Dear Karen: Can you offer any advice for our first trade show?
Answer: Trade shows are excellent opportunities for small-business owners to sell, research the competition and network. But they can be costly and overwhelming, especially for first-timers.
Kimberly Grustas, co-founder of skin care company Good for You Girls, said meeting retail customers and prospects is the biggest benefit of trade shows. She sets goals and makes appointments with buyers and media contacts several months ahead. "Have backup team members in your booth and an electronic press kit available at the trade show press center," Grustas said.
Research before you travel. Some shows are "get to know you," and others are "serious, order-writing shows," Grustas said. Most important, follow up with prospects afterward.
Make networking choices carefully
Dear Karen: I can't afford to advertise. Is networking an effective alternative?
Answer: Networking doesn't replace advertising, but it can help you find clients. If you're not comfortable networking, join a speakers group or take a class, said Gene Fairbrother, principal at MBA Consulting Inc. in Dallas.
"Some people are so shy they wait for other people to come to them. Other people are so pushy no one wants to listen to them. Where you want to be is somewhere in the middle," Fairbrother said.
Choose networks carefully: There are online social networks, private clubs and local chambers. Make a list and attend one or two of their functions to determine whether the group will work.
"Choose two, three or four that you can commit to really participate in. Just showing up every month or two is not going to get you networking results," Fairbrother said.
Join local charities and community groups where you can meet prospects and gain visibility for your products or services, but don't be a hanger-on.
"If you find that a specific group is no longer a viable source for driving business to you, get out and find another group," he said.
Start-ups need to closely track cash
Dear Karen: What's the most important thing to do when starting a company in these tough times?
Answer: In the current economic climate, it's more important than ever to set up a realistic budget and closely track your cash flow. If you're not financially literate, take a small-business accounting course or work closely with an accountant who specializes in small business.
Cash has always been king in small business, and it's particularly true in this era of tight credit, said Jonathan Blitt, chief executive of Aztec Software, which offers financial education software for small businesses.
"It's imperative to do an expenditure analysis that takes into account complex items, such as insurance costs, payroll taxes, the cost of human assets and overhead costs," he said.
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