How to be a Virtual Assistant

21 Things I Learned From Doing a Business Expo

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to get a stand for How to be a Virtual Assistant at the YBC Women Mean Business Expo in London.  Although I have visited many business expos before, this was the first time that I had actually exhibited at one myself. As my first event it was pretty successful but now that I’ve had a chance to experience it, there are definitely quite a few things I would do differently next time. (And there will be a next time because I’ve signed myself up for the Mum’s Enterprise Roadshow on 25th September in London – woo hoo!).

So, if you’re a Virtual Assistant thinking signing up for an event, here are the 21 Things I Learned From Doing My First Business Expo:

  1. Be prepared: make sure you do as much research about the event as possible to find out who else will be exhibiting and the kind of visitors that are expected. Make sure that they are relevant to you and your business. You should also research the venue and plan how you’ll get there with all your exhibition materials. Find out the location, size and layout of the stand and whether there’ll be lighting, power points and wi-fi provided.
  2. Set some objectives: Why are you doing this expo? Are you looking to make sales on the day, get leads, or raise the profile of your company? Different objectives will require a different strategy and planning so be clear on this!
  3. Arrive early and stay late: You need to make sure you have plenty of time to set up your stall and allow for any problems that might arise. While the exhibition is going on you won’t have much chance to visit other stalls, so now is the time to meet a few of the other exhibitors and network with them.
  4. Get someone to help out: In an ideal world, this would be one of your clients so that they are a walking advertisement for your services! When I did the YBC expo I shared the stand with one of my How to be a Virtual Assistant students, Zoe King. As visitors came up to talk to me about my VA training services,  I could then introduce them to one of my success stories sitting right beside me. Powerful stuff! You’re probably feeling a bit worried about asking a client to do this for you… but if you don’t feel you can ask them outright, how about offering them a free package of hours or something similar in return? Even if it’s just for half a day it’s well worth it!
  5. Never leave your stall unattended: Another reason for having someone to help you out is that it’s not a good idea at all to leave your stall unattended because you could be missing out on potential prospects. Whatever happens you simply cannot help leaving the stall at least once or twice to answer the call of nature or get some refreshments. But your dream client could be in the room! If you can’t get a client to help you, ask a friend or even consider employing someone.
  6. Train your helpers: Whoever is helping you out is going to need a little training on what to say to the visitors to your stand, how to go through your marketing material with them, how to get them to fill out a form or even how to make a sale if you are selling on the day. Don’t rely on them turning up on the day with no prior knowledge of your product or what you are trying to achieve. Even if you don’t leave your stand for the entire day there will be times you are busy talking to a prospect when another one arrives and you want to make sure your helper knows what to do and say.
  7. Do something to stand out: At my expo I wore a shocking pink jacket (which also happily happened to match my branding colours). Think about other things you could do to draw attention to your stand. Try to think outside the box. A property management company I know created a “lawn” of artificial grass in front of their expo stand which really attracted attention. I’m planning to have balloons on my stand at the Mum’s Enterprise Roadshow as there’ll be lots of visitors with kids (there’s a creche!).
  8. Set a budget: It’s all to easy with any project to let costs run away with you. You’ll probably already be paying for your stand of course but there are other costs you need to take into account including design and print of marketing materials and hiring staff if you can’t get a volunteer. Make a realistic budget plan and then stick to it!
  9. Give a talk: At many expos there are seminars, workshops and talks given by exhibitors that are free to the visitors. Depending on which event it is, you may be able to give a talk free as part of your expo package – or you may have to pay to give a talk. Find out the situation at your event and if there are spaces available and it’s within your budget – do it. You are probably quaking in your boots at the thought of talking in front of a potentially very large audience but nobody ever got anywhere in business by not putting themselves out of their comfort zone. So take a deep breath, and go for it! You will be immediately exposed to a large number of potential clients and other useful contacts. Do not give your talk and run away – make sure you allow time after your talk to catch up with audience members who want to talk privately to you. This is yet another reason for having someone to help out on your stand!
  10. Networking: Many expos have networking events either before, during or after the show. Make sure you make the most of these if you can.
  11. Marketing material: Have your marketing materials designed, printed and delivered well in advance. Ideally as a minimum you would have at least one or two pop up roller banners plus either leaflets, flyers, brochures or postcards. Other options include branded pens, mugs or notebooks. Try to think of something relevant to your market and within your budget. Think back to when you visited an expo – what caught your eye? What did you keep rather than throwing out?
  12. Fill your table: there’s nothing more unattractive than a half-empty table at an expo. Fill it up with plenty of your marketing materials, perhaps arranging them around some eye-catching brochures or an interesting arrangement of branded pens. At the Mum’s Enterprise Roadshow I’m going to have New Client Welcome Packs on display in the centre so that potential students can see a visual representation of what they’ll get if they sign up for my course. If, like me, they are stationery nerds this should seriously float their boat!
  13. Collect contact details: A business expo doesn’t come free and you’ll be wanting to make some money as a result of it! Depending on your product or services you may be able to make sales on the day but equally important is the ability to collect people’s contact details for following up. How about a competition to win a bottle of bubbly? Just place a bowl on your table for people to toss their cards into. If you are looking for warmer leads: when you get chatting to people who are interested but not ready yet, suggest a follow up call and have a stack of forms or an ipad ready so that they can fill in their details.
  14. Special offers: Consider having a promotion created especially for the day. I will be giving a massive 50% discount on the price of my online courses only available to visitors at the expo. This is to encourage them to sign up on the day. People go along to expos looking for offers and deals so it makes sense to do something along these lines.
  15. Nail your sales process: Make sure you plan out your sales process in advance. You’ll need a sales script worked out and ideally also a flow chart so that you and your helpers know step by step how to guide visitors to your stand through the process including completing an application form and/or taking payment. Make sure you practice in advance to get it down pat.
  16. Get yourself a mobile card machine. I am an advocate of making actual sales on the day if you can. If you are a VA perhaps you could have a discount offer available to new clients who buy a package of hours at the expo. Get the structuring right and there is no reason why you can’t take money on your stand.
  17. Mini pop up banners: I know I mentioned banners earlier but these mini pop up banners deserve a section to themselves – I am totally in love with these right now!! They are little mini versions of the large pop up banners you get and they are SO CUTE!! Plus – they help to fill your table, giving it height and interest.
  18. Bribery: how about offering some cakes, sweets, or even a glass of champagne for visitors to your stand. This is a great way to attract people! People will tend to hang around your stall for much longer whilst eating/drinking.
  19. Handouts: I’m going to hand out postcards containing a call to action: be ready with something to hand out to those who don’t stop for long enough to chat. Other ideas along these lines include a postcard with an invitation to connect with you on LinkedIn or the URL for your Facebook group.
  20. Don’t be too pushy and sales-y. Yes you are doing the expo to make money ultimately. But take the time to chat and be interested in the visitors. Start to build a relationship. You’ll be able to gauge their interest better that way too.
  21. Follow up as soon as possible. If you do an expo, collect contact details and then fail to make follow up calls, it has been a complete and utter waste of time. Make sure you phone each and every person within a few days of the expo ending if possible.

Hopefully these tips will help you to plan for your first business expo.

Come along and visit my stand at the Mum’s Enterprise Roadshow in September for a chat and some more inspiration!

How to be a Virtual Assistant

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