Trade Show and Expo Strategy for Photographers
Trade Show and Expo Strategy for Photographers. This is what I’ve learned what worked for me, what didn’t (so how I could do better next time), how to prepare for, and ace that trade show or expo when you get a booth! Here are tips on which shows to sign up, preparing for your big day(s), setting up, during the show, breaking down, and after the show!
Trade Shows for Photographers: Which Shows to Sign Up
Here are some factors to consider and home work to do before signing up for a specific trade show.
Are Expos Right for You?
Before we even get into choosing the right show, you should determine if shelling out a bunch of money to attend, set up, and buy a space, whether doing expos are trade show makes sense for you and your photography business.
If you are personable, have a new brand you want to market, meeting clients face to face is important, or you have an established brand that you want to keep a dominant place in the industry, trade shows and expos are a perfect place to market your business. On the other hand, if you are not really a people person, or if your market generally hangout more online than face-to-face, all that effort and expense of trade shows maybe better spent on online advertising. Exhibiting at trade shows can be anywhere from $250 (super cheap, local smaller events) ~ $5000+ (including your booth design), so calculate how much you would estimate spending, and how far that would go on online ads like Facebook ads, and make sure it makes financial sense.
For example, for my City Hall wedding business, marketing on Facebook is far more beneficial than going to a big fancy bridal show. Whereas, for my boudoir business, a big fancy bridal show is amazing to meet the brides-to-be, talk to them to gain understanding about their interest level, their vision, and all of that.
What Type of Show?
Make sure you choose the shows that makes sense for the type of photography you do. Here are some examples:
Newborn/Family = Birth and baby fairs, local moms group fairs
Wedding + Engagement = Bridal and wedding shows, “girls night out” shows
Boudoir = Bridal show, kink shows, tattoo expo, “girls night out” shows
These are the primary photos I take and expos I look for, but you should look into all the types of expos that are out there to find the right kind of shows.
This may seem obvious, but choose a show that’s in your market and where your “ideal client” would go to. For example, my most recent show was about 60 miles south of my “ideal” market. It made a big difference! Going there meant most people are from that area, which means if they want to book a session, they are most likely going to want to stick to their area. It could take up to 1.5 hours each way for me to go on days with traffic! (I chose this show because it was cheaper than other shows.) At the end, I would have saved more money in the long run with travel fees if I stuck to do a show right in my area.
If you get the chance, visit a similar show, by the same company, before you commit. Many trade show companies have multiple events a year in different locations. You can either attend as a guest (amazing opportunity to network with the vendors there and find partners!) or as a photographer for the event! You would still get exposure if they list you as the photographer and share your photos after the event, but don’t have to commit to buying a booth before you check the event out.
When you get a quote, ask whether the following is included:
Tables and chairs
Carpeting, if the floor is concrete or something equally unattractive
Email list (some events will provide the emails of all attendees after the show!)
Dividers between booths
Availability of food and drinks
Number of days included (some shows are longer than a day)
Some shows have all of these included, or some have none and only provide the basic space. Don’t fall in the trap of finding a 2 day show that’s cheap, but learn that you have to pay for everything else!
If the price is still pretty high and is out of your range, see if the event organizers are willing to do a trade. Would they give you a discount for photographing the event or another event? It’s worth asking!
How to Prepare for the Trade Shows
So, once you choose a show, you book and pay for it. Let the fun but hard work begin!
Imagine your dream booth, and create all the items you will need
You may already have a vision in your head, or you may have to go on Pinterest to find your dream booth design. First, never mind the cost. Dream big. Create a vision board on word, paper/pen, or on Pinterest!
From there, figure out how much things would cost and compare that with your budget. What’s out of budget? Can you get it cheaper on Facebook market place or Craigslist? Sometimes there are “Buy Nothing” groups you can ask to rent for that day from local people. Or, can you find a cheaper alternative? (E.g. I thought of buying fresh flowers, but realized that buying fake flowers that are still gorgeous is cheaper, and I can re-use it over and over!)
Imagine what would be in the booth that you would want to see walking in as a potential client?
These are things like flyers, business cards, and other specific displays.
For me, what I usually have in a booth:
Coupon cards to hand out
Informational cards to hand out
Business cards - these are great to hand out to other vendors to network!
Pricing sheet (I don’t like to give out pricing sheets to handout, so I usually have 3 copies of my pricing sheet laminated, so people can view them.)
