I recall the moment I learned how a bicycle works, and how I
learned to ride a bicycle. I must have been 6 or 7 when I first tried. It was
about the same time I first got on skis, but that’s a different story. I was reminded
of that feeling when I saw a young bicycler with her mother this morning. The
youngster was dressed in a unicorn mohawk bicycle helmet, colorful clothes and
a unicorn back pack. I complimented her on the outfit – it really was stunning.
Her mom said, “Say thank you!” which the young girl did.
In any event, that feeling of accomplishment, of
empowerment, is overwhelming. I remember that feeling after riding 50 feet on a
bicycle without crashing or falling.
YOU DID IT! I told myself.
And while that feeling was powerful, it comes around again and again in life when you learn more skills. I felt the same thing at times when learning to ski. Or learning to play the drums. Or the guitar. Or give a speech. Or publish a book. And so on.
Feeling that powerful emotion that’s tied into grasping and
then learning a new skill is valuable. It reaffirms your sense of belonging. This
works for me. I can do this.
It tells you that you’re on the right track. And it can
apply to learning interpersonal communication skills, business skills, physical
It reminds you that being human is a good thing. A great
And ultimately, it tells you let’s learn something more.
Wear colorful branded clothing. Whether it’s a staff
of two or three, or twenty, having colorful branded clothing will immediately
let visitors know who’s working the booth and who’s a guest. Bright colors
attract, so put your logo on the front and an enticing message on the back. And
to change things up from day to day, create a different colored set with a different
message for each day of the show, and make sure your crew coordinates. Bright colors,
especially if they’re tied into your brand work well: yellow, red, orange, blue,
Setup a giant prop and invite people to take a photo.
Could be anything: a mascot, a giant purse, a full-size model of one of your
products (if it’s small, for instance); something that stops people in their
tracks. I’ve seen mascot, angels, musicians, giant hanging props, exhibits made
from bicycle frames and more. They all had one thing in common: they begged to
have their picture taken.
Once that photo has been taken, invite the visitor to spread
the word on social media and include the show hashtag to make sure the post
gets seen. Offer prizes to people that photo and share online.
Give something away and offer an incentive to wear it.
One way is to print up a few hundred t-shirts or hats with your logo along with
a fun message and tell people that if they put it on right there, they can also
take home another gift. And tell them if you catch them wearing it at an
after-hours show (be specific as to which one), you’ll be giving away $50 bills
to random shirt wearers. This type of promotion gets others involved and spreads
the word about your booth and products throughout the show.
Have a unique exhibit that begs to be seen. Sounds
straightforward, but to break out of the cookie-cutter mold, it takes a
designer that’s willing to create something unique and wild and a company that’s
willing to spend to make it a reality.
Give visitors something to DO. Interactivity goes a
long way. At the NAB Show, there were several exhibitors that gave visitors a
chance to learn new software by joining them for a free class. Not only are you
drawing interested people in, you’re keeping them involved for up to an hour
and showing them exactly how the product works.
Contests. Give people a chance to win something by
guessing the number of beans in a jar, answering a quiz, spinning a wheel or
something else increases the chance you’ll get visitors to stop at your booth.
Make sure to engage them in a brief conversation to uncover their needs regarding
Famous mugs. Lots of companies hire famous (or at
least semi-well known) people to be a part of the show. Authors, speakers, sports
stars, actors, and so on can all draw a crowd. Authors in particular, if they’re
in your industry, can be a good draw if they have a new book out. I’ve seen
dozens of people in line to pick up a free copy of a new book and get it signed
by the author (and snap a selfie!), and I’ve waited in line to get a prop soft baseball
signed by Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.
Comment wall. I see these more and more. Ask a bold question
or make a bold statement and invite people to chime in with their thoughts on a
wall. Invite people to snap a photo of what they wrote and share it on social
media (make sure the wall is branded and has the show hashtag on it).
Bring media production to your booth. Know someone
that is a podcaster in the industry? Invite them to record a few episodes of
their show in your booth, and make sure to provide some good guests for them,
whether it’s people from your company, or others. The simple act of recording a
show in your booth will make a lot of people stop. That’s a good time for your
staff to engage those visitors politely to find out if they’re prospects.
If someone in your company has written a book, offer free copies of the book along with free printed photos with visitors and the author. This has worked great for years for Bob Moore of Bob’s Red Mill, one of our long-time clients at TradeshowGuy Exhibits. Every time they exhibit at the bigger expos, Bob spends time signing books and posing for photos while a photographer takes photos and has them printed up in a few moments for the visitor.
There are literally countless ways to draw crowds to your
booth. It all boils down to creativity and execution. What can you do to
improve the traffic at your next show?
I’ve had a lot of bosses over the years and have learned things from them. Sometimes because they were good bosses, sometimes because they were bad. But bosses are good people to learn lessons from, one way or the other.
The first boss I had was in a little radio station in a small town in Oregon. He was a diehard Baptist and I think that colored his approach to things (not to say Baptists are bad, just using his religion to show where it came from in him). He thought every other song on the air we played on the top 40 station was about picking up girls and having sex with them. Okay, I thought that was a little weird, but when he said it time after time, I realized he was a little obsessed.
