Business Advice · 21 April 2021

Events & exhibitions for small businesses in the UK

Events & exhibitions for small businesses UK

Successful events & exhibitions for small businesses in the UK produce valuable and qualitative data that, whilst not always bringing in cash flow, is still vital for your business’s strategic growth. This data is derived from tools such as lead generation, direct client feedback and networking.

Deciding and preparing to participate in events and exhibitions such as trade shows or PR occasions takes effort and capital but can bring profound benefits to your business.

Having the opportunity to meet directly with potential customers in a space and time when your industry or product is potentially at the forefront of their minds is ‘gold’. This is a source of valuable lead generation if handled correctly.

There are advantages and disadvantages to evaluate prior to launching into the heady concept of exhibiting your beloved company to an audience. Consider these before commencing with the investment of your time and money.

The advantages of exhibiting at trade shows

Your company, if well prepared and executed, could benefit from exhibiting in many ways, which might include the following:

  • Brand awareness – By carefully selecting and successfully exhibiting regularly at appropriate industry events, you give your business a brilliant way to raise the market’s awareness of your brand and to generate PR or marketing spin-offs from them. The stand is usually just the starting point at an event. You will find other advertising, collaboration, PR and sponsorship opportunities.
  • Meet and greet – Having the opportunity to meet with potential customers or suppliers is a solid way to start building relationships as well as to gain strategic insights. Face-to-face meetings factor in a deeper, richer connection unattainable via a video connection or telephone call. You gain a greater degree of attentive listening and presence. This psychological comfort creates a full brand engagement when the clients are in a receptive state of mind.
  • Networking – Events and exhibitions are a great way to cast your business development net in a targeted pool of potential new customers and suppliers. It is also a brilliant opportunity to increase your knowledge of your competitors.
  • New product launches – Events and exhibitions are an excellent platform to launch a new product or service with filming opportunities for the next steps of marketing as well as integrated PR opportunities. You can get onboard some brand champions through one-on-one explanations if your product is a disrupter, and you can get priceless market insights.
  • Build your database – Building a marketing database has market value to your company and is a factor considered when selling your business or when looking for investors or partners. An event or exhibition assists in the establishment or growth of your marketing database and generates valuable, high-conversion sales leads.

The disadvantages of exhibiting at trade shows

As with all things in life, there is the other side of the coin to consider. Here are what could be considered the downsides of hosting or participating in an event or booking a stand at an exhibition:

  • Budget – You need to plan and set aside a budget, and you need the income to achieve that. As a small business, it is often difficult to achieve substantial income for costly marketing tools such as events and exhibitions. Your budget will need to cover the price of the stand space, the stand design, the materials and signage supply, the construction of the stand by specialists (often restricted to a preferred suppliers list supplied by the leading exhibition company), daily travel costs, accommodation costs for you and your steam for “away” events and exhibitions.
  • Competition – Your competitors will probably be exhibiting at the event and will be located closer to you than out there in the real marketplace. This means that, more than ever, you will have to find a way to stand out from them, to have a differentiator, to get their attention without crossing the line to the ridiculous or discouraging clients. For example, a kitchen counter granite company had beautiful dancers “decorating” their stand in minimalist outfits. The stand was full of men. Who was the target market? Women. That was a failed marketing decision.
  • Returns on investment – Regardless of your investment, you cannot guarantee sales leads due to reasons such as:
    • Selecting a less-than-ideal exhibition
    • Not having clear event objectives
    • Creating a bland, generic stand
    • Poor product or brand literature on the stand
    • Staff on the stand looking bored and disinterested
    • Doing too much selling instead of capturing leads (sell later)
    • Lack of takeaway literature
    • Not promoting your attendance of the upcoming event yourself
    • Poor follow-up on leads
  • Low attendance – It is prudent to research an exhibition prior to booking. Check if they have big-name speakers, check their planned publicity and make a note of it, check the dates versus any conflicting events and ask to see the list of exhibitors. Follow up on their planned publicity to ensure they are doing it. Due to a failure on one of these factors or an unexpected factor, the event, exhibition or trade show might fail to draw enough delegates. This will mean you will not see a sufficient return on the investment you painstakingly put aside to afford your stand at the exhibition. Do thorough research about an exhibition and the exhibition company before choosing to exhibit. Perhaps call some of the previous exhibitors and ask them if they experienced a return on investment (remembering that the exhibition company is not the only reason for poor returns on investment).

How to choose the right trade fair

If you have never exhibited before, or perhaps you have not even attended an exhibition, you might find the choice of the right trade fair to be difficult. It would be a good idea to attend some relevant trade fairs and spend time experiencing what the exhibition offers attendees. Also, devote time to looking at all the details, asking exhibitors questions and asking the exhibition companies staff questions.

Niche versus broad

Whilst an exhibition might be relevant to your industry, they usually focus on an area within an industry. However, if the area of interest it covers is too niche (kitchen counters) or too broad (home renovation), it most likely will not attract sufficient visitors who want to buy what you have to sell. Not every event advertised is a definite winner and may well not attract large numbers of attendees.

Put lots of research time into your exhibition-investigation project plan. Find out which exhibitions have been the most popular with attendees and exhibitors over previous years.

Your potential clients

A crucial first step is to draw up a profile of your target customers:

  • List what you expect their particular interests to be
  • Ensure you know and understand the needs of that target market
  • List their geographical location
Exhibition companies can provide a breakdown of numbers and types of visitors previously attending. Therefore, you can find out if this info matches your factors above.

Assistance with identifying the right trade fair 

To ensure that you have objective information and wide-ranging research, contact specific venues and ask about exhibitors. Another helpful port of call would be to ask relevant trade associations and contact your local Chamber of Commerce for past knowledge and future expectations.

Another “before booking” step that would be good for you to take, with your shortlisted events and exhibitions, is to find out:

  • The characteristics of their attendees
  • The spending power of each delegate
  • The characteristics of the other exhibitors and their spending power (huge conglomerates or SMME?)
  • Any data from past events
An astute event management company of successful fairs will be able to supply this kind of information. If not, move on.

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