When I started looking through the analytics to determine the top ten 2018 TradeshowGuy blog posts, I faced somewhat of a dilemma. Many of the “most-viewed” posts of the year are not from 2018. Do I include those or not? Perhaps the best approach is to create two lists: one that includes the most-viewed, and the other narrows the list down to the most-viewed 2018-published blog posts.
Take a look – starting at Number One:
SWOT Analysis for Tradeshows. This was posted in February of 2015, but still manages to get more traffic than any other post. And interestingly, more than half of those visits come from out of the US.
What do you get out of volunteerism? What is important to you, important enough that you would donate your time, energy and skill to an endeavor? This week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee muses on volunteerism.
“Write a book!” they said, so I did. Two, in fact. Here’s the short version of how it unfolded.
As a kid I thought the best job ever was to be a Beatle. The second-best job would be a comic book artist. But the third-best job? Being an author. A novelist! Reading those great science fiction novels by Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and others, I dreamed of creating a life in the stars (on paper). I tried my hand at a number of stories but was never satisfied. So with my love of music I gravitated to a job that was more fun: being a radio announcer.
After 26+ years of radio, I arrived in the tradeshow world. I wanted to do something to differentiate myself that involved my love of writing and creativity (which I never really gave up). Hence, I blogged. Quite a bit, in fact. This blog, the TradeshowGuy Blog, published its first article in November of 2008. Ten years!
Along the way I published a pretty popular e-book called “101 Rules of Tradeshow Marketing” which was downloaded over 5000 times (I obsessed about the stats back then – I don’t obsess on stats any more).
The First Book
But a real book? One that you could hold in your hand and give away or sell? That seemed like a big challenge. My thought was to write a book to use as a heavy business card that thudded when it hit someone’s desk. To differentiate myself from others. To be, well, an author!
In 2010 I started. And fizzled. Tried again a year or two later. That fizzled as well. Long-term focus on this goal was difficult with lots of distractions.
But in early 2015 I started again with renewed focus determination, and was not willing to take no for an answer. After about six months I came up with a first draft. I reached out to Mel White at Classic Exhibits, who has been very supportive of me and my business over the years. He offered to go over the manuscript and offer his comments. This was critical to keeping the project moving forward.
In the meantime, I’d been reviewing a number of self-publishing platforms and kept seeing and hearing about CreateSpace, which was by then an arm of Amazon. It seemed easy-peasy to be able to submit a manuscript in almost any shape and by choosing a specific package you could have yet another editor or two or three do their magic. CreateSpace also handles the registration of an ISBN number, and since they are owned by Amazon, the seamlessness of having your book appear on Amazon for sale as both a print-on-demand paperback or Kindle download. CreateSpace also wrote marketing copy based on your outline.
Based mostly on budget, I picked one of their mid-range packages which meant they would have two editors look at it. One would do “line editing,” which is where a professional editor helps “strengthen your manuscript’s content with one round of feedback and connections to structure, plot, characterization, dialogue, and tone from a reader’s point of view.” Then a copyeditor goes over the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb, picking it apart grammatically and with an eye to classic punctuation and editing standards: “includes an average of 10-15 typographical, spelling, and punctuation revisions per page that your readers will notice – but your word-processing software won’t.”
The whole process of editing was eye-opening, and a learning experience. I disagreed with a few of the suggestions made but kept most of what the pros advised. I figured the best thing was to humbly submit to the process and do what was necessary to make the manuscript better.
Something I really wanted in the book to break up the big blocks of text was a series of cute black and white line drawings that supported and enhances the “fun and educational” feel of the book I was going for. I looked first on Fiverr.com but didn’t find any style of drawing that I liked that much. Eventually I landed at Thumbtack.com, asked for some examples and ended up choosing an artist named Jesse Stark. His drawings were exactly what I had envisioned, and his price was reasonable and fair.
Now for the cover. Not being a graphic designer, but wanting to at least give it a try, I mocked up a handful of potential covers. I didn’t really like any of them (did I mention I’m not trained in graphic design?), and asked Jesse if he would be interested in doing a cover. He was, and after some discussion, came back with a mockup. I wasn’t crazy about it, and thought it needed a photo of a tradeshow floor that showed dozens of booths from a high vantage point. I finally tracked down a photo I had taken at Expo East in the early 2000s from that angle, and had him use that to complete the cover. (Side note: Jesse also designed the TradeshowGuy silhouette that I use in the company logo).
