Are you unsure if your product or service idea has potential as a business? Find out by attending an industry trade show. At a trade show, you will see a wide range of other services and products. You’ll be able to see if your idea is truly unique, or if there are plenty of others like it. If your idea has competition, you’ll get a better idea of what you could do to make your product or service stand out.
To find trade shows, do an online search for trade associations and visit their sites for information about upcoming shows. Or search for your type of product (for instance, ‘toy trade show’) to come up with a list. Tradeshow Week or TSNN.com also list upcoming trade shows, or you can check you’re your local chamber of commerce or convention facility. If you’ve got a new product idea, you may want to visit a show for inventors. The Invention Convention is one of the biggest.
In addition to its live trade show, The Invention Convention also has a virtual trade show (the Cyber Show) where inventors can meet and network online. Virtual trade shows are growing in popularity as trade show attendees seek ways to cut travel costs.
Just like a real-world trade show, a virtual trade show is held for a limited time—usually one to three days. It can range from a simple online directory to a virtual, 3D world. A virtual trade show has all the same areas you’d find at a real event, including exhibit halls and booths, educational seminars, a resource center where you can read information, and a social area where you can network with others online. Exhibitors interact with attendees at their booths using chat, email, blogs, and message forums. Speeches and seminars are given by videocast, podcast or Webcast, either in real-time or on-demand.
At this stage in your business, you will be an attendee, not an exhibitor. This costs less than exhibiting, but you still want to get your money’s worth. Before you sign up for either a real or virtual trade show, ask the organizer how many exhibitors there will be and what types of companies they are.
Whether you attend a live or virtual event, here are some tips to help you get the most from your attendance.
Before the show: Know what you want to accomplish. At this stage in your business development, your goal is to scope out the competition by seeing what products or services are similar to yours and gathering information on them. You might also want to find potential vendors or suppliers, or network with industry peers.
Come prepared. Bring pens and paper to take notes. Take a briefcase big enough to hold all the literature, samples, and business cards you’ll be taking home. Bring plenty of your own business cards; you can have them printed at an office supply store for less than $20.
Dress appropriately. You don’t want to be remembered as “the weird guy in the purple sweatshirt.” Dress business casual. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes–you will be on your feet all day.
At the show: Focus. In a huge convention center, it’s easy to get sidetracked by booths that aren’t relevant to you. Focus on booths with products or services similar or related to yours.
Keep your energy high. Take frequent breaks to sit down, get a drink, or eat a snack. You want to stay positive and focused so you’re ready to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself.
Take advantage of learning opportunities. Trade shows generally feature seminars or workshops that can be very useful. Be sure to make time for these.
Socialize. Be friendly and talk to exhibitors. You can make a lot of useful contacts at a trade show, so always be ready to connect, with a smile and a business card. Also take advantage of networking opportunities at hospitality booths or social events held after the show.
After the show: Gather your thoughts. As soon as possible, review all the literature and business cards you’ve gathered. Jot down notes about what happened; otherwise, in a few days you won’t remember why you picked up so-and-so’s business card in the first place.
Follow up. If you met people you want to follow up with, do so within two weeks of the event while you’re still fresh in their minds.
Use what you learned. Based on what you saw at the show, you’ll have a better idea of your product or service’s viability as a business. Use the information you gathered to fine-tune your business idea.
Karen Axelton is Chief Content Officer at GrowBiz Media (www.growbizmedia.com) a content and consulting company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.