As a small business owner, attending an industry conference is one of the most effective tools for networking and driving customers. Whether you come as a participant or a vendor, the whole purpose of a conference is to learn while building connections that could lead into sales.
In order to actually benefit from this immediate, in-person contact, your business needs to make a statement. You need to catch the attention, curiosity and interest in a crowded room of people who are distracted by dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of other businesses—not to mention swarms of attendees.
In other words, it needs to leave a memorable impression on those who encounter your brand. Luckily, you don’t have to splurge on a light show or artificial intelligence experience to do that. Here are five budget-friendly strategies to help you stand out in a crowded room.
Update your business cards
While most companies have transitioned to paperless, one tactile, “old-school” medium continues to be an essential marketing tool—the business card. This is more than just a tool for sharing your professional details and contact information. It’s a personalized way to establish rapport with someone who might need your products or services, and ensures that you don’t get lost in a sea of connections if you just find each other on LinkedIn instead.
Keeping updated business cards on-hand at a conference makes you seem proactive, organized and credible too, all of which are important qualities to make a good impression. The key is making your card stand out with great design, says Ahmad Kareh, of Twistlab Marketing, and a Forbes Business Council Member.
He explains, “A business card is, in many cases, the first tangible impression of your business, and it's much more personal than an email or a LinkedIn invitation. Beyond that, business cards that are creative and stand out aren't only sticky and memorable, but they get shared with more and more people, continuing to promote your business and brand.”
Set appointments in advance
Time at a conference is a finite commodity, which is why it’s critical to coordinate appointments before the conference starts. This allows you to make the most of your time there, while ensuring that you can prepare for the meeting, doing research and outlining a basic agenda, as needed.
If you’re not sure who to meet with, request a list of conference attendees, if you haven’t gotten one already—most sponsors and booth holders do. If you’re not privy to that list, reach out to current customers and clients, or anyone in the pipeline; someone may live nearby or be attending the event. Finally, post on social media, using the conference hashtag; you never know who might see it and want to meet.
Design a stand-out brochure
A unique, bold and fine-tuned brochure design will communicate the information you want customers to remember the most, while being organized and memorable. “Whether customers are roaming booths at a trade show, or stopping at your storefront, [brochures] help you educate and sell to potential customers,” according to the MyCreativeShop guide, How to Make Your Brochure Design Stand Out.
Not to mention, a brochure, like a business card, is one of the few tangible items people will leave with as a reminder of you and your business. However, as MyCreativeShop explains, “it can be hard to attract the attention and be distinctive enough to be memorable. That’s where design comes into the picture.”
If you’re new to brochure design, you can make an impact with the following tips.
- Identify the objective/goal for this brochure.
- Include a prominent, trackable call-to-action to enhance conversation rates.
- Write strong and persuasive text within the copy of the brochure.
- Maintain a simple and clean design that won’t distract from the content.
- Use impactful, vibrant colors and images to stick in the mind of a customer.
Host a MeetUp at a nearby bar
During a conference, attendees are bouncing between keynote seminars to breakout sessions, but in the evenings the time is often less structured and more adaptable. Capitalize on this by hosting a MeetUp at a local bar near the conference venue.
“There remain unique advantages to getting a group of like-minded individuals together in the same room to simply talk,” says Thomas Smale, Founder of FE International, from business opportunities to knowledge-sharing.
Plus, hosting an event like this can be done on a budget, too. Smale says, “Many bars and restaurants, particularly in financial districts, have private rooms that can be used for no fee as long as your guests are buying food or drinks.”
Find a location, invite customers and others within your network, and expand your invite to social media if you want a larger group.
Bring a partner with you
As a vendor, you need to be able to manage your booth and interact with other people at the conference, but you can’t always do both at the same time. To make the greatest impact during your time there, bring a trusted employee, colleague or associate who can share the load with you.
As you socialize around the room and connect with other business owners and potential clients, the person at your booth can be doing the same. That’s why it’s important to bring someone who knows the business and industry. If you’re a solopreneur, bring someone who can support your business and speak knowledgeably on related topics.
Make an impact at your next conference
If you’re spending the time and money to attend a conference, make sure you walk away with great new contacts and sales leads. Use these ideas to do exactly that, making an impact on everyone you meet and anyone who stops by your booth.
Jessica Thiefels is an entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting. She’s been writing for more than 10 years and has been featured in top publications, including Forbes, Entrepreneur and Fast Company. She also writes for Business Insider, Virgin, Glassdoor and more. Follow her on Twitter @JThiefels and connect on LinkedIn.