picAs we noted in our last post, trade shows provide an interesting marketing opportunity. But it’s not just a matter of showing up and hoping to talk to lots of buyers! Well in advance, you should establish a plan and a set of expectations, starting with the determination of a goal for your participation.

Is it reasonable to expect that you’ll actually make sales at a trade show? If so, how many dollars worth? Is it more likely that you’ll generate leads to be followed up on later on? If so, do you have a way to track those leads, to determine how many dollars worth of sales are ultimately generated from the show? Your investment might range from a few hundred dollars to take part in a local tabletop show, to much, much more than that to take part in a large national show. Either way, you want to get a good return on that investment, and that starts with planning, budgeting and goal setting.

Budgeting is obviously critical, but there are two ways to approach this issue. One is to set a budget first, and then to start thinking about what you can do within the limits of that budget. The other way is to start with the goal setting, and then start thinking about what it will take to reach your goal, calculating the cost along the way. Ultimately you may have to back off on the goal if you simply can’t afford to spend what it costs to reach it, but many have found that this “blank slate” approach is the best way to establish an overall plan. It seems to get people’s creative juices flowing better than a restrictive budget.

In addition to these big things, you’ll want to think about some little things. For example, name tags for everyone in your booth, formal or casual dress, scheduling and assigning each person to defined “shifts” in the booth, and building in enough break time to keep everyone fresh and at the top of their game. Trade shows provide a lot of opportunity, but it takes planning to maximize that opportunity.