We are the change

The truth about my experience exhibiting at Business2012

Last week I gave up my Mother’s Day to freeze my ass off at the O2 Arena with about 300 other exhibitors and about 10,000 very annoyed exhibition attendees.   In the past I have managed to successfully resist the temptation to exhibit at these types of events as I have felt that for my marketing spend, there are better ways to get my brand and my business in front of my target audience.  But this year, I was given an offer I couldn’t refuse.  The offer of a free stand in exchange for marketing this fantastic multi-speaker event and exhibition to my database of aspiring and successful women in business.  How could I resist?

I should have known better, but the temptation of free was too big a draw.  What I should have realised was that a free stand does not mean that I am able to exhibit for no cost.  In the past, I have watched others spend far more and come out with far less, but I decided that this year I would give it a go.  The marketing machine that was Business2012 was phenomenal.  They quickly got the likes of Regus, Blackberry, Google on board which gave the exhibition credibility.  They had a fantastic team of people leading the project with a lot of experience and expertise in running successful exhibitions.  They were everywhere.   We agreed to be part of this marketing extravaganza, tweeting, facebooking, emailing our database about this fabulous event with fabulous speakers, though admittedly they suffered from the same malaise that seems to exist at all these types events of not being able to find any leading female speakers.

keeping warm at business2012There has been enough written already on Twitter and other blogs about what happened on the first day but needless to say, it was a little dis-organised on the Sunday.  10:00 am came and went, as did 11:00 am with no sign of any visitors coming through the door.    For reasons that I still quite don’t understand, the O2 hadn’t managed to provide the all important internet access to the exhibition.  Chaos ensued.   The biggest mistake the organisers made was deciding that they needed people to have their own badges – tickets just weren’t good enough.  This decision forced people to wait in the freezing cold arena, reportedly 2 degrees Celsius for over 90 minutes before common sense prevailed and they were let in.   The visitors took their wrath to Twitter.  Once you have an angry mob, it’s very difficult to placate them but as the day unfolded, people’s tempers improved, if not their body heat.   More could be said on this and don’t get me started on the cocktail party, but I think I’ll leave it at that.

Thankfully by Monday morning, everything ran more smoothly as the organisers learned from their mistakes.  Schedules were printed, people were being directed to the right places and things started to settle down.  But it was still cold.

As this was my first exhibition, I put a call out on Twitter asking for advice.  I got some great tips back including “have a good show offer”, “take two pairs of shoes”, “have lots of handouts” – which thankfully we did as we managed to distribute over 4000 of our latest magazine.  I have to believe that some people somewhere make enough money at exhibitions to make the process and the spend worthwhile.  However I don’t think I am one of them.

Learning from the day

Here are some of my learning and tips if you are considering exhibiting at an event like this, and much as I wish I had done these things, I didn’t – so please learn from my mistakes and observations.

1. Have a high ticket item.  If you want to make money, make sure that you have a high priced product that you are selling.  It’s much easier to make £5000 from selling 5 £1000 products than 500 £10 products

2. Location, Location, Location.  Get a corner stand in a high traffic area.  Corner stands give you two access points to be noticed and seen.  Make sure that you choose your spot wisely and don’t settle.

3. Make sure the exhibition has the right audience.  It doesn’t matter how many people are coming through the door if they are not your target market ( and really check this as what seems like the right audience my not always be so)

4. Look professional.  In spite of the fact that our stand cost £500 to fit out, I was really pleased with the way it looked and it was definitely attractive.    Spotlights really brighten  up your space and make it more inviting.

5.  Have a good show offer.  Have an offer that can’t be refused and creates curiosity

6. Speak loads. Get as many speaking slots as you can and make sure you tie your show offer into that.

7. Make your speaking slot compelling.  The first seminar that I saw that literally had people busting out of the doors was “How to start a business with no money”

8. Take the sale on the stand.  Once they have left, your opportunity to sell to them decreases by 95%

My results

Unfortunately for me after 3 days exhibiting I captured about 250 email addresses of which realistically only 50 were in my target market.   I spent £1330  on furniture and staffing.  Gave  up my mothers day, which I missed far more than I thought I would and used up about 6 days of my time that I can never get back, when I should have been enjoying the success of the Thrive2012! Conference that we had held the previous week.  The one thing that I did enjoy was connecting with all the fantastic exhibitors there.  I met some wonderful people like Susan Hallam from Hallam Internet and Pip Thomas from Inbay.

I share this with you not to complain, as I chose to do this knowing that it was an experiment, but as an open and honest account of what it is to exhibit at a large scale event.  I’d be really interested in your experiences, particularly if you’ve been able to make exhibitions work for your business.


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  1. Hazel Edmunds says

    I was there. I was one of the unfortunates who waited for a ticket I didn’t need and having limited mobility that was NOT funny.
    And I didn’t find your stand.
    That’s enough of that – I shan’t bother with next year as an attendee.
    My personal experience of exhibiting is that the smaller events are well worthwhile – where the “stand” is a table and the exhibition area is around the speaking arena – but that my message gets lost at bigger events.

