Back when I started selling graphic design in 1998, I quickly learned the value of marketing and that in-person contact with potential clients is the most rewarding form of promotion. Most small business owners can attest to the roller coaster that is entrepreneurship. When things are good (i.e. You have so many projects that you simply don’t have the time to do much, outside of delivering your product or service) your marketing efforts can slow to a crawl. With the year nearing an end and demand slowing down, I was recently afforded some time to exhibit for the first time in a while. It wasn’t a disaster. But factor in technical issues, last minute decision-making and chilly drizzle (it was an outdoor evening event), and by the end of it, I was spinning my wheels on how to make things better. Here are 9 nuggets of advice I’d be remiss if I didn’t pass on.
1. Plan, plan, plan
There’s always a chance things may not go accordingly. But planning can eliminate the probability of mishaps. Write “before”, “after” and “during checklists. Start early to eliminate last-minute chaos.
2. Get the word out
Let attendees know you’ll be. In many cases, event facilitators assign a booth number to each exhibitor once they’ve made a commitment. If this is the case, share your booth number via email, social media and by word of mouth so attendees know where to find you during the event.
3. Brand your booth consistently
Consider all of the visual elements you plan to use at your exhibit. Items like a tent (if outdoors) or fabric walls, table covering, a banner, some kind of table-top display, promotional prints (business cards, brochures or fact sheets, sign-in sheets), your laptop, products, giveaways, clothing and possibly more. A great way to ensure that your branding is consistent is to do a dry run. Set up your booth at your office, the way it will look the day of your event. Step back and consider the outer and interior design of your space. Is it a place you’d want to stop if you were a potential client? Jot down changes you’d like to make and make it happen. If it’s not in your budget to do it all at once, don’t let that stop you from presenting, instead, make updates piece by piece until your visuals are where you want them in the future.
4. Quid pro quo
Give something away in exchange for something else. If your giveaways look good to attendees, they will likely flock to your booth and won’t mind joining your email list of filling out a form or two. You don’t have to be giving away award show swag either. Something as simple as a t-shirt can leave a lasting impression. Be as creative as you can within your budget.
5. Be vocal
If you’re like me, it takes a minute to warm up to a crowd. Practicing your elevator pitch routinely before the event will help eliminate anxiety. Remember that attendees may feel just as timid about approaching your booth as you feel about soliciting to them. At a minimum, a warm greeting may inspire them to stop and talk or eventually circle back for a visit.
6. Troubleshoot your technology
Test your machinery, equipment, and presentations the night before, then arrive early enough to do a dry run after you’ve set up your exhibit and before the attendees arrive.
7. Dress the part
Wear clothing that’s consistent with your visual brand colors. You are the most integral part of your visual brand. Consider the weather and the temperature of the venue.
8. Prepare for Murphy’s Law
Know that some things don’t always go as planned. Be flexible. If you run into unexpected issues, try to adjust as quickly as you can and know that being present is half the battle. At least you’re not at home binge-watching old episodes of Walking Dead staving off the guilt of playing hooky on your business.
9. Pack for the next one.
Once your event is over, pack up your exhibit like you’re heading to the next one. Store your exhibit equipment and materials in an easily accessible space. If (like me) you had room for improvement, be sure to switch out old items with upgraded ones as you receive them over time.
Exhibiting is one of the best ways to learn more about potential clients and build brand awareness. Planning for it can be both exciting and stressful. Using the tips outlined above are a great place to start to ensure your booth is a success.