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As winter fades, spring ushers in an explosion of outdoor events like farmer’s markets, food festivals, craft fairs and fundraisers – all of which can help your business bloom.
We teamed up with small business owner, candymaker and chocolatier extraordinaire Maura McKnight from The Candy Drawer Confectionary, to bring you some essential advice on attending outdoor events.
Read on to learn why these events are vital for any small business, and how you can get the most out of them.
Benefits of attending events
The most obvious benefit is selling your products, right? Well, while this is undoubtedly important, there are a few other reasons why you’ll want to attend:
- You get to meet likeminded business owners. This is an opportunity to share knowledge, check out the competition, get inspired and build your professional network.
- You can learn from customer feedback. Make the most of this chance to find out which products your customers love most, but also where you could improve to better satisfy their needs.
- You’ll build personal relationships. Running a small business is undoubtedly stressful – and sometimes a little lonely. Attend regular events (like a monthly farmer’s market) and you’ll become part of a supportive community that understands the challenges you face day in and day out.
Ok, I’m convinced – sign me up!
Not so fast! First, you’ll need to choose an event. Before signing up for the first one you see, contact the organizer to see if it makes sense to attend. Find out who else is exhibiting and the type of customers likely to be there, to determine if it’s a good fit for your business.
Maura, our candy confectioner, realized her tasty treats would pair perfectly with wine – so she chose to attend a local wine testing event – an excellent fit for her business.
If you’re considering an event but can’t decide whether to attend or not, get in touch with some of the previous exhibitors and ask for their opinion. Did they generate a lot of leads? Did they make a lot of sales? Do they recommend the event, and why (not)?
If it’s your first event, you might want to start with a smaller event and work your way up, gaining experience as you go.
How do I prepare to make the event a success?
Exhibiting at an event can be intimidating, especially if it’s new to you, as Maura confesses:
Fortunately, it doesn’t need to be terrifying if you follow a few key steps when preparing.
First, you’ll need to choose which of your products to take with you. Rather than bringing absolutely everything, focus on a selection of your top sellers and customer favourites. This will help people to make a purchase, rather than overwhelming them with too many choices.
Now, imagine a crowded farmer’s market or fair with many businesses all vying for attention. You need to cut through all that noise and stand out, right?
This is where bold, beautiful banners reign supreme. They’re perfect for broadcasting a simple message which can be seen from a distance.
Remember to keep your text to a minimum (see our guide for more tips on creating banners).
Once you’ve got somebody’s attention, the next step is persuading them to try your products. Marketing materials like catalogs, rack cards or postcards can help support your sales pitch (for more information see our guide to making the most of your marketing materials).
When Maura attends a farmer’s market, she brings rack cards featuring her top-selling products and a short description of her business. On the back side, she highlights a couple of key differentiators that help her stand out: all her products are handmade, and she can take bulk orders.
When speaking with customers, she uses her catalog to explain her product range. In every bag, she places a postcard offering a 15% discount on orders over $30 to encourage repeat customers after the event.
It’s important to make sure all your materials look consistent, as this helps to inspire confidence in your business. Check out our guide to branding for events for advice on creating a consistent design and communicating a simple, powerful message that sets you apart from the competition.
Remember to order your printed materials a few weeks before the event to make sure everything is ready when the day comes.
What about the weather? Is it a big factor?
Absolutely. Changeable and unpredictable weather can be a real issue, and it pays to be prepared for the worst.
If it’s going to be cold and wet, wear or bring warm layers and waterproof clothes. If you’re setting up a tent, you’ll need weights and a bungee cord to firmly secure it in case of high winds. Paper weights can also come in handy to stop your marketing materials being blown away.
Alternatively, if you’re in the middle of a heatwave, consider bringing some fans to keep cool, and if your products are perishable, be sure to use cooler boxes and ice packs.
What other practical considerations are there?
A key consideration is how you plan to process customer payments. For credit and debit cards, you’ll need a mobile payment app and accompanying card reader (such as Square). It’s a good idea to bring a spare card reader – there’s nothing worse than being unable to take the money your customers are eagerly throwing your way.
Also, while more and more people are increasingly choosing plastic over cash, you’ll still want to bring a cash box with plenty of loose change.
Finally, consider your products and whether you need to bring additional items like display cases, a tablecloth and a trash can for your stand. If you’re handling food, get some disposable gloves and anti-bacterial hand wash.
Be passionate, positive and personable
Passion is infectious – and it’s one of your greatest assets as a small business owner (compared to a corporate giant). Let everyone see how enthusiastic you are about your business and products; your positivity is sure to rub off on them.
And when you next attend an event, remember that it’s not just about how much you sell, but the experience you have, the people you meet and the customer insights you glean.
Maura says it best: “You learn to be nicer than you were when you started. You find out who your customers are, what they want from you and what you need to do to satisfy them.”