The How-To: Getting Your Startup Exhibition-Ready

Done and planned properly, participation in exhibitions or any other events for that matter can be a business growth catalyst.

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This article was co-authored with Klaus Miserra, co-founder of grow.ME


With exhibition season here, especially for small businesses poised for growth, it brings anxiety, anticipation and excitement. Most businesses are so focused on what they are doing operationally that they can lose opportunities that come their way at exhibitions and other events. Lack of planning and preparation to ready themselves can prevent making the most of their participation. Surprisingly, many businesses do not have a post event plan in place to manage and follow up on their presence at these events. 

We have identified a few key stages in the preparation for an event:

  • Set a marketing strategy
  • Evaluate an event against targeted outcomes
  • Set specific goals
  • Create a readiness checklist
  • Follow up processes to capture leads

Set activities linked to the marketing strategy 
Your event strategy should be aligned with your marketing strategy. You need to evaluate events and select those that will maximize the opportunity to create leads. You need to know why you are at the event– visibility, lead generation, brand awareness, and then formulate a budget for this.

Evaluate an event 
Beyond the obvious –looking at dates, visitors, other participants, online reviews of past events by the same organizer– the target audience must be a fit for your business and strategy. Do you have the resources to manage not only being at the event but to ensure that your existing customers are not impacted? Do you have the capacity to cope with the additional workload?

Set specific goals 
Once you have committed to the event, then it is time to make the most of it and the first step is to set goals. What do you want to get out of your presence: is it to raise awareness, generate new business, connect with specific customers or network with your peers? Ideally, it should be a mix of all three. Set specific numbers for how many customers are spoken to, captured email address or phone numbers, information about product or services inquires. Craft the key messages you want to share at each event. The event, the audience and your goals need to be taken into account and aligned with your overall business message map.

Create a readiness checklist 
Once you have set goals, its best to create a checklist not just of the obvious for being part of the event but on other more important elements, including:

  • The companies you want to meet- work with the event organizers to arrange introductions to who you want to meet.
  • Design key messages for target segments.
  • Practice talking about your USP and value propositions for your key target market segments. Be clear on how and why they should do business with you and what you can do to attract them.
  • Practice the skills of listening and asking exploratory questions –what you want to get is a meeting- after the event.
  • Ensure there are enough resources and they are well prepared–  people that represent your organization and what it stands for should be able to  handle questions, have confidence to listen and ask smart questions to capture market intel.
  • To help media assist you, make sure you have information ready to hand not just about your company and products but a media pack about the spokespersons, with photographs, sound bites, and recent publications.
  • Most importantly, create the capability to capture leads easily and have a memorable efficient follow up process in place.
  • Include “a flakes and fakes barometer” in your questions. Time is precious at events, so based on answers and information shared think whether that person is worth a long conversation? If not, how will you excuse yourself and move on?

Done and planned properly, participation in exhibitions or any other events for that matter can be a growth catalyst.

Related: The Investor's View: Does Attending Ecosystem Events Improve Chances Of Investment?