How to Make Trade Shows Work for Your Small Business

trade show
J-C&D. Pratt / Photononstop / Getty Images

Trade shows, like small business conferences, provide great opportunities for networking, forming partnerships, and finding new clients. But participating isn't exactly free. Before you sign up you need to ask yourself a few questions about which trade shows will work best for you and your business, and then have a plan for while you are there to maximize the benefits.

Pick the Right Trade Show

Some events are more valuable than others.

It might be worth it to spend more money to attend one trade show on the other side of the country than to participate in three that are held in your home state. Prioritize by setting goals. Do you need to focus on establishing local connections, or finding ways to break into new markets? Are the educational sessions listed going to be beneficial, or will it be too similar to an event you attended last year? Money isn't the only thing to consider when signing up; weigh the costs versus the overall value of attending.

Make Education a Priority

Educational sessions, panels, forums and expert presentations are available at most trade shows. These educational resources provide access to market research, case studies, best practices, and news that can help you run a smarter, better business. Be prepared to take notes because you'll have the chance to learn a great deal about your niche and brainstorm ways to work more efficiently, remain current on industry standards, and find new sources of revenue.

On the flip side, as a presenter or booth vendor, you should strive to make education a priority for your audience. It's fun to give away free products and brag about your business, but to really capture the attention of a potential client, you should focus on educating them. Teach them something new, and they will look to you as a valuable source of information in the future.

Send the Right People

The assignments you give to your staff at the trade show are important. Consider your employees' strengths and weaknesses. There are the obvious considerations, like making sure you have outgoing employees stationed at your booth ready to strike up a conversation with observers who stop by. However, it's also important to have a tech-savvy representative at the ready in case you run into problems setting up equipment or running audio and visual during a presentation. There is a lot that goes into running a successful booth, so make sure you have recruited a team that is up to the challenge.

Wrap It Up Right

When the event is over, have a quick wrap-up meeting with your team to discuss feedback received from booth visitors as well as to hash out what went wrong and what went right during the trade show. Then talk about next steps. Hopefully, your team collected several leads, and you'll need to follow up on those new connections. Don't let potential clients forget about you.

Strengthen your relationships by developing a plan to reach out, whether it's by setting up lunch, emailing a welcome newsletter, or following up on a request for a consultation. Don't let the time and resources you invested go to waste by dropping the ball when you're back to home base.