Monday, 4 April 2011

On Career Change Self-Help Books

It all started with a walk and a field full of celandines...

 

You know how a walk can sometimes put things into perspective, well, this morning I was thinking...

Do you want to make loads of money? Sure you do, admit it. Well, here's an idea. I read recently on a career development website, that if you want to turn your passion into a paying career, you have to be able to solve a problem for people. Not just a small, inconsequential problem, but something that they're really desperately worried about.

What could be more worrying than not having a job, or being in a job, but hating so much and wanting to do something different, or feeling that years ago you should have taken a different route and wanting to go back now and try a new path.

So, all you have to do is write a book to tell these people how to change direction.

Explain first why they got into their unhappy situation in the first place (get them on side), make sure they get the point that it wasn't their fault. Tell them their parents and school teachers gave them expectations that didn't really fit with their true values. They've been living lives along paths laid down for them by other people, so it's no wonder they're not happy.

Next, tell them that if they go back to discover what they really wanted when they were young and then focus entirely on that passion, they'll find themselves wonderfully successful and deliriously happy. Now here's the essential point - you have to give them examples of people who've actually done that. Make sure you find quite a lot of examples. If you struggle  here, talk to other self-help authors, lots of them have managed to change career and make money at it.

Publish the book, promote it mercilessly in as many ways as you can, especially with your own blog and with TV interviews and voila, you'll make a fortune. In no time at all, you'll be able to add yourself to the examples of people who've applied your process and become happy and successful. You'll be able to quote yourself as an example in another author's new book.

If you want mega bucks, add a training/workshop programme to your website. Get people to sign up for and pay to join your teaching groups or to see you speak at motivational conferences.

Got the picture?

Over the last few years I've purchased quite a lot of 'you can change your life' type self-help books. A few are I accept, genuine attempts to help, written by people who really believe they have an approach that helps. However, it's becoming incredibly clear to me that there's also a huge and growing number of people out there attempting to make money out of our unhappiness.

I now have a few tests that I apply before buying a new self-helper. First, have a look at their website. If the blog starts a few weeks before the date of first publication and posts fade out after a few months, that to me is a good sign that it's not a serious solution, but a marketing tool to sell the book.

Second, if the website asks you to sign up for workshops or other session that you have to pay for, then give it a wide berth. These are just working on the basis that if you're daft enough to buy the book in the first place, they might as well milk you for a few more dollars too.

If they point you in the direction of other service providers, also be careful - these are just affiliate marketing arrangements, where they get paid if you buy from the affiliate. You can bet they'll have a reciprocal relationship. (I especially disliked an author I read recently, who told you mid-chapter to go and do an online personality test which cost $60, to get the most out of his book - it was a pure plug for an affiliate marketer - how manipulative is that, he couldn't even tackle the whole subject in his own book.)

Finally (for now - I might add some more later), read the book's reviews on Amazon with a wary mind. Check to see how soon after receiving the book, the review was written. Many of these books require weeks of exercises before you complete your transformation. If a review claims to have 'changed my life forever', one week after getting the book, allow yourself the meanest little streak of cynicism and ask yourself if perhaps they're not deluding themselves.

Read the negative reviews too - they can be very enlightening.

I really do question the morals of some self-help authors. If you want to take money off desperate people, get on the self-help bandwagon, personally however, I think there should probably be a new circle of hell reserved just for them.

Years ago when I worked in advertising, one of my clients was a bank. They were the nastiest group of people I have ever met, having a contemptuous opinion of their customers and constantly looking for more and more creative ways to keep them in debt. I'm not sure that I'd put self-serving self-help authors in quite the same category - yet, but we'll see, time will tell.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Here's An Idea For A Laugh

I've been having a halfhearted chuckle to myself this morning. I listened to Woman's Hour and the marketing professional talking about how to distinguish yourself and grow your business. Yet again, we heard the stance of those for whom marketing means spending money, often other people's money.

Oh, what joy it would be if Woman's Hour would dedicate time to explaining to those of us running, or trying to run very small businesses from our kitchen tables, how we might also differentiate ourselves from the competition, find new contacts and new customers, not so much with the investment of half a million, more with twenty quid scraped form the housekeeping this month.

I just love listening to marketing luvvies telling us what we should be doing. So I had this idea. If they're really so clever, let's give them the chance to market one or two of our businesses, using just the resources we have. I'd love to see how they'd do it. No cheating mind - they wouldn't be allowed to tap into their contacts book - only our contacts book.

Because, lets face it, any old marketing manager can throw a few thousand at a campaign and get results, but it takes real skill and wily cunning to do it on a shoe-string. In fact, I think if I ever went back into corporate land, I'd insist that anyone looking for a job with me, first had to put together a marketing plan for a teeny weeny business for less than £50.

Do you think it could be done? I'd love to see them try.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Help For Very Small Businesses - How to Get New Customers

Some Things You Can Do To Find New Customers

Are you running a very small business, or thinking about starting up on your own? If you are, then one of the most critical factors is getting yourself customers - enough to keep you in business.

Lots of people start up with a few customers already 'on their books', usually people you've previously worked with or for. This is a really good way to start, but try not to have all your eggs in this one basket, because the nature of business is that sooner or later the circumstances will change and then you'll be left needing to find yourself some nice new customers to deal with.

So, it's very important to think about how you'll find these precious new contacts, even if at the moment, you have enough business to keep you going. Remember, people move on; the contact who loved you, might be replaced by someone who just doesn't click with you, you do an amazingly good job helping to grow a business, and then find yourself then unable to support their increased needs, your best customer might go belly-up, or decide to sell. There's a lot that can go wrong that's completely out of your control, but if you have a plan for finding new contacts, this isn't going to totally de-rail you when it happens.

So what can you do to attract lovely new prospects? Well, let's face it, none of us very small business owners are going to have mega-budgets to throw at this one, so here are a few suggestions that won't break the bank, but will produce results.

I've divided the ideas into those that work for very small local businesses and those more suitable for very small businesses whose customers are more spread out. Have a read through and see if you could apply them to your business.

Local Business Development 
If your work is done in a limited, local area, then you have a variety of options.

Leaflets
The old chestnut of a local leaflet drop still works. The more you know about the people who'll want your service or product, the better you can target your leaflets. So, if you're offering a gardening service, don't leaflet drop the local blocks of flats - instead, drive or walk around your area and decide which gardens have the most potential - big ones, ones where the owners are too busy to do it themselves, rough looking gardens in posh areas - you get the picture. Then produce a simple leaflet - you can do it on your computer - and print a few off. Then off you go and put them through the letterboxes.

