5 Ways to NOT Waste Money When Exhibiting at a Tradeshow

In: entrepreneur| ideas| marketing

17 Jun 2009

It’s probably obvious that I have had tradeshows on the brain lately. But it is also no secret that I am a big fan of them. When done right, exhibiting at a tradeshow can deliver a lot of bang for your buck.

If you have decided to take the plunge and exhibit at a show, I have a few tips to help you cut costs and keep your budget manageable.

So I present 5 Ways to NOT Waste Money When Exhibiting at a Tradeshow:

1. Always negotiate everything.
When you first contact the show organizer, they will quote you various prices for different-sized booths. For instance, the smallest one available may be a 10×10 (10 feet deep and 10 feet long) than 10×20 (10 feet deep and 20 feet long), etc. Consider these prices to be an opening bid. When it comes to costs and fees at a tradeshow, almost everything is negotiable, especially in an economy like this one.

If you have a new business and this is going to be your first time exhibiting, let them know that you are just starting out. Remember, if you exhibit and have a successful show, you will probably be back the following year. They know this and it is in their best interest to get you in the door the first time. So make sure you haggle.

2. Forget the candy, pens, bags, USB drives and other promotional swag.
A lot of people feel they need to have something to give away at a show to “draw people in.” I don’t believe in this theory of promotion. Having these items will usually just attract the wrong crowd. Make sure people are taking things for the right reason. For example, if you have a piece of software you want to distribute, you might have considered handing out a USB drive containing a trial or demo. But people will take them for the drive with no intention of trying out your product. Handing out a CD with the software is a much cheaper option, and helps to ensure that the people who bother to take it will try it out.

Supplying an entire show’s worth of attendees with free pens or gifts for their kids isn’t why you are there exhibiting. Save your money.

3. Forget the fancy lead machines. Buy a business card scanner.
At most tradeshows, they will have a lead scanner available for rent. The machine can scan an attendee’s badge and give you a copy of their information. Unlike most show add-ons, I highly suggest you get one. Many attendees won’t have enough business cards to hand out to everyone they meet, and they are much more likely to hand over their badge for a quick scan. But there are usually different types of scanners available. The cheapest will probably just scan badges and print out contact information on a roll of paper. The much more expensive scanner with come with the ability to download to a USB drive or download from a website after the show.

Go for the cheapest option, then buy a business card scanner. After the show, you can just run the papers through the card scanner and grab each contact’s details. You’ll also then have a business card scanner to use for your business (a very handy tool). By scanning the information yourself, you can save literally hundreds of dollars.

4. Use appointment cards. Just like your dentist.
As we have discussed, having a plan for following up after a show is crucial. One option is to set followup appointments with attendees right at the show.

Before the show, have some appointment cards printed that have a place to enter a specific date and time, like the ones that doctors and dentists use. You can have these printed online cheaply (search for “Appointment Cards”). Then at the show, as you get an attendee’s information, ask them when a good time to followup would be and try to get them to agree to a specific date and time. Fill out that appointment onto the card then hand it to them as a reminder. (Don’t forget to jot it down yourself!) This will make post-show followup much easier for the both of you.

5. Forget the booth babes.
If I wasn’t a fan of handing out candy, then I’m probably not going to be an advocate of eye candy either. Having models or actors at your booth are expensive and draw the wrong type of attention. By all means, feel free to staff your booth with attractive people, but everyone working in the booth should be taken seriously. Having a model there just to draw attention rarely leads to sales. And sometimes it just makes you look desperate, like the water filtration system company we saw at the restaurant show who had an actor dressed up as Austin Powers at their booth (“Yeah baby, clean water. Groovy.”). There are some exceptions to this rule for certain consumer trade shows (scantily clad women at Comic-con are always a big hit) but if you are targeting industry professionals, leave the ladies at home.

When done on a budget, tradeshows are a great way to build your business. But that budget can spiral out of control if you aren’t careful. Forget the distractions, follow these rules, and you will set yourself up for a successful show experience.

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Mark Webster

About Mark Webster

One of the Co-Founders of SideTour, former TechStar (NYC Summer 2011), ex-NBA'er, and past TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon Winner.