There’s nothing like the energy of an expo! People wandering the stalls, presentations about the latest and greatest innovations… free chocolate!
Expos are fantastic opportunities to meet potential new clients, catch up with existing clients, and network with industry peers and experts.
But to do an expo well, it requires an investment from you – your time, your energy, and your money.
So, how can you make the most out of your next expo? Sit back with your branded stress ball and grab your promotional pen and notepad… you’ve got questions and we’ve got answers.
It’s easy to get swept up in the prospect of a great expo. You want to be there. You also feel like you need to be there… otherwise, will prospective clients even know you exist?
But before you book that premium space, take a look at your own business. Do you have the capacity to take on new clients right now? When you meet people at the expo, will you be able to talk about an offering that they can get started with in the near future?
There’s no point investing in an expo if you can’t get a return on your investment – and it could even be damaging to your business if you get potential clients excited about an opportunity you really can’t offer them.
Look at the target market of the expo. Does it fit with your ideal client? Is the program aimed at children, young people, adults or older people? Is the cost of registering, preparing promotional material, kitting out your stand, and sending you and your team members to staff it really going to deliver bang for your buck?
If so, go for it – but if not (or if you’re not sure), then perhaps it’s time to think twice.
If you’ve decided to become an exhibitor, take time to look at the expo booth offerings and sponsorship packages.
Does your budget allow you to sponsor the event (and get a booth thrown into the partnership package), or can you book a larger booth that might be in a high-traffic area?
Then again, do you need a larger booth? If you don’t have the resources to fill it, it could look alarmingly empty… so if that’s the case, choose something smaller and create your space in style.
Get strategic and work out your key goals for the event, then map your involvement around them.
Most expos will have a guide (printed and online) where exhibitors can promote their businesses. This is another great opportunity to connect with potential clients before, during and after the expo.
If you’re able to include some photos or imagery about your business, do it. But be warned: while it’s tempting to use the beautiful, royalty-free (AKA free) photos that can be found online through the various websites we all know of, that means lots of other people know about them too – and they’re using them. If you and three other exhibitors have all chosen the same photo, suddenly things risk looking pretty impersonal.
You might be able to snap a couple of nice shots with your phone camera or, even better, contract a local photographer to take some photos of you and your clients at work – with your clients’ written permission, of course. Make sure you pay not only for the high-resolution images, but also the rights to continue using them as you wish (e.g., like sharing them with a local newspaper, magazine or blog if you’re running an advertising campaign or putting out a media release down the track).
If you’re a sole operator or part of a small team, chances are the expo team is… you! But for larger outfits, expo organising and booking is usually part of the marketing or promotions team’s work.
When it comes to staffing your booth on the day, consider having some of your client-facing staff on hand to meet with potential customers. It can be really reassuring for new clients to hear about your offering, like support work or occupational therapy, and then be introduced to some of the people who actually spend their days working directly with clients!
Lights, music, balloons – all the usual hype – might not suit an audience with disability. We know flashing lights can trigger some people, music can make it hard to hear or increase sensory input, and balloons can be downright terrifying for anyone with globophobia (that’s a fear of balloons).
Think about your assets and your selling points that capture the work you do. For example, if you’re in the animal-assisted therapy space, of course you’ll be bringing your four-legged assistants to the expo (clearing with organisers first).
If you create visual items like social stories or meal plans, be sure to have them around and on display.
Do you specialise in holidays? Could you create a tiny tropical getaway with sun-lounger chairs, beach towels, a potted palm tree (real or fake), and maybe some kinetic sand?
Whatever you choose, make sure it’s relevant to your work and your offering.
But it doesn’t have to be all singing, all dancing. Even a simple pull-up banner that you can use again and again will quickly tell expo attendees who you are and what you do. Most banner creation companies will have templates you can use to create your own, others allow you to use Canva, and some print companies throw in design for free (or a minimal cost).
If you don’t have your own photos, or your snaps are not quite right for a pull up banner, consider getting them converted into art. Try Etsy or Upwork. And if you need the whole banner designed, Upwork, Freelancer or Fiverr can connect you with a graphic designer. Just make sure you negotiate getting the editable file in the price – in case you want to make changes in the future.
Do you have space to provide a breakout area with bean bags or party games, like giant Connect 4, ring toss, or even some sensory toys? Start playing one of the games and invite anyone walking by to join in! It’s great to create movement, energy and a sense of fun.
Most people love food or a sweet treat! You might consider whether there are individually wrapped snacks or chocolates you can offer (make sure to include the ingredients – and offer them to parents, not kids!), or a healthier choice might be washed pieces of fruit or fruit with peels (mandarins, bananas), arranged in a nice big bowl, so people can take a piece with them.