It doesn't always have to be homes you distribute to either. I know a photographer who popped leaflets into the school bags at her daughter's primary school to kick start her business.

Don't do too many at a time, so you can make alterations if you need to. Make your leaflet highlight the benefits your service will give to the customer - what problem will it solve. E.g. Working too hard to be able to do the garden? Don't let your garden let your house down etc...

Leaflets really don't need to be glossy jobs, in fact as a very small business, it's often better to keep it simple. The more personal you can make it, the better. People like to buy from people they feel an affinity for.

Business Cards
I love business cards, they're so portable and easy to use. They might sound a bit tacky, but I bet you read the cards on notice boards don't you? The trick is to say clearly on the card what it is you do. Keep it simple. Then get creative about where you put them - OK, maybe not the phone box (depends on your business, I guess), but lots of shops have notice boards, pubs are another good option, as are churches and church halls. Think about the places in your area where your customers might spend time, and get your card out in those places.

Referrals
Use your existing customers to find your new contacts. This is a REALLY POWERFUL technique. When you're established and doing a great job, it's the type of thing that happens naturally. A customer who's happy with you, is very likely to let other people looking for a similar service, know all about how good you are.

But when you're starting, it's still a good idea to ask your customers if they hear about any possible contacts, to pass on your details. You could leave them with a small quantity of business cards, just in case, if you feel it's quite likely. Don't go in too heavily, remember the main thing is to do an excellent job and build your reputation, but it's fine to gently say that you'd love to hear if they know someone else who'd be interested in your service.

Also, if a customer does refer you and it turns into business for you, reward your referring customer - there's no need to go mad, but a little gesture of thanks goes miles and helps build your reputation even more.

Advertise Locally
Now a HUGE note of caution here. I've spent most of my career involved in advertising in one format or another, and although done correctly, it can work wonders, it is all too easy to get it horribly wrong and blow far too much hard earned cash, achieving nothing.

Now, having said that, the good news is that you can do it well, as long as you proceed with care and think very deeply about what you're doing.

So, think local, think targeted and think cheap. Which route you choose will depend on your target customer, but lets look at an example.

If our local gardener wanted to boost her contacts, what could she do? Well, if she knows that a lot of her customers are church goers, then a small advert in the Parish Magazine might be a good option. She'd need to check how many people it goes to - it's distribution - to be sure it would reach enough potential contacts. Her message would need to be targeted at that audience too.

She could put a small poster in the local pubs where her potential customers live. Posters are also great for libraries, church halls and local shops.

What about local newspapers? 
Well, I wouldn't rule it out, but I wouldn't do it until I was very well established. Remember, a sizeable proportion of the distribution will probably go to people who would never be interested in your service - this is waste and you're paying for it, so unless you're confident that you'll reach the numbers you need, keep this one up your sleeve.

It might be fine for a local garage or car mechanic, but not so good for a local music teacher. Most households will probably be in the market for a car mechanic at some time, but far fewer will ever be looking for a piano teacher. If you're a mechanic, it's possible, if you're a piano teacher, think very, very hard.

Take a cold hard look at the numbers before you part with any money!

Publicity
The difference between publicity and advertising is (forgive me those who spend their lifetimes musing on this) that advertising is coverage you pay for, while publicity is something you get for free. Now in the real world, a lot of publicity is actually paid for in some format or another, but nevertheless, it's a good way for very small businesses to get known.

If you can make a story out of something that you do, have done or are going to do, then there's a good chance your local media (newspapers, radio, perhaps TV) will be interested. The key here is that it must be a story that will interest their audience, not just be nice for you.

So if the gardener just picked up her hundredth customer, that's nice for her, but it's not going to mean much to anyone else, however, if she wins a garden design award for her hundredth customer, then that's news.

There aren't many hard and fast rules here. If there's not much happening in an area, you might get coverage for a weaker story than you'd get in a busy place. But it pays to get yourself known by local media. I'll do a post sometime on how to do this in more detail.

Networking
Cards on the table, I loathe traditional networking events. So unless you're the sort of person that can enter a room full of strangers and instantly start up a conversation, I wouldn't advise too many of these. But networking doesn't really have to be like that.

It's more a case of being amongst the right sort of people. So think about the events where people you want to work with, typically gather and be there too. I think a lot of people dislike the feeling that they are being 'sold to', so instead, it's better to become part of a group and establish yourself so that people are drawn to you gently.

Our gardener might know that because a lot of her customers are church goers, that being involved at the church might be a good way to network with possible contacts. Actually I know a self-employed gardener who has a coffee and cake at her local church coffee shop every week; it's not selling, but it's effective networking.

If your business involves selling to parents of young children, being involved in local school sports might get you contacts.

Networking needs thought, but it's a good way to get yourself known, just don't expect fast results. Remember, people will want to trust you before they do business with you.

Looking Further Afield For Customers

For businesses that don't rely on a tight geographic market, there are other ways to find new customers.

Publicity
This time, rather than looking at local media, think about the trade journals in your field. Trade journals exist for practically every industry out there - don't believe me? Go google, you'll be amazed.

Now these publications really are after as much news as they can get, and they're always pleased to hear from people involved. So get your facts together and give them a story. I'll post on writing press releases another day - if you can't wait, there's lots of information online or great books on the subject.

If you have something new to sell, have won something, hired someone, been hired by someone - you name it (well practically) these journals will want to know. Granted it won't always be used, but it's a really good place to start getting your name seen and heard.

Joint Promotions
One way to pick up new business is to join up with another business that works with the same customers you're looking for, but offers non competing services or products.

This can work well for both parties, helping offer a more complete service and tying customers closer into their relationships with you.

For example, we found new business by joining with a friendly market research company and selling our mock-up pack service. They could offer their customers cost effective pack mock-ups and we got to build our reputation for fast, accurate and cost effective artwork. Both companies benefited and so did the clients.

Not all relationships will work this way, and it's not an instant solution, but it's a good route if you can find suitable business partners.

Networking
OK, so it's rearing it's ugly head again - sorry all you seasoned networkers out there - but if your industry is spread out, then you probably do need to get out there and be seen.

Go to trade conferences, fairs and exhibitions, talk to journalists, go on training courses from time to time.

Again, don't expect to see fast results, but aim to make sure that the people you want to talk to, will begin to know who you are. It's unlikely that business will come directly from doing this, but it's a good way to boost referrals.

By the way, journalists are an excellent source of contacts and make wonderful referrers. They know and speak to everyone in an industry, so if they're asked 'who should I speak to about x?', they're very likely to refer someone who's taken the time to brief them and develop a good relationship with.

