Before the Event
PLAN AHEAD -- This is her first show so she isn't really sure how she is going to set herself up yet. I don't recommend waiting until she is on the premises in order to make the decision. I do however recommend speaking with people and going before hand to check out the place and get a feel for how she is going to set up the space and where she will be allowed to put the table.
CUTTING YOUR COST -- You can also share your booth with someone in a related business and cut your expenses in half. That would give you extra money to spend on a door prize, have some company during the day, someone to watch the booth if you need to go for a washroom break and, if they are in a related business, you could even both share the contact information acquired though your combined door prize marketing tactic. Just be sure that your banners and advertizing doesn't end up in the shadows of theirs. You can also find a booth sponsor, someone willing to give you some money in exchange for some advertisement in your booth. Win-win situation for all.
YOUR BOOTH -- Have a couple of chairs on hand and pens if you expect people to fill out a questionnaire. It will allow them to sit down while filling out the ballots for your door prize and will give you a chance to rest when there is a break in the crowd.
TABLE -- The table will be placed across the back of the booth or to the side. When it comes to talking to people, she is not shy and likes to reach out and walk up to people. She can talk to people for hours about something when she is very passionate about it. Having a table between you and the customer is only a good idea when you are selling products on the spot. Otherwise it separates you from your customer and becomes a barrier to building up your business with you on one side and your customer on the other.
SIGNAGE -- The key is to keep the signage easy to read. Keep in mind that when people stroll by your booth and look, you have about 5 seconds to grab their attention with your both design. Paper vs Vinyl: The problem with paper is that it tends to curl when rolled up in a tube and remains that way when put up on a wall. Poster board has the same curling problem but doesn't look as cheap yet can be inexpensive. If this is the first event, it can be a good alternative if you aren't sure about your display yet. However, if you are looking for something that is more durable yet not too expensive and is something that you will be able to re-use time and time again, a vinyl sign is a better way to go. Although it is more expensive, vinyl signs look more professional. Just be sure to have a place and a way to to hang it up at the event. If she was dealing with a professional booth design firm, they would create an draft image of a booth design so that she could visualize how the booth would look. However, since she don't have thousands of dollars to spend on this, she will need to visualize it for herself and hope it will work out that way.
PRE-ADVERTIZE -- Contact editors of on-line and off-line publications. These are your key to free advertising. Meet with them, talk with them, tell them your story and let them know that you will be at the trade show. Be prepared to give them the details.
PROMOTE -- Tell everyone you know that you are going to the trade show and invite them to come visit you and enter your draw. This is a great opportunity to take advantage of your email list if you have one to get your business in front of people. Use the trade show's name in the subject. Who should this include? Existing customers, potential customers, your vendors, your competition, your potential partners, everyone you can find. Send them an email with a subject like "At [tradeshow name]: Can we chat for 5 minutes?". Don't forget to take advantage of the opportunity to network with other vendors who will also have a booth at the event. Try to setup at least 5 meetings per event day before the trade show even starts. When sending out the email, be sure to include a link to the show information ON YOUR WEBSITE as well as your booth number. In fact, add this to your standard signature block of all your emails 45-60 days before the event. Something like "Visit us at [event name] on [date] at booth [booth number]". On your website, provide more details about the show and a link to the official website. List it under "Upcoming Events"
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION -- If you have a choice, booths next to the bathrooms are good as everyone will eventually go there. A booth at the end of an isle are good too because you have a corner which means people will spend twice as much time passing by the two sides. The entrance is also great because, like the bathrooms, everyone goes past you.
PLASIC BIN OF STUFF -- Have a trade show box that includes things like Sharpies, pens (multiple colours), pad of paper, scotch tape, masking tape, extension cord, power bar, sticky post-it notes, elastic bands, stapler, highlighters, paper clips, scissors, all-in-one tool, medecine (Tylonol, Advil, Motrin, DayQuil), Zip ties and rope. Not only will you be prepared for almost anything, you may have an opportunity to help someone out of a bind -- not to mention you'll look well prepared and professional.
NETWORK WITH OTHER VENDORS -- talk with everyone. How could your two companies work together. How could you serve their needs? After all, they are also hoping to get lots of new customers and may need your services in the near future. Even if it doesn't work out, they will be more likely to remember you. Meet the owner of the company if possible instead of the sales people. Remember, you want to meet decision makers! One note of warning: Try to schedule meetings with them. During the floor hours, they are in pitching/transmitting mode, looking to meet with potential customers. They won't be open to receiving pitches for your business during this time. If possible, try to meet with them before the event so that they know about you during the event and might even send potential customers your way.
