These are a collection of tips that I’ve learned from each of the trade shows that I’ve exhibited at as a photographer. Below I share things like what worked for me, what didn’t, how to prepare, and how to get bookings from trade shows!
Trade Shows for Photographers: Which Shows to Sign Up
Here are some factors to consider and homework to do before signing up for a specific trade show.
Are Expos Right for You?
Before we even get into choosing the right show, you should determine if shelling out a bunch of money to attend, set up, and buy a space makes sense for you and your photography business.
These are some of the reasons photographers should invest the time and money on doing trade shows:
- You are a personable photographer that loves face to face interaction with potential clients
- You have a new brand you want to market
- You have an established brand that you want to be kept as a dominant business in the industry
On the other hand, if you are not really a people-person, or if your market generally hangs out more online than face-to-face, then all the effort and expense of trade shows may be better spent on online advertising. Exhibiting at trade shows can be anywhere from $250 (super cheap, local/smaller events) ~ $5000+ (including your booth design), so calculate how much you would estimate spending and how far that would go on online ads like Facebook ads. You want to make sure it makes financial sense.
For example, for my City Hall wedding business, marketing on Facebook is far more beneficial than going to a big fancy bridal show. Whereas, for my boudoir business, a big fancy bridal show is amazing to meet the brides-to-be, talk to them to gain an understanding of their interest level, their vision, and all of that.
What Type of Show?
Make sure you choose the shows that make sense for the type of photography you do. Here are some examples:
Newborn/Family = Birth and baby fairs, local moms group fairs, arts and crafts fairs, and expo
Wedding + Engagement = Bridal and wedding shows, “girls night out” shows
Boudoir = Bridal show, kink shows, tattoo expo, “girls night out” shows
These are the primary photos I take and expos I look for, but you should look into all the types of expos that are out there to find the right kind of shows for your photography business.
This may seem obvious, but choose a show that’s in your market and where your “ideal client” would go to. For example, one of my first shows was about 60 miles south of my “ideal” market. It made a big difference! Going there meant most people are from that area, which means if they want to book a session then they are most likely going to want to stick to their area. It could take up to 1.5 hours each way for me to go on days with traffic! (I chose this show because it was cheaper than other shows.) In the end, I would have saved more money in the long run with travel fees if I stuck to doing a show right in my area.
If you get the chance, visit a similar show by the same company before you commit. Many trade show companies have multiple events a year in different locations.
You can attend as a guest and check out what your competition is doing. It’s also an amazing opportunity to network with the vendors there and find partners.
If you are a photographer just starting out, you can offer to be the photographer for the event. Many trade show companies may even give you a discount on a booth if you do that. You would also still get exposure when they list you as the photographer and share your photos after the event.
When you get a quote, ask whether the following are included:
- Tables and chairs
- Carpeting, especially if the floor is concrete or something equally unattractive
- Email list (some events will provide the emails of all attendees after the show!)
- Dividers between booths
- Availability of food and drinks
- Number of days included (some shows are longer than a day)
Some shows have all of these included, or some have none and only provide the basic space. Don’t fall in the trap of finding a 2 day show that’s cheap, but learn that you have to pay for everything else!
If the price is still pretty high and is out of your range, see if the event organizers are willing to do a trade. Would they give you a discount for photographing the event or another event? It’s worth asking!
How to Prepare for the Trade Shows
Once you choose a show, you book and pay for it. Let the fun, but hard work, begin!
Imagine your dream booth, and create all the items you will need
You may already have a vision in your head, or you may have to go on Pinterest to find your dream booth design. First, never mind the cost. Dream big. Create a vision board on word, paper/pen, or on Pinterest!
From there, figure out how much things would cost and compare that with your budget. What’s out of budget? Can you get it cheaper on Facebook marketplace or Craigslist? Sometimes there are “Buy Nothing” groups you can ask to rent for that day from local people. Or, can you find a cheaper alternative? (E.g. I thought of buying fresh flowers, but realized that buying fake flowers that are still gorgeous is cheaper, and I can re-use them over and over!)
Imagine what would be in the booth that you would want to see walking in as a potential client?
These are things like flyers, business cards, and other specific displays.
For me, what I usually have in a booth:
- Informational cards to hand out
- Coupon cards to hand out
- Business cards – these are great to hand out to other vendors to network!
- Pricing sheet (I don’t like to give out pricing sheets at the shows, so I usually have 3 copies of my pricing sheet laminated, so people can view them.)
- Sign up sheet on iPad and laptop (usually have an excel sheet with 3-4 fields: Name, Email, Wedding Date/Due Date, Etc, and budget)
- Paper sign up sheet on a clipboard and pen (handy when I am busy talking to someone, or when I have to step away from my booth)
- Sign that says “enter to win a free photoshoot raffle!” or “sign-up today to receive a free gift when you book” – make this sign as clear and big as possible!
