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These days, many professionals connect via Skype, email or social networking sites like LinkedIn, but never get the chance to build a rapport with prospective customers or like-minded entrepreneurs face-to-face. This can leave professional relationships feeling cold and impersonal, so where possible it’s a good idea to attend a variety of business exhibitions.

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Of course, companies (particularly start-ups or small organisations) might see this as an additional expense but with the right planning you could potentially turn the leads collected at an exhibition into profit, so here’s how to make these events work for you:

Prepare the right marketing material

Business exhibitions are extremely visual affairs, so make sure you have the right marketing material available to help promote your company. Sites like Helloprint make it easier than ever to order business cards, leaflets, brochures, banners, marketing flags, magazines, stickers, booklets, balloons, counter displays and such like, so it’s well worth thinking about what you will need and making your stall stand out from the crowd. In this digital age we live in, it’s not very often you can get people’s attention without fighting for a top ranking on Google or sending out online advertorials/articles, so use this opportunity wisely.

Set up your stall carefully

Having the right marketing material is one thing, but setting up your stall so it looks interesting and conveys what you’re all about is another. Ensure all banners and leaflets are clear to see and place leaflets, brochures, magazines and other marketing essentials somewhere where people can easily grab them. If you’ve got special lighting/props, always check they’re working before the big day and think carefully about how many staff members you’ll need to make the event run smoothly for you. For example, you might need one person greeting passers-by and another to hand out freebies such as keyrings, calendars or other promotional items.

Pick the right exhibitions

If you’ve a limited budget or simply don’t have the time to be going from one exhibition to the next, it’s important to choose an event to suit you and your organisation. Opt for exhibitions that not only match your marketing messages and fit well with the ethos of your company but that will attract your target audience too. If you’re in catering, for instance, select events centred around food and drink, as the venue is likely to be packed with important people from the industry as well as chefs, catering suppliers and avid food lovers.

Give out and collect business cards

Mastering the art of networking is quite a skill, but in order to get the most out of an exhibition, you must try to be as sociable as possible. Mingle with as many people as you can and ensure you have enough business cards to hand so you can pass them around freely. Not only that, try to appear interested in what people have to say and inquire about other companies – asking for their business cards when possible. This will give you access to important telephone numbers, website/email addresses that you can use after the event to make contact with relevant people. You’ll kick yourself if you get on really well with someone and forget to take their details.

With careful planning, business exhibitions can be excellent places to market your business and meet like-minded people, so it’s certainly worth looking into events in your region.