On Wednesday, November 19th we had the pleasure of participating in a Business Expo sponsored by the Kenosha Chamber of Commerce. It was held at Gateway Technical College from 4 PM to 7 PM, included dozens of vendors and was visited by approximately 400 visitors. It was our first Expo as Chamber members and we thought we’d share some of the things we learned from the experience in the hope that it will help you in the future:
Understand why you’re going and what you want to accomplish
Any industry meeting you attend should provide you with: (1) an opportunity to enhance your knowledge of your industry, market and/or technology used in your business; (2) the chance to meet new vendors and resources to help you in the future; (3) an avenue to raise awareness of your company and increase your client base. But some events will offer you greater opportunities to do this than others. Make sure you reserve your dollars for shows that best meet your particular goals. For example, we wanted to deepen our contacts within the Kenosha business community and the Business Expo was the perfect way to do that.
Tell everyone that you’ll be participating
Post a notice on your Facebook page a week before the event and another one the day before, giving the date, time and place so people who follow you can plan to stop by your booth. Depending on the size and length of the event, you might want to do an email blast and invest in a direct response mailing as well. And of course, you want to tweet about it – before, during and after.
Make your booth easy to assemble, visible and memorable
You don’t have to spend a fortune on a unique display if you invest some thought, planning and imagination on your design. It should also be relatively easy to put together and take down so you can devote yourself to business contacts instead of booth construction. Decorate it so it’s bold, colorful and, most importantly, in keeping with your brand. In our own case, we drew lots of attention by putting up a red banner with our mascot bulldog Mojo on it. It certainly got a lot of comments and echoed the design on the home page of our website.
Dress for success
Our presentation at the Chamber Business Expo included red T-Shirts featuring Mojo on the front and our logo on the back. We felt it was a great way to make ourselves visible and demonstrate our marketing expertise. But if your business doesn’t lend itself to a “costume,” dress attractively and professionally. Also, make sure to wear comfortable shoes. Standing in a booth for long periods of time can take a lot of energy and its hard to concentrate with aching arches!
Give something away
Although most visitors to expos and trade shows try to see every booth, there is still a certain amount of competition for audience attention among the displaying companies. To ensure you get as many visitors as possible to your table, give people something extra when they stop by. Whether it’s a shopping bag, stress ball, pen or candy bar it’s a sign of generosity and willingness to share with others. In our case, we offered pencils, door hangers (see below) and the chance to win a Mojo T-shirt.
Offer information in a format people will want to keep
We gave away door hangers with the phrase “Genius at Work” on one side and a summary of our services on the other. It’s the ideal thing to hang on your door when you need some “think” time in a busy office. We hoped that recipients would not only be amused by them, but see them as a demonstration of our creativity. And, from the response we got from many visitors, they did!
Give a warm welcome to EVERYONE
Let’s face it. Not every person who stops by your booth will be part of your target market. They may be a vendor. Or on staff at a rival company. So what? You’re at the event to network and networking is always a group sport. If someone isn’t a potential customer they still may know people who are. Or they might have information about new developments in your industry that they can share. Even those who are usually in competition with you might be able to partner with you on a future project. So smile at everyone who comes by and take an interest in what they have to say. Show them what you’ve done. Make sure they get one of your giveaways. In short, build relationships with as many people as you can. Otherwise, you’re getting less than full value for the time, effort and money you’ve spent on being part of the expo in the first place.
Walk around to the other exhibits and meet your fellow exhibitors
After all, they may not be able to come to you. We found that some of the most important contacts we made at the Chamber Expo were working in their exhibits alone. Walking around, saying hello, giving out our door hangers, enabled us to make some valuable contacts we might have otherwise missed out on.
Get business cards from everyone who comes to your booth
One simple way to do this is to ask people to put their business card in a bowl to win a prize. You can draw the winner at the end of the event or deliver the prize to them within the next few days following the event. So six lucky winners will be getting a Mojo T-shirt from Crux shortly!
Follow-up with everyone you met by email the day after
Send an email to as many people as you can within 24 hours of the event. Include a way for them to respond to your email or/and contact you by phone. If the contact is someone you want to do business with immediately, tell them you’ll be calling within a few days to set up a coffee date. Do this with vendors as well as potential clients. Remember, attending an Expo or trade show isn’t just about meeting potential customers, it’s also about enhancing your presence in your industry and market. So the more people you can connect with and befriend, the more you’ll get out of the show.