A lot of my community are creatives, which means inevitably, they're going to think that a tradeshow or bridal walk or craft fair is a potentially good fit for marketing their business.
The bottom line is that a tradeshow (and often bridal walks and craft fairs) are an investment in your business that fall under the category of marketing and brand awareness and should be considered very carefully when deciding whether or not to participate in one. They can be expensive, time-consuming, but can also have amazing results.
However, like EVERY piece of marketing, tradeshows aren't right for everyone and the reason "all the other pros are doing it" shouldn't make it onto your list of "why I should invest in a tradeshow." Want a real list of pros and cons?
This post is going to discuss what a tradeshow is and why you should or shouldn't be a part of it, based on your business.
What is a tradeshow (or bridal fair or craft show)?
A tradeshow is often a large group of retailers or service providers (and often, both) that get together to create a traditional marketplace-style atmosphere where customers can come to do "one-stop shopping" in a particular industry.
Often, the tradeshow is put on by a third party (because if Staples hosted an "office supple tradeshow", how many other suppliers would come? Probably not many.) whose job it is to organize and market the show so that YOU, their customers, can get a lot of potential eyes on your product or service, without the hassle of doing all of the marketing on your own.
For the MOST part, tradeshows (or bulk craft fairs or craft shows) are more for promoting new products, creating brand awareness around you and your business, and letting people know what the options are than they are for income generation (depending on the show and the goals of it). A good benefit from a tradeshow would be that someone came and bought one of your items or talked to you about your service and then went home and told all their friends about it/helped promote you on social media.
Makes sense? Let's talk about why you should or SHOULDN'T participate in a tradeshow.
When does a tradeshow make sense?
If you have an existing product or a new product that you've launched recently. The benefit of larger tradeshows is that you're paying for a large number of eyes to be on your products or services, with the benefit of most of those people being at least somewhat within your target market (as opposed to a flyer in a cafe that may target lots that aren't in your target market.)
However, if you don't have a new product, that's okay! Bringing products or services that are stock for your business means that you will hopefully approach new customers instead of clients that have already seen your work (and who are already on board OR have decided your product/service isn't for them).
Don't feel bad if nothing is new at a tradeshow; you'll find plenty of people who have never heard of your business and thus, EVERYTHING is about your business is new to them.
If you create a service that needs a only a brief explanation. Tradeshows can be a good chance to get in front of your target audience, so if your service is something that people inherently understand (like a custom, in-home dog-washing service in your local town or laundry pick up and delivery service), you can often reach a ton of people by simply showing images and explaining the service to them briefly when they pass by your booth.
If you need to expand your market in quantity. The number one benefit of tradeshows? Quantity. You'll reach a lot of people in a short period of time, so if your problem right now is simply getting people to know about you, then participating in a tradeshow can solve that issue.
If you have time to plan for it. Tradeshows/fairs are a TON of work, from planning to goal-setting to booth-creation to follow-up and post-event return on investment evaluation. If youonly have a little bit of time to prepare, tradeshows are not a good use of your time.
When does it not make sense?
If you have a complex service or product OR need to spend lots of time with your potential clients. If you are a photographer at a photography convention and you really need to dig into why YOUR services are better than someone else's, than a tradeshow may not be the way to go. Similarly, if you provide a service that needs a full on presentation and lots of client hand holding (I'm thinking about high-level consulting services or very niche + specific coaching services), then a tradeshow is not the way to go, since you basically only get people's eyes for a few seconds or so before they move on.
If there is a small prospect pool. Before you start, you'll need to evaluate if the amount of people showing up for the tradeshow is going to be enough people to satisfy your goals.
If you don't have lots of money OR time. Again, booths are expensive and labor intensive, so if you're looking to do marketing on a budget OR you need to make back what you've invested in the booth on-site with sales, then a large tradeshow may not be right for you. There are so many other approaches for marketing that will work better than a tradeshow for your business.
So when do I recommend a tradeshow for everyone all the time?
When you need immediate feedback.
(Which is also why I recommend hosting your own events in general.)
If you need immediate feedback on how your product is solving your ideal customer's needs, a tradeshow is a good idea. If people recognize and are excited by your product, you know you've done a good job. But if people are confused, have lots of questions, or actually want something else to solve their problem, then you've found a problem with your product or service that needs remedying.
If you need immediate feedback on your sales pitch or how you explain your service, a tradeshow is a good idea (people will ask you the questions you need to hear to get to the point quicker the next time you're interacting with a potential customer).
When you need ideas or feedback on what other, complimentary products your customer's want. If five people ask you why you don't make Christmas cards or if a lot of people ask for a set of cards instead of individual greeting cards, you may have just done the easiest, quickest market research in the world.