After months of designing, planning and budgeting, I can't believe the autumn trade show season is right around the corner once again. This time last year was my first ever trade show and I was blogging about my anxious countdown and preparations for the big event.
Now this is my third trade show, and it's certainly crept up on me quicker than ever before. But for any of you thinking of exhibiting at a trade show, to help you decide if it's for you and your business, I wanted to share my top five must-dos in preparing for a trade show.
1. Budget, budget, oh and yep, budget
First thing's first. It might sound a little obvious but there's a lot more ins and outs to pay for than a stand and a few brochures. When creating stands similar to mine, your stand/space should hopefully be your biggest expense. Followed by accommodation and transporting yourself and your goods if the venue's not travelling-distance from your base. If you plan to ship pallets like me, not only do you have to factor in shipping costs, but also unload/reload fees to get your pallet to/from your stand, and storage fees so you don't have to store unsightly pallets and boxes in your stand! Then not forgetting the cost of materials to make your stand P.I.M.P. (we'll touch on marketing a little later), and creating the products you want to showcase and share with the retail world! Even in my crude surface-skimming version of budgeting, you can see there's a decent whack you have to lay down before you've even got your customer order book out. Make sure your budget is worth the investment from the outset.
2. Design a stand of all stands
So by now you've decided you're going for it and becoming an exhibitor. Eeeeeee! I personally love this part as I get a real kick out of creating a 2D concept, and building it in the real world. I dunno, maybe it's due to my 13 years of intangible digital design, or my dad's architectural blood coming out in me. Either way, this bit is FUN! Once I've agreed my stand size with the events company, I actually design my stand layout in InDesign in a 100:1 ratio. Granted this is in no way the best software to create three dimensional designs, but it works for me as it allows me to use my 2D brain and design knowledge, and design to the millimetre. I love me some designing to the millimetre! :)
3. Market your baby
Depending on your marketing budget, you could really go to town on marketing your brand pre-show, post-show and during the show with press kits, exclusive retailer invites and all sorts. I personally just stick to the essentials as they work for me and help keep my budget under control. An absolute essential is a wholesale catalogue detailing your products (titles/images/SKUs/price points etc.), and your wholesale terms (minimum order quantities/payment terms etc.). Most buyers will request one of these and it'll most likely be your bible throughout the event so make sure you keep a copy yourself! Other handy items are postcard handouts containing your stand number for returning buyers, and business cards containing your contact details. Pre-event, I also personally invite my existing stockists to my stand via email, and reach out to prospective stockists and let them know where I am at the show. I don't think it's enough to expect buyers to find you at the event and it's up to you to make sure your investment pays off for you.
4. Manage cashflow like a mo-fo
Now this is the most un-fun bit for me. Numbers and sums are not my strong suit. But with a surge of cash being spent in and around a show, managing your cashflow is so important. In fact it's crucial. This will obviously include ensuring you have enough cash to pay any upfront costs to the event company and its suppliers pre-event, and of course your own suppliers for producing your marketing materials and products themselves. But this also involves you having enough base funds to keep your day-to-day expenses like rent and bills looked after while you're off exhibiting to the masses!
5. Shoot it, blog it, post it, whatever it
Doing your first trade show can be one cerazy, break-neck speed experience, where your feet don't touch the ground and you barely have time to sit down, let alone have the luxury of going to the toilet! It's full on and overwhelming, so the temptation to disappear from your online presence for a few days is very real. But I urge you to fight that temptation, as not only will your following love joining you on your adventure, but it's such a beautiful thing for you to document and reflect on in the future, you'll really regret not savouring and sharing every moment you can. Trust me.
Now I appreciate I may have made the trade show experience sound like an expensive, daunting and stressful one. Which to be honest, it is! I'm not going to lie to you! But it's also one of the most enjoyable experiences you can have as a business owner and entrepreneur. The sense of triumph you feel from setting a professional goal and reaching it is overwhelming. The sense of pride you feel from seeing a seedling of an idea you created, become a tangible real-life brand is incredible. And the sense of fulfilment you feel from doing work you love, and have legitimate businesses want to pay you for it is immeasurable.
It'd be so awesome if reading this inspires you to want those feelings too :) good luck! xo