Preparing for an exhibition or tradeshow is stressful. And, if it's the first time you're doing it, it's even more stressful. So many elements need to come together at the same time, that sometimes I'm amazed how it happens, resulting in a perfectly formed, well-run stand or booth.

The secret is, of course, planning.

And the secret to good planning is great preparation. Without that, you risk not leaving yourself enough time to think about all the individual elements properly—which is how you make sure they all work together on the day. Without that, you could be relying on a wing and a prayer.

Merely hoping your exhibition goes well despite frantic last-minute preparations is much different from expecting things to run smoothly because you've planned everything down to the last detail. Not to mention, it's much more stressful. Some people thrive on that kind of stress, but I've always preferred the more structured approach, trying to leave as little to chance as possible.

So, here is my "Quick, Easy-to-Remember Exhibition-Planning Checklist."

1. Budget

Budget isn't merely about booking a place at an exhibition. Before you start, work out how much you want to spend or what you can afford. That calculation should be based not only on what sales and marketing budget you have available but also on a measurable return on investment (ROI) to ensure you aren't likely to have a loss on the exhibition. If you ignore those considerations, leaving planning to the last minute, it's highly probable you'll go over budget.

2. Venue/Exhibition

You probably already know which exhibition or show you want to attend. But do your research to make sure it really is the best one for you and your business. Attending the wrong one, or one that is outside your budget, is a costly mistake; it is unlikely you'll make a profit. If it's your first one, start small, using it as a practice run to get a feel for how well you do and whether your product or service is suitable for exhibition. If successful, you can always scale up later when you're more experienced.

3. Goals

Without a goal, you can't measure your success. So ask yourself what the purpose of attending this exhibition is. To make sales, generate good leads, promote your business, launch a new product? There are various valid reasons for exhibiting, so make sure you know which one is yours.

4. ROI

Having a budget and knowing your goals means you can calculate a measurable return on investment. So measure the overall cost of the exhibition against realistic goals you expect to achieve (sales, leads, PR value) to estimate an overall ROI. If that figure is too low or negative, go back to the drawing board and rethink your budget and exhibition plan.

5. Branding and Marketing Collateral

Branding isn't just about creating a nice banner or popup stand with your logo on it. Think carefully about what you want your branding to say about you and your business. Then think about how you want that represented on an exhibition stand, and in any brochures or giveaways, to create a comprehensive branding message across all your marketing material. You'll be making a first impression on visitors, so you need to make sure it's the right impression. Don't be afraid to seek expert advice if you need it.

6. Your Sales Team

Back to first impressions. Whether you're exhibiting on your own or you have a team, everyone needs to be well prepped on your products and services before the main event. You also need to pay attention to fundamentals, such as dressing appropriately for the event, general behavior while at the stand, and attitude toward attendees. Everyone should know exactly what they're meant to be doing and what's expected of them, including the incentives you've created for them to help motivate them to work toward achieving your exhibiting goals.

7. Lead Capture

Without organizing, in advance, how you'll be capturing leads, you're likely to miss out on some potentially strong qualified leads. Make sure you know what information you need to collect, how you're going to collect it, and who has responsibility for looking after it.

8. Post event wash-up

It's essential you sit down and review every aspect of the exhibition once it's finished. That includes measuring actual goals achieved against estimates; calculating the final ROI to determine whether the exhibition was worth attending; assessing everyone's performance to see where improvements might be made for future events; and, finally, quickly following up leads to make sure none are missed.

* * *

These eight points are only a quick overview of things to consider when you plan your exhibition, but you'd be amazed how many people ignore even the basics. Good luck!

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A Brief Guide to Exhibiting at Tradeshows

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image of Kelly Edwards

Kelly Edwards is the assistant e-marketing manager at Nimlok Portable, specialist manufacturers of exhibition stands.