As you might imagine, the hardest thing to do when assembling all of the pieces of a book project is what to name the damn book? I rejected a handful, but only debated a few over the nearly year-long project:
Deconstructing Tradeshows: 14 Steps to Tradeshow Mastery
Create a KickA$$ Tradeshow Experience: 14 Steps to Tradeshow Success
The book made it to Amazon on late October 2015, and I officially launched it the next month with a video series, a flurry of press releases and some giveaways. My view on publishing a book, though, wasn’t to sell as many copies as I could. It was to have something that no other tradeshow project manager had: a book.
The book was mentioned in some local business publications, and I’ve showed it off at networking meetings (who else has their own book?!), but the most notable mention came when Exhibitor Magazine published a multi-page article on the book and me. As one LinkedIn colleague said, “It doesn’t get any better than that!” So true.
The Second Book
Time passes. After the initial excitement of having a book to promote and giveaway fades, thoughts turn to what to do as a follow-up. It’s been said that one of the best ways to sell and promote your first book is to write a second book. But what would that second book be when I felt I put all I knew into the first book. And I knew I wanted a second book to follow up the first one.
It took a while, but I came to settle on the idea of taking the dozens and dozens of list blog posts I’d written for the blog. It took some time assembling all of the posts – many covered similar topics and had to be combined and edited – but once that was accomplished, I reached out to Mel again for help.
This book didn’t write itself, but since the content had already been created it was a matter of grouping the lists into specific topics was the main task. And of course I wanted the same illustrator so I emailed Jesse to see if he was interested. He said yes, so we moved forward.
The second book, still untitled, was a lower budgeted affair. I enlisted Mel again, and he also had his English professor wife, Mary Christine Delea, go through it as well. Once their two edits were done, I uploaded to CreateSpace, agreed on the more modest single line edit requested before going to print.
Now…what to title the book of lists? I had a couple of lists that referenced zombies, and one that referenced superheroes, so I played around with them for awhile:
Quirky Interactive Activities, Exhibiting Zombies, and Tradeshow Superheroes: A By-The-Numbers Guide on How to Take Advantage of the Most Effective Marketing Vehicle the World Has Ever Seen (I think this won a record of some sort for longest proposed title!)
Exhibiting Zombies, Tradeshow Superheroes and Quirky In-Booth Activities:
A List Manual on How to Take Advantage of the Most Effective Marketing Vehicle the World Has Ever Seen
Exhibiting Zombies, Tradeshow Superheroes and Delighted Visitors:
Exhibiting Zombies, Tradeshow Superheroes and Elated Customers:
Exhibiting Zombies, Tradeshow Superheroes and Delighted Customers: etc…
For publicity, I did a little, including sending out copies of books to tradeshow publications and press releases to local business publications. I also spent a very modest amount of money on a Twitter book-promotion platform that promised tens of thousands of views of promotional tweets. Modest: less than a hundred bucks. Nothing came of it. Again, the point was to have another book to give to prospects to differentiate myself, and if a few copies sell, well, great!
Interestingly enough, sales have picked up in the past few months with no further promotion. Maybe having both books out there and easily found on Amazon is working!
If you have an idea for a book, should you self-publish, or should you pursue the traditional route through a publishing house? Both have their pros and cons, but to me having complete control over the look and feel of the books and getting a much higher royalty rate made sense for my approach. Yes, the distribution at this point is ONLY online, but to me that’s sufficient. I didn’t write to sell a trainload of books, I wrote to differentiate myself from other exhibit houses and project managers. And to that end, I feel I’ve succeeded.
Now my main thing is making sure that potential clients have a copy of one or both books. That, and thinking about what I might write for a third book in the next couple of years.
During a two-hour workshop with trainer, author and content marketer Kathleen Gage this week, I took more notes and learned more about small event collaboration for lead generation than I think I’ve taken in for years.
While it’s true I collaborate with other people, I certainly don’t do it at the level that I could. That was clear in this workshop. Frankly, the ideas Kathleen presented gave me a lot to chew over.