Advertising
Proceed with caution. Trade magazines might be the right route, but always be sure that the numbers stack up before you commit. Sometimes a well positioned and targeted advert will really hit the button, but look for cheaper options first and always negotiate hard before you sign up. Never, ever ever take the list price - walk away. We aim to achieve 30 - 50% reductions off the list price every time - sometimes more, and we're just a very small company!

Cold Calling
A tricky one this. For very small businesses, it can be a big time eater - you have to find the numbers to call, then decide what to say and then actually do it - and that's supposing you're the sort of person who can cold call total strangers. Buying this service in isn't an option for most cash strapped very small businesses. What can you do?

Well, rather than think of it as looking for new business, it can help to think of it as planting the seeds of a new relationship. Don't try and sell anything, try and start a relationship. We once put together a short guide to local advertising and then cold called a range of companies, asking for the details of the person responsible for advertising and offering to send them a copy for free. The idea was to then follow up the call a few days later to see if they had received it and whether it was useful. We'd try to keep them warm by following up from time to time, eventually they'd recognise us and so when they did want to advertise, they'd come to us for help. It's not a quick process and there's high waste, but it does produce a proportion of nice warm contacts.

Some companies use the quantity approach to cold calling - the more you approach the better the chance that one will want to work with you. Others prefer the quality approach - they carefully select the companies they want to work with and offer a much more targeted approach - this technique gives a better return, but takes much longer to do. Both approaches are valid, it's up to you what works best for you.

An alternative that can work, is to get someone else to cold call for you - and then you can do it for them in return. For some reason, some people find it practically impossible to do it on their own behalf, but are quite confident doing it for someone else. Have a think about your friends and business contacts - are there any people who you could do this cold-call swap with?

Well this is turning into a long post, so I'll stop here. The main thing is not to wait until you're desperate for new customers before you start looking for them - as I think you'll have seen, a lot of these techniques take time and effort before they produce results - but they do work.

The other thing is to PERSIST. It's a well researched fact, that new customers very rarely respond to the first approach from you. I've seen figures that say it takes an average of six times before they're converted to paying customers. So the message is, 'if at first you don't succeed, keep trying'

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

What Does My Reading List Say About Me?

Thanks to my enforced holiday, I've managed to read a lot more than I'd normally get time to do over the last few weeks.

After seeing Sister Wendy Beckett on TV again, I decided to read some of her books. I'd borrowed her Story Of Painting from the library about a year ago. I loved it because you can dip into it and learn little snippets of art history whenever you pick it up. I think I renewed it about three times, but eventually it went back, so while I was ill, I looked for it on Amazon and managed to get a copy to keep!

I'm so pleased that I did. It's a brilliant introduction to art over the centuries and perfect for someone to use as and when they feel like a moment of culture. I've found it a bit like choosing a delicious chocolate from an expensive box and savouring it.

I also bought Sister Wendy's book, Speaking to the Heart. It's a collection of 100 poems, selected by Sister Wendy and dealing with themes of Longing, Wonder, Courage, Sorrow amongst others. I'm gradually reading my way through. I'm not heavily into poetry, although some have had a profound effect, but I don't know many of the poems in this anthology. Each poem has a short comment from Sister Wendy preceding it, which also gives an insight into how she understands the meaning of the verse.

The other book that I bought was The King James Version of The Bible. You'll probably know that this year is the 400th anniversary of it's introduction. There have been programmes on the TV and radio about it. I've never had any inclination to read the Bible - there are about six of them in the house, acquired from relatives over the years, but when I looked, only one was the KJV and that was absolutely tiny. In fact it was inscribed to my Grandfather from my Grandmother in 1917 when he was fighting in the trenches. Sadly, my middle-aged eye-sight couldn't cope with the text size, so I bought a new copy.

As a big Shakespeare fan, I'm entranced by the language. I know that a great many phrases we use in common parlance come from the KJV or Shakespeare and reading through, it's fascinating to come upon them as they were originally written. It's huge - OK I know - so I decided to start with the New Testament and then go back to the Old Testament later. It really is possible to read it as an amazing historical story book and I'm picking up a lot of other references as I go along. It's also intriguing to read the different accounts of the same story from different writers. I think the part of my brain that enjoys a good detective story are firing off as I read.

Oh yes, talking of detective fiction, I've also read Caroline Graham's Death of A Hollow Man - lovely and gory Midsomer Murder. And last week I re-read Barbara Sher's Live The Life You Love. She's my favourite life-coach, so much more down to earth than many. I can't exactly say I've managed to do much of what she suggests, but it makes me feel better just reading her books.

I think if you didn't know me, this reading list would give you quite a weird impression of what I'm like and what I enjoy doing. I wonder what other people's reading lists say about them? What have you read in the last few weeks? What would it say about you?

By the way, have you been watching the moon for the last couple of nights? I woke up coughing in the night and was amazed - the moon was shining right through the chink in the curtains and it was INCREDIBLE! 

Friday, 11 March 2011

Hello World, It's Good To Be Back

What a few weeks it's been. February is always busy because we have family birthdays and of course St Valentine's Day, all in a short space, and there was the half term holiday, so we were off to stay in St Germain En Laye with my sister-in-law. And the girls had various activities to do before we went away - you know the scene - lots of things happening, lots of planning to do to keep on top - normal busy life.

Then just one day before my birthday, I started to cough. A persistent, nagging little brute that just wouldn't let up. The joke here is that for practically my entire childhood, I was ill on my birthday. As the cough took hold, I shared a small smile with my Mum - I knew she'd understand. Well that was three weeks ago, and today is the first time since then that I can honestly say that I'm starting to feel better. Not actually well, but at last I feel that I will be better.

It has been awful. A chest infection you really wouldn't want your worst enemy to endure.

But today is different and at last I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I almost feel spring-like. I certainly feel the need to get outside - I've barely left my bed for the last two weeks, so it's high time I was out and about.

Today I feel like making plans. This is an excellent sign because for the last few days, I've been almost too scared to plan anything. Now I know I'm on the mend.

Recalled to life, as Dickens would have had it.

But it hasn't all been doom and gloom. One of the joys of enforced rest is that you get to watch TV that you'd normally miss. So I had the pleasure of My LIfe In Books - what a treat! Sister Wendy Beckett managed to give me new reading ideas - I'm waiting for some of her recommendations to come back into stock at Amazon - Jeanette Winterson got a new fan, The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire remains a hero.  I also watched endless Time Teams, all of which I just adore - better than medicine. Oh and something called Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is - another antiques show format. I love it - not so much for the actual stuff they find, but more to see how the different people approach negotiations - I think I've learned quite a lot.

