What I Learned As A First-Time Vendor

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entitled, “Preparing for a Conference… As a Vendor”.  This past week, I attended Missouri’s Solo & Small Firm Conference for attorneys, paralegals, and legal assistants.  I learned a few things as a first-time vendor that I’d like to share with others who might find themselves in the same boat.

I spent months preparing my booth and my strategies, months that funneled down into a two-day event.  This is what I learned:

Booth set up and location are both important.

On my table, I set out folders that contained a cover letter specific to the event, my resume, a price list for my flat rates, a brochure, and my business card.  I didn’t give these folders out to everyone, but I was sure to get them to every attendee who stopped by my booth and was even remotely interested in my services.  I definitely recommend something like this that’s not too bulky or takes up too much space.  It’s a professional and organized way to get the most important pieces of information into their hands.

For those who weren’t interested in an entire folder of information, I had both my business cards and the brochures set out separately for the taking.  Many who stopped by who didn’t grab a folder did at least grab a business card or brochure.

I showcased with a simple sign that I have been twice published in Pursuit Magazine, a top publication for private investigators.  It was a simple, yet effective way to show my traffic that I have been published as an authority in my discipline.

I had a table top sign and a larger floor sign that listed my top investigation services.  The larger sign was especially helpful in pushing traffic my way.  I believe I would have missed out on some meaningful conversations had my sign not caught their eye.

Booth placement is important, but it’s not everything.  My booth placement couldn’t have been better, partly thanks to pre-planning and partly thanks to chance.  I purposely signed up for booth space directly across from the only coffee/snack station in the exhibitor hall.  I just happened to be sandwiched between a vendor with a golf game that promised the chance to win a bottle of beer and a vendor with the best swag at the event.  So between the beer, swag, and coffee/snack station, I was set up for some great traffic.

Brainstorm at least one unique idea for swag.

Setting out a bowl of nice chocolate was a good call, especially for the afternoon sessions.  I had many attendees stop by my booth for an afternoon chocolate fix, and a few of these turned into more meaningful conversations.

Besides key chain bottle openers and chocolate, my only other giveaway item was a package of attorney trading cards.  This was THE item that I brainstormed and developed completely on my own after much thought.  The time and effort that went into the trading cards was so worth it because they were a huge hit, just as I had hoped.  I enlisted an artist friend of mine to draw up six different famous fictional attorneys from the big screen to showcase.  Then I developed them into baseball-style cards with their picture, the movie or show name, a quote from their character, the name of the actress or actor who played the role, the movie or tv show’s release date, and then a bit of marketing information for my business.  It didn’t take long for attendees to come looking for the “cool attorney cards” they had been seeing around.  Success!

Don’t order too many materials because you’ll be left with boxes of stuff.

Before my first vendor conference, I read that a good rule of thumb is to plan for 25% of attendees to stop by your booth if the event has less than 2,000 attendees and 75% for over 2,000 attendees.  My event had about 800 attendees and I’d say about 250 of them stopped by my booth, or approximately 31%.  That’s just an educated guess.

However, when I ordered my bottle openers and packets of attorney cards, I wanted to be sure I didn’t run out, so I ordered a lot more than I knew I would likely give away.  So I do have boxes of stuff left over, but I also have materials for future conferences and other events.

Have a drawing for something of value that you are offering for free.

My drawing was for $500 in investigative services.  This not only offered up something of value for free, but it didn’t cost me a dime to purchase.  Also, the item of value is directly related to my business AND there is now a better chance to gain the winner’s future business.

Be prepared for hard questions and perfect your elevator pitch, but don’t spend too much time worrying about what you’re going to say.

I found that I mostly had to initiate conversation with the attorneys who dropped by my booth, which was kind of surprising to me.  I typically started with, “What kind of law do you practice?”  Then I followed up with, “Do you ever use private investigators for anything?”  It really was very simple.  I did have two attorneys ask me specific questions that I wasn’t 100% on my answers, so I followed up with both of them after I researched complete answers.

Advertise your booth on social media.

I advertised my upcoming event and booth location on social media starting several weeks before the event.  I used the event’s hashtag and advertised on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.  It paid off.  I had several attendees mention that they not only saw my announcements on social media, but they specifically came to my booth to see the attorney cards I advertised.

Follow these other helpful hints.

I would never ever show up late or skip out early from designated times for vendors.  A couple of my best contacts and potential for earning future business were made at the very beginning or very end of a session.  This means I could have potentially lost out on thousands of dollars of future business just because I was tired and wanted to skip out 30 minutes early from my booth.

Sell yourself, but don’t be too pushy.  Nobody likes a hard sell.  If an attendee just doesn’t seem interested at all, do your best to at least get something into their hands before they walk away.  My biggest push was to get them to drop their business card into my drawing box for the $500 investigative services giveaway because I could then contact them via email after the conference and get them signed up for my newsletter.

If an attendee tells you they have no need for your product or services, don’t just let them walk away.  Several attorneys told me they had no need for a private investigator and started to move past my booth, only to be surprised and interested after I engaged them further by asking what kind of law they practiced and then offered up how I could actually assist them with their workload.  It’s true that not every attorney can use the services I provide.  Not every attendee who walks by my booth has use for me.  But most of them do and it was my job to explain this to them.

Don’t cop out with super cheap swag.  One vendor spent hundreds of dollars on bags that could be used to hold items from all the booths, but the handles kept breaking.  Their bags just got thrown away AND they quickly became known as the “cheap vendor”.

Number one takeaway… attend a conference as a vendor.

If you’ve never thought about being a vendor at a conference, give it some thoughtful consideration.  Discover your target audience, research the conferences they attend, then pull the plug and sign up for the one that makes most sense for your needs, financial ability, and location.

I was hoping for a few potential prospects and instead walked away with at least 15-20 attorneys who will very likely become my future clients, as well as another several that might just take some more nurturing.  It was not only worth the time and expense because it gained me clients, but it helped me to better cater my services to future clients, get in front of a lot of attorneys and shake off my nerves, more fully understand their needs, and get my name out there as a private investigator.