Think of a small event as one where you and some partners team up to bring a very focused target market together. This would generally a small group of anywhere from a few dozen to maybe a couple of hundred depending on your goals and scope of the event. The attraction to having people come to the event would be to have a few experts in the field share their knowledge. Show the value you offer, and if appropriate, make an offer during the event. It may or may not be appropriate.
Without giving away Kathleen’s secret sauce, the model for creating a winning event is to have a specific objective, determine what type of event will work, come up with a budget and assess your resources, find potential collaborative partners, and promote through media releases, email, phone calls, direct mail and more.
To me one of the key takeaways was to make sure that everyone at the event fills out an evaluation, where you ask the attendees if they are interested in a free consultation. During that follow up consultation, the conversation wouldn’t be focused on sales, but on determining if the potential client has a pain or a problem that you can fix. Only then would the actual sales conversation take place.
A few of the notes I jotted down during the event:
Create value before creating the offer.
Ask the right questions and get a better answer.
Disqualify people first – are they really qualified to do business with you?
What is your story? (Kathleen shared her story about her love of rescued animals – hence the pug photo!)
There is a difference between a “customer” and a “client.”
Until we create value, no matter what we sell, we are a commodity.
Get really clear on the type of client we really want.
As you search for your ideal client, look at your current clients: what are your common denominators? Kids? Pets? Sports?
Collaboration with partners using small (or maybe not so small) events can be a great avenue to growing your business, if done smartly and if the risk is minimized and spread around. Make it so that all partners have a lot to gain. It may not be like putting on a regular tradeshow, but a small private event can have a big impact, and I’m looking forward to exploring this whole concept with Kathleen further. Because, you know, in her evaluation she asked if I wanted a free, no-strings-attached consultation. I said yes.
What can you do to make your small company look bigger than it really is? And why would you want to do that? Perhaps you like the idea of being a small company, positioning yourself as a boutique company that specializes in working with a very specific type of client. A client that can afford to pay a little more for the personal service that you, as a small company, can provide.
Can They Find You?
Perhaps maybe the question isn’t that you should look bigger, but to make sure that the right companies are able to find you. It used to be that a prospective client would start to judge you on the size of your brick-and-mortar store. Then they’d gauge your ability to handle their needs. Sometimes a small neighborhood hardware store with personal service will serve a customer better than a big box store.
Back to the original question: how can you look bigger than you really are? And a secondary question: how do you attract the right customers?
Perception is everything, especially in a first interaction or first notice of a potential customer. What are they looking for and what do they find? I’m guessing that 98% of your potential client’s first interactions will be online, even they’ve gotten a referral. They’ll plug a search term in and click GO. They’ll look through the first 5 or 6 results, click one and spend a few seconds eyeing your website, if you were lucky enough to show up in the top half-dozen search results. If they have a name of your company, they’ll search directly for you.
One way to appear bigger – to show that you have a larger reach than companies bigger than you – is to blog. Consistently. Hundreds of people come on the TradeshowGuy Blog every month through random searches. The most popular are the ones that might surprise you. For instance, one of the most-viewed pages so far this year has to do with how a SWOT Analysis applies to tradeshows. Yeah, really. And over half of the companies that find that blog post are not from the USA. Another interesting factoid.
With over 700 posts in the past 9+ years, the search engines have archived them all, so random tradeshow-related searches will find them.
There are that many posts because years ago I made a commitment to post regularly and write about as many tradeshow-related topics as I could think of. The goal was to just do it (because I like writing and publishing) and see what benefits might accrue.
What about the page views of the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee vlog/podcast? While individual podcast posts aren’t in the top ten most pages, the category search of podcasts is in the top five most-viewed. Which tells me that while a specific podcast might not get a lot of views, people are searching the category to see what’s been posted recently. That tells me the podcast is gaining a little traction. Which also tells me that the time investment is worth it. Not only that, but each interview helps build relationships with those people, most (but not all) of which are in the tradeshow industry.
Someone asked me once if blogging, podcasting, publishing a weekly newsletter, posting videos on YouTube channel and spending time on social media actually gets me business. In other words, they’re asking if they should make the time and energy commitment to see if it gets them business? There is not a simply answer to that question. Let’s look at where business comes from. In 2016, 2/3 of our business at TradeshowGuy Exhibits came from people that found us online. In 2017, it was less than ten percent. In 2018, there’s not much to show on the bottom line (yet) as a direct consequence of people finding the blog and then contacting us to make a purchase or to inquire about a project. But when I do communication with people, either through cold calling, prospecting with people I know, or via email, when I bring up the blog or send a link to a pertinent blog post, the feedback is always positive. Especially when they see the depth of article on the blog with the number and types of posts (video, audio, photographic, lists, etc.).