  2. Michelle says

    I have really enjoyed reading your post, we went to an awful exhibition last week which was supposed to have had 1000 tickets already sold and a further 4000 people booked to attend…I would say maybe 80 people walked through the doors 🙁

    I am always looking for events/exhibitions to showcase my business, my target market is women who are looking to earn a supplementary income or mums who may be looking to work from home around their children. If you know of any events happening where either of these type of people will be there, please give me a shout 🙂

    Thanks, Michelle Xx

    1. Claire Fahy says

      Hi Michelle,
      I am new to the Women Unlimited Website and whilst browsing I noticed your comments about attending exhibitions and how you have a business which you target “women who are looking to earn a supplementary income or mums who may be looking to work from home around their children.”.

      I am looking for any opportunity to work from home to earn some money and wondered if you could let me know what it is you actually do and what work is involved in your business.



  3. Philippa Davies says

    Hi Julie

    A very useful experience to hear about – sorry you had it though!

    . I get the impression these days that many event organizers just think they’ll invite loads of speakers to run workshops, who’ll bring loads of their contact and hey nonny nonny…

    There’s little thought to good and coherent content. It may sound puritanical but have taken to asking ‘ Am I going to learn anything here?’ before going anywhere these days – as even if I’m just after exposure any meaningful interactions are going to involve sharing stuff…

    Thanks for the post


  4. Alison Matthews says

    I registered but didn’t go. It all seemed a bit too big and overwhelming. After hearing the grumbles afterwards, I was very glad I didn’t bother. And, I had been worn down by the constant emails, which are still coming – I’m getting so fed up with them I’m not even reading them now, I’m close to unsubscribing.

  5. inge woudstra says

    Just wanted to say a big thank you. I has a stall at a local event last night and took at heart all your tips. Even though it was my first time running a stall, I got a lot of results from it! Thanks to your ideas. Very, very much appreciated. You are a star!

  6. OliveOlga says

    Sorry to hear you had such a nightmare. Two further points from me:

    1. As well as the cost of the stand, one has to factor in one’s time. The time to prepare, the time at the show, the time to follow-up, is all in place of delivering other promo, sales, marketing activities and servicing your clients.

    We are just a two-person business, so on returning from a recent 2-day show we had a backlog of the usual day’s business that we were unable to administer whilst at the show (and one person on the stand is rarely sufficient).

    2. Measuring the return on investment is very hard unless you provide a product/service for which sales increases occur within weeks of a show. Simply “signing up” customers or subscribers isn’t enough; it’s the sale of your core product/service that counts and that may not come for some time after the show, by which time any number of other marketing activities might have influenced the sale

  7. Jackie Groundsell says

    Well said Julie and Commentors. As you know I visited on the Monday. Why the organisers didn’t think to themselves – this is a large tent, people who come here will be cold – is beyond me, but I suppose a budget is a budget. Knowing that the people behind the organising and marketing had been involved in many other successful large exhibitions, I was amazed at the disorganisation. I suppose it also depends on one’s definition of “successful”.

    I’d arranged to meet up with other networkers in the Regus Lounge in the morning and this was probably (apart from visiting your stand 🙂 ) the most valuable part of my visit.

    I do question the value of business exhibitions these days. I wasn’t interested in the seminars, as from past experience they’re all about selling. I don’t want to be sold to and this was another complaint I heard over and over again. The money for the organisers is made in the sale of stands and when there is a huge number of stands, they make a huge amount of money. Invariably there are the tyre-kickers with nothing better to do than wander around the stands all day.

    For the past 10 years, 1230 TWC has held an annual conference, sometimes in London and some locally to us in Bromley. For nine years the conferences have been held on or near to International Women’s Day. Because 2012 is such an exciting landmark in UK history – and – it is 1230 TWC’s 10th Birthday, we decided to place our Conference inbetween the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the Olympic Games – 19 June, in London.

    We’re very proud of our conferences, and if I can be forgiven for giving a plug – 1230 Just Do It! Conference and Diamond Gala Dinner on Tuesday 19 June. I’m also delighted to say that Julie is attending.

    It is packed with information, inspiration, learning, fun, networking from beginning to end, with the most amazing speakers, as well as some surprises. Yes, there are stands – but these add to the valued experience for those attending and work well for the exhibitors as part of a Conference, as opposed to part of a “cold” exhibition. “Cold” as in atmosphere, as opposed to temperature.

    We’re pleased to offer Women Unlimited readers a special 10% discount on Conference and Gala Dinner entry, stands, everything! Just enter Coupon Code WUJH when booking on-line. So please take a seat with a coffee/favourite tipple, be prepared to be amazed as you take a good look around the web site and then book!

    Please come and say Hi!

    1. Steve Ashton says

      Julie, you definitely make some valid points regarding large exhibitions. Having worked in exhibitions for over 20 years I have seen a real shift in what people require; both as an exhibitor and visitor. The large scale events at the NEC etc can be great but unless you intend to attend every day then you cannot possibly get to see everyone. However your most valid observation is a strange trend for organisers to fill their events with so many seminars/presentations and demonstrations that the visitors do not get time to go around the exhibition stands !!! Madness. Be wary of ever getting a free stand … normally means an organiser cannot do their own marketing or that they are just going for blanket numbers rather than quality. Keep them small and focused.