Trade shows require a lot of planning ahead. From choosing what shows to attend to marketing and everything in between, the amount of work to be done can be overwhelming. By creating a timeline, you will be able to make sure every task is done properly and on time, without unnecessary stress.

12 Months Before the Trade Show

Whenever possible, start planning a full year ahead of time to ensure that your timeline is not rushed. With the extra time, you’ll be able to complete each step of the process thoroughly, without being stressed.

Determine Which Shows Will Help Fulfill Your Goals

First, create a list of shows that will help you with your marketing and general business goals. If a trade show will help create brand awareness, generate leads or sales, set up an amazing networking opportunity, or help you with your business, you should add it to the list.

Decide Which Shows to Attend

Narrow down your master list by deciding how many trade shows are realistic to attend, and ranking the possible trade shows by how well they align with your goals. If you are having difficulty ranking the shows, you can request statistics from each of the possible venues to help you make your decision.

9 Months Before the Trade Show

Still well before your trade show, nine months out is a great time to solidify your goals and plans for specific shows.

Outline Your Goals

Write an outline of your goals for each specific trade show. You may want to increase your brand visibility, launch a new product, or use the trade show as a way to research your closest competitors, depending on the type of show and the expected audience. Make sure your goals are attainable and actionable.

Design Your Exhibit

Design your exhibit with your goals — and prospective show attendees — in mind. If you haven’t already done so, create customer and buyer personas to help you better understand which booth features and activities would resonate most with your specific target audience. Make sure to optimize your booth layout and floorplan while still leaving room for lots of foot traffic. Hire a graphic designer if needed; a great designer can totally transform your trade show booth into something spectacular.

Write Out Your Budget

Your budget will keep your plans reigned in. By defining your budget, you can better prioritize each part of your trade show booth. Write down every expense you expect to have, and the amount you can afford to spend on it. Small expenses quickly add up, so it is smart to keep a little bit of wiggle room in your written budget by staying well under the absolute maximum you can afford. This way, you will be more confident you won’t go over budget because you forgot some miscellaneous supplies or other expenses.

6 Months Before the Trade Show

Six months before a trade show is the time to start really ramping up your event marketing. By creating a buzz about the trade show and your brand, you increase your chances of making a huge impact.

Increase Your Marketing Presence

Implementing a trade show marketing plan is essential to trade show success. Include email marketing, social media marketing, and traditional advertising.

Start Giveaways and Promotions

Giveaways and promotions are pretty much a necessity for exhibitors. They significantly increase foot traffic to your booth. Make sure to leave enough money in your budget to add them to your exhibit!

3 Months Before the Trade Show

Three months to go, and the trade show is right around the corner. Time to make sure everything is ready to go!

Solidify Your Plans

If you have vendors or other contacts you are relying on, make sure to get in contact with them again so that there are no surprises. Likewise, if you need services at the venue like on-site union labor, double check to make sure that these services are scheduled and confirm what the cost will be.

Finalize Itinerary

Plane tickets, rental cars, hotels, booth staff … traveling to out-of-town tradeshows involves a lot of moving parts and sometimes it can be overwhelming. Get your itinerary (and your packing list) ready to go ahead of time to avoid mishaps and miscommunication.

Attend Networking Events

Start attending networking events a few months before the trade show is scheduled so that you already have fresh industry connections before the show.

During and After the Trade Show

During and after the trade show, keep contact information for everyone you meet and network with, and follow up with all leads in the days and weeks after the trade show. Also keep track of as many numbers and figures as you can. This includes how many people stopped at your booth, who followed up, and anything else you can keep track of analytically. A carefully thought-out and detailed post-show report will give you a clearer picture of whether a particular show was worth the investment, as well as help you to refine your trade show marketing goals for next year!

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