So all in all, not the February/birthday I'd have ordered, but now that I'm on the mend, I can at least say that  it hasn't been a total waste of time.

It's good to be back.

Monday, 7 February 2011

International Spring Fair - NEC 2011

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the Spring Fair at the NEC. For those who haven't experienced the fun of Spring Fair - and you really should - it's one of the biggest trade shows in the world, which showcases the widest possible range of gifts, home wear, jewellery and just about anything else you might sometime have wanted.

My connection with Spring Fair goes back to the 1990's, when I was responsible for organising the stand for a couple of employers. But although I've long since moved out of that specific industry, I've maintained a soft spot for Spring Fair and go as often as I can to soak up it's special atmosphere.

I think that what has always thrilled me about it, is the terrific mix of businesses you see there. Everyone, from the major international companies to start-up one man bands, and everyone has the opportunity to show off their goods.

If you want a lesson in stand dressing, just spend a few hours walking the halls and you'll have masses of inspiration. It never ceases to amaze me how well some companies manage to present their products - it really is an art form, even though transitory - in just a few days it will all disappear.

I'm always on the look-out for signs of good and bad exhibition practice, but I have to say that yesterday I was particularly impressed. Perhaps because it's early days - it doesn't end until Thursday afternoon - stand staff were still fresh and smiling, but I have to say that the welcome being exuded from most stands was almost palpable.

I took a friend with me on her first visit to Spring Fair yesterday, so it was interesting to hear her opinion of the event. After her initial taking aback by the sheer scale of the show, she was struck by the way in which you begin to see trends emerging across different markets.

Heaven knows how buyers navigate the show, but I do hope for the people who've invested so much time, effort and money into this year's Spring Fair, that it's the start of some excellent, long-term and profitable business relationships.

How To Exhibit Successfully At Trade Shows - Part Six

Home & Dry
This is the final part in my mini-series of posts on the subject of successful trade show exhibiting and it's all about evaluation and follow-up.

There's always so much to think about in the lead up to a show, that sometimes businesses forget to think about how they'll decide whether the show has worked for them or not. You might not worry, you might believe that you'll just be able to tell by some strange sixth business sense if it was worth your trouble.

But there are better ways to be objective. If you started the process with targets, then once the show has finished, it's time to decide how many of those goals were reached. Now is the time to call all the people involved in setting up and running the show together and listen to their thoughts and opinions. Think about what worked well and what didn't. What did you see other people doing that would be a good idea for you in future? By taking the time to evaluate now, while everyone's thoughts are fresh, you'll capture a much better quality oi response than if you wait a few weeks.

If you were careful in recording details of all the visitors to your stand, now you'll be able to quantify the results. How much did the trade fair cost you per visit? If you have results from previous years, you'll be able to compare this event with others - all very useful information.

Immediately after the show, it's essential to follow-up all enquiries. There is nothing guaranteed to turn a potential customer off more than to delay your response, but you'd be surprised how many companies fall at this hurdle. I'm particularly disappointed by those businesses who plead 'being at the show' for their tardiness. Let's face it, when you're in business, you go that extra mile, so whenever possible, find a way to follow-up immediately, even if it's just a 'thank you for your interest, we're working on your request and we'll contact you very soon with full details' type response. If you're at a show that lasts for a few days, don't wait until the show is over before you make these follow-ups; either do it yourself on the day in your hotel room before dinner, or have someone in your team able to do it for you.

Keep a note of visitor numbers by the day so you will know how to staff the stand if you choose to do it again.

Once you have actually made all the follow-ups, do another round of evaluation. This time, work out how much new business you've generated from the show contacts. This is ultimately going to indicate the cost/benefit to your business. Is it worth it? Is it worth doing it again?

The exhaustion that follows a trade show can be almost overwhelming, especially the ones that last for three or more days and it is just so easy to push evaluation stages out of your mind, but please don't, please close the circle and make this final stage an integral part of your exhibition process.

Sometimes what you discover is that it has been a very expensive exercise that hasn't delivered what you wanted. If that's the case, it's much better to know that and have facts to support it, than to have a 'gut feel'. At least with a thorough evaluation, you'll have the basis for deciding what to do differently next time. Which ever way you look at it, it's the essential last piece in the puzzle.

If you missed any of the other posts in this series, here are links to them.
Part One - To Exhibit or Not to Exhibit, that is the question
Part Two - Getting Started
Part Three - Creating A Brilliant Exhibition Stand
Part Four - All Present & Correct
Part Five - Tell Them You're There

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

How To Exhibit Successfully At Trade Shows - Part Five.

Tell Them You're There

Now it's a funny thing, but some people will happily part with huge amounts of money paying for exhibition space and having the most elaborate stand built, designed and dressed, but steadfastly refuse to pay anything on publicity or marketing themselves before or during the event, on the basis that the generation of visitors to the exhibition was the job of the exhibition organisers.

I have to admit, there was a time when I probably bought this arguement, but I don't hold with it any more.

In this penultimate post on the subject of making trade shows work for you, I'll just spend a short while highlighting some of the things that do make a difference to the number and quality of visitors you get.

By the way, if you haven't seen the other posts, here are the links

Part One - To exhibit or not to exhibit, that is the question
Part Two -Getting started
Part Three - Creating a brilliant exhibition stand
Part Four - All present and correct
Part Six - Home & Dry

If you visit many trade fairs, you'll be familiar with the barrage of material that you're sent in the lead up to the event. I suppose it's because in the 'olden days' they didn't do too much, and of course it was much harder and more expensive before the internet and email got going. But today you'll get lots of stuff from the organisers telling you what's new and who to see.

Of course the danger is that busy buyers will be blind to these mailings. So I'd suggest taking matters into your own hands.

One of the most effective exercises I've ever been part of was undoubtedly the easiest. We simply put together a list of the people we wanted to talk to on the day and sent them a personalised letter. We kept it fairly short, polite and added just a hint of intrigue. We also offered to send them information after the event if they weren't able to make it.

We had a very good hit rate on the day, seeing over 90% of the targets. What really amazed us, was that several of the visitors commented that we were the only exhibitors who'd bothered to contact them directly. It seems that the personal touch can pay dividends.

What's more, we were able to follow up each contact afterwards and those who hadn't made it, were sent the promised information.

It doesn't really matter what industry you're in, it's people and the relationships you build with them that matters, so build in the time to make contact before the event. It will put you ahead in the race.