He was also rather high-strung besides being focused on songs being about guys picking up girls. There was the time he rushed into the station all aflutter and demanded that I stop the record so he could go on the air and deliver an urgent news report. I waited until the record was over, turned on his microphone in the newsroom and put him on the air. His urgent report? He’d seen an accident where someone ran a stop sign and hit another car going through the intersection. Which was basically a side street in a residential area. So it wasn’t really affecting anyone except the people in the cars, and it was a minor crash anyway.
My takeaway and the lesson I learned? If you’re a boss, being high-strung is not a good way to operate. Unless you like to inject fear into your employees. To me, that’s never been much of a motivator.
A number of radio Program Directors I either worked for, or
heard about from fellow DJs, approached dealing with their subordinates by
yelling at them. Putting the fear into them. “STOP DOING IT THAT WAY! DO IT
THIS WAY!” And so on. Again, not a good motivator. It made you fear the next
time you were on the air, knowing he’d be listening and ready to nitpick you to
Another boss I had years later in radio – the best boss I ever had in radio – taught me a lot about how to communicate with employees. His name was Carl, and as Program Director, he was my direct boss. When it came time for an “aircheck” session in which we’d listen to telescoped recordings of my on-air presentation, he approached it completely differently than anyone I’d worked for before. We’d listen for a few moments as he made notes, at which point he said something like “That was good, this was good, and I’d like you to work on this, this and this.” This critique was delivered pleasantly and with encouragement. And you frankly couldn’t wait until you got behind the microphone again. No pressure, just build you up while you work on things that he requested.
Another boss I worked for in radio was the station owner in
a mid-size town. He respected all employees as professionals, so there was very
little he said about our on-air work. But I do remember a few things he said.
“When you have good news, bring it to me immediately. I like
to celebrate good news. When you have bad news, get it to me even quicker. I
want to be able to know it, understand it and deal with it as quickly as
possible.” Makes sense to me.
In dealing with clients or partners, he’d always try to get
the last dollar from them in any negotiation. He told me he wanted “to see how
much money was left on the table.” Another good lesson.
Finally, the last “real” boss I had was Ed at Interpretive Exhibits, the first and only boss I had outside of radio. Since Ed, the only bosses I have are clients. And generally, they’re all great to work for and with.
Ed did a number of things that were important. He showed me the
spreadsheets on how he estimated monthly, quarterly and yearly earnings, a
format I still use today (he retired and closed the business in 2011 which led
me to start TradeshowGuy Exhibits). He also spent a lot of time explaining how
things worked in the industry. In particular he walked me through, dozens of
times, how he created estimates for big exhibit jobs. He’d break it down step
by step, figure out the reasonable time it took to do something, and added
about 50%. Why? Because in his experience, he saw that the original estimate
was almost always low. Which meant that even experience shop managers didn’t accurately
calculate the amount of time it takes to do something. Even down to how many
steps and how much time it took to offload something from a truck using a
forklift. Armed with that info, I’d occasionally clock the time and the steps
it took, and he was right: the shop guys almost always underestimated how much
time it took.
And time is money, so if you’re estimating time (labor), you’d
better be right, or as close to right as possible.
You can learn lots from bosses: what to do, and what not to
do. Some are good role models, others not so much. Take away what you can from
To most people I work with in the tradeshow industry, teamwork is the key to success. But many tradeshow marketing managers are saddled with the idea that if it’s going to get done, there’s only one person that can do it. The tradeshow manager.
Therefore, it becomes hard to delegate. Hard to give up control. They may not be a control freak, but they’re close enough to where it prevents the work of a good team from being as good as it could be.
You see this on sports teams. My sport, from when I was a kid, was basketball. When you are in control of the ball, a tendency for young players is to hold on to it until they good a good shot. Not all people, of course. There are always members on the team who don’t want the responsibility, so they pass the ball at the first opportunity. Often, the pass is the wrong move. It’s to the wrong person. It’s for the wrong reason. They might have even had an open shot but didn’t take it because they didn’t have confidence that they’d make it.
Great teamwork doesn’t happen overnight. But the longer you work with a team, the more you understand each team member’s strengths and weaknesses.
One person may be great at record-keeping. Another may be great at outreach to clients and customers. Another may have an easy time reaching members of the media to persuade them to feature the company in their publication. Yet another may have an intuitive sense of how to design graphics so that they attract the right people.
Every team is different. And teams are fluid. Even a team that’s been together for years can find things changing over time. And when new members arrive or when members leave, things get even more fluid.
But a good manager of the team recognizes how to best delegate tasks to different people for maximum results. A good manager of a team knows their own limitations and realizes that, no, they can’t really do it all.
They need a good team to do it all. And teams can always improve.
No guest on this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee. Instead, I muse a bit about unintended consequences, starting with Brexit. No, I don’t really get political – just trying to use that situation as an example of unintended consequences.
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.