Speaking of video, I’ve had a YouTube channel for almost a decade. In the beginning I had no idea what I was doing other than creating a few how-to videos and tradeshow advice and posting them. It wasn’t regular and not many of them were viewed more than a few dozen times. Although the first ever post has over a thousand view. In a sense, that’s still the case, although I do create a video version of my podcast and post it there as another way to get the content out there.
And that’s what all of that is about: creating content. Always. It’s not easy, but having done it for years, it’s not that hard, either. I just make time to do it.
Does the blog make TradeshowGuy Exhibits look bigger? In a sense, yes. So does the weekly podcast/vlog and the newsletter. It puts more and more materials out there online where searchers can find us.
Exhibit Design Search
Frankly, so does the Exhibit Design Search, which is a branded search tool that looks just like it’s part of our lineup of websites. EDS is the work of our main design and fabrication partner, Classic Exhibits, and we use it all the time. When we send some ideas from EDS to potential clients the reaction is often “Wow! I had no idea you could do all of that!” Aligning yourself with a company that offers such a great tool definitely makes us look bigger.
I’d add that using solid sales techniques, creating and executing a plan is part of the process of making TradeshowGuy Exhibits look or feel bigger than it might really be. I spent a year with Sandler Sales Training and picked up a ton of great ideas and techniques along with good strategy and a much better understanding of how buyers operate. Knowing how to approach people in a non-threatening way with an eye to understanding their needs has been valuable to the success we’ve had.
We also have a handful of other URLs that are used for various purposes. For example, TradeshowSuccessBook.com is a landing page that offers a free digital download of my first book in exchange for subscribing to my newsletter. TradeshowSuperheroes.com is a book-specific page solely for the purpose of promoting and sharing info on my second book. TradeshowExhibitBuyersKit.com is a landing page to promote a package of tools we put together aimed at potential exhibit buyers (as you might imagine!). And TradeshowGuyWebinars.com is a collection of webinars we’ve put on at TradeshowGuy Exhibits.
If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you are probably aware that I’ve been active on social media from the very beginning. That happened because I like to play with new toys, and social media seemed like something fun to play with. I’ve bounced back and forth from Twitter to Pinterest, from YouTube to LinkedIn, to Instagram and Facebook and back. It’s a great to engage with people, share opinions, point to blog posts and podcasts, and to see what other people are up to. I’d rank the usefulness and effectiveness by putting Twitter on top, followed by YouTube, then LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. But that’s subject to change!
Making the Clients Look Good
Finally, what’s important to me is that when we deal with clients and prospects, we want them to know a couple of things: when you work with TradeshowGuy, you’re almost always working directly with the head of the company. And secondly, we want you to know that our success is tied directly to yours. If we make a company’s tradeshow manager look good to their boss by doing a great job, by providing an excellent service, by designing and fabricating an exhibit that gets extremely positive feedback, we’ve done our job. If we make you look good, we feel good. By standing tall when it comes to delivering great products and service, no matter our size, we look gigantic to our clients. It’s as simple as that.
Another Monday, another TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee! This time, I sit down with Entrepreneur and Profitability Consultant Thor Conklin. We discuss a number of things, including micro-commitments, execution killers and how he move forward after losing a third of his team on 9/11. Thor also hosts the Peak Performers Podcast.
If there’s one business lesson I’ve taken to heart in the past forty years, it’s this: do the work. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to find shortcuts along the way, during my 26 years in radio and my subsequent 16 years in the tradeshow industry. Shortcuts are attractive. They dangle an easy solution to you. One that makes you believe that there is an easy solution to a complex, challenging problem.
But shortcuts rarely work. Sure, there are many ways to cut time off of tasks. Many ways to revise and improve a system so that you can get more done. But shortcuts? I have yet to see a good shortcut that really accomplishes something effective.
