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Trade shows are the perfect way for entrepreneurs to meet important industry contacts, and they also provide a good source of business education. Regardless of your industry, there is most likely at least one trade show that happens each year, and they are definitely worth the price of admission. As an added bonus, you will be able to include the associated costs in your itemized list of business expenses.
Before you go to your first trade show, however, you need to make a plan to ensure that you get the most out of the experience.
Analyze the Programming List
Most trade shows have several educational classes that are put on by well-known members of the industry. Although all of the information that is provided by these classes has value, it is usually impossible to go to all of them. Therefore, it is important to look over the class schedule in advance and determine which courses are best suited to your role within the industry.
For example, if you are thinking about investing in an apartment community and you go to the National Apartment Association Education Conference and Exposition, it might be more beneficial to attend the Operations class instead of the General Session.
Getting the Most out of the Classes
It is a proven fact that most people will forget the majority of information that they hear during a class, and taking notes is not always an effective tool. Rather than struggle to write everything down, you should bring an audio recording device with you.
By placing the recorded files on your MP3 player, you can easily access them at any time, and this will ensure that you get the most out of the valuable information that was presented.
Prepare Your Materials
You will meet hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of people at a trade show, and it is vital to have an easy way to facilitate the future exchange of ideas. A quality business card is something that everyone must have at a trade show. In many instances, people will hand you a card right after shaking your hand, and you should be prepared to do the same thing.
Even though most of the cards that you hand out will never be utilized, they still help ease the awkwardness of meeting potential business contacts.
If you want your business cards to stand out, make them glossy, two-sided and an eye-catching color. This is the best way to actually receive follow-up calls or emails from some of the people who you talk to during the show.
Aside from the general networking opportunities that are provided by simply walking through the trade show floor, most shows will host specific networking functions. These are often specialized for specific interest groups, so make sure that you sign up for the one that is the most likely to help you in the future.
Networking events are typically held as a luncheon or other similar function. You will meet a mixture of people who do and do not wish to talk about business during these functions, so be prepared to go with the conversational flow.
It is okay to talk about your business or your upcoming plans, but make sure that you focus your attention on others, too, and that you do not come across as a braggart. These people could become key investors or invaluable sources of industry information in the future, so you do not want to turn them off of your ideas before they ever even hear them.
Properly Utilizing a Booth
Trade shows usually have a showroom floor area where vendors and other industry related companies will have a booth. If you do not have one, you will want to make your way through the trade show floor in order to ensure that you meet every one of interest. If you do have one, it will be important to set it up in a way that easily attracts attention.
People are drawn in by videos and free stuff, so set up a laptop or an iPad with a video depicting your business or idea and have freebies available such as ink pens.
You should have a large quantity of business cards available on the table, and it is also a good idea to have larger marketing materials, such as postcards, prominently displayed. You can also consider investing in portable flooring to truly make your booth stand apart from the pack.
The number one thing that people forget to do after a trade show is follow-up with the contacts that they have made. You might only be interested in continuing to communicate with a hand full of people, but it is important to follow-up with them within a couple of weeks.
By sending a simple email thanking them for some information they provided you or inviting them to join you at another networking event, you will open the lines of communication and ensure a quality industry contact.
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