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How can your small business benefit from trade shows?

How can your small business benefit from trade showsSmall business owners might not immediately think of trade shows as a tool to grow their business, but they have an impact.

This week, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) kicked off in Las Vegas. The annual trade show is billed as the world’s largest gathering place for anyone with an interest in the business of consumer technologies and digital innovation. Professionals from all fields are represented at the show, from technology entrepreneurs to IT consultants to those with hopes of one day launching a start-up.

While you might not immediately think of trade shows as a tool to grow your small business, but they can have an impact if you participate properly. First decide if you’ll attend the show as an exhibitor or attendee. Next, create a game plan to ensure your time at the trade show is worthwhile.

Determine your goal for attending the trade show.

Decide what your goal of attending the tradeshow will be. If exhibiting, make sure your booth stands out. You will be competing with other companies, large and small, and will only have a short time to capture the attention of attendees. Make sure your booth is well-designed, easy to spot and has all the needed literature about your company. Make sure you’re energetic while manning the booth.

If you’ve decided to take the attendee only route, you’re probably attending in order to grow your network. Therefore, research who else is attending. Search the trade show site for a list of companies that are exhibiting. Also, use social media to see who’s talking about the show and begin your networking prior to the event.

Make sure to capture contact information.

Trade shows are made for networking. Attendees will visit your booth, you’ll connect with other exhibitors on the trade show floor or you might meet other small business owners at the various scheduled networking events. Either way, make sure to capture the contact information of everyone you meet.

If exhibiting, entice attendees to your booth with a give-a-way that requires them to leave a business card. If you’re meeting new people as an attendee, exchange business cards, but also consider using a technology tool such as CardMunch that allows you to take a picture of a business card and turn it into a contact within your phone.

Follow up

Following up is probably one of the most important aspects of attending trade shows. Make sure that you follow up immediately, so that your new contacts will recall where you met. Do not add your new connections to your company newsletter unless you informed them at the time of networking. While following up, you can then ask for their permission to be added to your company newsletter.

For additional tips on preparing for an upcoming tradeshow, visit the About.com Guide for Small Business Information. Are you planning to attend a tradeshow in 2014 that may be worthwhile to other small business owners? Leave a comment with the name of the show and also share what you plan to do to make sure your attendance is a success.

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