Trade show exhibitions are a phenomenal resource for a lot of different business types. It’s an opportunity to present new products, make personal connections with decision makers, brand your business as an important player in the industry, and of course make sales. Trade shows are also the perfect opportunity to gather lead information for follow-up communication to keep your business top-of-mind in the future. Outside of sales generation, trades shows are an ideal venue to keep abreast of developments in the industry and to find new vendors and partnerships for your business.
Unless you’re a trade show veteran, we suggest a good deal of pre-planning. Trade shows are typically pretty expensive to attend, so winging it at the last minute is highly unadvisable. To prepare adequately for a trade show we’ve put together these pointers on how to make your next trade show exhibition the best ever.
Know your Goals
Understanding what you want to achieve by participating in a trade show is critical for many reasons. It can help set your own expectations and help you interpret which trade shows would be the best opportunity to achieve the goals. What is your primary aspiration and do you have the strategy to execute? Most companies participate in trade shows for exposure, to make connections, and to introduce new products, technologies, and services. By defining goals, you can better understand if your attendance was a success and make quantified decisions on whether to attend the same show next year.
Is this Trade Show the Right One?
The trade show industry is a juggernaut in its own right. Depending on your unique business, there may be thousands of choices each year. Factor in the cost of attendance. Keep in mind the cost of booth space is just the beginning. Most trade shows require that you purchase tables, chairs, lighting, Internet access, and flooring from them which can add up quickly. Transportation and lodging of your sales staff and equipment is another layer of expense to consider. Depending on your goals, take a look at the likelihood of the attendees being in your desired demographic. As a personal example, we would look at whether there would be a lot of business owners or purchasing agents for schools or corporations to evaluate whether attendance would be a good return on investment. Also proximity to your business will obviously impact the cost of transportation. Always look at the demographic of attendees in the past and think seriously whether this attendee is the type of person that would be interested in what you are offering.
Come up with a Budget
Factoring in all the hidden costs of exhibiting at a trade show is a task. As mentioned previously, the booth price is just a start. Remember to calculate in the cost of staff, promotional materials, giveaways, electronic rentals, food, drinks, and dinners for important contacts you may make. Trade shows are exhausting, so to keep your sales staff fresh and able to energetically engage your prospective customer, you may even have shifts so that’s double the staff.
Plan Ahead with a Checklist
Nobody likes scrambling at the last minute so a tradeshow checklist will help keep you on track with timelines. Purchasing your booth space quickly can help with costs as early bird pricing often provides a discount. Advanced booth purchase will also yield up the best real estate options. Last minute purchases like air fare can blow your budget so that should be high on your checklist priority. Marketing materials like logo branded t-shirts as giveaways printed by DesignAShirt take at least 10-days so to not incur rush production charges, order early. There are a lot of moving parts with trade shows so make sure you understand the time constraints of other vendors that will be part of your trade show success.
Invest in your Booth Aesthetics
If you’re new to trade shows, you might be thinking it’s a booth, a table, and some brochures. To save you from mortification at the show, in almost every case, that conception is a recipe for disaster. Trade shows are a big deal to companies and they invest accordingly. It won’t matter if your product or service is truly the best of its kind if you never have an opportunity to speak with attendees. Exhibitions that garner a lot of interest and attention are the ones that use bright colors and offer a differentiator in the aesthetics. This can be in the form of creative shapes, interactive games, or even marketing stunts like costuming of staff. All of these suggestions can be quite pricey so you’ll need to position it as an investment in your future.
Prepare your Staff
There’s lots for trade show attendees to see and hear so make sure your messaging is on point and concise. Define your best selling points and what differentiates your product or service from the competition. Brevity is key to engage the most people so train your staff to ask the right questions to quickly ascertain if the prospect is a viable customer. Come up with a defined strategy to end these engagements quickly and politely if they are not. Rehearsing pitches even among your most seasoned sales people will ensure messaging is consistent and appropriate for the demographic of attendees.
Swag is King
Everybody loves giveaways so make sure you have desirable event swag to stand out from our competitors. We always recommend t-shirt designs that are unique and present a message that will resonate with your consumer. This can be anything like a funny or quirky tagline. Can your logo be modified in any way to particularly suit the specific venue or demographic? Are there certain colors that would tie in with the theme of the trade show or location? Unless you’re either a huge company like Google or part of the trendy tech industry, simply printing your logo on a t-shirt isn’t going to cut it. If you need ideas we recommend contacting our staff or reaching out to a custom t-shirt designer to come up with a really outstanding design. Choose a quality product to have your event t-shirt printed on. If you wouldn’t want to wear it, your customer won’t either.
