The time and money invested in trade shows can be costly if not done wisely. Preparing in advance with a strategy is useful to get the most out of the investment. Before committing to an event, find out the experience of the host as well as the typical number and audience they have attracted in the past. Make sure it's an appropriate fit for your target market. Find out what other vendors have already committed to attend and if your competition will be present. You can either weigh out the particulars intellectually or, as some do, meditate and ask if the trade show is the appropriate event for your highest good before making the commitment.
Make sure you know what you will require before attending, including what will be provided. Don't assume a table cloth/skirt will be provided, for example. Don't assume anything. Make sure if you need electric or wireless access, you will have it. Prepare a checklist of items you will need and have those items you need to bring packed prior to the day of the event. It will be the little things that get you in the end such as realizing you need tape, scissors, string, a business card holder that doesn't occur to you until you need it during set up.
The biggest mistake I made was having a white table cloth and white collateral that didn't show well against the white backdrop. I have since added substantial color to enhance and draw attention to the table.
When planning the table display, think of the color scheme and branding you want to convey. What feeling do you want people to have upon seeing your table? If necessary to get a cloth, get one to match or complement your logo. Have items in different layers. If room, have signage with logo, photos and verbiage of how you help people.
If you can provide visuals through your laptop, that can attract people to your table. A display book with examples of the work you do is useful. Make sure the quality of display book is good if only placed in clear sheets within a binder that can maintain people handling papers. Remember, in general, people will pick up and handle things and may take things they don't realize aren't giveaways. People expect to take a giveaway from your table and if an object is sitting out your visitors may believe it is for taking. If you want to keep certain items for display only, mark or place them somehow to separate from things they can take. Also, bring plenty of pens if you are taking names and they don't have business cards. People walk away with pens without realizing it.
Having pens with your logo is useful in these cases. If you don't have the budget for giveaways, an educational handout with information people would keep may be useful. Besides business cards and brochures, for example, you want something that people will keep because of its usefulness rather than trusting people will keep your information handy just in case they will need it later.
Entice people to purchase a product or service with a show special. I have one that I am providing for the show I am doing tomorrow. All those who read this are entitled to it if they ask me while attending the show and mention it.
People are hesitant to come to your table if they don't know you, they don't know what you are offering and especially if you don't have something on your table that draws them in. Especially if you have services and not an enticing product on display, you need to engage the attendees as they pass by inviting them in. Try to make eye contact and invite them in. Be prepared with an overview of what you offer and if not bombarded by too many people to manage, ask them about who they are as well. You can use this opportunity to qualify and build rapport on the spot. It shouldn't be just about talking about yourself and your services and products if time allows.
Collect people's cards with an offer to win something that complements your products or services but you may not wish to have the prize be a free service as that is what you are there to sell. Because I am offering services that are more unique than some others, I sometimes offer a complimentary service to build awareness of the service and the benefit of working with me so they can communicate the benefits with others. Word-of-mouth marketing may be enhanced in this situation.
As with all events, getting there early and staying late gives the biggest benefit. When you arrive early, you have the chance to connect with fellow vendors. When you remain to the end, you have had the opportunity to have all attendees get to you as well as the vendors who weren't able to connect with you during the show. If you leave early, some attendees and vendors who planned to see you close to the show's end, will have missed the opportunity to connect.
Have a person who can speak adequately about your offerings, help you. They can provide assistance to handle numbers of guests and give you the opportunity to bring your materials with you and walk around to network with those you didn't make it to your table.
Wear comfortable shoes and a smile, dress professionally and bring food and water that will keep your energy up for what could be a long day. Don't prejudge the participants. Enjoy knowing that this event is opening up opportunity to you that may or may not be evident at the moment.