A big portion of my work comes from clients in the tactical and law enforcement industry. This past week I attended a trade show for my industry. I knew this was going to be an amazing opportunity to network, make connections, and, fingers crossed, make some new clients. I realized I needed to come up with a strategy that would set me up for success and assure that I got the most out of my experience. A made a list of ideas to try out. I took the ones that worked the best and developed this simple five step plan that will make your next trade show visit a beneficial one.
Industry trade shows are pretty intense and can be intimidating. If you are going to one with hopes of promoting yourself and strumming up new business, you don't want to do so blindly. The beauty of going to an industry trade show as a photographer is that every company or brand there is a potential client because everyone uses images to market themselves. Without a positive strategy you could end up spending a ton of money and walking around for miles and miles a day with nothing to show for it in the end. Obviously, the quality of your work will play a part in your success, but everyone knows that your business skills also play a major role in your success as well. Hopefully you can take these tips and apply it to your next trade show visit.
Plan, Plan, and then Plan Again
I think one of the most crucial things in anything business related is planning. Having a plan gives you structure and gives you something to work towards. Without a plan you may very well end up wasting hours, if not days, at a trade show. Most large trade shows have a list that show you every exhibitor that will be in attendance. These list are usually available long before the actual event is held. What I do with this information is make my own list of potential clients I want to try to connect with. The first list I make is based on location. Most companies would much rather work with a photographer that is local to their area so they don't have to pay out as much in travel cost. My first list is always potential clients in my state. By mentioning to them that I also live in Georgia, I instantly create common ground with them. My second list is made up of "dream clients." These are usually clients that I know are a long shot but having the opportunity to work with them is worth taking the risk. Once you have created these lists it's a good idea to go ahead and try to reach out to someone at the company via email or a phone call. It's always going to be better to set up a meeting beforehand rather than to try to get one at the actual event. It is, however, sometimes difficult to get a response this way, so don't be discouraged if they seem to ignore you. You'll get another chance at the show.
You are also going to want to set up your travel arrangements and hotel arrangements as far in advance as possible. If you try to book a hotel last minute at a large event that will bring in thousands of travelers, you may find there aren't many, if any, rooms available. You could end up having to stay in the next city over and that is just going to cost you more money and time. Trade shows often have official event hotels that offer discount for show attendees and exhibitors. These hotels will often offer free transportation to and from the event as well. This can end up saving you a good bit of your hard earned money.
Create A Memorable Leave Behind
Business cards are great and serve a purpose, but they are somewhat lacking. The truth is, you may only get 15 to 30 seconds to speak to someone. If all you have is a business card to give them it's just going to get lost in the stack of the other 500 business cards they get during the week. We are creatives, so let's be creative! What I did was create a small eight page booklet. It was basically a mini-portfolio. I wanted to make sure that it was visually intriguing as well as informative. I wanted to get across what I bring to the table and what makes me good at what I do. Below you can see my cover and some of the spreads from my booklet. I was able to design my own booklet for the most part, but I also used some template pages that I got from graphicriver.net. If you aren't too savvy when it comes to graphic design, it would definitely be worth the investment to get a graphic designer to put something together for you. I was able to get 1,000 8.5x5.5 inch booklets printed for less than $700, including shipping, using nextdayflyers.com. You don't have to make the exact same thing I did, but definitely create something memorable. Almost every person I talked to would ask me if I had a card. The great thing about my booklet was I would say, "I have something even better," and give them my booklet. Eighty percent of the time this would cause them to spend an extra 2-5 minutes talking to me and asking me questions. This was great and allowed me to build even more rapport. The more face time you can get with someone, the more memorable you will be. That's the key here. You want to be remembered.
*Don't pass out your leave behinds like they are flyers for a rock concert. You don't want to solicit. Hand these out when someone ask for a buisness card.
Make Sure You Are Speaking To the Correct Person
If you aren't able to set up a meeting in advance, you always have the option of approaching a company at their booth. There will usually be someone at a booth who will come up and greet you and ask if they can help you with anything. The majority of employees at these events are in sales and have absolutely nothing to do with their companies marketing and photography. The last thing you want to do is give your pitch to someone and then have them say, "I'm not really the person you need to be talking to, I'm in sales." Or even worse, they hear you out, take your information, put on a nice face, and then throw it away when you walk off. You want to make sure you are connecting with the right person. After many failed and babbling attempts, I finally developed an opening sentence that I can use every time. First, I always smile and introduce myself. Then I say, "Is there anyway that I could speak to someone or get some contact information for someone in marketing? Preferably whoever is in charge of your photography. I am a photographer and I would love to say hello and introduce myself." This question will usually get you connected with the director of marketing, art director, creative director, or whoever happens to handle photography for the business. More often than not, I was able to speak directly with them and tell them about myself and what I do. You always want to end the conversation by asking them if you can get a business card or contact information so you can follow up after the show. This is all about networking. Unless you are a vendor, you most likely don't want to be doing officlal business at a show. You just want to introduce yourself, get some contact info, and give your contact info.
If you are an introvert, the previous tip is going to be one of the hardest things you'll ever do. It's extremely intimidating to walk up to a massive trade show booth filled with employees, most of them already engaged in conversation with well-dressed business men and women in suits and ties. If you are like me with piercings and tattoos, you can sometimes feel out of place or out of your element in situations like these. The truth is you're just going to have to suck it up and do work. If you can't approach someone with confidence you might as well go home. Being confident can be your best selling point. Don't come off cocky, but be sure to show how passionate you are about what you do. Make them believe in you, because you believe in yourself. When you are stumbling over you words and unsure about what you are saying, they are going to assume you are unsure about the services you can provide. This all gets easier over time. This past week I bit the bullet and walked up to one of the largest companies at the trade show, one from my "dream client" list, and ended up being told they wanted me to come to their office and talk to their creative team. The only reason that happened is because I showed them that I believe in myself and feel like I have a lot to offer. Confidence can be one of your greatest tools.
Always Follow Up
Last but not least, always follow up. Most likely they forgot about you 20 minutes after you left. Always follow up with an email and then possibly a phone call. They won't even think about contacting a photographer until the need for one arises. It could end up being months later before that need happens. The best thing you can do is follow up once things have settled down a little so you are on their mind during a less hectic time. Don't get crazy or annoying, but keep in contact with them. The idea is to build relationships. People like working with people that they know and trust. Understand that this isn't an overnight process, but you should embrace the possibility it holds.
I hope these tips help you in the future. I'm sure they can be applied to other areas outside of trade shows. As always I'd love to hear your thoughts or questions in the comments below.