LEARN FROM PAST LESSONS -- If this isn't your first event, review all past lessons leaned so that you can actually learn from your past mistakes and optimize your efforts at the event.
SET SOME GOALS -- When having a booth at such an event, it is important to set some goals and know what is it that you hope to get out the event? It doesn't have to be just one way either. That's just one way of connecting with people. Other ways include handing out pamphlets and business cards, and having a door prize.
During the Event
STAY HYDRATED AND AVOID HUNGER -- Have water and pack a lunch. The time to eat or go to the washroom is when nobody is around. I can't begin to tell you how many times I have seen vendors at a conference close for lunch, just as the crowds are arriving. Have water with you. The more you can stay at your post, the more opportunities you will have to talk with people and the more potential customers you will meet.
DRESS -- Dress appropriately and comfortably. You are going to be on your feet for many hours so wear comfortable shoes. Wear a black shirt/blouse. Why? Dirt and stains don't show up as much, everyone looks good in black, it doesn't show wrinkles as much and it will make you look thinner.
BROCHURES (NOT!) -- On the subject of brochures, it is better to collect names and contact information than to give out brochures. Why? Because people get tons of pamphlets at one of these events and most will just end up in the garbage. If you mail them something after the show, it will end up on their desk without being buried in tons of trade show stuff. Think about it.
PRINTED MATERIALS -- Be sure to have pamphlets and business cards available to hand out. Also consider have fillable printed copies of your Service Agreement on hand. Although it is rare that people sign-up for services at trade shows, it could happen and you don't want to give them the opportunity to second guess themselves by delaying potential business. Having it on-hand will also enable you to answer questions about the details of the Agreement. Never give anyone a blank copy. These are for official business/client use only. If a potential client says that they want their lawyer to look it over, make an appointment to meet with them after the show and then fill out all the details before offering them A COPY. These details are an integral part of the Agreement and should be included before any lawyer looks it over anyway.
TAKE NOTES -- Take note of customers that you speak with. These are the people who showed the most interest in your services and should therefore are your hottest leads that you should contact as soon as possible after the show. I was once very impressed when I found an email waiting for me at home at the end of the day after I left the event. Prepare an email before the show so that it is ready to go as soon as you have the list of contacts.
BUSINESS CARDS -- Make notes on peoples business cards. You are going to meet many people and you can impress them by following up on a conversation you started at the trade show instead of contacting them and saying something like "what was it you wanted?". If you can't write on their business card, use a post-it note or write in your notebook.
NETWORK -- Don't spend hours talking to one person. Be prepared to make an appointment with them on the spot if they seem interested in talking with you more than about 5 minutes or so unless they seem to be very interested. Look for quality clients who are interested in doing business with you, not just people browsing. It's better to end up with some paying clients than a lot of contact who aren't really interested in doing business with you. Be ready to make appointments on the spot. Have a copy of your agenda printed out for the next 4-8 weeks and put it into some kind of nice looking portfolio or notebook. The Outlook "Weekly Calendar Style" printout is a good choice as it is easy to quickly see the times when you are available, even after you've added many new appointments by hand. Be sure to have at least 4 weeks (pages) of printouts on hand.
CAMERA -- Be sure to bring a digital camera with you. Be sure that your battery is fully charged and that your memory card is empty. You definitely want to get shots of your booth as well as you and your booth. A picture can speak volumes if you can get a shot at a point in time when there are lots of people in your booth. Also, take a walk around and take pictures of other booths to capture great ideas you might want to do in the future. And you never know when a celebrity will come by. You wouldn't want to miss an opportunity. If your camera can also do video, take a few minutes to record a video of yourself talking about your experience at the trade show and upload it to YouTube.
SOCIAL MEDIA -- Use social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to share with people how excited you are about all the people dropping by your booth and the interest they are showing in your business. Again, more opportunities to get your name in front of people. As soon as you get a chance, add people to your list of LinkedIn contacts. SAME DAY IS BEST since they are more likely to remember talking with you. This is another great way of building up your contact list.
POWER -- Will you require electricity? If so, be sure that it is available and find out if you will need to provide your own extension cord and how long it will need to be.