Last week I saw a post on Instagram from an acquaintance that is building a guitar. I got to thinking about what it takes to build a guitar, so I headed over to YouTube and watched a couple of videos on guitar-building. Not that I’d ever really build a guitar – that would be cool, though, and who knows, I might! – but I was curious about the process.
The point is: there are no short cuts to building a good guitar from scratch. You have to not only know what you’re doing, but you have to be pretty good at the steps. A beginner could look over the shoulder of a pro and follow the steps to a T, but the guitar probably wouldn’t be as good as the pro’s. As Seth Godin observed in a recent podcast, don’t worry about the end result. Instead, focus on the craft of being able to do the work – do the steps. Learn to be a good carpenter. Learn what it takes to measure and cut wood. Learn how to shape wood. How to paint. How to install electronics.
It’s the same in any endeavor. One of my main focuses in my daily business life is sales and marketing. From the time I started in this industry in 2002, I was tasked with bringing in more business, which is typically a combination of sales and marketing. I tried so many different things over the years: emailing, direct mail, advertising, cold calling, going to shows, you name it. There is no short cut. There is no Magic Button to create new clients, to make more sales. In time I resigned myself to the tasks needed to bring in more sales and concentrated on them. During a year of sales training with Sandler, I learned to not worry about the outcomes, to not worry about the results. Learn the steps, learn the techniques, and the results will take care of themselves. In other words, learn to do the work. Better yet, learn how to correctly do the work. If you do the work incorrectly, you’re still doing the work, but your results will not be what they will be if you do it correctly.
I’m a big believer in lifelong learning, so I always keep my radar up for better ways of doing things. Also – and this comes from experience – my BS detector has gotten better over the years. I used to follow every shiny object (looking for another shortcut!), but now it’s pretty easy to know what’s BS and what is good, solid information worth paying attention to.
Where do you stand on the meanings of the terms exhibit vs. booth vs. stand? For years after my entry into the industry in 2002, I was under the impression that a booth was an exhibit and an exhibit was a booth. Since then my take on it has become a little more nuanced. I don’t think I heard the term stand for years.
According to Exhibitor Magazine’s online glossary page, a booth is an “area made up of one or more standard units of exhibit space.” Given that a typical unit is 10′ x 10′, that could mean a booth could be any size: 10×10, 10×20, 30×40, etc.
Exhibit on the other hand, is oddly, not listed in the glossary. The specific term exhibit is a little harder to track down. Some glossaries don’t even list that single word as a descriptive term. Freeman’s listing mentions exhibit booth as an “individual display area constructed to display products or convey a message.” So we’re getting a little closer.
Pulling your hair out yet?
The Freeman listing for booth looks like this: “a display designed to showcase an exhibitor’s products, message and business ideas.”
IExhibita.com has no listing for booth but says that an exhibit is “a display used to convey a message. A specific tool of the communications medium of exhibiting. Also EXHIBIT BOOTH.”
Insta Worldwide Group doesn’t have the single-word booth mentioned in their glossary, but they do say that a “Bis “the amount of floor space assigned to and occupied by an exhibitor.”
So what about the term stand? It’s common in Europe, and doesn’t get much mention in the USA. But does it mean booth as in floor space or exhibit as in the actual fabrication and elements sitting in the space?
Again with the hair-pulling. Oh, wait, I really don’t have much hair to pull.
Exhibitor Magazine says a stand is a European term for booth. The Insta Worldwide Group glossary says a stand is “an area made up of one or more standard units of exhibit space. In U.S.its called a booth.”
Now let’s add one more term to the mix: display. It’s not an uncommon word in the industry, and is often used interchangeably with exhibit, booth and stand. But if you look for a description of the single word term display, you won’t find much. Search for tradeshow display, however, and you’ll have hundreds of exhibit houses and brokers eager to sell you one.
So where do we stand? Oh, sorry. Where do we end up?
My two cents:
A booth is the space that an exhibitor rents from show organizers.
An exhibit is the actual thing that gets set up in the booth space.
A stand will only bite you in Europe so don’t worry about it in the USA.
A display, to my mind, is a smaller exhibit, perhaps an accessory such as a banner stand, or maybe a back wall. But you won’t go wrong if you say you want to set up a tradeshow display. Or a tradeshow exhibit. Or even if you want to set up a tradeshow booth. People will know what you’re talking about.