Working a Trade Show by yourself
Exhibiting at a trade show can be a huge investment for your company, or a complete waste of money and time. And, for a company of one, working a trade show is tricky at best. Long hours, the feeling that you can't "leave the booth" even for a second to eat, go to the bathroom or even wander around to see what other exhibitors are doing makes for many conflicts in most exhibitor's minds.
If you have people working the booth with you, you know your booth is always manned and ready. Alone, if you're not in the booth, you will always wonder if you are "missing" the most important contact of the show. So, how do you handle exhibiting at a trade show and working the booth by yourself?
I recently sponsored a conference on Adult Education. There are trade shows for Admissions all the time, but most focus on the Admissions Counselor, NOT the Directors, Vice Presidents and Marketing staff at a school. This show was recommended to me by a client, her one sales point was "these are the decision makers who are attending, people who do what I do". The most important thing to remember is pick a show that focuses on those attendees that actually BUY your products and services.
Make sure that you create a display that focuses on what the audience wants. There is nothing worse than setting up a display, putting items on the display that features ALL of your products or services, only to have people walk by because they think you don't have what they want/need. Make sure that 100% of your display focuses on what THEY want to buy, not what YOU want to sell.
Giving away free items are just that, give a ways. They are an expense item plain and simple. When was the last time you took a stress relief ball from a conference and actually used it? A pen? Of course we take pens, but, do we ever look to see where it came from until it runs out of ink? Giving away items doesn't serve any real purpose other than to give away your hard earned money. You would be better off giving everyone a quarter if they stop by, certainly more memorable!
So, all of that said, how do you go about working a trade show by yourself?
First, look at the schedule and ALWAYS be at the booth during breaks, between meetings and during exhibitor time. NEVER miss these times since that is when the most traffic will be walking through the aisles.
Second, don't sit in a chair, in the back of the booth or anywhere that makes you look inaccessible. Always stand out front, engaging people as they walk by, glancing at name tags and looking for anything that may help you determine if they are a good prospect or not.
Third, have more business cards than you think you will ever use. If for some reason, you forget your cards, (and yes, it has happened to me) have someone, express mail them to you or deliver them to you. This is your lifeblood and only required handout you really need.
Fourth, meet your booth mates. People on either side of your booth or across the aisle. They may pitch in if you have to run out for any reason. Explain to them about your company and a small amount of information about what you do. That way, if they see someone stop by your booth and you're not there, they can suggest that the person return in 10 minutes and they can suggest that the attendee take a business card. Anything that shows the attendee that you planned to be away and took steps to cover your absence in even a small way will help.
Finally, eating can be difficult. I know that eating in a booth is typically forbidden. But to be honest, if I need to eat, and it's a choice between being in my booth where I can talk to prospects who wander by, or head out to get a meal, I will ALWAYS eat in my booth. Place the food discretely behind the display, and only eat when there are no prospects in your area. Make sure if someone comes in while you're eating, you put away the food immediately and attend to their needs.
As for success? My last trade show I attended earned me 10 new clients, paid for itself in total with the first four orders and was wildly successful.
Working a tradeshow is not easy when you're by yourself, but it can be done, and quite successfully!
This article was published in the Spring issue of Focus on Small Business published by the Small Business Association of Michigan.