Trade Show Marketing Success For Small Businesses

Timothy Carter
Current average rating    
Key Takeaways

Tradeshows are an incredible opportunity for small businesses to share your service or products with people who are looking for what you offer.​

Where can a small business develop new contacts and business for their new business? One of the best ways for a growing company to market their small business to hundreds, if not thousands of potential new customers over a couple of days is to exhibit at a trade show. Each year, tens of thousands of trade shows are held across the United States that give the opportunity for small businesses and people interested in their products or services to meet face-to-face. What makes a trade show an incredible opportunity for small businesses is you can share your service or products with an audience and build relationships with customers who are attending the tradeshow because the trade show event marketed itself to a specific group of people.

Trade Show Exhibiting Can Be Expensive

Even though marketing at a trade show can be a very lucrative opportunity to get your small business in front of a lot of people, it can definitely be an expensive marketing option. It’s incredibly important to take the time in due diligence to plan the costs and the strategy for marketing at a trade show. From the cost of the space in the exhibition hall, the cost of the trade show display itself, to the marketing literature, giveaway items, promotional swag, and of course the cost of transportation, food and lodging for staff working at the trade show.

Once you’ve estimated and budgeted for marketing at a trade show, here are ten tips and a bonus secret that can help make trade show marketing a success for your small business:

1. Establish Goals

Smart businesses regularly set goals for their business and setting goals for trade show exhibiting is no different. Whether it’s to generate new sales, increase name recognition and branding while meeting new people or to grow your email and marketing database, establishing goals will help you in setting your business up for success and what will give you the best return on your investment.

2. Decide Which Trade Show(s) To Exhibit At

Research is so important in the planning stage. You want to be exhibiting at a trade show that will be attracting the type of customers that will be interested in your business. From searching a trade show directory for events locally, regionally and nationally is a good start. From there, you’ll want to check out their website, contact the tradeshow coordinators to get a feel if it’ll be the right fit for your business. Even take the time to contact other exhibitors listed from previous trade shows that have been promoted to see if the tradeshow event was a success for them.

3. Attend Other Trade Shows

Especially for important for people who’ve never been to a trade show, attending a trade show can be a revelation. Seeing how people work their booths, what their booth displays look like and what they’re doing to drive traffic to their space can give them ideas on what ways their business can attract people to come to their booth.

4. Pre-Show Promotions

Using tools like social media marketing via your blog, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social channels is a great way to target people who may be interested in your business. Inviting your current customers and your prospective customers in your pipeline of relationship building is just as important. Utilizing an incentive like a special event at your booth, or the promise of a free gift, or being entered into a contest for a creative prize can motivate people to visit your booth. Building pre-show buzz is an important part of marketing your trade show presence.

5. Get Media Exposure

Tradeshows are known to be frequented by media personalities who cover the trade show niche. Part of the pre-show promotions, work should be done well in advance to acquire interview opportunities with key editors or writers in your industry. Make it easy for reporters by pitching your ideas in advanced. Not only does this open up the chance to get exposure of your business if they write about you, but by establishing and building a relationship with key representatives in the media can be a major asset for future media opportunities. It’s also wise to have on-hand at the show items like media kits, customer testimonials, demos or sales sheets of your company services or products.

6. Prepare Your Staff

The team you assemble to work the trade show is critical to the success of your trade show presence. They should be well educated in what to say when people visit your booth. Staff should know how to give a quick description of what your company does, what services or options your company offers and additional details about your products, services and the promotions you are having at the show. They should know what type of qualifying questions to ask visitors to identify those people who are truly interested your company. Roleplaying sales floor scenarios can be extremely helpful in retaining that knowledge and ensure a natural conversation from the sales team.

7. Prepare Your Trade Show Booth Space

Besides the cost of the space, the trade show booth will be your biggest expense. You should design a trade show booth space that is eye-catching. It should be able to be seen from about 20 feet away and convey in a couple of seconds to attendees what your company is all about. There are companies like Nimlok who develop and design trade show booths that can help you. Having a space that is open and inviting is important so your visitors aren’t stuck out in the trade show aisle and can walk into your space.

In addition to your booth space, you want to make sure that you have sales material to distribute to those attendees who show an interest in your company. If you can have an interactive contest of some kind to continue to draw attention and visitors to your booth that can be a huge win for your business.

8. Lead Capture

There are many ways to get contact information from show attendees. Whether it’s a drawing that they leave their business card, an iPad that has a landing page for visitors to fill in their information on after seeing a demo, a sign-up sheet for people who participate in your contest there at the show, make sure there are several ways to capture their information. Leads are the lifeblood of business, especially at trade shows.

9. Get Social

While at the show, you should have one of your staff members be the point person for social media at the event! From live tweeting about the upcoming contest, using the tradeshow hashtag, inviting people to come to your booth, uploading pictures, to video clips of customer testimonials, utilizing social media to keep the buzz going about your booth continues to be influential in driving traffic to your booth.

10. Network, Network, Network

While you’re at the show, it is a networking event. Make sure to have some time during the day to get out of your space and meet the other exhibitors. You never know if they may need your product or services or what you do may be complementary to what they do and result in referrals to others. Networking can end up being a goldmine of new leads and/or potential business partners. Go forth and network!


This really shouldn’t be a tip, but so many businesses make this critical error. Following up with people who left you their contact information should be “Business 101” knowledge. They know full well that they will at some point be contacted by your business since they left their info. From thank you emails, to outreach phone calls to ask qualifying questions, it’s about getting to know them and them getting to know more about what your company does and offers.

Your company’s focus should be on nurturing these leads into a relationship that leads to business or referrals. Don’t try to hard sell them on the first contact. Build relationships.​

Author Bio:

Timothy Carter
Timothy Carter is the Digital Marketing Manager for the trade show display company, Nimlok, a division of the Orbus Exhibit & Display Group where he oversees all on-site and off-site marketing. He can be reached at
Add A Comment :

Become a Member
Access our innovative members-only resources and tools to further your marketing practice.