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What Is a Trade Show?

Trade shows are a great way to network and boost your business. Learn all about how with this guide.

Populated trade show floor
January 24, 2023
Savannah Admire
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Reading time about 5 min

If you own a small business or startup, the internet can be crucial for advertising, collaboration, and networking. However, online advertising can make you feel like a small fish in a large, flashy pond. Without the right technical know-how, advertising budget, and consistent content publication, it can be difficult to stand out.

Attending a trade show can give you the best of both worlds — you have access to a variety of potential investors, like-minded vendors, and collaborators and you can add that personal, face-to-face touch to all your interactions. Trade shows offer a unique opportunity to stand out and make meaningful connections within your industry.

The following guide breaks down trade show basics for beginners, so read on to learn how your small business might benefit from a booth.

What Is a Trade Show Like?

Trade shows are events where companies and organizations in a specific industry come together to showcase their products or services to a large audience. Picture your local craft fair or farmer’s market — the difference is that this market is crafted exclusively for your product niche, and all the customers are vendors and potential investors. Trade shows can be held in a variety of settings, including convention centers, hotels, warehouses, expo centers, and even local universities. They can range in size from small, local events to large, international expositions.

Like a craft fair, you usually pay for a booth (or table) to display your brand and wares. Your job is to make your trade show display as eye-catching and attractive as possible so more people stop by and peruse your set up and interact.


How Do Small Businesses Benefit from Trade Shows?

People interacting at a trade show booth

At a trade show, exhibitors typically set up booths or displays to showcase their products or services. Attendees can include potential customers, industry professionals, media, and other interested parties. This exposes your business to a key demographic who visit different exhibits to learn about offerings and make connections with exhibitors. Trade shows often also include educational sessions, demonstrations, networking events, and other activities related to the industry.

The best way to explain how trade shows can benefit small businesses is to provide an example. Let’s say you’ve designed eyeglass frames that change color depending on the temperature. You sell these color-changing frames online, but unless a consumer types in “color-changing frames," your product may not pop up amid the other eyeglass frames on the market. Your unique product may struggle to get exposure as a result.

At a trade show, you have an opportunity to build brand awareness and be in direct contact with all types of industry-specific people, such as:

  • Opticians, optometrists, and other frame suppliers who may gravitate to your product
  • Investors who are looking for the next unique item to fund
  • Partners who sell products that complement yours (for instance, transition lenses or other fun glasses accessories)
  • Distributors interested in adding a new offering to their channel

This unique, in-person exposure to other professionals in and adjacent to your business can be invaluable and help you grow your business faster and in ways online networking could not.

How Do I Find Trade Shows?

Searching online for trade shows is probably the easiest way to find out about the largest events. There may be smaller, more local events that are not as easily found online, so joining social media groups and chatting on platforms like LinkedIn will be helpful.

Ease into trade shows by starting with a location close to you, so you can get the feel of things and gauge how beneficial they are to your business. It’s important to research the trade shows you choose because they’re not all created equal. You don’t want to invest big to reach a small or disinterested audience. Try to find as close a niche match as possible. Even if it’s smaller than other trade shows, it will put you in front of the right people.

How Do I Gather Leads at a Trade Show?

Although going to a trade show is not all about lead gen, it is a strong component. If you are wondering how to get those leads, here are some tips.

Trade show attendees shaking hands

  • Be thoughtful with your booth. First, put yourself in the shoes of the consumer or anyone passing your set up. What attracts you? Think inviting color palettes and lighting, friendly salespeople, and a chance to study the product and find upfront pricing.
  • Provide clear-cut product descriptions. You want your message to be short and to the point. Don’t clog your booth with a ton of literature no one will read. Explain the product, display the product, and make sure you have the tools on hand to provide an appealing demo.
  • Offer giveaways. Cards, pens, and flyers are great. But accessories that complement or enhance your product really make an impact. For example, if you’re selling frames, you could offer goodie bags with lens spray and a cleaning cloth with your name and logo. If your product is relatively inexpensive to produce, you can even give samples for booth-goers to try. Think outside the box and let your product stand out.
  • Adequately staff your booth. If you own a small business or startup, you may think you alone can handle the trade show. But an empty booth is an unproductive booth, and you have to eat and take a bathroom break sometime. Bring a trusted employee, friend, or family member to be your representative when you’re not there. Having backup also allows you to walk through the show to gather ideas and rub elbows with potential investors and collaborators. That’s just as important as having a booth.
  • Plan your follow-up. To keep the momentum going after a trade show, make sure to have a follow-up plan in place before you depart the venue. Why? Because all the buzz you built needs to be reinforced and nurtured in a timely manner, which can be more challenging than expected. Make sure you have follow up emails or texts ready to go out to your new contacts about a week after the event.

Trade shows can be a valuable opportunity for companies to gather market insights and feedback. They can also be a great source of inspiration for attendees looking to learn about new products, trends, and technologies in their industry. Paired with tools like social media and SMS text marketing, trade shows complete the package of how to grow your business. It’s important to make room for these investments in your budget to get your product seen and heard.

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