Some of our clients like to do some pre-event advertising in trade media. This can be helpful if you're maintaing a position in your marketplace, where buyers expect to see new products at certain events or times of the year. If you need to do this, try and give your announcement a touch of differentiation. We've found that humour works well - perhaps because so many trade adverts are what we might call 'dull'. Don't think you have to go down the same route, but we've been happy with it.

If you're new to the exhibition and on a very tight budget, do as much PR as you can. Write about yourself, your products or your service. Have press information available on the stand to give to passing journalists who'll be roaming around looking for news and for potential new advertisers.

If possible, pre-arm these journalists by sending them press releases before the event, and invite them to visit too. It's great free advertising if they feature you in their publications and they're often desperate to find new things to talk about.

One way to encourage people to your stand is to hold some sort of competition where they have to enter at the stand. There's no need for a small company to go overboard on this. We used to hold a 'Win A Bottle Of Champagne' draw which worked well. One client decided to offer 'Win A Holiday' but although it brought in the visitors, the fulfilment turned into a nightmare, so my advice is to keep it fairly simple.

The organisers of trade shows will probably encourage you buy additional advertising, but be careful here. The chances are that there are better targeted publications where you could allocate your budget. Many people don't really read the daily show newspapers until they're back in the office - if at all.

Remember that good contacts is what you want, so be as careful to target the precise buyers you want to do business with. It's better to buy a decent lunch for a serious prospect that give away a hundred plastic bags to people you don't know and won't hear from.

So whether you've got thousands to spend in marketing, or just your own enthusiasm, plan who you want to see and put your attention to that. A personal letter costs little more than your time, but can be the start of a very strong relationship.

I'm off to the International Spring Fair at the NEC next week; it'll be interesting to see what exhibitors there are doing to bring visitors to their stands. If you get the opportunity to visit a larger trade show, it's a good way to pick up ideas you could use yourself.


Thursday, 27 January 2011

How To Exhibit Successfully At Trade Shows - Part Four

All Present & Correct

In Parts One, Two and Three I talked about the various stages of preparation for exhibiting at trade shows. Today I'm going to spend a few minutes thinking about what you do on the day(s) of the show to give yourself the best chance of winning new contacts and hopefully new business.

Now in a nutshell, it's all about being professional, and of course we all are, aren't we? So today, I expect it will all be teaching grandmothers to suck eggs, but just in case...

What to wear?
Frankly, as long as you wear something clean, I don't think this is a major issue. Obviously eggy drips down the tie, or stains on the shirt are a 'no-no', but most people would expect you to wear the type of clothes you'd wear to work when you're meeting a client. These days that can cover a wide range, so choose something you feel comfortable in and make sure it's clean.

Some businesses ask employees to wear a corporate shirt, this can work well, particularly on big stands, where visitors will want to be able to easily identify a person to talk to. If you don't have a uniform of any sort, then make sure you have a name badge and wear it where a visitor will be able to see it - the current trend for wearing lanyards doesn't help - nobody wants people to be peering at their nether regions when they make conversation.

Do your visitors a favour and type your name clearly and in a big enough font to be easily readable.

On a point of comfort, ladies, my advice is, take two pairs of shoes to the show, and alternate them every couple of hours. Try and have them with a small heel, not flat. If you're not used to standing all day, it really takes it out of your feet, and if your feet are crippling you, it's not going to make you the happiest person to do business with, so put vanity to one side and think comfort.

I also always use those little gel pads you can buy which give added comfort for the balls of your feet. I've made a few friends at shows when I've give a spare pair to fellow exhibitors who've started to hurt.

Exhibition halls vary in ambient temperature, but if you've a lot of lights on your stand, it will probably get quite warm, so don't go too thickly clad.

Body Language.
Don't underestimate the power of the messages your body language is giving to visitors. What you want,  is for people to feel happy to approach you, to be willing for you to speak to them and to walk onto your stand to see/hear more. So there are some basic things you should avoid.

Standing with folded arms - it looks aggressive and says 'don't mess with me'
Standing on the edge of the stand with other colleagues  - it creates a barrier that only brave visitors will dare to breach.
Being deep in conversation with colleagues when visitors are passing - they'll be too polite to interrupt you and go to your competitors stand instead.
Sitting down - I know some people will disagree with this, but I've seen it in action so many times, and people are much happier to talk to someone face to face at eye-level. Sitting down looks like you can't be bothered to interact with the visitor and it puts all the onus of action on to them rather than the exhibitor, so it's a bit arrogant, like saying 'Well here I am, it's up to you, take it or leave it' - most will leave it.
Eating - there's nothing quite like watching a stranger negotiating an egg and mayonnaise sandwich to convince me I don't want to talk to them - just don't put yourself in that position. When you're hungry, go to the cafe, or suck a small sweet to keep you going. Visitors don't appreciate the smell, sounds or sights of watching exhibitors eating on the stand. If you're on your own and have to stay at the stand all day, have a few discreet biscuits to nibble if things slow down for a while.
Drinking - OK water won't upset anyone (as long as you remove used plastic cups immediately after use), but banish all thoughts of alcohol. You can guarantee that the least desirable visitors will take advantage, while the ones you really should be talking to, will be revolted and keep well away away. On just a couple of occasions, I've seen exhibitors a bit the worse for wear, and believe you me, they weren't  writing any orders.

Now of course I know you'd never do any of the above, but I'll bet you any money, the next trade fair you go to, you'll spot some of it going on.

Welcome!
So knowing what to avoid, what can you do to increase the welcome you present to visitors?

The simplest thing to do, is to smile and look interested. Look eager and you'd be surprised how many people will be drawn to you.

Have a few open questions you can start conversations with, such as 'Where are you based?', or 'What sort of thing are you looking for today?' It's important not to ask questions that can be answered 'yes' or 'no', because they're the conversation stoppers. Instead try and gain their attention in a gentle but open way. But please avoid the hard sell at this point, that's a real turn-off.

One of the easiest ways to start a conversation with total strangers is to have something to give them. Think carefully about what would work for you - avoid bags and pens - they're both useful and people will take them from you, but they won't expect to talk to you in return. No, instead think of something small but interesting that takes you a moment to explain - that way they'll be intrigued by what it is, and have to listen to you while you talk about it. You should then quickly be able to turn the conversation with an open question and away you go.

If you have a small low cost product that you could afford to give-away, that's a good idea, but if you really can't find anything to hand out, then have a prize draw and hand out entry slips. You could say something like 'enter our prize draw, it's easy, just give us your name and number', then offer to staple their business card to the entry form or fill in their name and phone number. Of course this then gives you the chance to start a conversation.

