Checklist for international business exhibitions.

Overseas exhibitions are a great opportunity to promote your products and services abroad and gain valuable exposure, and find a smooth entry into export markets. Maximising their effectiveness is key to getting a good return on your investment. As with any event, things can go wrong. Preparation is essential. You need to think outside the box, and cover all eventualities and issues, to help ensure things run smoothly in the run up to the event and during the event itself.

Time before show: six to 12 months

  • Research show: who will be there: competitors/potential partners? Is it the right time of year for your business? Is it cost-effective compared to other exhibitions?
  • Look at funding options: is there any funding available for your industry/niche? This may be more applicable to overseas shows but look – it may help you cover the cost of the show and allow you to focus on promotion

Time before show: five to six months

  • Book stand space: in your research you should identify the best time to book stand space. Generally this will be around five months before but for busy shows it may be best to do so earlier
  • Start promoting event: put the event on your website and start talking about it, but don’t overdo the promotion too early as people are likely to forget about it so far in advance

Time before show: five to four months

  • Produce marketing materials: produce photos, flyers and press releases ready for distribution
  • Order stand: plan your stand (colour scheme, logos, straplines) and place your order – iron out the details, such as where it will be delivered
  • Signs for stand: ensure you have all your signs planned, designed and ready to order. Order around the four-month mark and run through the details carefully so you know where they will fit in around your stand
  • Translate materials: your research should tell you what languages are likely to be spoken at the trade show. Make sure you get a professional translation – sloppy work is going to turn off potential customers
  • Order freebies: decide what free goods you’d like to give out at your stand (keyrings, stickers, sweets) and order these in good time, especially if you want them to include your branding
  • Organise show brochure listing: contact the show organisers to ask about getting your company listed in the brochure – they may want your details and biography as early as possible

Time before show: three months

  • Travel documentation: ensure your passport is up to date, and make sure you get the right VISA. If in doubt check with the country’s embassy in the UK. Double check the documentation of staff accompanying you – the last thing you want is your bilingual sales manager to be left at Heathrow
  • Stand lighting: sort out your stand lighting now, including working out transportation arrangements and costs. It might be cheaper to hire it in the host country, but make sure details are watertight so you don’t get let down
  • Business cards: make sure you have plenty of business cards for everyone attending the event, and remember to include international phone numbers to avoid confusion. Order more if you’re running out
  • Vaccinations: don’t leave these until the last minute as doctors’ surgeries are often inundated and some only hold travel clinics weekly or fortnightly. You may have to go private if you can’t get an appointment. Some vaccinations require a course of two or three doses

Time before show: two to three months

  • Accommodation: book your accommodation. If you want cheaper accommodation then make sure you book as early as possible or the cheapest will soon get filled up. If the event is big, you may need to go further afield, and don’t forget to check for discounted rates for attendees
  • Book interpreter: make sure you do this in advance as there will be many companies at the trade show looking for the same thing. Your research should tell you which languages you’ll need – it may be cheaper to use two interpreters with one language each rather than a multilingual, and potentially more expensive, interpreter
  • Order furniture and floor/carpeting: order the furniture you need for your stand. Make sure this is coordinated with the design of the stand and your overall colour scheme. If you’re on a budget, keep things simple. If you have more money, you may wish to consider something more innovative
  • Confirm electrical supplies: confirm with the show what power will be available (whether it’s mains, 3-phase etc), and total up how many outlets you’ll need for computers/laptop chargers/specialist equipment. It’s better to overestimate if unsure. Either let the show know (if they provide the sockets/connections), or ask them who to contact.
  • Finalise shipping arrangements: ensure shipping arrangements are sorted for any goods you’ll need at the show. If you can get away with taking them with you when you travel, check with the airline/travel company to confirm this. If not, research possible couriers and choose wisely. Consider things like insurance and a plan b – what will you do if something goes wrong and the goods don’t arrive?
  • Sort personal transport: will you be flying or traveling by sea? Will everyone be traveling together? What are the restrictions on baggage? Book your transport as early as possible to both secure the lowest possible rate and ensure peace of mind. If booking multiple flights use a frequent flyer programme and save yourself money in the long run.

Time before show: one month

  • Purchase insurance: the type of insurance you need will depend upon the type of exhibition, what goods you’re transporting, who will be going etc. It may be worth talking to a specialist insurance company. At the very least you’ll public liability insurance, employer’s liability insurance and professional indemnity insurance. Don’t forget to also get travel insurance for yourself, which will cover medical expenses should you fall ill
  • Organise finance: this may involve setting up a bank account in the country you are going to, or even changing up currency and taking it abroad. You may also wish to consider pre-paid credit cards for additional security. If carrying cash, bear in mind customs restrictions which cap the amount of local currency that can be carried into and/or out of the country
  • Make a packing list: aside from the large items, such as stand furniture, make a list of all the smaller items you’ll need at the exhibition. This will include stationary and paper to mobile phones and business cards. Put the list aside and check it regularly to make sure you don’t miss anything. And don’t forget to include a toolkit: you never know when you’ll need a screwdriver or drill to adjust your stand
  • Produce samples: depending on the services/products you offer, you may wish to produce samples that you can take along to the show to demonstrate, or to give away as free. Larger items will need to be produced further in advance, especially if they need to be couriered or shipped to your destination
  • Ensure arrangements are in place: this includes business arrangements, such as who will be handling important decisions in your absence, what to do in an emergency, etc, but also personal arrangements so that you can leave knowing everything is in order. Going away already stressed will not set you up for a successful exhibition.

Time before show: two weeks

  • Double check arrangements: go over all arrangements and ensure you haven’t missed anything. Confirm all details with the exhibition organisers, airline, furniture suppliers, etc.
  • Sort out clothing: take your suit to the dry cleaners if necessary. Consider if there will be an unusual dress code – check with the organisers if unsure.
  • Cultural considerations: are there cultural considerations in your host country? Will you cause offence if you aren’t aware of them? Do your research and ensure a good first impression.