- Sign that says “Sorry I stepped away! Please take a card, sign up here to enter a raffle for a free photoshoot!” just in case you need to step away and you don’t have anyone else with you
- I also have printed images of my work besides what’s hanging on the wall
- Albums and other products you offer
- Something interactive for attendees to do. For my boudoir booth, I have my angel wings that people can try on and take photos. For my family booths, I have kids activities that they can do while I talk to the parents.
Booths that have something for people to do tend to be more fun and attract more people. If you have a fun idea for that, definitely share in the comments below!
Print everything you need to right away
A lot of what I mentioned above needs to be custom ordered, printed, and shipped to your place. Make sure to do it well in advance to avoid stress and express shipping fees!
Create a packing list and bring the items!
Here are some things on my packing list for trade shows:
- Foldable wagon
- Clamps (handy for clamping curtains and tablecloths in place)
- iPad (download gallery beforehand, have a sign-up sheet, or website in different tabs)
- Laptop (same purpose as iPad, just a backup)
- Camera (to take pictures of your gorgeous booth!)
- Printed signs
- Sign holders
- Sign up sheets (also back up on top of your laptop and iPad sign up sheet)
- All the decor items (for me, it’s usually flowers, vases, photos to display, lights)
- All the marketing materials
- Chair(s) (if using your own)
- Foldable Table (if using your own)
- Handheld vacuum
- Chargers (phone, iPad, laptop, etc)
- Water and anything else you want to drink in a little cooler or thermos
- Extra change of clothes
- Extra batteries for anything that needs batteries
- Backdrop stand if the expo doesn’t provide them. This one I have is decently good for the price, but you definitely have to use the weighted sandbags.
- Backdrop. In a pinch, curtains or table cloths work in conjunction with the clamps.
Check out my Essential Tools Page if you’re looking for some awesome resources to help with planning for your expo and running your business!
Make a day-of plan
What is your 30-second pitch?
Come up with a concise, and quick explanation of your packages, what makes you different from competitors, and any special discounts or promos you have for that day!
What are you going to do when someone says they are ready to book?
Don’t look caught off guard when someone says, “Let’s do it! I want to book now with a deposit!” Have a plan ready. Do you have a Square reader? PayPal? Venmo? Booking form? Have all of that ready.
Are you going to do a raffle? Special promo? An incentive for people to sign-up for your email list? How would that work?
Any of these are fun to do, and they get people to sign-up to learn more about your services. It is super important! Most people are usually bombarded with information and “just browsing”, so they won’t be ready to buy on the spot. Make sure you have a plan of collecting people’s contact information!
What I love is to do a raffle. You can do a live one – which is exciting since you get to talk to the winner right away – or you can tell everyone what time you will do the drawing, and you will be emailing or texting them if they are the winner. Whatever the draw is, make sure you have a plan and your marketing materials/signs reflect that. Some people will stop at your booth because they see that sign!
Another tip for the raffle: Don’t raffle off what you are selling. : ) That kind of makes people not want to buy, and want to wait to see if they win first. 🙂 I ALWAYS follow up with non-winners too, to give them an extra discount for entering. More on that for what to do after the expo.
Have a follow-up plan
Have this plan before the event, and tweak as needed after. Having an email drafted already to send to your new subscribers really saves time and energy for after the expo! Not only that, but you will have a clear end goal in mind when you interact with people at the expo. More on this later.
Tips on Setting Up the Expo Booth
Go the day before
Go there as soon as you can start setting up! If it’s the day before, definitely do it!! As you can see in the picture, I came a day before the show to this bridal fair, and realized that the table and chair I rented was definitely not enough – it was not cute, and it definitely didn’t do the space justice. I also found out how gross the carpet was, so I knew to bring a vacuum and another rug to put over the rented carpet. Especially if this is the first show you are doing, or the space you have is bigger than usual. Go check it out the day before so you have time to bring more stuff on the real day.
At one of the shows, I was one of the first ones there, and they actually gave me an extra booth space next to me! So, you definitely get perks for being one of the firsts.
Pack things in plastic tubs
Bring everything in plastic tubs so you can transport it easily, and you can just hide those under the table/table cloth during the show. I also stashed my snacks in there during the show for easy reach. Also, bring one of these foldable wagons. Many shows will have people helping you, but it’s definitely not enough for them to help everyone at once. These wagons carry a lot and store flat. Seriously- they are a must at shows! (You will see that most everyone has one of these. :))
Once you set up everything you have, make a checklist of what you still need
If you have time to come back, make sure you have that list and bring what you need. If you don’t have a chance to come back and add things, at least you will have this list for the next show!
Ideally, you should walk towards your booth from every direction of where attendees will walk and see something eyecatching. I totally didn’t do that in the last show, and regret it. On one side, there was a huge sign from the other booth blocking my booth’s view, and from another side, people couldn’t see much of my booth at all. So, when designing your booth, have either a sign, a table, or something flashy that people can see from every angle!