AT THE EVENT -- Test your best pickup lines. What will get people to stop or to laugh? What does it take to get them to say something like "Tell me more". Eventually you will figure out exactly what it takes to get people's attention. Ask questions instead of pitching your business. Be genuinely interested in the other person and their business. Lead them to the place where they are interested in learning about your business and about how your services can serve their needs. Don't just ask them how they are doing. They will most likely either ignore you or just say fine and continue walking. Even asking "Do you have a business?" is better. At least it opens the door to more conversation. Come up with 3-5 questions in advance that you are going to ask people and then notice which one tends to capture their interest the most.
GET INVOLVED -- First, stand, don't sit. In fact, go out into the aisle. Get out of your booth and make room for it to do it's own work while you work the space in front of it. In fact, just being in the middle of the aisle will force people to go around you, maybe even into your booth if the aisle is narrow. When talking with people, start qualifying and ask yourself "How strong is this prospect?". If they aren't very likely to do business with you, find a way to quickly and politely disengage them from the conversation when a stronger one shows up. For example, suggest that they enter into your giveaway draw or point them towards a looping presentation if you have one.
COMPUTER -- Whether you have a computer with a monitor or just a laptop, a moving picture will be more likely to grab attention, even if it is just to see what it's all a about. Naturally the bigger the better. If you only have a laptop, be sure to lock it to something or you may discover it gone at the end of the day. The cool thing about a projector is that you can make your video pretty big.
FREE FOOD -- This is a great way to get people to enter your booth, especially if you put it a little further in. That way you have more of an opportunity to start up a conversation. Try to offer something better than just candy. Cookies can be nice.
GIVEAWAYS -- Having a draw where people would put their business card into a box, hat or fish bowl would be a great way to gather business cards and contact information in order to build up a mailing list. It also provides you with an opening to contact people. How you run it is up to you. For example, you can make it only open to businesses. You could require that they answer a question that would help you better identify potential customers or the best time to reach them. After the show, you can follow up with them by phone or send out your pamphlet to those who qualify as potential clients. If you have them fill in a short questionnaire, this causes them to stop and spend more time in your booth which can give you more of an opportunity to speak with them.
The door prize needs to be enticing enough to get people to stop and actually part with their contact information. That doesn't mean it has to be expensive, although these can often be very enticing. If you just offer some random expensive door prize, at the end of the day, you've just given away an expensive door prize. However the prize can be a sample of your service that you are willing to offer for free. In offering this, you will tend to get people who are actually interested in your services thereby pre-qualifying them as potential customers. If the winner is happy with the delivery of your services, it could very well get them thinking about how useful these services are and consider hiring you to provide future services. The result is a win-win situation.
Another way to reduce your costs at the trade show and get a free door prize is to have your door prize sponsored by some other business. In exchange for a small fee and a door prize, another company can have a small presences at the trade show.
You can even have a separate special draw. About a month before the trade show, send out postcards and tell people that they will need to bring the postcard to the trade show in order to enter the draw. This will cause them to hang onto the postcard for a month and keep track of it until the day of the trade show.
A giveaway draw can also attract a crowd of people to your booth. When that happens, others become naturally curious and interested in coming over to see what all the fuss is about.
After the Event
NETWORKING -- You can also pre-schedule meetings over drinks or dinner at the end of the day. They don't have to go very far since they will already be there.
FOLLOW UP -- Realise that attendees are likely saturated with presentations and vendor pitches so there is a pretty good chance that they probably don't remember you. It's up to you to follow up and remind them of who you are and what you do.
LESSONS LEARNED -- Write down all the lessons you learned from the event so that you can improve at the next one. Which one-liners got peoples attention and which didn't work? What words were people using when speaking about their business problems and needs? These are very likely the same words they would use to search for you in Google and are the words you should be using on your website. What did they react to most favourably when you were speaking with them? What were they saying about your competition? What were their main complaints? What services were people looking for that you or someone you know could provide?
MODIFY YOUR BUSINESS STRATEGY -- How can you address these issues and become more appealing to potential clients?
In my experience of organising, having a presence and even just attending trade shows, unless you are selling a product that you can deliver on the spot, I have rarely seen people actually sign up to do business. It's an opportunity to interact with people, let them get to know you and your company, and to provide answers to their questions. Those who don't do well at trade shows tend to be passive, sit down and wait for someone to come speak to them.
Remember, sometimes the people you think don't want to talk to you are the ones waiting for you to talk to them. Start by just saying "Hello!". In my experience, the people who really look like they are unhappy and unfriendly tend to really light up with the simple gesture of saying Hello and being offered a smile.