Despite an imminent Brexit, the majority (78%) of UK small businesses (SMEs) are eager to scale up and grow, yet our research with Enterprise Nation also found that (41%) view not being able to find the right partner a significant barrier. So how do you go about attracting potential business partners?

Trade shows are a fantastic way to interact with prospective business partners, as well as gain exposure and spot new innovations. For smaller companies, though, it can be difficult to get noticed, especially among companies with big marketing budgets that can afford an all-singing, all-dancing stand and competition giveaways. And even when you collect a handful of business cards or a few prospective leads, if they don’t lead to anything afterwards, has it really been worth the investment?

It’s important to look at these events as an arena for building valuable, long-lasting relationships that can help scale your business. With that in mind, activity shouldn’t just start and stop during the show itself – there’s a lot of important work to be done before and afterwards too.

Here are some simple tips that can help your business stand out:

Before show

  • Fail to plan, plan to fail: Given the sheer amount of trade shows available, it is important to be aware of the different audiences – buyers and partners, etc. – in attendance. Preparing representatives on the stand to be able to effectively communicate your business’s offering to different audiences and identify where the opportunities lie, is essential. For example, what are the short-term opportunities (e.g. immediate sales)? And how you can maximise the wider opportunities too (e.g. business partnerships)? Who is best placed to talk to these on the day?
  • The sooner you start networking the better: Identifying relevant parties before the trade show and arranging an on-stand chat or coffee meeting can give your business a good head-start. Adopting a less is more approach and prioritising quality interactions over quantity should also remain top of mind when engaging with prospects.

During show

  • Be prepared to listen: Avoid overloading your audience with too much information. There’s nothing wrong with pitching your product; however, you need to make sure representatives strike the right balance between talking and listening. While the pitch is important, understanding where booth visitors are from and what they’re looking for can drive stronger engagement than simply rolling out the company pitch every time.
  • Nail your stand etiquette: Booth labelling is the first thing prospective partners will see when walking past your stand, so it should stand out and be easy to understand. Clear signposting that highlights words and actions that will attract different targets groups has the potential to boost booth traffic. Simple things like smiling and acknowledging each person that walks by can make a real difference also.

After show

  • Don’t wait too long to make follow-ups: So, you’ve had a great chat with someone at the show and picked up their contact details. Don’t wait too long after to follow up with your new business prospect. The rule of thumb is usually between three to seven days after the trade show, when everyone’s memory is still fresh. Anything after that, and you risk of falling into the post-trade show blackhole.
  • Keep an open mind: No one partnership is ever the same. That’s why we offer bespoke partnerships to small businesses, so we can support them at any stage of their product lifecycle. A certain level of flexibility is often required when embarking on such a journey to ensure both parties understand the product roadmap, are flexible about the direction of the product and the different partnership options available. Part of our role includes looking at your product in a different way, perhaps exploring new and different audiences, and analysing potential routes to market.

Applying some of these simple steps will help you make the most out of your presence at trade shows and, more importantly, build lasting connections and partnerships that would have not been possible otherwise.

By Dave Challis, VP Health Innovation, RB