Photo Credit: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid
Photo Credit: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

In many industries, the annual trade show is the best opportunity a small business has to stand out from the crowd, meet with potential clients, and make important sales. For newcomers, a trade show is a make-or-break event for the business.

That’s why you have to make the most of it by carefully preparing for the day by planning all aspects of your business’s presence at the event; from the design and layout of the booth, to researching other companies that will be present, to honing your pitch. It’s a long process, but once you get it right, you’ll be able to outshine the competition and make vital sales that will help your business thrive. Here are 6 steps for planning your trade show strategy.

1) Decide How Your Booth Will Be Different

This is the single most important step but also the most overlooked. At the trade show, it won’t just be you and potential clients. All your competitors will be there as well. Each potential buyer will meet dozens of people that day, and eventually all of their names and faces will blur into each other.

That’s why, to be effective, you need to think of the concrete way in which your product or service is explicitly different, and incorporate that difference into all of your marketing efforts for the trade show. Maybe your price is lowest, or your business specializes in a specific niche, or your product can do more than your competitors. Whatever you decide, design your marketing efforts and elevator pitch to highlight that distinction.

2) Decide Who Will Be Going With You

This step may seem obvious but it eludes many people. Decide early on who is going to the trade show. Each one of your employees or business partners has distinct weaknesses and strengths. When you put your team together early, you can assign each person to their strongest suit. When you decide later, you may find yourself having to make compromises or scramble to make sure everyone on your staff is working to their fullest extent.

3) Hone Your Elevator Pitch

While you may have already performed your elevator pitch numerous times to prospective clients, you need to work and rework your elevator pitch for this specific event. Your current elevator pitch may work well over the phone or in your store, but the presence at an event like a trade show can make your elevator pitch seem stilted or forced to people you’re meeting for the first time.

To make sure your elevator pitch goes down easy, practice it a few times for people who haven’t heard it before, such as family members and friends. If they understand it easily the first time and can tell you how your company is distinctive, then your elevator pitch is good. If they have to ask questions to understand your product, then rework your pitch so that it’s easier to understand.

4) Design Your Booth

Your booth will be your home base during the trade show. You need to make sure your booth covers everything it needs to but be careful not to overdo it. According to Designer Paige Hamilton , “Keep that booth simple.” While you’ll take your booth design seriously, others probably won’t notice all the detail that you put into it. They’ll see dozens and dozens of booths that day, so it’s probably better to keep your booth simple and focus on other aspects of the trade show.

5) Pick Your Giveaway

It’s become common practice to give something away during trade shows to give attendees something to remember you by. While food and little-branded trinkets are the most popular giveaway items, try to think outside the box. Spend a little bit of time coming up with a distinctive item that both captures your business’s essence and delights the customer. It will go a long way in having you be remembered and making sales after the trade show is over.

6) Make a Checklist

Finally, before the event starts, make sure to utilize a checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything. You can fool yourself into thinking you’ve planned for every detail but realize on the day of that you forgot to bring enough business cards! Don’t let an easy, preventable mistake hurt your performance at a trade show. Find and complete multiple checklists to make sure everything is accounted for.

Once you have every detail planned out before the day of the event, you can rest easy the night before knowing that there’s a plan for everything. While trade shows can seem like stressful events, once you get the details worked out, you’ll have every resource you need to make your business thrive.