I’ve been crashing trade shows for 25 years -- they get me so pumped up. I have more resolve than ever. My creative juices are flowing. That’s because I always meet such interesting, exciting people. Trade shows are some of the best places to make relationships within your industry, whether it’s because you identified a new lead or chased down people you wanted to connect with. Trade shows are lands of opportunity.
Attending one can become quite expensive. But truly, they are a great use of your time and energy. Here’s how to save a ton of money and get the most out of a tradeshow:
1. Pick the right tradeshow. It’s not as easy as you may think! I once attended the wrong tradeshow by mistake. The best way to identify the tradeshow that you’re going to get the most out of it is by reading the list of exhibitors. Are these the companies and/or people you want to interact with? Are these your peers? Trade Show News Network lists shows worldwide. Trade shows that are open to the public are not the right ones to attend.
2. Register in advance. Fees are lower the further in advance you register. If you register early, your pass will be sent in the mail, which means you’ll avoid having to wait in a long line (and I mean long). You’ll need a business card -- so if you don’t already have one (regardless of whether you’re actually in business yet), create one. The earlier you register, the better your chances of booking a room in one of the blocks the tradeshow has reserved.
3. Work your contacts. If you know someone who is going to be exhibiting at the show, ask them for a free pass. This has worked for me in the past.
4. Book your hotel and flight together. You may be able to snag a great package deal. I always make sure to do this when I’m attending a trade show in Las Vegas. Stay at a hotel that is associated with the conference. That way, you’ll be able to meet people all weekend long, including at the bar and even in an elevator. You’ll also save money, because you won’t need to take a taxi.
5. Map out which booths you’re going to hit and in what order. Most tradeshows are enormous -- you could spend days wandering around. You’ll save time by creating a plan. Consider trying to set up meetings in advance as well.
6. Get there early. It’s easier to meet people when it’s not as crowded (and they’ll be more likely to spend more time talking to you). Bring two pairs of comfortable shoes. Your feet will love you if you wear the second pair on your second day. In the same vein, dress well. If you look like a million bucks, people will treat you like you are.
Finally, I want to share a little bit about my strategy at trade shows. What I like to do is carry a sample of my product in my pocket, or a video of it on my iPad or iPhone. When I approach a booth, I always make sure to spend time checking out its products first. Remember, these people have spent thousands of dollars -- they’re here to sell.
Eventually, someone will approach me, and I’ll comment on what great products they have. It won’t be long until he or she asks me what I do for a living. I use that opportunity to give them my card, introduce myself and talk to them about why I’m here. After that, and only after that, I might ask if I can show them my product. Always ask for permission! It will endear people to you.
After I tell them I’m a product developer, I ask if their company takes outside submissions. If they say yes, I ask for the appropriate contact. If you end up having a conversation like this without a sample of your idea, don’t sweat it. Establish a connection and get the person’s card anyway, and make sure to follow up later.
This approach can be used with potential suppliers, distributors, licensees and more.
Throughout the trade show, remember -- anyone could be listening! Don’t say anything out loud you wouldn’t want someone to overhear.