There are some pretty long-standing, well attended business exhibitions in the North East, so how do you decide whether to exhibit, or just go along as a visitor? It tends to be a fairly modest investment to exhibit at most of the local exhibitions, but obviously the investment of £100ish in the stand plus expenditure on promotional kit (and in my case the home-made cupcakes!) does add up. It's often been said that the people who make the real money out of exhibitions are the banner stand producers and the leaflet printers!

 When you then add on the cost of a day's time (and probably another day to prepare and follow up), where does that leave you, really? You could argue that without £1,000 of sales you're out of pocket, so that's a pretty heavy load to be carrying if you're in a low-cost service business.

In that case do business exhibitions really weigh up as a marketing approach?

As usual there's no right answer to this one. On the down side, it would be pointless to go to the effort of exhibiting at an event without getting a direct return on that investment, so if you try it, and you make no sales at all, that's probably a sign that either you're not making the most of the opportunity or the exhibition wasn't the place your customers are hanging out. But beyond that, I'm not sure that sales on the day are the ''be all and end all' of exhibiting.

Here are 3 good reasons for exhibiting at a business event to help you weigh up the opportunity.

1. Make it a deadline to make progress

When you work for yourself it can be really challenging to find the time, energy or resources to make change happen. When you're so busy with the day to day running of the business how do you dedicate yourself to planning or launch a new service, or to developing a new marketing campaign? So planning to attend an exhibition, usually several months in advance, can provide a brilliant focal point or milestone for you to aim for. Let's face it, we're really talking deadlines here, and if they're self-imposed they're pretty easy to miss. If, however, you know that you have an event in the diary, and you have to get your new initiative ready for that drop-dead date, it really does focus the mind.

In my own business I made a huge shift in my marketing approach with the help of an exhibition deadline. It was no coincidence that the website went live at 1 am on the day of the exhibition. Enough said.

If planning to attend an exhibition helps you to create a deadline for change in your business it's worth booking your stand.

2. Use it to meet with your virtual network

Social media is a powerful medium for making new connections and networks which can help you to grow your business. Let's face it, though, there's nothing like meeting people in person. Those virtual relationships will stand the test of time, and be more likely to lead to real business, if you've met your Twitter, Facebook and Google+ followers face to face.

I've found that having a stand at exhibitions brings your virtual profile to life. Many people approach my stand because they've seen my business on Twitter. That's a great opener too, and with the introductions over you can quickly get down to talking business. Your investment in your stand can make the time investment you're already making in social media really pay dividends.

3. Test out your market proposition

There's nothing like standing at an exhibition and everyone that walks past smiles politely, takes one of your tempting chocolates or free pens, then keeps on walking. That provides you the perfect reason to think again about your market proposition, because if your prospects aren't biting when they're standing right in front of you there has to be a reason why.
Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Have I really defined my perfect customer, and have I made that so clear through my marketing that they can't help but come and talk to me at my exhibition stand?
  • Are my marketing messages all about me, and could they be more effective at setting out the value that I can bring to my customers that will help them grasp really quickly how I can help?
  • Can I use this exhibition as a market research opportunity, spending time asking questions and listening to the answers, so I can invest what I've learnt back into my communications approach?

I could have added a 4th reason here – because you've already invested in a banner stand and a car boot load of leaflets – but all the exhibition kit in the world won't make a difference if your market proposition isn't working.

Article by Jayne Graham of Colleagues on Tap .

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