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How to Prepare for Your Trade Show

Trade shows offer a great opportunity to get face-time with existing customers and spread your good name to prospective new business. These events give you a chance to connect with your target audience. Make sure you take the proper steps to be prepared for your upcoming event and take advantage of the potential.

Planning: When to Start

Planning to attend a trade show can begin as early as one year before the event takes place. If it's an annual event, registration information is often available shortly after the current year's event. Start thinking about your budget and even promoting your attendance at the show nine months to one year in advance.

At the trade show you're going to want to have plenty of giveaways as well as a solid exhibit set up. There are a lot of options to sift through, so start your search about six-nine months beforehand. Get all of your table covers, banners, signs, tents, displays and giveaways in order to avoid a stressful situation as the event gets closer. Be sure to order extra giveaways so that you don't risk running out as you near the end of the event.

Travel arrangements can be made at any time after registration, but by at least three months out, all hotel rooms, airfare, etc. should be booked. Make sure that you'll arrive with plenty of time to set up before the show begins. Your staff should also be chosen at this time so that they can properly prepare. Once you know who will be going, make sure each person has matching promotional apparel with your company name and logo to help further build your brand at the event.

Begin training attending staff members about a month before the event. The week before, create a checklist and make sure everything is packed. Print out any confirmations and travel itineraries the day before. Set these items in a folder with your trade show materials for easy access. Be sure to keep everything all together so that you can grab and go when it's crunch time.

Staffing: How to Choose

Your trade show staff is the face of your company or organization at that event. Make sure you put your best foot forward by choosing the right people for the job. Look for these key qualities in your employees:

Conversant - Choose a team that is knowledgeable about your business and confident enough in that knowledge to be able to explain it inside and out using language that the customer will understand. Team members should be well versed on your company's unique selling proposition and be able to communicate it clearly and concisely so that attendees can see your value upfront.

Engaging - Seek out employees who are outgoing without being pushy. No one likes to be bullied at a trade show, but they don't want to be ignored either. Your team should be comfortable approaching people in a non-pressuring manner. They need to be more than just friendly; they need to engage passers-by in conversation. Train them to ask a lot of open-ended questions to keep the customer talking and build a report.

Approachable - Trade shows can be stressful with strict schedules and tiring travel arrangements, but it's important that your team never shows misery. They must be able to keep a smile and a positive attitude through any trials or tribulations. Choose employees who are likely to portray a welcoming energy that will make them approachable despite a stressful environment.

Promoting: Before, During and After

Be sure to promote your attendance well before the event so that people will look for your booth. Especially in large trade shows, not all exhibits are seen; however, if people know enough about you to seek you out, you're already ahead of the game. Pre-show promotions include emails, direct mail, press releases, advertising on your website, flyers, etc. All of these things will help drive people to your booth by showcasing the amazing things you have to offer once they get there like fun giveaways or free business tips. You can also choose to sponsor the event as well as exhibiting, which will give you an extra edge over the competition.

During the show, choose promotions that will draw in passers-by. You can purchase advertisements like in-room promos, hall ads, trade show publication ads, TV/radio spots and more. Your pre-show promotions will have people specifically coming to you, but the at-show promotions will attract a whole new group of people to expose your brand to. Try contests, games, raffles, presentations or even food and entertainment to entice people over to your booth. This is where your staff will truly shine, handing out your trade show giveaways and engaging the crowd.

Many businesses neglect the opportunity that post-show promotions provide. Direct mail, e-newsletters and coupons are a great way to connect with leads, hot or cold. Don't let all of your hard work go to waste; follow up and keep in touch with those who were most interested. Organize and prioritize your leads, and don't wait too long to make contact. Reach out to the most immediate prospects first, but keep all of your leads - even the long shots - for post-show promotions.

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