Sign up sheet on iPad and laptop (usually have an excel sheet with 3-4 fields: Name, Email, Wedding Date/Due Date, Etc, and budget)
Paper sign up sheet on a clipboard and pen (handy when I am busy talking to someone, or when I have to step away from my booth)
Sign that says “enter to win a free photo shoot raffle!” - make this sign as clear and big as possible!
Sign that says “Sorry I stepped away! Please sign up here to enter a raffle for a free photo shoot!”
I also have printed images of my work besides what’s hanging on the wall
What I’ve never done, but want to come up with for my next show is something interactive. Booths that have something for people to do (like a photo booth for selfies) tend to be more fun and attract people. If you have a fun idea for that, definitely include it (and share in the comments below!)
Print everything you need to right away
A lot of what I mentioned above needs to be custom ordered, printed and shipped to your place. Make sure to do it well in advance to avoid stress and express shipping fees!
Create a packing list and bring the items!
Here are some things on my packing list for trade shows:
Clamps (handy for clamping curtains and table cloths in place)
iPad (download gallery beforehand, have a sign-up sheet, or website in different tabs)
Laptop (same purpose as iPad, just a backup)
Camera (to take pictures of your gorgeous booth!)
Sign up sheets (also back up on top of your laptop and iPad sign up sheet)
All the decor items (for me, it’s usually flowers, vases, photos to display, lights)
All the marketing materials
Chair (if using your own)
Foldable Table (if using your own)
Chargers (phone, iPad, laptop, etc)
Extra change of clothes
Extra batteries for anything that needs batteries
Make a day-of plan
What is your 30 second pitch?
Come up with a concise, and quick explanation of your packages, what makes you different from competitors, and any special discounts or promos you have for that day!
What are you going to do when someone says they are ready to buy?
Don’t look caught off guard when someone says “let’s do it!” I want to book now with a deposit! Have a plan ready. Do you have a Square reader? PayPal? Venmo? Booking form? Have all of that ready.
Are you going to do a raffle? Special promo? Incentive for people to sign-up for your email list? How would that work?
Any of these are fun to do, and gets people to sign-up to learn more about your services. And it’s super important! Most people are usually bombarded with information and “just browsing”, so won’t be ready to buy on the spot. Make sure you have a plan of collecting people’s contact information!
What I love is to do a raffle. You can do a live one - which is exciting since you get to talk to the winner right away - or you can tell everyone what time you will do the drawing, and you will be emailing or texting them if they are the winner. Whatever the draw is, make sure you have a plan and your marketing materials/signs reflect that. Some people will stop at your booth because they see that sign!
Another tip for raffle: Don’t raffle off what you are selling. : ) That kind of makes people not want to buy, and want to wait to see if they win first. :) I ALWAYS follow up with non-winners too, to give them an extra discount for entering. More on that for what to do after the expo.
Have a follow up plan
Have this plan before the event, and tweak as needed after. Having an email drafted already to send to your new subscribers really saves time and energy for after the expo! Not only that, but you will have a clear end goal in mind when you interact with people at the expo.
Tips on Setting Up the Expo Booth
Go the day before
Go there as soon as you can start setting up! If it’s the day before, definitely do it!! Some places also let you As you can see in the picture to the left, I came a day before the show to this bridal fair, and realized that the table and chair I rented was definitely not enough - it was not cute, and it definitely didn’t do the space justice. I also found out how gross the carpet was, so I knew to bring a vacuum and another rug to put over the rented carpet (they ended up vacuuming it before the show, so I didn’t use the rug). Especially if this is the first show you are doing, or the space you have is bigger than usual, go check it out the day before so you have time to bring more stuff on the real day.
Pack things in plastic tubs
Bring everything in plastic tubs so you can transport it easily, and you can just hide those under the table/table cloth during the show. I also stashed my snacks in there during the show for easy reach. Also, bring one of these foldable wagons. Many shows will have people helping you, but it’s definitely not enough for them to help everyone at once. These wagons carry a lot, and store flat, and it’s a must at shows! (You will see that most everyone has one of these. :))
Once you set up everything you have, make a check list of what you still need
If you have time to come back, make sure you have that list and bring what you need. If you don’t have a chance to come back and add things, at least you will have this list for the next show!
Ideal Set Up
Ideally, you should walk towards your booth from every direction of where attendees will walk and see something eye catching. I totally didn’t do that in the last show, and regret it. On one side, there was a huge sign from the other booth blocking my booth’s view, and from one side, people couldn’t see much of my booth at all. So when designing your booth, have either a sign, a table or something that people can see from every angle!
