Host a special event 

Rather than competing with exhibitors for time with your ideal customers, look into sponsoring a cocktail hour at a nearby restaurant or a nightcap or dessert bar at a local bar. Personally invite your hot prospects and potential referral sources for a small gathering after the exhibit hall or conference space closes up. Or, conversely, set up a breakfast buffet before the event starts and let your prospects know.

Buy outdoor billboard space

If there are billboards near the convention center, get quotes for putting up a large ad on them. With attendees and exhibitors walking by as they enter or exit the space, those ads could be well worth the money. Use the space to make an offer for those who stop by your booth or visit your suite.

Give out promotional products

Whether you’re exhibiting or not, handing out clever gifts featuring your company name on them can be another way to get your name out there. Although cookies or chocolate with your company logo on them are often welcomed, they also disappear as soon as they’re eaten. A better choice would be a notebook, tech tool, or cloth bag for all of the materials they’ll collect.

Rent the attendee list

Many exhibitors are given a list of attendees and speakers as part of their package, but if you aren’t an exhibitor, can you rent the list for an additional fee? Ask for the cost. If these are your ideal prospects, it could be worth it to mail out a trade show follow-up message and offer.

Trade shows and conferences can be excellent places to get in front of your ideal clients and people who are in their inner circle. Even if all you do is buy a ticket to attend it, it may be well worth your time to go and reconnect with people in your industry.

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