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One of the best places for small business owners to make connections and market their ideas is a trade show. The right trade show can provide you with an “in” to kick start your business. For business owners with a great invention, it’s hard to beat attendance at a good trade show.

Your trade show attendance isn’t just about making connections, either. It is also a chance for you to attend helpful sessions on a variety of strategies and techniques that, when applied, can boost your business. However, attending a trade show requires planning, since most trade shows cost money.

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Nicole Lininger, the Director of INPEX, the largest trade show for inventors in the United States, believes that it’s important to prepare for any trade show. She also works for InventHelp, the sister company to INPEX, to help small business owners and inventors prepare for trade shows.

“The goal is to connect inventors and entrepreneurs to companies,” Lininger says. “If you have an idea, you can market it at a trade show, connecting with decision makers that can potentially help you advance your product.”

If you want to make the most of your next trade show, Lininger offers five tips that any inventor or small business owner can use to make the most of any trade show:

1. Prepare an Elevator Pitch

“You need to be able to talk about yourself in a short, concise manner,” says Lininger. Any business owner needs to be able to describe what he or she does in 45 seconds or less — about the time you have on an elevator ride. Craft a pitch that is straightforward, and clearly describes your business, product, or invention. Do your best to make it attention-grabbing. If you can’t explain what you do quickly and clearly, work on your concept until you can.

2. Bring Someone With You

This is about dividing and conquering. If you are attending a trade show as an exhibitor, this is especially important. “You don’t want to be the only person in your booth,” says Lininger. “If you have to go somewhere, it’s good to have someone else in the booth so that attendees can speak with someone.”

Whether you need to attend a meeting, or whether there is an informative master class that you wish to learn from, you need to feel comfortable about leaving your booth.

3. Offer Giveaways

“Giveaways are always good,” says Lininger. “A promotional item with info about you and your company is something that others can take with them, and remember you.”

Not only will a giveaway draw more people to your booth if you are an exhibitor, but the item you choose can help you stand out in another’s memory. This works even if you aren’t exhibiting. A giveaway is a perfect way to break the ice, and create an impression in a potential partner’s mind. “If you already have a product sample, that’s the best giveaway,” says Lininger. “You can demonstrate your product, or pass out a few.”

4. Use Business Cards Effectively

Don’t forget that business cards are still a big part of the trade show experience. Lininger says that many small business owners, inventors, and purchasing representatives still pass out business cards at INPEX and other trade shows. It makes sense to run off business cards of your own.

When you collect a business card from someone, quickly jot down information on the back. “As you collect business cards, jot down notes on the back,” suggests Lininger. “Make a note of the people you need to follow up with, or who you promised a sample to. You want to be able to follow up quickly, and keep your promises.”

This also works on an electronic level. You can use apps like Evernote to snap images of business cards and people, and then attach notes so that you remember your connections, and so that you can form better partnership with them later.

5. Attend Informative Classes and Sessions

When it comes to INPEX, Lininger says that there is the possibility to buy a pass to educational sessions. “You can get a pass to seminars and presentations before the floor opens,” she says. Many other trade shows and conferences offer this option as well.

If you are an inventor or small business owner who isn’t quite ready to exhibit, this can be a good way to learn, as well as to network. For those who are wary of paying to attend a show right now, check to see if there is a public access option. INPEX opens its doors to the general public on the final day, and this can be just the right opportunity to walk the floor and get a feel for the show. Lininger also suggests that you can get more tips by following trade shows like INPEX on Twitter. (INPEX is @Invention_Show.) There are numerous online resources that can help you get ready for any trade show.

Plan ahead, and your trade show experience can be the perfect place to market your idea to potential partners and buyers.

About Miranda Marquit

Miranda is a financial journalist. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, online and off, and been mentioned by the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, NPR, and Consumerist. Miranda is a contributor to U.S. News & World Report, and writes at the blog Planting Money Seeds. She is also a panelist for the Money Mastermind Show, a LIVE web show that airs every Wednesday at 10 p.m. Eastern.

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  • Dave

    It’d be so cool to create something innovative and bring it to invent helps attention. I’ve dreamed of becoming an inventor my whole life. Sadly I don’t have the knowledge to make anything innovative myself. But, maybe one day I’d have that chance. :)

  • Andrea Martin

    I’ve been to a trade show once and I feel it’s quite a chaotic event, at least it was for me. InventHelp is a great company that does many great things. I have ideas that I may consider them for in the near future. Thanks for the article, it was really helpful!

  • Nick Rodney

    If you have an invention, it’s always best to play it safe, but following these techniques are clearly the best way to do things. Trade shows are great places and when you got InventHelp and company in on it, that makes things that much more better.

  • Roger Burr

    I’ve had my fair share of ideas floating around in my mind. Going to a trade show for InventHelp/ at the INPEX convention would be quite the experience. I wish I could go to one of these trade shows. Maybe I could have my ideas ready to showcase.

  • Carl McGraw

    These are all great tips for an inventor to wow people. I know for one I have tried some of these methods for other reasons, mainly for my job and all. These tips to generally work for a lot of things, but I bet they work just as good for inventors.

  • Amy Pert

    I suppose an elevator pitch can be fun, but bear in mind that it can be perceived as trying to entrap someone into a pitch. I agree with what you say though, it is effective and if you can keep it short and to the point, my original point wont matter.

  • Michael Jacobson

    Really good tips. I agree with everything listed. I am a novice inventor myself, well I attempt to invent things. I never thought of offering giveaways, could give it a try after all, maybe as a trial run or something.

  • Lisa Arden

    I have some fresh ideas I’d like to discuss. Would be cool to talk to someone about them. Hopefully these tips help me, as I will be going to an INPEX show by InventHelp in the near future. Can’t wait! :)

  • Damon Cameron

    I’ve tried an elevator pitch before. It actually went really well. The guy I pitched to, told me I had a great idea, but that it needed to be fleshed out more. I am doing a lot of work on my product and hope to announce what it is at some point.

  • Carol Roberts

    I’m for sure bringing someone with me if I ever go to any shows like the INPEX convention. I believe if I have someone with me, it will help me show that I maybe have someone working for or with me, maybe that’ll tell them I mean business. Of course I am new to all of this, so I will give each tip a try.

    Business cards sound like a fun idea. I’ve never owned business cards, but I’ve always wanted to give ones out to people. Would be so exciting to do.

  • masterofwebb

    I agree with bringing in someone to help you bring more excitement to your Booth than yourself only. It’s also much better, since 2 heads are better than one.

  • milkyway

    Having a great pitch or some sort of thing that attracts others is important. Many like things that have some pizzazz or something like that to excite them.