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Trade Show and Paid Advertising

Trade Show and Paid Advertising – to do or not to do?

This month’s article is inspired by the wholesale trade fair I went to and a conversation I had with a business mentor.
Trade fairs and paid advertising are both very expensive ways for a small business to promote itself. You fork out a lot of money before returns come in.

It is also difficult to know if your target customers are going to see you amongst all the other competing colour and noise around you.

I walk the halls when I go to trade shows – even ones that have nothing to do with what I’m doing – so I can see what is there, what is available. But even after walking just one hall I start to get sensory-overload with all the products, sounds, colours, choices, information to take in. Most trade shows have more than 5 halls. So how do you stand out amongst all that sensory noise and attract the right customer who is going to spend with you?
Most trade fairs will cost a minimum of $6000 – $10,000 and even in Aussie dollars that is still a lot of money. Yes, you can have a very successful trade show and yes, they can be very important for building up your public profile and getting your goods or services out there but it is a chunk of money for a small business and it is important to have a care think about what is the return on your investment of thousands of dollars (this is before the product and labour/staffing costs) and the ways to minimise the risk of the show being a failure for you.

It is simply about thinking things through and being prepared for your choices. Start with an exercise of how you would spend that trade show budget to get sales – think of 3 or 4 different ways (they can be related but the idea is to be looking at alternatives to see where the money is – both the out going and incoming money).

What would the returns on investment be on communicating directly to targeted customers over a period of 6 months? How would you find these customers – maybe the Yellow Pages online? Create yourself a little database with Customer contact details, profile of their business with information useful to you – what type of business etc. Then start communicating with them with a sample test to check out your methods and how you are communicating with them.

So if you get a list of 1,000 potential customers in your area and you want to send them a flyer figure out what is the result you want and what message you need to communicate. Then figure out what words and images are going to communicate this message for you.

Create the flyer and test it by sending it to 100 potential customers on your list and see what happens. A 2 – 3% response rate for direct mail is the standard so if you get 2 or 3 replies then you know you are getting a standard reply. Then work from there. You can do further testing (some marketing experts who get excellent results believe in constant testing and experimenting with marketing and I think they have the right idea).

Part of the benefit of building your own customer database that you regularly communicate with is you can ask them for advice – which trade fairs do they go to, what attracts them to a stall, what do they expect from seeing their supplier at the show etc.
It also lets you have a client invitation list so you can ask specific customers to come to your special events like trade shows.

The same is true for paid advertising. It is expensive and difficult to know if you’re reaching your target customer market. But if you have built up a database of customers you regularly communicate with then you can ask them and they can tell you where best to spend your money and you can test whether it works or not.

The thing is small business has limited funds to waste. Yes, we all get things wrong and some mistakes can cost money and set you back. I’ve made them and had to recover and have learnt it is best to explore. I don’t have $10,000 to lose and to be able to look around my little business and not care. I would rather spend $1000 wisely and be delighted with the results. I think we all would.

So when you’re looking at spending a chunk of change ask yourself 3 other ways you could spend it to build the business, to invest in the business and customers. What results do you want from each dollar spent?

Ask your friends, associates, business mentors of ways to find potential customers that you can directly communicate, there are more database sources than the Yellow Pages and as long as you respect the privacy rights and obligations then you have lots of options and potential. Talk and ask, explore and be delighted with the results.
You’re in business for a long time, not just a few months. Set up projects that you can follow through on for the medium and long terms. Getting together for a trade show can easily take 6 – 12 months and it can be done in a mad dash in a couple of months that leaves you dazed and bewildered.

The problem with dazed and bewildered is that there is the serious risk of not following up on those expensive leads you got at the trade show so you loose out on the opportunity of creating a good and loyal customer.

So go exploring, talk with others, go to seminars and read books on the journey and use that good brain of yours to good effect.

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