Trade shows can be exhausting, so if you have the opportunity to take turns on the stand and grab a break from time to time, then do so. But even if you're tired, it's essential that you try not to show it - you're on show the whole time, and it's a horrible truth that the really attractive potential buyers so often turn up at the end of the day. Just remember, they don't last forever and you can build excellent contacts at trade fairs, so it's worth putting a brave face on it.

In Part Five, 'Tell Them You're There', I'll be looking at things you can do to increase the number of people who come to your stand. 


If you haven't read the previous posts, have a browse around.
Part One - To Exhibit Or Not To Exhibit, That Is The Question...
Part Two - Getting Started
Part Three - Creating A Brilliant Exhibition Stand
Part Six - Home & Dry

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

How To Exhibit Successfully At Trade Shows - Part Three

Creating A Brilliant Exhibition Stand.

Welcome back to my blog mini-series looking at how to make trade shows work for you. This is part three, where I'm going to give you my tips for creating stands that stop visitors in their tracks and get you noticed.

(If you haven't seen Part One or Part Two, click here for tips on whether exhibiting is right for you and how to get started).

Most trade exhibitions are very busy places (if they're not, why would you want to exhibit there?), so the biggest challenge is how to get yourself noticed. Now if you're rich enough to be using contractors and booking a large stand, you'll probably have people all over you with ideas for how your stand should look, but if you're on your own, or part of a small team, you'll have to be your own creative genius. This post is for you, I hope it helps. Feel free to get in touch if there's anything specific I might be able to help you with.

So off we go...

Designing the stand.
Over the years I've seen a huge number of exhibition stands, form the massive to the minute, and I have to tell you, whatever they say, size isn't everything. If you've booked a 2m x 2m cupboard, there are still things you can do to stand out.

A 2 x 4m stand making good use of graphics to sell three different product groups.

The number one tip is to get your whole stand planned in detail way in advance, this way you have time to source everything you'll need and come up with alternatives or improvements as they suggest themselves.

I always sit down with some blank sheets of paper and draw roughly to scale the space I've got and mark the direction of travel visitors will be coming from (you can make a good guess at this by looking closely at the hall plan if you're not already sure about it).

Now list all the products you'll want to show - and I mean all - it's no good trying to add a load more stuff on after you've come up with your plans. If you're selling a service, or a product too big to have on the stand, think about how you will demonstrate visually what you do. My advice here is not to get too creative. You'd be amazed at how many companies, often the very big ones, assume that visitors know them already and what they do. But the whole point for most exhibitors is to be found by new customers, people who just might not know you yet. So I beg you, don't over-estimate your fame and make it obvious what you do and who you are.

Try and find a simple graphic way to show what you're selling. Don't believe me? One of the most common conversations I hear, starts with a visitor saying to an exhibitor " so what it it you do?" The danger is, that for every visitor brave enough to ask you, you can guarantee there will be more who just walked straight past, too embarrassed or too uninspired to speak to you.

Once you know what you want to show, decide how you're going to do it. If it's product small enough to put on shelves, think about the type of shelves that would look good. If it's got to be graphics, think about the wall space or free-standing graphic displays.
This company supplies garden centres, so the display echoed garden centre merchandising, with lots of plants too.
If you're using shelves, keep them shallow - it's hard for visitors to see into deep shelves, and don't put anything too low down that might be obscured by higher shelves. Put yourself in the mindset of someone walking past  - they're not going to bend down to see the things you're hiding lower down.

If you've got a special message to get across, e.g. We're special because..., be confident and have graphics that say so. Exhibitions are all about getting your message over very quickly and you can't guarantee to stop and speak to everyone - have graphics to say the main messages for you.

A word of warning - work out roughly the eye-line for passers by and don't put your graphics too high or too low. I've seen too many stands where the punch line or key point was hidden behind a table or display unit - the solution to this, is to plan it carefully in advance.

Furniture & Props
Many organisers will supply you with lists of furniture and display equipment you can hire for the event. On the whole, if budgets are tight, I'd advise you not to use these for small stands. The rental costs tend to be astronomic and too often the stuff only arrives on your stand an hour before the hall closes on build up day - not much use if you're planning a hefty stand dressing.

Instead, get creative at your local IKEA, Argos or Homebase. These - and others - sell all kinds of shelving, tables, chairs and all kinds of items that you can use to give your stand structure. Always try and use the height of the stand to give you maximum impact. This isn't a market stall, people will be looking up, not down as they wander past, so build in height, for instance, if you're selling plates - stand them up, don't display them flat.

I've used fold up chairs from IKEA which are brilliant. They're cheap, easy to transport, take up very little space, and can be folded away if not needed. IKEA is also a great place to source pot plants. Not for every stand I know, but they're a great way to soften the look of some displays. Oh and while we're on the subject of chairs - don't use them unless you absolutely have to. I'll talk about this more in the next post, but for most small businesses, you don't need to seat visitors, or at least not for long. That's why fold up chairs can help.

If you're using tables, make sure you've got table cloths that reach the floor - it not only looks better, it gives you somewhere to stash the inevitable bits and pieces that you don't want 'on show'.

Stand Dressing
Once you've worked out the essential structure of your stand, i.e. what's going to go where and how it will be accommodated, it's time to think about how to make it look wonderful.

Now again, I have to reiterate, plan this well in advance and if you're doing it yourself for the first time, have a dummy run. If you need inspiration, have a walk round some big retail department stores or large garden centres. They are experts at window dressing and this is the art you have to master.

Have a critical look at their window displays. You'll see that in addition to the products, there will be props. Now props can be absolutely anything, and you'll need to think creatively here, but this will make all the difference. It doesn't have to cost the earth. Create background colour with crepe paper, use trails of ivy, scour your local junk shops.
Giant ants walk across this stand!

Fabric is very useful for stand dressing, especially if you want to add depth. One small tip; if you want to display items on shelves at various heights, put different sized cardboard boxes on the shelf, then cover it with a large piece of fabric - voilĂ , instant variable height display.

Stock up with sticky tape, glue, sticky pads, blue tack, a glue gun (for the more adventurous), velcro and any other tools of the trade. You'll need lots to put things just where you want them - take them with you because you won't want to be popping out once you get started. If you want to hang things, try fishing line - it's very strong and practically invisible. Oh and a staple gun and scissors are pretty useful to have too!

Seeing the light.
Lighting is important, so plan out what you'll need and make sure you order them from the organisers - lights aren't something you can normally take in yourself. Dull stands don't make a good impression, so go for more rather than less lighting.

