18 Helpful Trade Show Tips for Small Businesses


Exhibiting at a trade show can require a significant amount of time, effort, and money, so you’ll want to have a clear strategy in place to ensure you get the most out of the event. To help turn your trade show endeavor into a success, consider implementing the following trade show tips.

Before the Trade Show Tips

1. Research and choose the right trade show.

The type of trade show you choose to attend can greatly impact the quantity and quality of leads and sales you receive. Take some time to research events that are relevant to your industry, your business, and your target customers.

If possible, you might want to review the list of exhibitors; if you find that some of your direct competitors are attending the show, that’s a good sign that your business should be there, too.

Additionally, although a smaller, more niche event may be tempting, choosing to attend a larger show can lead to better results in many cases, as it will likely have more attendees and give you the opportunity to reach more potential customers.

If you’re on a tight budget and looking to save on costs, finding a relevant local show to exhibit at can reduce fees for travel and shipping.

2. Create a trade show budget.

Consider all the necessary costs of exhibiting at the trade show, including booth rental, materials necessary for the display, giveaway items, internet connectivity, food and travel expenses for employees, and shipping costs.

Setting a budget can help you to stay on track, avoid unnecessary expenses, and accurately track cost vs. return.

3. Define your goals for the show.

While you’re in the planning phase, it’s important to identify exactly what you want to accomplish by attending the trade show and then setting goals and objectives to match. For example, are you aiming to build brand recognition? Gather new leads? Promote a particular product? Network with others in your industry?

Regardless of what you choose as your objective, it should be your guiding force throughout the process and help you determine how you set up your booth, the way you interact with attendees, and what you choose to hand out and give away at the show.

4. Prepare what you’ll need for your booth.

Plan out how you’ll use your exhibit space ahead of time and figure out exactly what you’ll need to make your design come to life. Don’t skip over the smaller details, like pens or a tablecloth.

Take care to gather all of the necessary materials in advance so you’re not scrambling the morning before the show.


5. Practice talking with potential customers.

A trade show is a great way to meet people in your target market and hear directly from them about what their needs and pain points are.

Prepare a few engaging, open-ended questions that you can ask attendees who stop by your booth, and practice going over them with friends, family members, and employees. It’s smart to rehearse responses to common questions you expect to receive from attendees as well.

6. Promote your attendance at the show.

In the weeks leading up to the trade show, promote the fact that you’ll be attending the show on your website, social media channels, and emails. Be sure to let people know what you’ll be showcasing at the event and where they can find your booth.

7. Set up meetings with contacts of interest.

Before heading off to the trade show, reach out to those you’d like to connect with such as existing customers, media, and industry influencers and find out if they’ll be attending the show as well. If they will be, set up meetings with them in advance to get together sometime during the show.

You may want to try to meet up before or after exhibition hours to avoid cutting into floor time.

During the Trade Show Tips

8. Make your display area stand out.

Consider using elements to make your display stand out from other booths, such as unique signage, a presentation board, or videos or slideshows on TV monitors.

Additionally, take care in the way you arrange your display materials by ensuring all important elements are visible while things you don’t want attendees to see, such as personal items and display construction materials, are hidden.

9. Dress professionally.

You’ll want to look the part when you’re exhibiting at a trade show, and this likely doesn’t mean showing up in your sweatpants. Instead, you’ll probably want to dress in either business or business casual attire.

If it makes sense for your brand, you may want to wear a shirt with your logo on it or wear coordinating outfits with the other employees from your company manning the booth. A professional name tag can be a nice touch, as well.

10. Be friendly to attendees.

You want to be inviting and make those attending the trade show feel comfortable to stop to check out your booth and chat with you, so don’t be shy. Say hello and introduce yourself to those walking by. You may consider asking them a question to get the conversation going.

11. Show off your work.

A trade show is a great place to show people what you and your business can do. Consider integrating some of your own best work into your display, whether through a portfolio, large photo prints, or actual products.

12. Offer giveaways.

Many trade show attendees expect to come away with some free stuff, so you’ll want to have plenty of giveaways on hand to appeal to them. Items branded with your company’s logo, such as business cards, pens, magnets, and T-shirts make great handouts. Food giveaways and candy are also popular.

If it makes sense for your company, you may want to offer a few larger giveaways as well. For example, you could raffle off a bigger item, such as an electronic, a gift card, or a free product or service from your business in exchange for contact information.


13. Take appropriate breaks.

Working at a trade show can be exhausting, so take breaks when you need them to keep yourself from getting burned out. Be sure to give yourself time to eat, relax for a moment, and walk around the show to meet other exhibitors and business owners.

If you can, it’s helpful to have at least one other person there with you to oversee the booth. That way, you can work and take breaks in shifts and your exhibit will never be left unattended.

14. Get to know other exhibitors.

A trade show is a great place to get to know new people and network with other business owners. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with your fellow exhibitors and learn more about what they do. You never know—it could be the beginning of a valuable business relationship.

15. Stay for the duration of the show.

After a long day exhibiting at a trade show, it can be tempting to close down your booth a little early and head out for the evening, especially if traffic is beginning to wind down.

However, in many cases, you’ll end up getting more out of the show by going the distance and staying until the very end. Often, there are valuable conversations to be had with attendees at the very end of the day.

After the Trade Show Tips

16. Note key takeaways.

Once the trade show has wrapped up, take some time to reflect on your most important learnings and takeaways from the show. For example, you might have gained interesting new insights from conversations with potential customers, or you may have picked up a few ideas from other exhibits that you’d like to incorporate into your own marketing campaign.

Write these takeaways down so you don’t forget them and can refer back to them as needed.

17. Organize gathered information.

After the trade show, take the leads you obtained at the show and organize them. This can help you to keep track of the valuable information you gathered and use it effectively, as well as streamline the follow up process.

Depending on how you gathered information, you might consider creating a database on your computer or dividing leads into envelopes. It’s a good idea to sort your leads by priority so you’ll know who to reach out to first.

18. Schedule follow ups.

To ensure your hard work and investment in the trade show don’t go to waste, follow up with your new leads and contacts shortly after the show. Reach out via a phone call or a personalized email and set up a time to connect with them and talk more.

Sarah Hancock

Sarah Hancock is the Chief Editor of Best Company’s business loans blog. She frequently writes about business-related topics and has contributed to Forbes, Reader’s Digest, Yahoo, Ladders, MyCorporation, Fit Small Business, and several other publications.

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