Trade shows can be a valuable business tool, if used correctly. Most people are familiar with how big trade shows are run, and some of the elaborate displays and booths that try to capture the attention of passer-by in the all-important first few seconds. Whether you are an exhibitor at a trade show, or an attendee walking around getting accosted by exhibitors, several common factors arise to determine whether the show is a success. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve been at two trade shows. At the first, we were an exhibitor, and at the second we were an attendee. We’ll hit the high points of these and other trade show experiences to start teasing out strategies which can be used at any trade show to get the most out of them for your small business.
That’s right, a month before most people get excited about what their refund might be, business owners across the country have been struggling to get their business tax returns across the finish line on March 15th, the deadline for business taxes.
If you work for a small business, ever wonder why your boss gets cranky about this time each year, or the week or so after the end of each quarter? Because of this special day for year-end taxes, and more special days each quarter, small business owners live on a different tax calendar than most people. Businesses which use fiscal years are on yet another special tax calendar.
One of the most important differences between running a small business and simply having a job is the need to attract customers to your business or your services. Sales and marketing (two different but related activities) requires specialized knowledge and skills. Many small business owners hate doing these activities almost as much as they hate doing taxes, but they are critical to your success. Fortunately, sales and marketing can be a lot of fun, if you look at it the right way. We’re going to talk about a lot of fun ideas for marketing your business, and making sales.
At first, though, it can be daunting. It is tough for an expert (you are an expert in something or else you wouldn’t have started your business) to hear no. Worse, experts, especially technical or physical hands-on experts, can often be introverted and thus focused inward on their expertise, which makes it even harder to strike up conversations. Besides, shouldn’t your target market already want to do business with you? And if you are so great, why isn’t your plate already full? These can be self-fulfilling, spiraling doubts unless you’ve learned how to do these activities well.
“Your job is to make my job easier.”
Every now and then a TV show will produce a nugget of wisdom, and that quote above is one of the best I’ve seen. In the TV show “Sopranos”, mob boss Tony was telling a subordinate to get his act together and stop doing thoughtless things that made Tony’s day harder. On the other hand, for years, the cartoon strip “Dilbert”, the TV show “The Office”, and the movie “Office Space”, all of which I enjoy, laid subtle memes that bosses are out-of-touch idiots and suitable objects for ridicule. These media icons, and others like them before and since, are successful because they take real situations and amplify the silly parts. Soon, everyone in the office or in the shop is laughing about how “that’s so true!” about their own boss, when in reality the comparison is probably only superficial. High-tech people are especially prone to absorption of these memes and subsequent impatience with bosses and coworkers alike; the stereotypical IT guy isn’t, in turn, a source of humor for no reason. In my younger years, I succumbed to the dark side a time or two myself, and in the process limited my own success. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us (show of hands, here’s mine) have dipped our toe in this pool. The ease of Internet web-snarking and trolling, allowing these habits to quickly metastasize across organizational boundaries, doesn’t help, either.
Back in 1998, we started SoftBaugh to give ourselves a vehicle to do two things: a) design, manufacture and sell our own products, and b) help others do the same.
The road to that point, and the road since, has been a long and winding one. At the Naval Academy, some friends and I started a company. The Marine Corps sent me to learn sales and marketing skills at Xerox to prepare me for recruiting duty. While an Operations Officer at Marine Corps Recruiting Station Cincinnati, I first became exposed to the bimonthly Midnight Engineering magazine, and even had an article published in that magazine about time management skills as taught at the Naval Academy. That magazine, and some phone calls with Bill Gates (the real one who ran the magazine; that software guy is a different one) planted the seed for me to run my own business.