Little things that surprise, delight and keep people busy are a sure-fire way of enticing people to visit your expo stand and spend some time there, so you can share your work with them.
We understand that expo days can be long and physically demanding. However, if you have the energy and the physical stamina, it’s important to have open and approachable body language.
Nothing says ‘walk on by’ like an exhibitor sat well behind a table, head down, looking at their phone. It’s like you’ve put up a gigantic ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.
If you’re able to stand, do it! Keep your head up and put a smile on your face. Say hi to people walking past and don’t be afraid to get out from behind your table to wave and welcome people in.
However, remember that not everyone is comfortable chatting – some people prefer to approach, rather than be called in, so make sure you have some takeaway materials for the people who are shy or all expo’d out and not up for a chat. In fact, some expos might consider traffic light badges for people who attend – think about green stickers for ‘happy to chat’, yellow for ‘let me take the lead’ or red for ‘just looking, thanks’.
It’s impossible to remember everything that’s said during a discussion, especially in the exciting (and sometimes overwhelming) environment of an expo.
Do you have some flyers? A double-sided A4 flyer allows you to share some really engaging photos and information, and it’s simple to produce those yourself on Canva.
Do you have Plain English or Easy Read translations of your documents, so the 40+ per cent of Australians without functional literacy can access your information?
Do you have the budget for a good reusable shopping bag with your brand on it, so people can carry your information away… and be reminded of you every time they shop?
You don’t need to splash all your cash on branded corporate toys – think strategically about your target market and what might be useful for them. And if all you have to provide are flyers, that’s fine – it’s about connecting and sharing information.
If you’re going down the promotional products route, remember that not everyone will use a USB or wear a baseball cap. But if you want to get eyeballs on your business details, a good tip is that pretty much everyone has a fridge! Have a look at handy fridge magnets (My Plan Manager has some awesome ones!), branded magnetic notepads, photo frame magnets and the like – it means your business name, phone number, and website address are in front of them every time they open the door to the fridge!
That’s just one idea, but you get the gist – think of something inexpensive and simple that pretty much everyone needs or wants, then put your business’ details on it, hand it out, and… hey presto: you’re in the promotions business! And bonus points if you can predict the next big craze in household items, toys and gadgets, so you can get everyone hyped up for your stuff!
Also, when you’re giving away free things, consider having an email sign-up list or ‘more information’ form on hand so people can fill it out and you can stay in touch with them to keep the conversation going. You can have physical forms for people to write on, or you might want to create one on a tablet so you can help them to fill it out.
And, if further encouragement is needed to get people to sign up and open their minds to what it is you’re offering, why not consider a small (or large) competition for people who provide their details to you. Just make sure you follow Australian law on privacy and marketing.
Some expos have different sponsorship options. If every person attending gets a welcome pack or goodie bag, see if there’s an opportunity to get your business name and logo on bags, or if you can pay to add your flyer or toy to the loot.
Other packages include a presentation. If you’ve got a group game, performance with clients, or something that might keep people engaged, it’s worth talking to the expo organisers and seeing if you can value-add.
Sometimes it’s an extra cost to you, but other times it might be free – and if you can fill in if a presenter drops out at the last minute, make that clear to the organisers too.
Expos are a great time to meet peers, make new contacts, and catch up again with those you already know. Make sure you take time to walk around the expo, see what others are offering – noting any great promotional ideas you might like to use next time – and chat with people!
Knowing who else is out there can be helpful when you’re talking to prospective clients – they may be looking for something that’s not quite what you offer, so you can refer them to someone else you know who might be a better match – and other providers should be doing the same for you.
Ever been to a dinner party and had the host clear your plate before you finished, start wiping the table, or even vacuuming while you expected you’d linger and chat? It’s a very clear feeling of being unwelcome.
Emergencies or extenuating circumstances aside, don’t start packing up your stall and leaving before the expo’s over. It makes it look like you just don’t care about the people who are still there – and one of those latecomers could be one of your potential clients!
Did you run an email list competition? Now’s the time to start sending a ‘welcome/thank you/nice to meet you’ email to the people on your list. Remember to identify your business, remind them of how they gave permission to be emailed (your competition at the expo), and ensure they can unsubscribe – to stay in line with the law.
Did you have forms available for prospective clients to fill out? Follow up with a phone call or email – whatever their preferred contact method is. It can be as simple as saying ‘thanks for taking the time to visit’ at the expo and remember to include a link to your website.
Check the inventory of your giveaways and see what resonated with people and anything you’d like to reorder for the next expo.
Thanks for bumping in and out with us on this Expo 101!