How to prepare for your first business event
By Craig Pannozzo, general manager of marquee and gazebo supplier Gazeboshop.
Many small businesses choose to invest in online marketing as a way of raising their profile and attracting more customers, but face-to-face interaction is still one of the best ways to build relationships in the early days. That’s why attending events is such a big part of the business calendar; they are a great way to connect with others, see what the competition is up to and gauge how your brand relates to the wider market.
Signing up to your first ever business event may sound daunting, but the key is in the preparation. You need to have strategies in place for effective data capture and how you’re going to gather competitor intelligence (a must for any event!). Here we share our top tips so that you can feel prepared in the run up to, during, and after the day.
Before the event
Plan for the business calendar
One of the best things you can do is to plan your events for the whole calendar year. Most businesses will have a marketing budget in place and the cost of exhibiting can vary widely. When deciding on whether to attend an event or not, consider how long it’s been going for, whether it’s known to have a good reputation (social media can help with this) and how many exhibitors and visitors it usually attracts.
Do your research
Once you’ve signed up it’s time to consider the logistics. Get a list of exhibitors and a floor plan. Mark where you are and where your competitors are and ‘get to know’ your neighbours. Do some research into the competitors you’ve identified – are you familiar with all of them or are there some names that you don’t recognise? This helps to give you a sense of how the market is doing and enables you to keep an eye on start-up and fast-growing businesses.
It’s also worth looking at whether any of your competitors are sponsoring a part of the event, or are speaking at it. If your biggest competitor is running a seminar on the day then plan time in your day to go to it, and make plenty of notes! If, on the day, you see the seminar is full then it may be worth considering getting involved at the next event – guest speaking and workshops are a great way to boost brand awareness.
Think about your stand and staff
Who is going to man your stand on the day? This will probably depend on a) the size of your business b) the size of your stand and c) how many people are expected to attend on the day. Ideally, you’d want one or two people focused on face-to-face conversations and building up valuable relationships with potential clients/customers. Another one or two team members should spend time scouting out and reporting back on the competition.
Next you need to consider the stand itself. If you know the event is going to be outdoor only then you’ll need to start thinking about the challenges you may face. Do you want your stand to be sheltered, or not? Do you want it to provide cover just for staff and equipment, or customers too? How will it be securely fitted to the ground?
Once that’s been established then it’s time to get creative and design your stand! How much colour do you want to include? Where will you put your logo and/or banner ads? Do you want to include any interactive elements to your display? What freebies and marketing material will you hand out to passing visitors?
During the event
Eyeing up the competition
As discussed earlier, competitor intelligence is a big part of any event. It’s important to emphasise that you must remain ethical when ‘snooping’. Don’t lie about who you are or pose as a customer because this is considered an underhand practice. You can get plenty of information from just being yourself, and a lot of the time you won’t even need to speak to a competitor in order to gather intelligence.
Some things to consider about the competition include:
– How their stands look compared to yours
– How many members of staff they have and how they’re drawing in the crowds
– How busy their stands are
– Their USP – what makes them stand out?
– Whether they’re offering any freebies, or running a competition in order to capture data
– Whether they’re promoting one specific product or service the most
– Whether the product they’re promoting is new to the market
– What other people are saying about them (you can do this just by listening, or checking social media)
Making the most of social media
Social media should not be overlooked. Put at least one team member in charge of updating your business’ social channels throughout the day. It’s always a good idea to use the event hashtag on Twitter too, if there is one. Some events showcase tweets as they’re coming in and this can be a great way to get extra exposure. Don’t be afraid to make use of photos and videos too.
After the event
Listen and learn
Once the event is done and dusted, it’s time to arrange a debrief with the team. Talk about how many contact details/leads you gathered and reflect on what went well and didn’t go well on the day. Now is also the time to share your competitor intelligence insights. If anything stood out in particular then the key is to continue with your research. Perhaps your competitor has launched a new product which you anticipate could be the next big thing in the industry. Keep your eye on how it develops and what PR it receives. By pursuing any trends identified in the industry you’ll be able to act on them and remain competitive.