Post Event Follow Up
After you’ve made the significant investment of time and money, you’re going to need to follow up with all of the contacts you’ve made during the show. Do this in a timely fashion, reiterate your value proposition. What makes your product or services the best? If it’s a hot lead, make communication as personal as possible by including a personalized video or even follow up with more company swag like a custom embroidered cap, or other higher end promotional materials.
If you’re new to marketing your custom t-shirt designs, then you’re in for a treat when we explain the amazing opportunities for marketing to niche buyers on Etsy. The power of Etsy is that it is a highly trafficked marketplace for buyers interested in purchasing something of unique and artisanal value. These are the kinds of buyers that will bypass the confusion and less than optimal designs found on sites like Zazzle and Café Press to pay a premium for high quality, artistically superior works of “art.”
The key is to find a niche that has enough interest and to offer a unique design that can’t be easily copied by other t-shirt artists. Some niches are fairly oversaturated like bridal and children’s birthday party tees, so to be successful in that arena, you’ll either need to have an exemplary design that’s really different, or learn how to maximize Etsy’s ranking algorithm, (which we’ll go over in a bit.) Hopefully you’ll be able to do both.
Setting up a good Etsy shop is time consuming, it just is. If you skimp on this critical phase of your business, you’ll never really know if you optimized poorly, or if your designs just weren’t speaking to your target audience. Optimizing your shop and listings is essential to be found on Etsy. In 2017, Etsy announced a partnership with Blackbird Technologies to improve the user experience for buyers, because if people aren’t finding what they’re looking for, they’ll go shopping someplace else. As it’s just in the infancy with this partnership, we can only share with you our predictions for the new user experience.
Rankings are likely going to consist of a variety of factors like the positivity or negativity of reviews, the number of reviews, and the complexity and thoroughness of product descriptions. It may even take into account your reliability, such as how quickly you respond to user questions. Rankings will be of particular importance if you choose to go after a highly saturated niche. If you think about, how many pages would you go through of very similarly designed t-shirts before just settling on a listing based on price alone? Instructions on how to optimize your listing for the best results are gone over in detail in Etsy’s seller handbook. This is a list of best practices to get the most out of your experience in marketplace.
Outside of the Etsy marketplace, there are lots of ways to market your custom t-shirt designs and drive people to your Etsy shop. Create a Pinterest account that is focused on your shop and create appropriately titled boards for your pins. Make sure to pin from your pubic facing Etsy account. Describe the pin very briefly as Pinterest only shows a little bit of text accompanying the image but make it keyword rich so it can also be found independently on Pinterest. Your Etsy shop should also have a Facebook business page and a profile on Instagram, Twitter, and other visually engaging sites like Tumblr or even Wanelo if appropriate.
Encourage repeat business by offering a follow up discount code after your item has been delivered. You can proposition the code as a simple discount on a future order or market as a referral code to encourage the buyer to share the code with friends. Another approach to discount codes is to make the offer for a limited time. If your customer sees it as a good deal they may go back to your shop immediately and purchase additional products to add to their order.
Ask your friends to share the word about your Etsy shop on their social media profiles. If you have a friend or two that seems to have a ridiculous amount of followers with engagement, you could entice them to share your shop’s URL along with a pic of the t-shirt design you printed and sent to them for free. Yes, free. The reason why we mention a friend with a high number of followers is that professional influencers on social typically charge quite a bit for a product mention so hopefully a close friend would just be grateful for a free tee.
Hold an Instagram contest with one of your t-shirt designs as the prize that requires entrants to tag a friend and the method of entry. As of the date of this publication, you can also make following your account a stipulation of official entry. As long as you state in the contest description that the contest is in no way affiliated with Instagram, you can run a paid promotion for pretty cheap. Instagram is still a really effective way to grow your visibility as a t-shirt designer.
When you’ve developed a following of people that have favorited your designs on Etsy or followed your shop, every time you add a new listing or renew your listing, that listing is top of feed when your fan base logs into their account. This is a great argument for short listing durations. While it may be more work to renew listings, it’s a lot easier to stay top of mind with people who already like what you have to offer.
List your best social channels in multiple spots in your Etsy shop. If people love you’re product, they’ll follow you on other channels to stay in touch with new products or designs you come up with in the future. Increasing followers outside of Etsy is a viable strategy to amplify your reach.
Getting event sponsors is an important aspect of planning a successful event. When approaching a possible sponsor come prepared with information they will want to know for consideration. Recognize that your sponsor is likely to be inundated with sponsorship request throughout the year and it’s difficult for businesses to contribute to everyone that comes knocking on their door.
First, consider if the sponsor would be a good fit for your event because that is what they are going to do when evaluating whether they wish to contribute. Does your event align with their goals and vision for their company? Are the attendees of your event the kind of audience that will resonate with your sponsor’s message? Most sponsors get involved because they want to impress your attendees by aligning with common goals whether that is sales, branding, or goodwill.
