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Small Business Tips

How trade shows benefit small businesses

Lisa Steinmann

Trade shows are full of potential opportunities for your business. They are also expensive. Is it the right time, for you to attend, or your business to exhibit at a trade show?

What is a trade show?

A trade show is a gathering for members of a particular industry. It’s an opportunity for business owners to:

  • Learn about new products or services in their industry
  • Research trends
  • View demonstrations of new products
  • Market products and services they’ve developed
  • Network with members of their industry
  • Find new vendors
  • Find new customers
  • Listen to speakers and presentations
  • Conduct competitive research

Who can attend trade shows?

Trade shows are for members of the associated industry. Attendees may need to be a member of an associated professional association. Other shows may ask for applications to verify attendees are in their industry.

Exhibitors and speakers at trade shows also need approvals to take part. Trade show organizers set the standards for their exhibitors and presenters.

Most trade show exhibitors give away samples and marketing souvenirs. At some trade shows it’s possible to collect an entire t-shirt wardrobe. Exhibitors buy items such as t-shirts, pens, sunglasses, watches, etc., to give to people in their industry.

Some trade shows offer a day or two when the general public can also attend. Public days tend to be at the end of the show. Industry insiders get the first pick of the free promotional giveaways.

Should you attend a trade show?

Trade shows are fascinating if you’re passionate about the show’s subject. You can immerse yourself in your favorite subject with thousands of like-minded people. There are many opportunities to learn and network at big shows.

Trade shows are expensive to attend. Costs include Trade Show passes, travel to the show, meals, and ground transportation.

You’ll pay hundreds of dollars for your attendee’s pass. Passes for some events that span a week or more may be over $1000. Some trade shows offer free passes to volunteers in return for their help with show operations.

Expect to spend $250-400 a night for accommodations at the official hotels for tradeshows.

It’s ideal to stay at the official hotels as they either are the main venues or they’re near them. Transportation at large events can be hard to come by. You’ll lose out on some events if you stay miles from the event.

You may wait for an hour for a taxi or a crowded bus. You may end up walking miles. If you stay close to the venue, you’ll avoid a lot of frustration and sore feet.

Food may be expensive and hard to find at some events. Waits at restaurants may be lengthy. Depending on the location of the event, you may have limited food choices.

Always come prepared. Fill part of your suitcase with emergency food rations that travel well. A stash of organic protein bars could make you a hero to another starving attendee.

You may have opportunities to attend catered corporate events. Arrive early if you want to eat. Food goes fast.

Should you exhibit at a trade show?

If you’re considering exhibiting at a trade show, be sure it has a potential upside that will pay for it in the long run. When you exhibit at a trade show, you spend all the money you would as an attendee plus many other costs.

Young businesses and start-ups often think they need to have a presence at trade shows. They decide that it will somehow pay for itself. In their mind, they have a vision of attracting the right client, investor or business partner.

If your business is young, think this over with great care. Should you spend $10,000 to bring your company to a trade show, or use that money for something with tangible benefits? What kind of return might you expect if you add $10,000 to your advertising budget?

Exhibitor trade-show costs

  • Paying to be an exhibitor
    You pay for your booth space and may pay a premium for larger spaces or high-visibility locations.
  • Buying or renting furnishings for your exhibitor area
    A table may work in some cases. Some events require booths or tents and restrict them by size, type, and color.
  • Ordering booth marketing displays and banners
    The costs of your booth décor range from a $50 hanging banners to custom displays costing thousands of dollars.
  • Ordering marketing material
    You’ll want to buy business cards or brochures to share contact information with interested visitors.
  • Ordering promotional giveaways
    You may want to give visitors promotional items so they remember you.
  • Shipping or transporting everything you need to the venue
  • Hiring help to unload and set up if needed
    Unions may restrict who can work at some venues.
  • Bringing employees or hiring local freelancers to help you manage your booth
    They lock trade-show exhibit halls at night, but you’ll want someone at the booth at all times during business hours. In can be difficult and stressful to do it alone.

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