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How to Get the Most out of a Trade Show

By Quiet Light
| Reading Time: 10 minutes

In the world of online business and remote work, meeting and networking in person is not always top of mind. Even in our Zoom-focused era, however, trade shows remain an invaluable experience for growth-focused entrepreneurs. In just two or three days, you can get more value than weeks of plugging away at your computer. On the other hand, trade shows can be pricy in terms of time, energy, and resources. In order to get a good return on your investment, it is crucial to know how to get the most out of a trade show as an online business owner.

In this article, we briefly discuss what trade shows are and how they can help your business. Then, we highlight the top things you can do to get the most out of a trade show, including:

  • Choosing the right trade show or conference
  • Assembling a winning team
  • Doing your research and making a plan
  • Being physically prepared
  • Creating an appealing display
  • Looking for networking opportunities
  • Being active on social media
  • Following up

Related Article: How Your Business’s Online Reputation Can Impact Its Value

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What Is a Trade Show?

A trade show is a gathering of companies, professionals, and industry leaders within a certain market, business model, or industry. They are often also called conferences or expos. It is an opportunity for companies to showcase their products or services and connect with attendees. Investors, consultants, possible employees, and members of the press are often present, too, leading to additional opportunities.

Attendees pay an entrance fee. If you plan to have a physical booth, plan to pay even more. Trade shows are held in locations across the world, from New York City to Shenzhen, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, and the Dubai World Trade Centre. As such, attendees often have to add travel costs on top of entrance fees when budgeting. As you can imagine, attending a trade show can quickly get pricy. If you are going to attend a trade show, you had better be getting substantial benefits for your effort.

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How Trade Shows Can Help Your Business

In return for the price of entrance, there are a number of ways attending a trade show can help drive growth for your business. Trade shows can help you:

  • Generate sales
  • Conduct market research
  • Launch new products
  • Generate media attention
  • Network
  • Build company awareness

“Trade shows provide a ton of value even for companies that don’t directly generate sales while there.”

Generate sales

Depending on the nature of your business and the trade show you are attending, you may have an opportunity to generate sales. For example, let’s say you run a SaaS business serving consumer electronics manufacturing companies. By attending a consumer electronics manufacturing trade show, you could potentially meet a ton of new customers.

Not all companies will generate direct sales at a trade show. If you are a B2C (business-to-consumer) ecommerce company selling headphones, there likely wouldn’t be a ton of consumers in attendance. However, that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t meet other important partners. Trade shows provide a ton of value even for companies that don’t directly generate sales while there.

Conduct market research

Trade shows are a great way to learn more about your industry and conduct market research. For starters, your competitors will likely be in attendance. You can check out their booths and products and get to know how their offerings stack up against yours. You can also get a good gauge of overall market trends and demand by talking to industry leaders or attending seminars. For example, if you run a company in the ecommerce sector, you could learn more about ecommerce trends, ecommerce strategies, marketing automation, digital marketing strategies, and more.

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At the same time, trade shows are a great opportunity to get feedback on your products and offerings. Customers, industry leaders, and others can interact with your products or services and share their thoughts and valuable insights. This information is invaluable as you scale and optimize your offerings.

Launch a new product

Trade shows are also a great place to launch new products. You can make direct sales, meet distribution partners, or demo your product and get feedback. Launching a new product at a trade show can help you generate buzz and bring attention to your company.

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Generate media attention

Journalists and press personnel are often in attendance at trade shows. They report on industry trends, new products, or new relationships formed. If you have something noteworthy to share, trade shows are a great way to get your message out and create media attention for your company.


Trade shows are a gold mine when it comes to networking opportunities. There are likely people in attendance from all corners of your industry. Given this, you could meet new business partners, find product suppliers, hire top talent, meet investors, and more. For example, if you own an ecommerce business or work in the online retail industry, you could meet a digital marketing firm, supply chain partners, ecommerce professionals, business leaders, and more if you choose the right ecommerce conferences to attend.

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“Trade shows are a gold mine when it comes to networking opportunities.”

Build company awareness

Lastly, trade shows are a great way to build general company awareness. Through networking, media attention, events, speeches, and more, you can get your company name out there and increase your visibility within your industry.

How to Make the Most of a Trade Show

While trade shows can be a huge boost to your online business, success is never guaranteed. It is possible to take on the expense and effort of attending a conference and walk away without any tangible benefit. In order to maximize your return, it is important to know how to make the most of any trade show that you attend. Below, we’ll go over some of the key things you can do to increase your chance of success.

1. Get clear on your objectives

First, it is crucial to get clear on your objectives. Why are you attending the trade show in the first place? What do you hope to achieve? If you’re doing it because somebody told you trade shows are a “good thing to do”, you will likely come away disappointed. Not knowing your specific objectives is a great way to come away having accomplished nothing.

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Perhaps you are doing it because you want to meet new suppliers or supply chain professionals in the ecommerce industry. Or, maybe you want to check up on the latest innovations, latest trends, or new business models in your market. Perhaps you are doing it simply for customer acquisition, or to attend specific panel discussions.

Identify what your business needs are and how a trade show can help you achieve your goals. If a trade show doesn’t make sense for your company based on your objectives, don’t waste the time and energy to go. Again, trade shows can be expensive. Make them pay off by getting clear on why you’re going in the first place.

“Identify what your business needs are and how a trade show can help you achieve your goals.”

2. Choose the Right Trade Show or Conference

Not all trade shows will be right for your company, even if they serve your industry. Attending the wrong trade show is another surefire way to come away with nothing for your efforts (except a few pamphlets and business cards that wind up in the trash). To be successful, you must carefully choose the trade shows that help you meet your business objectives.