However sponsors can get burnt out with requests for event organizers that don’t deliver as promised as far as attendance and demographic. What sponsors are really looking for is value and esteem in exchange for their money, goods, or services.
Have a solid message when it comes to selling the event sponsorship because that is what you’re doing. You’re selling an idea. What is the purpose of the event and do you have a mission statement? How is your audience valuable to the sponsor? Is your event unique in any way so it stands out from similarly aligned events? Who is expected to come to the event?
To come up with a strategy for this, it can help to develop a persona of the expected attendee. This persona should not be who you wish would attend, it needs to be a realistic description of the type of person that would be interested in the event with consideration to what your event offers, the cost to attend, the location, and the time of year. Finally, create a story how their involvement will benefit the sponsor. Eyeballs on their logo or a mention on a website probably isn’t going to be enough to entice sponsors so it’s really helpful to provide a compelling presentation with every statistic you can manage.
A quick email introduction to a potential sponsor could look something like this:
"The team that I coach competed in the State tournament this past weekend and placed second. We are now off to the World Finals at [State Name] University in May. At World Finals, over 800 teams (8,000+ team members and parents) compete in a four-day-long tournament. Almost all of these teams create custom-made shirts each year, just like we did. Imagine the business if they all used DesignAShirt!
The cost to attend World Finals is about $1000/person, and in an effort to defer some costs, we are looking for team sponsorships. I thought this might be a great advertising opportunity for you. I was imagining a shirt that said something like "[Event Name] World Finalist" along with the DesignAShirt logo/url on the front and "Like Our Shirt? Order Yours from DesignAShirt.com!" on the back (or whatever we would decide upon). Then the team members and parents would wear the shirts all over World Finals. We also would be happy to pass out flyers when our kids trade [Event Name] pins with kids from across the US. If you want the international business, we can hand out flyers to the teams from other countries too."
Oftentimes you will be approaching a business that you have no prior relationship to so put yourself in their shoes concerning your image. If you we’re asked to give money to a charity for example but had never heard of them before, you’d likely do a little research to ascertain their legitimacy. A business will want to research your event, and maybe even you personally to see if the event is authentic. Be sure to have a professional looking image for them to find. That means some kind of web presence. Make sure that the information they find on your web page is the same information you are relaying in your conversations or emails to them. That image should align with the businesses image of the sponsorship you’re seeking.
Define offerings for your sponsors like event announcements, banner advertisements, social media shout outs, call outs in emails about the event, their logos on your custom event t-shirts, and other promotional items that would be given away or sold at the event. You may consider different levels of sponsorships like silver, gold, and platinum level sponsorships with bundled offerings depending on the tier they choose to go with. If it makes sense, offering sponsors VIP passes or tickets to the event can be presented in such a way that the sponsor could provide these passes to employees as a perk. There’s an example of an additional value added approach and thought process to your message. If you find your different levels of sponsorship are not enticing engagement for your event, be prepared to be flexible.
Start with your own network of contacts. Prior relationships are a great resource since they already know you. Have you given a lot of your business to a local company? They might be an excellent candidate to contact. Include details about your familiarity with the company and why you’re so familiar but be cognizant to the possibility you might be considered a minor customer depending on the company. Ask your friends to be a referral source for you. Do they have relationships with any business that might be a good fit? If so, send them your solicitation message and asked to be introduced.
If you get shot down by one company you had in mind that would be a good fit for your event, search for similar types of businesses by looking on a search engine for “business like [company name].” You may have to do some extra work but if you find an up-and-comer that needs more advertising exposure, you might hit the jackpot.
Business owners and their employees are typically very busy people so while an onsite visit or a phone call seems personable, people may be less receptive and it can be a time waster for you too. One of the easiest ways to reach out to possible sponsors is through social media. If it’s a smaller business you just might get the attention of the actual owner. If it’s a larger business, you’re likely going to be communicating with an employee or worse, their advertising company. Don’t give up if you don’t hear back after an initial reach out. At that point, a follow up email would be appropriate but if you hear nothing back again, it’s better to put your effort into other opportunities.
When you do make contact, do make it personal and craft each message in a personal way, nobody wants to hear a blanket one-size-fits-all proposal. Explain how their sponsorship to your event could make a positive impact and describe what you’re expecting from them. Do you want money, services, or products? Here again be flexible. In our specific case, it is sometimes far easier and palatable to donate t-shirts rather than money if the goal of the event aligns with our values as a t-shirt printing business.
