Business expos provide excellent opportunities. You can connect with other business owners, find services you may need, and create brand awareness. There are many ways to take advantage of these events. Some businesses choose to buy a booth; others purchase a sponsorship. Still, the majority attend for the free or low-cost ticket to network with others. Here are some quick considerations before you head out to your next large-scale networking event, expo, or convention.
1.Plan your schedule before arrival
Make sure you take time to review the agenda as best as possible before you arrive to maximize your time. Be ready to roll with a plan B as well. Some events may overlap, and others will not go as planned and you may want to re-prioritize. Use your planning time to be clear about your intentions, are you there to network, hear speakers, or attend workshops?
2.Come with a strategy
Many people come to these types of events to 'check it out.' If it is your first time attending the event, this can have good value, but why not capitalize on the opportunity? Now is a great chance to promote brand awareness and engage with new people. Can you have an E-book ready, event to promote, or otherwise incentivize people to reach out to you? How can you solicit their contact information to grow your newsletter? Whatever your incentive, have flyers, QR codes, or giveaways to convey the information.
3.Get the best price on a booth
Remember, everything is negotiable. Just because the convention has ‘set pricing’ doesn’t mean you can’t haggle on price. The exhibition’s organizer needs to obtain a large number of businesses to participate so that they can attract a greater audience this year and for their marketing next year. Unless an event regularly sells out (rarely), the organizer will likely be willing to work with you on price knowing that they need you too. Further, they are hoping you will bring multiple guests to support you and advertise it to your clients as well.
4.It's a marathon, not a race
These events last all day, and if you race through it, you will burn out quickly. Burn out will lead you to an early exit and cut short the potential connections you should be making. Further, as you grow tired through the day, you will shift from friendly and approachable to grumpy and intimidating. Grumpy and intimidating is not someone others want to converse with, let alone do business with.
5.Bring plenty of business cards, but not a whole box
I recently attended an expo where one of the excited new business owners was there with the goal of giving away a full box of business cards. You have to admire the tenacity if it wasn’t such a naive notion. You will want enough business cards to account for leaving a stack at a business card exchange, to use in speed networking, and for anyone you meet at booths. But if your entire goal is to give away business cards, you are missing the point. Your goal should be to make valuable acquaintances to follow up with later. People don’t do business with business cards; they do it with people.
6.Friend's are great, but they aren't why you are here
It can be intimidating to attend a massive event where hundreds of other people are congregating. Many people are tempted to invite friends to participate with them to soften this blow, but use them as a crutch throughout the expo. If you bring a friend and spend the whole time talking to them, you won't be meeting new people and finding new opportunities. However, you should strategically encourage friends to attend so you can collectively see all of the events and debrief after.
Is there a way you can make yourself standout? It doesn’t have to be a ridiculous hat; it could be an intriguing conversation starter or patterned dress. This can help break the ice for conversation but it also helps create a memory. When you reach out to your new connections after the event, you can remind them you had the ‘mint green’ shirt on to jog their memory as to who you are.
8.Always let the other person go first
When you are engaging with someone at a booth or in networking, when possible, encourage them to go first in the conversation. You want to absorb as much of what they say as possible to strategize your response. Data mining for their industry, job role, and goals with help you tailor your introduction in a way that will resonate best with the other party. While you should have your introduction well rehearsed, you can change certain phrases to make it more appealing towards a restaurant owner compared to a manufacturer. If well executed, you will pique the other person’s curiosity to learn more about you.
9.Networking 101 - Give to receive
I once had an excited business owner sit down for speed networking, hand me his card and jump right into what he was hoping to get out of this meeting. While I didn't mind his forward approach, he immediately jumped into stating he was looking for businesses and salespeople to sell his product. Bad form. He quickly alienated his audience, especially if they weren’t interested in being a salesman for him. Networking, in general, is about forming a relationship, not pitching your sale. Find opportunities of mutual interest with the person across from you and see how you can provide them with value. In return, they will generally try to do the same.
10.Not every connection is gold
You are going to see a lot of businesses in many different verticals. You will meet some people that there is just no way you can help each other, and that is okay. Both parties may be aware of that but are too polite to end the conversation. You have many other prospects to meet and engage with, and so do they. Recognize this and let the other party know you are glad to meet them (you still want to be complimentary and friendly). However, you value their time to meet other businesses and don’t want to infringe on that. Then get back out there and find more opportunities.
11.Make notes quickly
If you go throughout the whole day collecting business cards, you will very quickly find yourself at the end of the day with a stack of confusion. Which of these three CPAs did you like? Which did you want to avoid like the plague? Who was it that had an opportunity to connect with a prospective client? After talking to someone of interest, take a few steps away and make some notes on their business card or your notepad. The next day when you review your spoils, you will immediately be able to sort cards with and without notes as valuable. You will also be able to have a warm greeting, picking up your conversation where you left off.
12.Follow up promptly
Be sure to follow up with those you meant the next day if possible. Our exuberance for anything fades with time. Before you know it, you'll put off the connection and then feel guilty if you reach out a week or two later. Further, your contact will be more likely to have forgotten who you are and why they should connect. Following up promptly, especially in business, also demonstrates that you are organized and diligent. Most email clients allow you to ‘send’ an email with a delay. If you can, write up follow up emails that evening or even during the event, and set them to send the next day. This puts you first on their email list from the expo and priority over your competitor who they met there as well.
Bonus Tip – Collect Competitive Cards
Any decent business plan has a section for analyzing your competitors. Why stop once you are launched? Collect your competitor’s business information and look them up later. Find out how they target clients and find ways to differentiate yourself to grow your business against theirs. In some cases, you may find you have different niches and open opportunity to collaboration as well.