Maybe you have heard that small businesses account for a significant portion of the U.S. economy. What does that actually mean? According to the federal government’s Small Business Administration, small businesses were responsible for creating 65 percent of net new jobs between 2000 and 2018. That is a truly massive impact.

So, it makes sense that any small business would want to grow and become an even stronger powerhouse of job creation and benefits to the local or national community. One way for businesses of all sizes to grow is to attend trade shows, and that’s due to the enormous opportunities for direct marketing that these shows afford to participants.

However, if you are a small business owner looking to break into trade shows, you may have no clue where to begin. In that case, here are 15 helpful tips for small businesses to succeed at the trade show game.

1. Know What You Want

Few small businesses have the luxury of throwing around time and money to anything they want at any given time. Funds are often tight, and if you are planning to start marketing your business through trade shows, you had better know what you want to get out of it. Your goals will depend on your industry and business type. Do you want more sales of your software product? Are you looking for more leads for your law firm? Knowing what your business needs to take from the trade show will go a long way toward helping you devise a marketing plan.

2. Choose Your Show Wisely

It costs money to attend trade shows. Whether it’s the fees to set up there, the costs of traveling, or the productivity lost from sending a few employees away from their jobs to staff the booth, you’re going to be spending money. Therefore, it behooves you to make sure you are attending the right trade shows. Yes, small shows will cost less, but your audience will be smaller, too. Industry-related shows will probably feature some competitors of yours, but at least you’ll know your audience will be right. It’s a give and take at most trade shows. You just have to know which ones will be worth what you give up.

3. Market before the Show

You are going to have the attention of probably thousands of people when you get to the actual show, but why not increase those numbers by advertising your attendance well in advance? Get on social media and let people know you will have a booth at an upcoming trade show near them! Give them a sneak peek of your booth if it will feature some cool displays, or let people know your booth number if you have that information. Your customers who see your posts and want to attend the show will then come right to you. In doing this, you will have effectively attracted a direct audience instead of simply marketing to the unknowable crowds who will be milling past you.

4. Staff Your Booth

Since you already know your marketing goals in attending this trade show, you probably also have an idea of which of your employees should staff the booth. Taking the example of a tech start-up: people who see your software display will likely have questions about the product. Therefore, it makes sense to have a technician at the show who can answer technical questions. Conversely, if you are a law firm and need more leads, an actual lawyer will be best for the show, since he or she can explain to potential customers how the firm can help with their problems.

5. Design Your Booth

Booth design is where a lot of your trade show budget will go, but you do not necessarily need to have the biggest, most ornate booth. More important is simply that your booth accurately represents what you want to communicate to customers. How will your booth be shaped? What will it look like? What kinds of graphics, colors, or logos will be displayed? Will you have any interactive exhibits there? These are all vital questions. Remember: you do not necessarily need the most gaudy display ever seen at a trade show, but you do need one that tells customers almost instantly what you are about.

6. Master Your Communication

This point is somewhat related to knowing what you want and designing your booth. Mastering your customer communication at the trade show is paramount. You might know what you’re selling and have the right kind of booth to show it off, but people will know if something is off about your message. For this part, be prepared to answer questions such as “Why should I choose your product over your competitors’?” and “How will this product help me?” Be consistent across your messaging. Portray your brand with confidence. This will make a difference to potential customers.

7. Be Customer Friendly

Knowing your brand and your audience is important. Treating that audience the right way is something else. It should come as common sense that customers expect a certain kind of experience when they attend trade shows. They want to know you take this seriously but are also able to have fun with your business and products. To meet these expectations, do not forget to dress professionally for your trade show, and to greet customers with a smile and be polite during all interactions. Plus, it may not be a bad idea to have some free giveaways available at your booth. Keychains, stickers, water bottles, cups, and t-shirts are all good options here. These will allow people to come away feeling positively about you and your brand.

8. Be Assertive!

The right kind of booth design should ideally bring customers to you to find out what you are all about. But it is also important to get out there yourself and try to draw people in. Do not simply sit behind your booth, watching the passersby, or stare into your laptop doing work all day. Step out to the front of your booth and greet people as they pass. Engage people in conversation to see what happens. You never know what kinds of interactions can result from this!

9. Network with Other Attendees

Yes, many of those other booths at the trade show could be your direct competitors, but it is still absolutely a good idea to do some networking at your show. Find out what other businesses are doing, make some connections, and hand out some business cards. There might be some areas of your business that could benefit from a relationship with another, similar business, and the same could be true of someone else who starts talking to you! The fact is that you never know where professional relationships can come in handy, so be sure to talk to everyone.

10. Market Yourself during the Show

You’re going to be at your trade show for a good number of hours or even longer if it is a multi-day event. While there, be sure to take some photos and post them to your social media accounts to keep your followers up to date on your activities there. These posts will inform and advertise at the same time and will only help to get the word out about what your brand is up to.