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If you have a product or service to sell, tradeshows and exhibitions can be a great way to promote your business and generate a lot of sales leads from a single source.

But how do you present your company in the best possible light while being cost effective?

Here’s how:

Budget wisely. Because exhibiting can run from a few hundred dollars on up, decide what you can afford to spend before you secure a booth. The average show will run you $500 to $2,000 for space at a major show; another $250 to $2,000 for a no-frills booth with power. Tack on travel, lodging, literature, special equipment and you’re talking big bucks. But remember: local shows can be a fraction of a large show and more effective since your target audience is more likely to be there.

Target the right show. The biggest mistake you can make is exhibiting at the wrong show. Figure out exactly what you want to get out of the show: Are your target customers going to be there? How many sales or leads will you generate? Can you break even? Once you answer these basic questions, establish your expectations. Ask the tradeshow planners about the types of people who typically attend, what other exhibitors are offering similar products or services and expected attendance. Ask for a directory of the previous year’s show and call a few exhibitors to see how they fared. Stick to events that have at least three to four years under their belt.

Put some oomph into your booth. The average tradeshow attendee will spend an average of three minutes per booth. You not only have to keep them from passing you by, but you also have to draw them in. That’s where a little imagination comes in. Even on a low budget, try to create a booth that stands out from the others, particularly those in your assigned row. Try to find one large element to draw the attention of attendees. Perhaps it’s a video demonstration in your booth or an actual product demonstration. Put literature at the back of your booth so attendees have to enter your space so you can engage them. Think about a free promo item and don’t forget the oldest and probably most effective trick in the book: the fish bowl for business cards. Promise to hold a drawing for those who leave their card behind and then use the cards to develop a mailing list of prospects.