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Trade Shows: An Investment or A Money Pit?

We’ve been pretty busy the last few weeks preparing to visit the LendIt Fintech Show on April 8-9 in San Francisco, CA. Since it’s top of mind for us, we figured we’d share some helpful hints, tricks, and tips about trade shows and expos.

We’re honored and excited to exhibit at LendIt this year, and we are believers in the benefits of networking within your industry – especially as a small business. But, let’s be honest: attending is expensive and time-consuming.

That’s especially true if the expo is out of state, because you have to plan for travel and accommodations, plus you have to plan for time away from the business for you or whoever you plan to be involved.

So, as popular as they are, are these shows worth it?

The answer is pretty straight forward - you need to be able to justify the cost. There are hard costs associated with attending that you’re going to have to work into your budget. According to Exhibit USA, you’re looking at an average cost of $100-$150 per square foot of space at your average trade show. So, doing the math, you’re looking at a few thousand dollars just to pitch your tent there.

Plus, since a lot of shows ask you to pay per attendee, you’ll want to factor in travel and accommodations for each attendee, which could end up costing you another few hundred to a few thousand depending on how far the show is, how long it is, and how many people are going.

If you don’t do events like this, you’re also going to need to budget for whatever your booth will look like: logos on tents and tabletops, banners, literature, signage - all those things can cost a pretty penny.

And there are hidden costs, too: these events do take prep time beforehand and you’ll need to have updated pitches and literature for each event. This is a major undertaking for your marketing, sales and promotional teams.

And for most small businesses, those “departments” are probably just you or just one or two people on your team. All told, you could be looking at dropping anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 for a single appearance at a trade show. That’s a lot of money

Now that we’ve given you the straight talk of how much it’ll cost, here’s how much you can earn from being there. According to Entrepreneur.com, the return on investment rate of trade shows is astronomically high. When compared with cold calling, a trade show appearance can earn you about $500 in closed sales using less than two phone calls, which is a much higher batting average than calling from the office.

Being at these shows gives you the rare opportunity of directly marketing to people who are pre-qualified to be interested in your product and services.

And it also markets you to businesses interested in working with or investing in exactly what you do. It’s like speed dating, but in a roomful of people who already agreed to go on a date with you. There are few other opportunities that allow you to directly market to people interested in what you do.

Sales staff spends days trying to get face to face meetings and marketing teams spend days coming up with ways to get people into the room. Well, voila! A trade show cuts out the (very many!) middle men and gets everyone in a room with you at once.

Attending a trade show is an incredibly powerful tool for your small business, but because of the cost you need to be choosy and you need to be efficient.

You can’t be at every trade show, and you need to make sure that you’re at trade shows that will put you in front of the right people. You also can’t afford to throw money away by attending a trade show unprepared. It’s a great opportunity for success, but the incredible cost means it needs to be taken seriously.

Stay tuned the rest of this week and next week for some more advice on how to kill it at your next trade show! Plus, follow us on social to see our adventure in Cali!

Instagram: @conextnow

Facebook: @conextnow

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