While it’s good to begin marketing your business through a website and social media, nothing beats good old-fashioned face to face contact. Corresponding by email and social doesn’t give prospective clients and business partners a sense of who you are in the same way as face to face meetings. The best chance you’ll have to meet your contacts in a business environment is by booking a booth at the next industry trade show. This is a rare opportunity to market your business to a whole new audience, practice your pitch to prospective clients and investors, and learn new skills by attending lectures. You should make a point to attend even if your business hasn’t yet been launched, because you can build up a little hype and get people interested in your product before you get started.
Since industry events are a form of networking, there are a few things you could do to make the most of your time. It won’t benefit your business in any way if you just wander around, hand out business cards, and grab a few snacks. You need to make an effort to impress at these events.
Start before you arrive
Trade shows are usually annual events, and booking starts months in advance. In the weeks leading up to the event, begin practising all the marketing skills you have learnt. Use your website and social media platforms to get people excited about seeing you there. If you have a booth booked, promote giveaways and free goodies to the attendees. If you don’t have a booth, you can still use the event’s hashtag and put together engaging, image-rich tweets that stand out. If you build up your social media profile prior to the event, you increase you chances of being recognised by established companies. Once you’ve introduced yourself, pitch them your business idea, ask them questions about the industry, and offer to promote their company on your social media platform. The last option will only work if you’ve gained a big following through your platform.
Have a goal
Established businesses usually attend events to promote new products, make new contacts, and stay updated on industry news. When you attend, you need to have your own goals in mind. Come up with two outcomes you hope to get out of the event; for example, meeting three new people, or getting some advice about your startup. Knowing ahead of time what you’re hoping to accomplish will help you stay focused, and not leave you aimlessly wandering around all day.
Dress to impress
While you’re attending the event, you’re representing your business. Dress like a professional, and make a good first impression. However, you will also be walking a lot, so wear something fairly comfortable.
Observe your competition
If all goes well, there is a chance you could be back at this event the following year with a booth of your own. Observe the other companies to see how well their booths stand out, if they’re attracting a lot of customers, or if they haven’t put in a lot of effort. Use these examples as inspiration for your booth next year; either copying what works well, or improving on something that wasn’t very successful.
You should also observe how these companies conduct themselves at the event. How do they introduce themselves and convey their company message? Even the best and most polished professionals accept the fact that they will never stop learning. Learn from those who are where you want to be in your profession and always be in learning mode.
Keep interactions short and professional
Investors are busy people, just like the rest of us, and they may have only carved out a couple of hours to swing by an event. Unless you pre-arranged a meeting for a specific amount of time, investors aren’t going to be happy if you try to monopolize them for a long period. Instead, approach them in your best professional manner, briefly introduce yourself and present a 30 second business pitch. At the end of the interaction, hand them your business card and tell them you’d be happy to speak with them at a later time.
Focus on building relationships
Short interactions mean you’re less likely to close business deals at the event. Instead, use this time to let the investors get to know you; they are investing in you as much as they are investing in your company. These types of events help you broaden your network and occasionally find diamonds in the rough. Don’t focus on closing, but rather focus on getting on the investor’s radar and developing relationships. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t come away from an event with immediate satisfaction. A connection you make could be the start of or the bridge to a future investment.
Don’t forget your business cards
If you’re going to an industry trade show to promote your startup, the one thing you cannot forget is business cards. There are plenty of business card printing websites that can give you professional quality cards for a good price, so there is no reason to show up without enough cards to see you through the day. Bring more business cards than you think you’ll need, and keep a stack of them in a card case. This way, they won’t get dirty or crumpled in your purse, and you can grab them quickly; it’s more professional to pull your card out of a case then go searching through your bag. Make it a goal to hand out at least half your stash by the time the event is over.
Hopefully, you will meet a lot of people at this event, and you will be interested in what they have to say. Unfortunately, unless you have an eidetic memory, you’ll find it difficult to remember everything that was said in every little conversation. After mingling with a few people, find a corner of the room to subtly make notes on the back of each person’s business card about who she is, what you talked about, and any follow-up you want to do. Remember, the purpose of a networking event is to connect with people in the future, and this will make following up with them much, much easier.
Be willing to learn
Business events sometimes draw in more companies by inviting prominent industry figures to give lectures and share their insights. Take advantage by attending as many lectures as you can, and you could leave the event with a head bursting with new ideas. If it’s possible, you should also try to get some face to face time with the leading industry figures. It can do wonders for your motivation to have a framed picture of yourself with your business idol at your office desk. If they have time, pick their brain for a few minutes on some of the finer points of their lecture, or ask for a quick tip that could help you with your business. You won’t get advice like this from an online summit. At the very least, you can use the advice they gave during the lecture to make you a more effective business owner.
Expand your business team
This might be a long time in the future, but there will come a time when your business will be too much work to do by yourself, and you will have enough money in your budget to expand your business. Although you could advertise, you could also inquire at the business event if anyone is looking for a new opportunity. The job market is always changing these days, and many professionals have been displaced through downsizing. They are also looking for a position that will take full advantage of their talents. Here you may, very well, find people that can take your business to the next level.
Even if you’re not looking to expand at the moment, you could still connect with someone who could help you with aspects of your business where you’re having trouble. In return, you could also offer them occasional help with their startup, thus laying the foundation for a mutually beneficial partnership.
Yes, this is a business event, and as such a certain amount of work needs to take place. However, business events can also be a lot of fun. After all, this may well be the only time all year that you get to see your business partners and potential clients face to face. Gett to know your contacts outside the conference calls and business obligations, and you’ll build a stronger working relationship with them. Let them get to know you too; after all, they’re not just investing in your business, they’re investing in you. It’s also easier to make new contacts in a less formal setting. You make more friends over drinks than from across a desk. You can also make a good first impression by being the life of the party; make some noise, become friends with everyone, have an interactive booth, and enjoy it.
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