Showcasing at conventions isn’t really an option anymore, especially if you’re still working to build your business or audience. For many startups, buying booth space or being part of a panel (or several) at an industry conference or convention is the key to their success. At the same time, if you don’t approach these conventions correctly you could go home very much in “the hole” financially.
So, how do you make sure you do well?
Think Inside the Box
Aim to attend conventions and conferences that are centered on your niche/industry. For instance, if you’re an independent game designer, you’ll want space at PAX, GenCon and/or one of the *many* Comic Cons. If your business is books, you’ll want space at the American Library Association Conference. You want to put yourself right smack in the middle of people who are looking for what you have to offer.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t spread your resources a little bit from time to time. For example, if you’re an investment planner, offering a panel on how to find investors for your projects would go over well at just about any “creatives” convention.
Go Big and Small
You won’t be able to spend the whole year traveling from con to con if you ever hope to have time to build your business. It’s better to start with two: one big, national convention (like SXSW or CES) and one local/regional (choosing, for example, the Rose City Comic Con over San Diego). This way you get your name out nationally and build your reputation locally at the same time. Never underestimate the loyalty of a local client base and audience.
Don’t Limit Yourself to Your Booth
Your booth isn’t the only way to get attention at a convention. It’s one of the best ways to give individual attention, yes, but there are other ways to get eyes on your name and product. Here are just a few:
2. Buy advertising space in the program (both the physical program and in the guidebook app).
3. Contribute something to the convention’s swag bag. It can be something as simple as a coupon with a discount code or a travel sized version of your product (if that’s possible).
4. Become an official sponsor of the convention so that your logo appears on all of the signage and promotional materials.
5. Offer swag of your own—not only do convention attendees love free shirts and tote bags, more and more companies are choosing not to offer them (it’s a tough expense to swallow). In addition to claiming them, attendees will usually wear the shirts and carry the bags around the event. Make sure it’s good swag so that people will ask about it (and visit you on purpose).
Conventions don’t stop once all of the attendees have gone home. Make sure after the convention is over, that you follow up with the convention organizers. Most convention organizers utilize at least one mobile event app that tracks the convention attendees’ actions and preferences. You can use this information to gauge how well you did in the overall scheme of that convention, which will help you figure out if you got a good enough ROI to return to the event next year.
What matters most is that you go and that you bring your A-game. There’s more to showcasing at a convention than sitting behind a table and hoping you’ll get noticed!