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Growing Your Business Through Trade Shows

How to Maximize The Opportunities

A trade show can be a wonderful place to gather information--whether you're seeking new customers, suppliers, or contacts for your business, or you're shopping for a new business to start. Exhibitors at booths are  eager to discuss their business and to connect with yours. These often include agencies like the Small Business Administration and government contracting--all of whom are eager to assist you. Some trade shows even offer seminars on a variety of business-related topics.

For the unfamiliar, trade shows can be overwhelming, with dozens of exhibitors all competing for your attention. To get the most out of a show, you need to know what to expect and how to sort through the many offerings.There are a number of strategies you can utilize to tackle the challenges of attending a trade show, but all come down to doing your homework before you arrive. The three most important elements of this process are:

  1. Start by looking for the show’s floor plan. As a regular speaker at events and trade shows, I learned early on that good trade shows always have some sort of floor map of the exhibit space and I definitely try to get a copy as early as I can.This can help to ensure that you don’t miss any critical exhibits. Once you have that, you can plan, in advance, which exhibits you want to visit.
  2. Research the show’s exhibits. In addition to floor plans, most shows provide booklets with descriptions of the exhibits, as well as a listing of the times, topics and featured speakers of any seminars or panel discussions.This can help to ensure that you don’t miss out on any critical exhibits. You can also sometimes find this information on the trade show’s website.
  3. Consider what classes or seminars you’d like to attend. Most events will have a panel or class schedule on their event website as well as in their program booklet.You should be sure to organize your time to take advantage of the opportunities that these classes represent. Often what is presented in these panels includes information and instruction that you would ordinarily be required to pay a great deal for access to.  These experts are all in one place and usually there is usually no additional cost after your attendee fee.

Your first day at any trade show can be overwhelming, but if you’ve taken the steps I mentioned previously, you can make the most out of the experience. By the time you get there, you should have an idea of what classes and presentations you want to attend and what exhibitors you may wish to make contact with. I recommend you plan to walk through the exhibition space at least twice.

Your first time through the exhibition floor should be quick; systematically covering every booth and table in the entire show once. At this point just briefly look at each exhibit, and pick up any and all materials as you walk through. I generally don’t stop and chat at this stage.If an exhibitor tries to pressure me to stay I say I have a tight schedule to maintain, and promise to talk with them later. You want to get a good assessment of all the exhibits and tables, so that you can choose which exhibits you might want to visit again for more detailed information. Remember, the next booth might have something better. If you commit to the first one, you'll miss out.

Take some time before you revisit the exhibition area to assess which tables you want to revisit. You need to be thinking in terms of what each exhibit offers  and how that can impact the long term growth of your business. I generally wait until I make my second pass to stop, talk with exhibitors, ask questions, and gather additional information from the booths I believe have the potential to provide my business with customers, equipment, vendors or other valuable products and services.

Most exhibitors encourage attendees to drop off business cards at their booth by leaving a box or bowl out for them, so don’t be afraid to leave yours if you don't want to wait in line at a crowded booth. Some exhibitors may even hold drawings,offering prizes ranging from food baskets to computer systems, to encourage you to do so. Exhibitors pay a lot of money to participate in a trade shows and they want to get the most for their moneyMany trade show exhibitors make a point of contacting attendees who leave their information in the days and weeks following a show. By waiting to confer with them later, , you'll be able to ask questions without feeling rushed or on the spot.

If you are looking for some good shows to practice some of what I’ve talked about, I recommend attending the North Carolina Defense Trade Show in Fayetteville, North Carolina. It’s a one-day event which includes several workshops dealing with the procurement process, extensive networking opportunities for prospective and current federal contractors, installation small business panels, and contracting workshops. You might even practice walking through the substantial exhibition area, which will include quite a few static displays and live demonstrations of military and vendor equipment. It is free to attend and the information and connections are well worth the time!

If you take the risks necessary to go into business for yourself, you will need to arm yourself with knowledge to fuel your growth. A trade show is a wonderful place to find that knowledge, as well as the right contacts to keep your business running for years. I look forward to seeing you on the floor of future trade shows and in those classes as you put the knowledge in this article into practice.


This event includes a one-day trade show, extensive networking opportunities and government procurement workshops for both prospective and current federal contractors.