What To Do During the Show
This part should be easy if you did all the steps of “what to do to prepare for the show”. Just enjoy meeting new people, show them what you have to offer, and meet + greet!
Sit or stand?
For me, I do both. When I have the energy, I stand and offer the free raffle prize to people walking by. When I am getting a little tired, I sit down sometimes but make eye contact and smile at everyone, and approach if someone looks interested. The standing approach is definitely more effective in getting people to stop at my booth, but sitting down approach I feel like I get people to stop at my booth only if they truly are interested. Either way, I always kept a smile, and I think that’s the most important part!
Raffle + Announcements
As I said before, I do both live and timed/no need to be present raffles. I like the live ones because you really get people (including myself) excited. If the event has an announcer, have the announcer say “XXX Photography is giving out a free photo shoot in 5 minutes! Must be present to win!” and have as many people sign up as possible in that 5 min and do a live drawing.
For the end of the day raffles, you can let people who enter know what time you will be drawing the names, and to keep an eye out on their emails/texts around that time.
I like to collect email addresses in Excel spreadsheet to limit my time after the show entering each and every email in my online email list. Some people have sheets of printed paper to put in a box. That’s more work, but I think people are still traditional and when they see the box, they know it’s a raffle.
Luckily, I didn’t encounter that many people who just gave you the “don’t bother me” look - they are at an expo for what they are looking for. But sometimes people already have a photographer and say things like “no thanks!” It’s just part of the gig, don’t let that get you down! They did you a favor by not saying your 30 second speech to someone that really wasn’t going to need your services. Keep on smiling and greet the next person!
Forget the disinterested people right away, and focus on the interested people! Some people just wants to sign up for the freebie, but some people truly will be interested. Take note of who they are, what you talked about, and make sure to keep their notes/info in a separate place. If you have an electronic sign-up sheet, make a separate sheet (on your phone or where no one else can see) noting their name and notes. If you have paper sheets, make a little mark on their paper with some notes and keep them separate.
Tips on Breaking Down
First, congratulations! You did it!! Now, to the least fun part. Most events will give you a breakdown instruction and a set time. Follow that! If you are really antsy to get out of there, and things are super slow, get ahead by moving your car closer to the loading zone (if allowed), or start packing little stuff in your plastic bins.
Besides that, just pack things as you packed to come to the event, don’t forget to save your email list! That’s your golden ticket. Put everything in that foldable wagon (you will probably have to make multiple trips) and go home! Go get a huge burrito (or whatever your binge food of choice) with a beer and celebrate!
What Matters Most: What To Do After the Trade Show
While it’s still fresh in your head, write down what worked and what didn’t, and how to change what didn’t work on your next show. This will be so helpful on your next show and make it even more of a success!
Like from my last show, these are my notes as what I should do next time:
Print out a most relevant blog post to hand out (for this bridal/boudoir booth, I wish I printed out “why you don’t have to be skinny, young, or not awkward to take amazing boudoir photos” printed to hand out to everyone who told me “I’m too fat for this”.
Make an album people can flip through, want to open and stand there a little longer to look at
I learned about 2 other fairs that were supposedly better than this one, so check out those next
Set up my booth so there’s something to see from every angle of where people are walking
Bring other types of photos (couples, engagement, family) because although my booth was there for boudoir, there were many people looking for engagement and even family and maternity photos!
Have the raffle sign bigger, and much clearer
Add “budget” on sign-up sheet to gauge if they are in my price range
Follow up, follow up, follow up
THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART!!
When I get home, I immediately send everyone who signed up an email thanking them for stopping by, and it was so nice to meet them. I remind them of my special offers (I extend the deadline to mid-night that night), and any upcoming promos, or events. I usually already have this email drafted before the event, so all I have to do is import the contacts and hit send. That’s all I have the energy for after an all day event talking to people!
When I am done with that, I usually follow up personally with those that seemed super interested to take the conversation further. It’s my general practice to follow up again 2 days later, and then again in 2 days, which will be my final follow up. What goes into those communications is a whole other topic/blog post!
There you have it!
Was this helpful? Having your own booth maybe intimidating, costly, and exhausting, but you got this!! If you are a social person, you would truly enjoy meeting your potential clients, and finding your ideal clients by meeting them. There’s no other opportunity like it! Have fun, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions!
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