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When it comes to marketing your business through networking, trade fairs and exhibitions, it really is a question of ensuring the right fit for your business; there are a lot of shows out there and not all of them are worth the cost.

When credit checking company Ormsby Street first started, managing director Martin Campbell went to a lot of exhibitions, but the company has learned to focus on the ones that really support its overall strategy.

‘The problems that we are addressing, late invoice payment and cash flow in small businesses, are global issues and the US has always been a key target market, so high-profile international trade shows formed a key part of our expansion strategy,’ Campbell explains. The company was chosen to be a UKTI Tech Ambassador at this year’s SXSW event, and also attended FinovateFall 2015 in September 2015 and Finovate Spring in San Jose earlier this year.

‘The financial services focus of the Finovate trade shows meant it was a great place for us to meet with US banks and discuss possible partnerships for our planned 2017 US launch.’

He advises company owners to make sure their elevator pitch is note perfect. ‘At SXSW there were thousands of start-ups, and most were looking for funding, a partnership or talent. This is true of many events; they all have an elevator pitch but if you can catch someone’s attention in the first 30 seconds and be memorable, then you’ve a chance of being heard above the noise.’

He also says it is important to network until you can’t network any further. ‘The value of introductions within a new market remains high and talking about your business/product and learning about those of the people you meet is a gateway to great conversations with others.

‘If you can demonstrate that you’re interested, interesting and relevant to the folks you meet, they will identify others for you to talk to which will deepen your understanding.’

Beat the intimidation of networking

The idea of diving into networking can intimidate some people. Ted Nash, CEO and cofounder of mobile advertising company Tapdaq, says it is not uncommon to feel daunted by the thought of networking, but in business it’s necessary to overcome your fears, get out there and start talking to influential people.

‘If networking doesn’t come naturally to you, preparation can help save you from those potentially awkward moments. Consider preparing your opener before approaching new targets. Feeling tongue-tied before you even start talking business will only put you on the back foot.

‘Anticipating questions that may be asked can prove useful too, having clear, concise answers ready will stand you in good stead before easing into the conversation naturally,’ he says.

Nash advises business owners to identify at least one person they would like to converse with before the end of the event. ‘By doing this you have a goal in sight and it can help you avoid wandering around aimlessly looking for people to approach.’

Don’t be afraid to join conversations, he adds. ‘A simple, ‘hi there, my name is’ will be sufficient enough for others to expand their conversation to you.’

Shows can also be used for research as well as marketing. Lisa Walford, founder of infant car seat solution Baby Safe, signed up to exhibit at three Baby Shows in 2015. Taking to her stand in February at London ExCeL, Lisa arrived with leaflets and survey questions for consumers visiting the show, learning a great deal about what people really needed and wanted out of their car seat. Through the research she would further develop her idea and in May at the NEC Show Lisa arrived with her first prototype.

‘After exhibiting at The Baby Show three times I realised there was nothing like this on the market and I knew then this was my opportunity to make a difference in the parenting world.

‘The Show allowed me to listen to impartial views and critique and we already have people signed up to our pre-sale interest list. The experience was so important for me to gain valuable market research and work out exactly what consumers needed; the response was overwhelming and I couldn’t have got to this stage without them!’

Neil Westwood, of Magic Whiteboard, goes to 7-9 exhibitions a year, finding them a good way of engaging with customers. ‘They are good for meeting new customers, for maintaining relationships with existing customers, testing what customers think of new products, and selling products,’ he adds.

Westwood focuses on trade shows in London, where shows tend to be busier, representing a larger market. However, it may be worth considering shows further afield; Westwood says Magic Whiteboard has recently exhibited in Japan for the first time in Toyko, enjoying a successful show and finding more leads than any show he has exhibited at in the UK.

An innovative approach to exhibitions

Looking for more innovative approaches to events can also work well for your business. Chris Michael, founder of app product Swytch says that, during the Apps World event, the company got together with some friends in the start-up community to organise a joint-start-up treasure hunt, bringing five ambitious companies together to collaborate on a single marketing activity.  

‘Not only did all of the companies involved think it was a fun and interactive way to network with like-minded entrepreneurs, but it hugely expanded the ‘reach’ each company would have gained by working alone,’ he says.   

Rather than simply exhibiting as normal, the treasure hunt allowed each company to ‘gamify’ the experience at each of the company’s stands. ‘This dramatically increased visitor traffic for all of the companies, as participants needed to visit each company’s stand to complete the hunt.,’ Michael says. ‘It made for a very exciting ‘mini event’ during Apps World; everyone wanted to get involved!’

To help your company stand out at networking events and exhibitions, Vistaprint offers business cards, signage, flyers, promotional apparel and more in a variety of sizes, styles and finishes. And regardless of the quantity or size of your order, you pay a low, flat rate across all delivery speeds. Perfect for stocking up for a big event.

Vistaprint is the leading provider of customisable printed and digital marketing materials, enabling millions of UK micro businesses of any kind and at any stage to market themselves professionally.

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