3 Fatal Conference Booth Mistakes that Small Business Owners Make – and How to Avoid Them

There are plenty of good reasons why small business owners should consider presenting at — rather than just attending — conferences. For one, it’s an opportunity to showcase their products and services to a high volume of prospective customers and to attract interest from potential suppliers, vendors, influencers, and other strategic partners.

Tradeshow booth at a tech event

However, some small business owners fail to achieve significant — or in some cases any — return on investment from their conference-booth spend. And while each story has its unique variables and nuances, typically it’s the unfortunate result of making one, some, or all of the following fatal mistakes:

1. Not Being Prepared

Lack of preparation in this context isn’t due to laziness or indifference. On the contrary, it’s because small business owners are so busy, they simply run out of time. The conference that was once months away is suddenly here, and it’s a frenetic and chaotic race against the clock!

While this problem is common, it’s one that small business owners need to avoid if they want to make their conference experience and investment rewarding instead of regrettable. Using online task-management software is a smart idea, as is communicating with trade-show organizers for tips and tools (e.g. checklists, templates, do’s and don’ts, etc.).

2. Not Getting Noticed

Competition for attendee attention at a conference can make day-to-day marketplace competition seem like a proverbial walk in the park. What’s more, it’s common for a herd mentality to take root at conferences, which means that busy booths get even busier (because they’re busy in the first place), while booths with less traffic head in the other direction.

One of the simplest and most affordable ways to get noticed and attract traffic is with professionally designed banner signs. Think of them like resumes. Generic, ordinary, or just plain bad ones tend to end up in the trash folder or shredder, while those that are appealing command a longer deeper look.

Another effective way to stand out is with a contest. To make this work, however, the prize must be compelling. For example, a free iPad is a good giveaway, while a free coffee at Starbucks isn’t. And it’s also vital to hold the draw in advance of the conference coming to a close. For example, if the conference is ending at 5:00pm, then the draw should be held no later than 3:00pm.

3. Going too Big — or too Small

When it comes to choosing the right booth size, sometimes bigger isn’t necessarily better. In fact, it can be counter-productive if most booth visitors would prefer engaging in an informal manner instead of an enclosed conference area.

On the other end of the spectrum, getting a booth that is too small is arguably an even worse mistake. Not only are folks working in the booth crammed and uncomfortable, but the optics are lousy — which repels rather than attracts traffic.

The best way to avoid this pitfall is to see what similar competitors are doing. It’s also wise to contact conference organizers for advice. However, it’s important to keep in mind that organizers are also salespeople, and as such may encourage you to go bigger rather than smaller. Ensure that any guidance along these lines is backed by facts and evidence.

The Bottom Line

Showcasing your small business at conferences can be profitable. But it can also be a major waste of money and time. However, if you’re properly prepared, use smart tactics to get noticed, and (like Goldilocks) get a booth size that is “just right” for your needs, then you’ll be on track for substantial ROI — and a fun experience!


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