Trade shows provide a unique opportunity for businesses to market to potentially thousands of prospective clients.

How does a business take full advantage of that opportunity? It takes a thorough planning process that covers all aspects of preparing for a trade show to maximize the potential benefits.

Staying on top of the many requirements of planning for a trade show is crucial for success. We'll outline the key elements to account for during this process to help you prepare for your next event.

Clearly definite goals and objectives

Defining the goals and objectives of what you want to achieve is listed first for one simple reason: Your goals will inform nearly every other step of planning for a trade show.

From choosing a booth space and designing your exhibit to selecting and training your staff and ordering promotional materials, your objectives for a trade show will factor into the decisions you make.

For example, a business looking to increase their brand presence in an industry should opt for a larger booth space, as well as allocate more of their budget to memorable promotional items. A business concerned with maximizing their ROI may look to make the most out of a smaller booth space.

Additionally, these goals should be realistic and measurable. Having measurable goals allows you to easily evaluate the performance of your business at these events and helps with making decisions on future events.

Trade show goals can include:

  • Producing sales and/or leads
  • Increasing brand awareness
  • Generating media attention and coverage
  • Industry research
  • Developing relationships with clients and industry experts

Set your budget

Setting a budget and understanding the costs associated with trade shows is important for a number of reasons. It prevents over- or underspending on exhibit design and helps with avoiding hidden costs that may plague the unprepared exhibitor.

The following cost breakdown may vary from one business to another, but in general it is a reliable guideline for allocating your budget:

  • 30 percent: booth space
  • 10 percent: exhibit design
  • 20 percent: show services
  • 20 percent: booth staffing and travel
  • 10 percent: shipping and drayage
  • 5 percent: promotional material
  • 5 percent: miscellaneous costs

Stay on top of your planning timeline, as events often offer "early bird" discounts and incentives. Being aware of shipping deadlines will also prevent additional fees.

Trade show planning timeline

Ideally, exhibitors will want as much time as they can get to plan for a trade show. A longer planning timeline results in better preparation, more efficient budgeting and more time to deal with any issues that may come up.

Exhibitors will book shows up to a year before the actual event. On top of having ample preparation time, booking shows well in advance takes advantage of early registration discounts and avoids potential waiting lists.

Make note of all key deadlines leading up to an event. These deadlines can act as ways to break up your planning timeline.

Staff training

Whether you decide to staff in-house or hire outside help, neglecting staff training can result in wasting months of preparation for a show.

Staff represent your business and your brand, and preparing booth staff to articulate your brand messaging/sales pitch, give product demonstrations and generate ROI is the best way to deliver positive results.

Determining the proper number of staff can be tricky. Overstaffing leads to additional expenses and wasted time, while understaffing can create stressful situations on crowded event floors. Learning what works best for your business from past events can ensure future success.

Bring it all together

It should be apparent by now that there are a significant number of things to consider when planning for a trade show. In addition to what we've outlined here, promotional materials, shipping/drayage, emergency preparations, contests and more should all be considered during the planning process.

Just remember: A thorough planning process that covers all aspects of preparing for a trade show is crucial for success