To exhibit or not to exhibit is often a question for growing scale-up businesses and SMEs across the country. You need to attract new clients and grow your brand’s profile but how can you make the investment worth it? HR Tech platform Co-Founder, Sarah Dowzell, shares what she wished she’d known four years ago when entering the world of exhibiting in order to grow her now 25 person strong business, Natural HR.
The pressure to exhibit is real when you’re in that period of growth as an SME or scale-up business, whether you provide a product or a service, but taking time and doing the right things to ensure you make the most of your exhibiting opportunity is key.
Here’s five things I wish I’d read before making decisions about exhibiting:
Research, research, research
This does not just mean looking at the website for the event, but instead asking the organisers to send you statistics on who has attended and exhibited in the past. Do not tell them your target market data. Know it, then ask to see the information.
Otherwise, you risk them simply telling you what you want to hear not the reality. Once you’ve got that information, you can make an informed decision. I’ll admit that I literally threw in excess of £15,000 down the drain once as a result of not doing this research in the early days of Natural HR. I’d assumed an exhibition sounded relevant and had been assured by the salesperson it would be, only to attend and find that it wasn’t and generated no leads whatsoever.
It’s also worth researching the best stand locations at the event. Identifying one on a main walkway, by eating areas or presentation arenas means your brand will get maximum exposure.
Plan – then plan some more
No growing SME can afford to throw away money, so planning is essential. 6 months ahead of time, decide on what your objective is going to be for the exhibition. Consider who will be in attendance, and what your key messaging will be to those people.
Consider what collateral you will need creating, printing or sharing at the event. Now, at Natural HR, we have a clear plan of action for follow ups after a show for those we connect with at it. Those follow up marketing emails are created well ahead of the exhibition itself. Plan who you want there from your team and ensure they too know the objective of being there, the key messaging and what’s expected of them.
Do not tell them this the night before. They need to be included in this ahead of time. Budget planning is also key. Work out whether getting someone to design and build your stand is worth it in contrast to the time it might take for you or members of your team to ‘have a go’. At our first exhibition, we did it all ourselves, which came at a huge cost in terms of our time and stress levels. Now we simply pay the professionals and turn up the day before to sign it off.
Aim for quality not quantity
Lots of businesses turn up and simply aim for quantity in terms of contacts, without really considering what that might mean for the business. This links back to the importance of planning. Avoid wasting your time, and your team who will have to follow up, by trying to attract as many people into your stand as possible.
Instead, consider how to attract the right people. Avoid gimmicks to get people to the stand. The queues of people I’ve seen near stands where free ice cream is being given away never fail to amaze me! It might result in loads of contacts, but I would imagine few of them arrived at your stand with a genuine interest in your service/product.
To get the best quality contacts and conversations, I’d suggest even using the stand as a place to host pre-organised meetings with target clients. It means you can stand proudly in front of your brand, with someone who genuinely was interested enough to give up 15 minutes of their time at that exhibition.
Adopt the ‘does what is says on the tin’ approach
One way to ensure you get quality leads without your time being wasted is to make sure your signage says clearly what you do and who you serve. It may not be your ‘normal’ strap line but explicitly stating what you do and who for will avoid those ‘so, what do you do?’ conversations that lead to nothing and waste valuable time.
This was a gamechanger for us, and although seemed obvious, I’m still surprised at how many other businesses miss this trick. Further to this, don’t miss free speaking opportunities at your chosen exhibition. It’s another great place to talk on a topic you’re passionate about, making crystal clear what it is you do and who you serve, whilst presenting yourselves as thought leaders in your sector.
After any investment, evaluating its efficacy is essential. A warning here though: the ‘life cycle’ of a contact made at an exhibition can be quite long. I’ve had people take up business with us up to 9months or even a year later, so ensure your evaluation is active and ongoing.
Also, explore both the big, headline events and the smaller events. It could be that the smaller ones work better for you. I have certainly found that for relationship building, which often then leads to recommendations, the smaller ones have been beneficial and have a smaller initial outlay.