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the top tens

Elevated View of Stalls at a Business ExhibitionDigital Vision./Getty Images

The ability to be seen and be heard by prospective clients is one of the greatest needs of any small business. In today's rapidly changing business environment, small businesses need to be more and more creative with how they reach their target market.

Once upon a time, cold calls were an efficient way to make contact, but that method has fallen out of favour and you'll unlikely find willing ears on the other end of the line, and messages are rarely returned. Likewise, the new Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) has made attempts to contact prospects via email more challenging than ever. Without explicit consent, this marketing tool is virtually useless.

That's why now more than ever, participating in a trade show is important. Trade shows offer a captive, interested audience of like-minded prospects and current customers right at your fingertips, and an efficient way to get more out of your marketing dollars. Here are ten other reasons why your small business should get involved:

1. Connections. Most trade shows encourage both delegates and exhibitors to establish a year-round working relationship by connecting them using LinkedIn, blogs, newsletters, matchmaking and webinars.

2. Face-to-face contact. Both prospects and current customers frequent trade shows, so it's an efficient and personal way to network, market, and sell directly to your target audience. Make sure to ask the show management for their target audience or the delegate list from the previous year to ensure it's the right event for you.

3. Product demonstration. People attend trade shows to seek out new products and services, so it's the perfect opportunity to put those new products directly into their hands – literally. Attendees are able to touch, feel, hear and see how your product or service can fulfill a need that their business has.

4. Stronger relationships. Attending receptions and other networking event gives you the opportunity to engage in relationship building with others in your industry – including influential decision makers – and a chance to collect useful intelligence to take home with you.

5. Educational opportunities. Education sessions can help you better understand the challenges and trends in your industry, strengthen your business strategy, better position yourself to your clients, and move your business forward.

6. Free media exposure. Most trade shows generate a significant amount of media coverage. Work with show management and their public relations team to determine any opportunities for your booth to be featured. The result can be additional free exposure in trade magazines, television and radio.

7. Share expertise. Explore opportunities for your company to participate as a speaker. You will automatically be positioned as a thought leader in the industry by attendees looking for trustworthy and knowledgeable industry experts.

8. Hype generation. Trade shows give you another opportunity to reach out via social media to talk up your company. You can tweet about the offerings at your booth or post a message on your Facebook page about what new service or product you'll be promoting. It's also an opportunity to let your social media following know about other learnings.

9. Buying power. According to a report from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, 81 per cent of trade show attendees have buying authority. That means more than 4 out of 5 delegates visiting the show floor have money to spend.

10. Good PR. Participating in a trade show tells current customers and prospects that your company is financially strong, innovative, and actively reaching out to share your successes with them. It also demonstrates your drive and competitiveness – you're not sitting back and letting the competition grab the spotlight.

Isabella Wai is the director of convention exhibits for HealthAchieve, the Ontario Hospital Association's annual conference and exhibition. HealthAchieve is the largest show of its kind in North America. For more information visit, or @healthachieve

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