How to Prepare for a Trade Show


When you run a virtual assistant practice, or any business for that matter, it is essential that you connect with new people on an ongoing basis. Social media allows us to network from the comfort of our home offices, but nothing can really match the power of a face-to-face meeting. A well-advertised trade show provides an opportunity to meet a large number of people in a fairly short period of time.

Since there will be many other businesses represented, all competing for the attention of potential clients and customers, you will want to make sure your booth or table is as appealing as possible so you don’t get overlooked.
Everyone likes to get something for free, so be sure to have some giveaways. A simple bowl of candy will draw people to your table, but it’s even better if you have promo items with your business branding, because they’ll take it away and remember you every time they use it. The better the giveaway, the more likely they are to hang onto it, but you don’t have to spend a fortune on marketing to make an impact. Consider inexpensive promotional items they can use right away, like a pen and/or notepad. With health issues creating a buzz, some vendors are helping attendees kill germs with a handy pocket sprayer, hand sanitizer, and other branded health-related giveaways.

I was lucky enough to be invited to an open house put on by Battlefield Advertising in Stoney Creek last year, where I got to see promotional products from many different supplies, ranging from golf tees to winter coats – something for every budget. Should you ever get the chance to go to it or a similar event, I highly recommend it. If your budget is very limited or you haven’t fine-tuned your branding to the point where you’re ready to invest in this type of marketing, print off copies of tip sheets or articles you’ve written that people can take away, with your contact information at the top or bottom of each page.

It’s difficult for a service-based business to have as interesting a table as someone who has cookware, jewelry, candles, or other products on display, but you don’t have to just sit there with a pile of business cards and a smile. You can easily dress up your table with a potted plant or floral arrangement and perhaps your laptop, set to display your website or a PowerPoint about your business. If you plan on exhibiting at a number of trade shows, you might decide to invest in some type of banner or other display for your table.

Keep in mind that although getting your name in front of people is valuable, it’s not your only objective. Ideally, you’ll want to capture their contact information as well. You will likely ask at least some of the people you speak with for their business cards, but you probably won’t have the chance to talk to everyone. This means you’ll need to offer an incentive for them to leave their information with you. One option is to offer a free gift in exchange for joining your mailing list. Depending on the type of event, you might choose to hold a draw for a free service or a gift item you’ve purchased.

No matter what you decide, please do not add anyone to your mailing list without permission. It’s not only illegal, it’s just plain rude. Even if you don’t currently offer a newsletter, ask people who leave their cards at your table for permission to add them to your mailing list, so you’ll be covered should you decide to send one out.

For more helpful trade show tips, read Before You Attend That Trade Show by Susan Ward, Guide for Small Business Canada.

Do you have any tips of your own to share? Please leave a comment!

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  1. Wendy on June 13, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    The last Trade Show I was at, I had an antique typewriter on display at one end of the table. with a sheet of paper which had, in large print, ‘That Was Then’ and at the opposite end of the table was me and my cell phone with a poster & a banner stating, ‘This is Now!’

    The typewriter turned out to be a big people magnet. Everyone wanted to see it, touch it and talk about it.

    I also wrote a little book on trade shows. If anyone wants a PDF copy I’d be glad to send you one. Just send me your email address.

    • Janet Barclay on July 16, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      What a great idea, Wendy! It’s always challenging for those of us who don’t have products to have an interesting table display, but it sounds like you nailed it!

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