Hiding the mess and keeping everything secure.
However well you prepare, you'll have some things you'll need on the stand that you don't want to display e.g. your handbag or briefcase. Sometimes clients will cheekily ask to leave theirs with you too, so try and have a space where you can hide a few things. With small stands, it's better not to leave valuables on the stand - certainly not overnight - keep them with you.

When you've built your masterpiece, take photos. You'll be glad you did.

In the next post, 'All Present And Correct', I'll talk about the things to do and not to do while you're at the show. It's all about being professional and approachable.
See Part Five - 'Tell Them You're There' for ideas for getting people to see you
Part Six - Home & Dry evaluation & follow-up

Monday, 24 January 2011

How To Exhibit Successfully At Trade Shows - Part Two

Getting Started...

Once you've decided that it makes good business sense to participate in a trade show, it's time to get started on the planning. (If you're not sure whether to exhibit or not, please read Part One for a couple of helpful tips).

Booking Space...Location, Location, Location.
Of course the amount of space you book will depend on the size of your business and your available budget, but the size is often less important than the position. Position is very important because if your stand is on a high traffic aisle, you'll see far more people than if you're tucked away at the back of a hall. Of course for many exhibitions, you'll pay extra for the best positions, so the trick is to find the best you can afford.

Always get a copy of the hall layout with the stands clearly marked. A chat with the organisers should help you find out who else of note is exhibiting and where. Be careful if the hall has 'obstacles' - things like large pillars or steps - stands next to these are more difficult to work. Don't let the organisers fob you off with a stand that's not suitable. If at all possible, refuse to book until or unless you can get good space - you'd be amazed how often they can suddenly come up with something better if you make a little bit of fuss.

It's worth thinking about which direction most people will be walking - visitors tend to walk up and down the middle aisles first - it helps when you decide how to lay out your stand. Deep stands are not as useful as wide ones, because visitors are reluctant to walk on to a stand they don't know, whereas they're more likely to stand and look at a wide/shallow stand.

If you can, get a space near to big industry companies, it can help to bring important traffic past you without you having to try so hard. Although if you're worried about competitors seeing or hearing things you'd rather they didn't, be careful when you book.

Oh and another tip, is to check that the stands on either side of you aren't extra tall - it's not nice having the Berlin Wall casting a shadow over your space.

If you know any other companies who've been to the exhibition before, it's worth having a chat with them to get any feedback about layout that could help you make the best choice.

Stand Builders (for bigger space only stands)
If you're building a large stand (having booked space only), you'll need to use a contractor. There are numerous companies around the country to choose from. It is absolutely vital to choose a contractor that you're happy with, because you're going to get to know them very well and rely on them to keep you sane, so be ultra careful with your selection process.

Start by writing a brief of what you want to achieve with the stand. Give this lots of thought, make it your starting blueprint, because however good the stand designers and builders are, they'll only be able to help you achieve your objectives if you tell them up front what they are. All stand designers can come up with gorgeous looking stands, but what you need is one that works for you - so hold on to that thought when you brief them.

Put your stand build budget in the brief. It's a waste of everyone's time if you don't.

Think about how much product you have to display and how you want to show it. If you're having real product on your stand, make sure your contractors know what it looks like and whether it has special needs e.g. extra strong shelving.

Think about whether you need a private area, so it can be built in to the design.

Think about how you'll interact with visitors, will you want to seat them? (Just beware that it's always the people you want to spend least time with who insist on taking up residence on your stand given a comfy chair and a glass of wine). 

If you can, try and give an idea of the personality you want to communicate through the stand, this will help designers coming up with something ultra modern if your image is more retro (or the opposite).

It's this type of fine detail thinking at this early stage that will help you get the most from the pitching process.

Once you've put your brief together, call a few companies and make a short list of the ones you want to pitch to you - don't let anyone charge you for this stage.

By the way, always make some early contact by phone -if any of them have less than helpful receptionists, or if you call at five minutes to five in the afternoon and they're not there, or if they don't return a call within the same day, strike them off your pitch list. Exhibiting can be stressful and a good builder will help you avoid last minute problems and deal calmly with the ones that do come up - and there's nearly always at least one - you'll always want someone to talk to when spinning plates start wobbling so make sure there's always someone dedicated to your project on the end of a phone.

When you're close to deciding on a contractor, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS go and visit their premises and see some current work in progress. You get a much better feel for the people and the care they'll take, if you go to see them on home territory. Always ask for contacts at other companies they've done recent work for and follow them up too.

DIY Stands
Most of us micro-business people aren't in to the mega stand territory with stand builders and project managers, instead we go to trade shows under our own steam.

If you're in the same boat, take heart, some of the best and certainly some of the most cost effective exhibition stands I've ever seen have been in shell spaces of 2 x 4 s.m. So how do you do it? I'm going to devote a whole post to the topic of stand design on a small budget, but rest assured, it really is possible to do a very good job without re-mortaging.

Doing The Paperwork
There's no getting around it, exhibitions happen on given dates, so there's no room for error, it's no good having everything ready two days after the trade show ended, so right from the start, determine to be organised and keep on top of the admin.

Years ago, once you'd booked, the organisers would send you a tome only slightly smaller than War and Peace, which was the Event Manual. It was a Bible of key dates and essential admin forms. Today much is done online, but it's a very sensible manager who takes the time at the beginning to go through the manual in whatever format and list out in a diary what has to be done by when. These actions and their deadlines are rarely negotiable, so it's worth getting your mind around this straight away.

My way of doing this is to start at the end and work my way backwards thinking about how long everything takes to do and what can't start until something else has been completed. I then put notes in my diary, so I get a reminder if I've been sidetracked.

If all this is going to send you over the top, if you know you're just not going to be able to manage it all and keep on top of the day job at the same time, then get help sooner rather than later. Try and find someone either within your business or contracted in to manage the show for you.

Once the space is booked, a contractor is on the way and you've started the planning, you're on your way, and like pregnancy, there's no going back, so it's time to move into the nitty-gritty. See Part Three - 'Creating A Brilliant Exhibition Stand' for tips about how to create a wonderful stand.

Part Four - All Present And Correct - what to do and what not to do at the show.
Part Five - Tell Them You're There
Part Six - Home & Dry - evaluation & follow-up

Friday, 21 January 2011

How To Exhibit Successfully At Trade Shows - Part One

To Exhibit Or Not To Exhibit, That Is The Question...

