Customer-facing networking, speaking and exhibiting are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities an entrepreneur can get out of a trade show or industry conference.
I personally attend anywhere from four to five conferences a year. Not only are they an honor to speak and exhibit at, but they also provide great benefits to a business and brand.
You could take it from me — I’ve formed long-lasting relationships at conferences that stand to this day. The business value can be quantified to additional guest posting opportunities for my personal brand and even receiving new clients for my agency by exhibiting.
But are industry conferences worth it for every business or startup? The question really comes down to a matter of cash.
Coming Up With The Cash
The No. 1 reason we’re repeatedly told that businesses fail is a matter of cash flow. Unfortunately, exhibiting at an industry conference is quite expensive. Just some of the costs to consider include:
• Display construction
• Storage fees for your display
• Transportation costs
• Staying at a hotel
• Creating a visual presentation
• Brochures or any marketing material
Most businesses also invest in PR and social media campaigns to create awareness around their conference attendance. Of course, speakers don’t have to worry about many of these costs, but you must be invited to speak at a conference. That means, for the rest of businesses, you will have to dish out some cash to exhibit your brand at a conference.
While conferences yield tremendous results, covering the costs of exhibitor fees can be hard. That’s why it’s important to plan a conference at least four months in advance, not only for logistics but also costs. You can consider renting a pre-fabricated display or a simple booth to cut costs. Bring along sales staff to engage people face to face and leverage online marketing materials, such as social media, to market the event for free.
Benefits Of Attending A Conference
There are real and tangible benefits to attending an industry conference. With the right audience, conferences present the perfect opportunity to test your MVP and gather feedback on new products and designs.
Conferences can also serve as the perfect opportunity to network with other thought leaders and promote your sales pitch to attendees. The greatest benefits of attending a conference include:
• Greater brand reach and familiarity
• Networking opportunities
• Increased leads
• Usability testing
• Educational opportunities
In addition, being asked to speak or being recognized at an industry conference serves as valuable marketing collateral further down the line.
Understanding Your Audience
If you’ve committed to attending or exhibiting at least one conference this year, then you need to find the best one for your business. The best conferences are the ones your competitors are likely attending, as well as the best thought leaders in your industry.
Do a little research. There are always articles being written to promote industry events. In the digital marketing field, a lot of publications are directly responsible for sponsoring or hosting conferences in the first place.
Go to social media and see who is talking about the conference and read over the conference website to get a better idea of the attendee list. Determine whether the conference is business to business (B2B) or (B2C), as well as whether or not there will be VCs or angel investors in the audience.
Sometimes you can attend a conference with a great audience but the theme of the conference and the exhibits don’t necessarily match your business. There are even cases where you may disagree with the sponsorships or pay-to-play model of the conference. It’s important to look at the conference as a whole before making a decision to attend, starting with the attendees.
If you decide to attend a conference, be sure to do your research beforehand. For trade shows and exhibitions, the earlier you plan (four to nine months ahead) the better. You need a marketing strategy and message that will resonate with attendees and help you stand out.
We like to create content and PR around any exhibit we do, as well as any speaking opportunities. We’ve even boosted this on social media channels like Facebook and Twitter to some great success and fanfare.
Research the convention floor and where and when you will be exhibiting. Remember, while there are thousands of attendees, the actual number of people who visit your booth will be limited by those who attend for one day and at certain times of the day.
I like to advertise a speaking engagement or exhibition at least a month before the event just to start a conversation and connect with people online. Generally, the more prepared you are, the higher your potential return on investment (ROI).
Determining Your ROI And Results
Finally, you can judge the success of any investment by your return.
Determining your cost will be pretty easy. Simply tally up the cost it took for transport, building your exhibit and all the marketing materials you brought with you. The tricky part will be assigning a value to leads you acquire at a trade show.
You know your product better than anyone, so you will be able to assign a value based on what attendees from your contact list are most likely to buy from your company and which are least likely.
Unfortunately, many of the benefits derived from a conference may be hard to report so it will have to stand to the eye test. But if your experience is anything like mine, you’ll realize the benefits of attending a conference.