Present your entire value proposition upfront because it’s rare that you’ll get a 2nd chance. Document that you’re planning on sending X number of email blasts to X size list and that you have X number reach on social. Will you be doing flyers, radio, or TV advertising? Any paid search engine marketing? Sponsors will be far more intrigued with an approach that provides a lot of granular detail.
When you land a sponsorship you’ve really done the hardest part by building a relationship. To cultivate that relationship for next year’s event or sponsorships for similar events, it important that you deliver what was promised to the sponsor at a bare minimum. Giving them more than expected will set you above other event opportunities presented to them in the future. Even providing additional exposure they weren’t expecting on a channel like social media for example. When you do this be sure to make the sponsor aware of the extra perks given.
After the event, follow up by providing all the relevant statistics and results from the event like how much money was raised, how many people attended or participated, and all social statistics like reach, likes, shares, comments, interviews, press mentions, etc.
Design Cuts- This site offers freebies for all types of design projects so you’ll need to sift through to find assets that will work for your projects. You can find things like textures and patterns, vector elements, brushes for Photoshop, and graphics.
Creative Market- Offering a wide variety of designer resources including lots of free fonts and graphics, the freebies section should be checked weekly as they only release a few free goods each week. Additional free goods can be unlocked with small purchases.
Spoon Graphics– Created by Chris Spooner, this blog offers a ton of really excellent tutorials, videos, and of course free graphics and assets for designers. For a small monthly fee, you can access premium content to take your t-shirt designing and marketing to the next level. If you want to learn how to pull off a new effect, his how-to section is out of this world. We love this guy!
EnvatoElements- Most of the offerings from this site are subscription based but they do offer a limited number of free designer elements each month so subscribing to their email list is a great idea for inspiration. The site caters to a wide variety of designer needs including web development so there’s no guarantee that the monthly freebies will be of value to t-shirt designers.
Graphic Burger- This site offers a lot of high quality mockup solutions for marketing your designs as well as fonts and graphics available for commercial use. Most offerings consist of PSD files created by the owner and submitted resources from creatives around the world. Premium products are available for a fee if you see something that catches your eye.
TheHungryJpeg- Be sure to check this site every Wednesday for the freebie of the week which comes with a commercial license for designers. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. They also offer $1 deals which are practically free.
Sellfly- This site is actually a service that allows digital designers to sell their digital goods like fonts, website templates, and more but they have a section where the same designers can provide freebies in exchange for exposure on the site. We’ve found a few true gems in this list for both t-shirt design and marketing.
Shutterpulse – Offering free Photoshop Actions, this site is great for really dressing up your photo shoots of products and designs.
Dreambundles – Download their free font bundle for edgy and very useful fonts to use in designs and marketing.
Creative Booster – This site offers a treasure trove of design elements like fonts, graphics, and templates. And of course with this many designers offerings congregated on one site, you’re going to get a healthy dose of inspiration.
DesignBundles - You will find limited time availability of design features on this site so check back often to snag resources like SVG’s, vectors, and illustrations.
Pixelo - This site offers bundled elements for sale to creatives that are handpicked for their subscribers but they do have a limited selection of free items.
Open Clip Art – If you’re in a pinch for a design element or you just want a base piece to build on, you just might find what you’re looking for here. Downloads are available as SVG, PNG, and PDF.
FreeDesignResources – The name says it all here. You’ll find almost limitless assets to assist in your t-shirt designing and marketing of your business including mockup templates of all kinds, fonts, elements and tons of inspiration.
DeviantArt – This is one of the oldest online communities of artists showing off their talents. In many cases assets are made open to public use with varying restrictions and licenses. Each member controls their own terms. Being quite old, some assets are listed as available but the links no longer work so you forewarned, it’s kind of like shopping at Goodwill. There’s a ton of great stuff but you really have to sift through to find it.
PixelBuddha – Great for mockups and marketing, the freebie category is not for mass reproduction. If you find something you love and want to include in an end product t-shirt design, you’ll need to contact the artist directly for licensing.
Pixabay - Known primarily for photography, an overlooked aspect to this site are freebie vectors perfect for enhancing your design ideas. Everything is released under Creative Commons license.
Tutorials and forums for learning the art of screen printing t-shirts is next on our list of resources. Here are communities and sites we recommend for education. If screen printing your own designs is not your business priority, of course we recommend our services as custom t-shirt printers with decades of experience under our belt.
Ryonet Blog – This company is actually a screen printing supply company but to market their products to screen printers they’ve developed an impressive resource in their blog and YouTube channel.
Catspit Productions LLC – This company offers an immense library of how to screen print articles and videos as well as screen printing supplies and machinery.
T-Shirt Forums – One of the oldest t-shirt printing forums on the web, this site is where you go when you have specific questions about a problem you’re encountering. Chances are someone has already asked the question in many different ways and been provided answers from expert screen printers.