Entrepreneurs, startup co-founders, small business owners can take advantage of numbers events to promote their business and raise awareness about their brand. They can attend demo days to attract investors, tech conferences and trade shows to connect with potential customers and strategic partners. Even though event planning is nothing new, a lot of small businesses do not present their business in the best light possible.
Show up: plan to present at several conferences per year
- Show up. That’s the first step. Then, add “event planning” project to your workload and execute well. Just like with any marketing campaign, you need to first define your goal, what do you want to accomplish by spending time and energy on presenting your company at the trade show. Do you want to attract customers, potential financial investors, potential strategic partners, new board members, new advisors, and service providers? The list goes on.
I am making an assumption that you are going to an event where you can showcase your new business to entrepreneurial community. These type of events typically attract serial and new entrepreneurs, graduate students, local media, and stealth investors. Typically, angels and VCs will walk the floor in a stealth mode and look disinterested, so you have to make sure you identify each person coming to your booth. When someone approaches you, greet them warmly and ask them who they are first, why are they here, what they try to accomplish. Based on their answer, you can give them an appropriate pitch. I cannot emphasize this step enough, as it is the most important to know your audience. You don’t want to tell the same elevator pitch to a computer science PhD student looking for new technologies and an angel investor looking for ROI.
Preparation before a trade show:
1. Make sure your demo or prototype works. Keep it simple and don’t take more than few minutes to demonstrate the functionality.
2. Print professionally designed teaser – 1 or two pages long investment opportunity overview of your company. Be careful not to disclose too much proprietary information in a teaser.
a. Book: complete your business plan and have it nicely printed and ready for investors. I don’t anticipate that you will give this information at the trade show, but if you are successful in making an investor connection, you can send them one after the show
3. Have a large stack of business cards (that don’t see in the back “free business card by XYZ”)
4. Sign up sheet for people wanting to know more about your company. Use this to build your mailing list
5. Scout social media to see who’s attending the conference and reach out to them ahead of time and schedule meetings during the show
6. Ask conference organizer for help in connecting you to people of interest
7. Prepare and practice, practice, practice different elevator pitch for different target audience (engineer, marketer, investor, reporter, customer, …)
8. Use social media to announce your attendance and create a hashtag to communicate to the public, invite people to visit your booth, ask for feedback. Script out a page of tweets and hire a contractor to keep an eye on them throughout the day to maintain constant volume of messages going out
How to man the booth during a trade show or a conference:
1. Be at your booth; don’t leave it unattended!
2. Have at least two people at the booth. As one person from your company is engaged in conversation, the other can be open for other people strolling by.
3. Be open and invite people in with an eye contact, but don’t be pushy. Some people like to explore on their own first before engaging in conversation. Read body language of people passing by.
4. When someone approaches you, don’t launch into your elevator pitch! They don’t care to hear another one. Ask them about their day, who they are and what they look for. Then use your custom elevator pitch.
5. Demo your product, if appropriate and ask a lot of questions to get feedback about your product or a company
6. Get their business card, ask for the preferred method of communication and tell them that you are interested in collaborating with them, if so
What to do after a trade show?
1. Follow-up with all people that have visited your booth and thank them for their time. Do that! It’s a polite thing to do, even though you didn’t care much about most of the people that came by. They will remember you as professional and courteous. Use a email list tool to help you with this.
2. Within 24 hours email or call people that you want to have a relationship with, or explore if you can collaborate in some shape or form.
3. Thank the organizers for having you there. After all, who does that?
4. Analyze the feedback received during the show.
5. Apply lessons learned, rinse and repeat.
If you happen to attend a trade show where you hope to meet potential customers, then this is a completely different setting. Since you are early stage startup, use this event mainly for voice of the customer exercise; try to understand what is the pain point they have. Hopefully, your solution is right on the target for addressing their most pressing need.
Putting an event together is a lot of work, so people who do it right can stand out from the crowd. Good luck!