Tough Sell

Trade Wins

Going to your first trade show can be either a rewarding business experience, or a tremendous waste of time. Being prepared--especially for your first show--is the key to making sure it's profitable for you.

The most important decision is whether to go. If you don't have specific goals, forget it. You must decide exactly what you hope to accomplish. For example, commit to introducing yourself to two dozen new prospects, or speaking to vendors who can help you with a specific problem. Don't view it as a working vacation. Trade shows require work, and hard work at that.

If you do find the right show, heed the following tips:

  • Have a written plan. Whatever your goals, put them in writing. Be flexible, but don't assume you can decide how to spend your time once you get to the show. The show's management will have plenty of pre-show material. Look at it carefully, then write down your plan.
  • Take notes. One reason you may be attending is to determine whether you want to exhibit at this show in the future. If that's the case, take notes. See what displays, booths and other elements catch your eye. Make note of the successful literature. Write down the total attendance figures and busiest days, and get a breakdown of what types of businesses and people are at the show. (This information is available from the show's organizers.)

Even if you don't plan on exhibiting in the future, keep a pen and paper handy. Take notes on the people you meet, and write down information about the companies you notice.

  • Follow up. Within two weeks, write a note to everyone you met, whether that person is a prospect, supplier, client or anyone else you may contact for business in the future.
  • Wear sensible shoes. No kidding. Do it, or you'll spend the entire trade show waiting for it to end.
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