Trade exhibitions (sometimes called fairs, expo's or shows) are a feature of most industries. You'll know which one(s) relate to your line of business. They're the events when suppliers spend loads of money showing off their products or services to the people who are, or who they hope will become, their customers. Sometimes they're fairly small events staged in venues such as hotels, race courses or small exhibition halls, others, the real monster events, use enormous venues such as the NEC, Birmingham or similar sized purpose built exhibition arenas throughout the world.

A client trade stand at GLEE 2006
If you've reached the stage where you're considering taking space to exhibit your products or services at a trade show, there are a few important questions it's worth asking yourself before you part with any money or sign on any dotted lines.

Question 1: What do I want to achieve by exhibiting at the show?
Now that might sound pretty banal, but you'd be amazed how much money gets spent without anyone having a good answer to this question. In some industries where there are long established shows, they become something of a fixture, an annual event that everyone just 'does'. It's a bit like the old idea of doing 'the season', you're expected to be there to see and be seen.

But one thing is for sure, exhibiting doesn't come cheap, so before you commit to anything, it's vitally important to be clear about why you're going and above all, what it is that you want to achieve as a result. Now call me old fashioned, but I like to be able to measure the effectiveness of spending corporate money (I'm not so finicky when it comes to my personal spending, as my DH will tell you), but in business, it's not a good idea to wave goodbye to hard won income without knowing what you expect to get in return.

So for a few moments forget the glamour, the glitz and the smooth talking sales rep from the exhibition organiser, and think calmly about your objectives. Common answers I hear are 'to be seen by potential customers and competitors so they'll think we're important', 'to make new contacts', 'to sell xy and z' and often 'because if we're not there, people will wonder why not, and assume there's something wrong with our business'.

There can be value in all these objectives, but hold on to your biro a bit longer. The thing is, how will you decide after the event if it has been a success - how well has your objective been achieved? To do this, you need to make your objectives quantifiable, in short, convert your objectives into measurable targets.

So, for example, if you want to be seen by potential customers, how many do you want to see you? The organisers will beguile you with the numbers of hot buyers they promise will be hungrily prowling the halls looking for you. But let's return to the real world and accept that of the total visitor numbers, only a small percentage are actually going to come to you, talk to you and give you their contact details - so decide right now, how many contact details do you want to get in order to know it's been a successful exhibition.

If your objective is to sell a product, then how many do you need to sell to feel that it's been a success?

If your objective isn't quantifiable, for instance 'to look important', have another VERY hard think about whether you should be there. I'd always caution against exhibiting unless you can attach some measurable targets.

Question 2: How much is it going to cost?
It's easy to underestimate the total cost of exhibiting. It's not just the space you'll be paying for, in addition you should be prepared to budget for; stand dressing, fittings & props, pre, during and post event marketing, hotel rooms, subsistence and travel for people working on your stand, and additional personnel if required. If you're taking a salesforce off the road to man the exhibition, you should also consider what sales will be lost from their normal schedule during the exhibition period.

If you're having a stand built for you, then you'll need to have a very clear idea of your budget for the build and storage too.

Once you have a ballpark idea of the cost, you can look at your quantifiable objectives and decide if it still stacks up. If you can expect to generate 100 new leads, and the cost is going to be £5,000, then you can see that each contact has cost you £50. You'll know what proportion of leads will turn into billable business and what profit you can expect, so you're then in a good position to say if it's worth exhibiting. Of course you will also have some unmeasurable benefits, but I really do urge you to be clinical about your estimates at this stage, Ask yourself if it was your money (and for those of us running small companies, it is!), would you still do it.

Don't lose sight of the fact that there are other ways to achieve the same objective - they may be cheaper, so don't get too attached to the trade show idea until you can firmly put your hand on your heart and say it's worth the effort and the cost.

If you've made the decision to go ahead and exhibit, my next post 'Trade Exhibitions, Getting Started' will have tips for keeping you sane in the preparation period. 


Part Three, Creating A Brilliant Exhibition Stand, is for people doing it themselves on a small budget.


Part Four, All Present And Correct - what to do and what not to do at the show.
Part Five, Tell Them You're There - publicising your stand
Part Six - Home & Dry - evaluate and follow-up



Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Still Getting Into The Swing...

Well it's really taking me some time to get back into the swing of things again - is it me or is this year starting off a bit sluggishly? Anyway, the planning meeting with number one client is now happening tomorrow, so after that I should have a good idea about the amount and nature of the work they'll need in the next couple of months.

I've worked in a couple of industries where the post-Christmas period was chaotic because of trade exhibitions happening in January and February. I used to put together seasonal products for exhibition at the International Spring Fair at the NEC in early February, which meant coming up with Christmas designs in early January. It did odd things to your brain. Sometimes I'd wake up and not be able to remember if we'd had the real Christmas or not yet.

My current clients tend to be busier in spring and early summer, so it's less of a madhouse at the moment, but I know that come March the pace of things will step up.

I have a soft spot for trade exhibitions. I know a lot of people really don't like them, and it's true they do put a lot of additional strain on sales and marketing departments, but when they're done for the right reasons and well organised, they are an excellent way to meet new customers and strengthen relationships with existing clients.

In the next couple of weeks I'm going to post some tips and tricks for organising successful and enjoyable trade stands. If you've got any additional tips to add, please let me know or if you're trying to get your stand organised at the moment, maybe there will be some ideas to help you get more from the event - or at least survive it with a smile on your face.

Come by again soon.

Meanwhile, I'm off to sharpen my pencil...

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Back into the fray.

Hello World, Happy New Year.

What a lovely Christmas and New Year period I've been having! I think it all started with the early heavy snow which flung us into seasonal celebrations much sooner than we'd have managed otherwise. For some reason having snow on the ground concentrated our efforts to have a 'proper Christmas'. So it has been a time of rest, play, warmth and friendship.

We were so lucky to have an extended holiday period, it made me think of the medieval twelve days of Christmas, where normal life was suspended whilst festivities were played out. I think it's a tradition we should reintroduce. There's so much to do in the weeks leading up to Christmas and Christmas Day itself can be fraught with stress, so it makes sense to me to have a period of rest and relaxation after Christmas when you have the chance to simply have fun.

This year I've come pretty close to having that type of extended holiday and I can thoroughly recommend it. It's a great way to recharge your batteries. People these days feel so pressured into having to work and be seen to be working, that the need to rest is practically regarded as a professional weakness. It shouldn't be. We'd all be much happier if we achieved a balance in our lives, where we gave our mental health the same priority as our physical well-being.

So it's time now to start cranking up again and getting back into the swing of things and at least this year I feel ready for the fray. I hope you had a good Christmas and that 2011 is a wonderful year for you.