What To Do During the Show
This part should be easy if you did all the steps of “what to do to prepare for the show”. Just enjoy meeting new people, show them what you have to offer, and be awesome!
Sit or stand?
For me, I do both. When I have the energy, I stand and offer the free raffle prize to people walking by. When I am getting a little tired, I sit down sometimes but make eye contact and smile at everyone and approach if someone looks interested. The standing approach is definitely more effective in getting people to stop at my booth, but the sitting down approach I feel like gets people to stop at my booth only if they truly are interested. Either way, I always kept a smile, and I think that’s the most important part!
Raffle + Announcements
As I said before, I do both live and timed/no need to be present raffles. I like the live ones because you really get people (including myself) excited. If the event has an announcer, have the announcer say “XXX Photography is giving out a free photoshoot in 5 minutes! Must be present to win!” and have as many people sign up as possible in that 5 min and do a live drawing.
For the end of the day raffles, you can let people who enter know what time you will be drawing the names and to keep an eye out on their emails/texts around that time.
I like to collect email addresses in an Excel spreadsheet to limit my time after the show entering each and every email in my online email list. Some people have sheets of printed paper to put in a box. That’s more work, but I think people are still traditional and when they see the box, they know it’s a raffle.
Luckily, I didn’t encounter that many people who just gave you the “don’t bother me” look – they are at an expo for a reason. However, sometimes people already have a photographer and say things like “no, thanks!” It’s just part of the gig. Don’t let that get you down! They did you a favor by not saying your 30-second speech to someone that really wasn’t going to need your services. Keep on smiling and greet the next person!
Forget the disinterested people right away and focus on the interested people! Some will just want to sign up for the freebie, but some truly will be interested. Take note of who they are, what you talked about, and make sure to keep their notes/info in a separate place. If you have an electronic sign-up sheet, make a separate sheet (on your phone or where no one else can see) noting their name and info. If you have paper sheets, make a little mark on their paper with some notes and keep them separate.
Tips on Breaking Down
First, congratulations! You did it!! Now, to the least fun part. Most events will give you a breakdown instruction sheet and a set time. Follow that! If you are really antsy to get out of there, and things are super slow, get ahead by moving your car closer to the loading zone (if allowed), or start packing little stuff in your plastic bins.
Besides that, just pack things as you packed to come to the event, don’t forget to save your email list! That’s your golden ticket. Put everything in that foldable wagon (you will probably have to make multiple trips) and go home! Go get a huge burrito (or your binge food of choice) with a beer and celebrate!
What Matters Most: What To Do After the Trade Show
While it’s still fresh in your head, write down what worked and what didn’t, and how to change what didn’t work on your next show. This will be so helpful for your next expo and make it even more of a success!
Like from my last show, these are my notes of what I should do next time:
- Print out a most relevant blog post to hand out (for this bridal/boudoir booth, I wish I printed out “Why you don’t have to be skinny, young, or not awkward to take amazing boudoir photos” to hand out to everyone who told me “I’m too fat for this”.
- Make an album that people can flip through. One that they want to open and stand there a little longer to look at
- I learned about 2 other fairs that were supposedly better than this one, so check out those next
- Set up my booth so there’s something to see from every angle of where people are walking
- Bring other types of photos (couples, engagement, family) because although my booth was there for boudoir, there were many people looking for engagement and even family and maternity photos!
- Have the raffle sign bigger, and much clearer
- Add “budget” on the sign-up sheet to gauge if they are in my price range
Follow up, follow up, follow up
THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART!!
When I get home, I immediately send everyone who signed up an email thanking them for stopping by, and saying it was so nice to meet them. I remind them of my special offers (I extend the deadline to midnight that night), and any upcoming promos, or events. I usually already have this email drafted before the event, so all I have to do is import the contacts and hit send. That’s all I have the energy for after an all-day event talking to people!
When I am done with that, I usually follow up personally with those that seemed super interested to take the conversation further. It’s my general practice to follow up again 2 days later, and then again in 2 days, which will be my final follow up. What goes into those communications is a whole other topic/blog post!
If your expo gives you an email list of attendees, I usually take advantage of this to introduce myself. I make this an opt-in email, rather than an opt-out. I believe these expos get “consent” from the attendees to have us email them, but most people don’t read those consent forms, and I just don’t like to spam. It’s really up to you how to use those lists, but I tend to focus on getting the hot leads at the shows and reserve the general list for something generic that I may send once or twice to see who’s viewing and opening the emails. Then, I follow up from there.
There you have it!
Was this helpful? Having your own booth may be intimidating, costly, and exhausting, but you got this!! If you are a social person, you will truly enjoy meeting new people and finding your ideal clients by chatting with them. There’s no other opportunity like it! Have fun, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions!
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