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There are several things to think about when choosing the right trade show. Of course, criteria vary depending on your objectives. For starters, make sure that your target audience will be in attendance. Ecommerce entrepreneurs hoping to connect with new suppliers should choose an ecommerce conference that is known to have ecommerce suppliers in attendance. If you hope you connect with partners such as digital marketing agencies, make sure that the conferences you attend have plenty of talent to choose from.

It is also important to choose trade shows that fall within your budget. While it may be tempting to attend the top ecommerce conferences like the Retail Innovation Conference Expo in Chicago, the World Retail Congress in Paris, or the White Label World Expo in Las Vegas, these conferences may fall outside of your budget. If so, look for smaller, more affordable trade shows closer to home.

3. Assemble a Winning Team

If you are going to attend a trade show, it makes sense to put your best foot forward while you’re there. Depending on the size of your business and your objectives at the show, not everyone on your team may be able to attend.

Think about which team members would best represent your business. At the same time, consider which skill sets complement each other. If you are hoping to sell your products or connect with distributors, a sales representative would likely be helpful. If you have a technical product or service, a tech specialist could be helpful. Consider your objectives and assemble your best team to help achieve your goals.

“Making the most of a trade show requires you to do your research ahead of time and develop a plan.”

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4. Do Your Research and Make a Plan

Trade shows can be overwhelming. Showing up without a plan is a great way to get lost in the noise and come away with nothing to show for your efforts. Making the most of a trade show requires you to do your research ahead of time and develop a plan.

Find out who will be at the trade show

For starters, find out who will be at the trade show. Which suppliers, industry experts, or individuals do you want to talk to? Which keynote speakers are you particularly interested in seeing? Are there any media outlets you want to get your message out to?

Know which booths you want to stop by and which sessions or speeches you want to attend. By figuring out who will be at the trade show, you can plan your schedule accordingly. This will help you maximize your time at the conference and achieve your objectives.

Prep your team

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Once you assemble your trade show “A team”, make sure everyone is well prepared. Delegate roles and responsibilities. Every person on your team should have a clear idea of what it is they are there to do and what they hope to accomplish. Trade shows are large and your team may be split up. Establish communication methods and expectations ahead of time to help keep everyone on the same page.

Know the trade show

Trade shows can be chaotic. A lot is happening all at once in many different places. If you don’t have some awareness of what is going on and where things are happening, you can easily miss out on great opportunities.

Take some time before the event begins to learn about who will be there. Know which booths or vendors you want to visit. Note which speakers or sessions you want to attend. If you are bringing a team, plan out the events or sessions they will attend.

Given the size of some trade shows, it may be helpful to study the map of the trade show ahead of time. Know where your booth will be (if you have one) and where different events are taking place.

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5. Be Physically Prepared

Trade shows are often a long and demanding two or three days. To make the most of the event, it is important to show up physically prepared.

For starters, make sure you and your team dress the part on all occasions. Wear appropriate clothes for whatever event or time of day you are attending. At the same time, keep in mind that you will be spending a lot of hours standing, so wear comfortable shoes. Your feet and legs will thank you later.

While it may pay to socialize into the evenings on occasion, make sure you do your best to get good sleep. Drinking and being social is part of the experience, but don’t go overboard. Getting a little carried away and making a fool of yourself is a bad look for you and your company.

6. Create an Appealing Display

If your business is going to bring a display or booth, make sure it is appealing. Put some thought into creating a welcoming environment that draws trade show attendees in. Consider including some chairs or a lounge; people will naturally gravitate in your direction as they welcome the opportunity to get off their feet for a second. Make sure your brochures and handouts are informative and visually appealing.

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“Plan ahead to maximize your networking opportunities.”

7. Look for Networking Opportunities

One of the main benefits of trade shows is the networking opportunities they afford. Ecommerce events and trade shows are filled with industry professionals. You never know when you are going to meet a new business partner, supplier, vendor, or employee. Plan ahead to maximize your networking opportunities.

Consider staying at the hotel affiliated with the trade show. More attendees are likely to be doing the same. This creates opportunities to meet and network, whether it’s in the elevator, at the bar, standing in the check-in line, or at the pool.

Long before the trade show takes place, look up who is attending and make a list of whom you want to meet. Reach out to them, let them know that you will be there, and set up one-on-one meetings. Suggest breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Or, grab a coffee together. Bookings at the best restaurants fill up quickly, so consider making a reservation long in advance. If you don’t have a dinner meeting set up, you can still make a reservation and find someone to join you at the conference.

Lastly, make the most of the official networking opportunities. Attend mixers and social hours, and take the time to mingle with other trade show attendees. You never know whom you will meet.

8. Be Active on Social Media

All of the in-person buzz at a trade show is mirrored on social media. Don’t waste the opportunity to extend your reach and connect with more people. Post using the official trade show hashtag. Consider doing a social media giveaway or contest to drive people to your booth. At the same time, use social media to see who else is at the trade show. Reach out or respond to their posts to start a conversation or set up a meeting.

social shopping experience

9. Follow Up

At the end of a trade show, you will likely have a stack of new business cards and a number of new contacts on your phone. If you take no further action, you are likely to miss out on opportunities. Every contact you make has likely made dozens of others. Stand out by following up with them promptly.

“Show up ready to work and follow up on all new opportunities.”


Trade shows can be expensive. At the same time, they can be a great place to generate sales, launch new products, network, learn about your industry and competitors, and get the word out about your business. But in order to capitalize, you must come prepared. Get clear on your objectives, make a plan, and prep your team. Network, network, network! Show up ready to work and follow up on all new opportunities. Played well, attending the right trade show can broaden your network and take your business to the next level.

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