Many business owners who eagerly pay big bucks to exhibit at industry trade shows often end up disappointed when it comes down to calculating the return on investment.

Small business owners can minimize their investment or maximize their exposure through some simple marketing and partnership techniques that will help them get the most bang for their buck.

Position Position Position:
On the trade show floor, booth placement is king.

“Know where the prime spots for booths are when you make selections,” advised Eddie Lange, vice president of Exhibit Experts.   

Lange advised business owners to look for the direction of the traffic flow, the location of the main doors and the area where there will be food and drinks. He also warned entrepreneurs: avoid “dead-end aisles and large columns where people will have to go out of their way to find you.”

Partner-Up:
If a business owner can’t afford a whole booth, try sharing. Some trade show organizers allow businesses to split space, allowing entrepreneurs to derive the benefits without incurring all of the costs.  A careful read through of the contract will alert entrepreneurs to ‘subletting’ restrictions.

Dave Poulos, founder of marketing company Granite Partners and former marketing director at a trade show production company, recommended business owners look for exhibitors whose product is complementary to theirs.  

“For example, a printer manufacturer could partner with a paper manufacturer. For every printer sold, the paper manufacturer could throw in some paper, and both business owners could share booth space and leads,” said Poulos.  

Establish an Expertise:
Often times, trade shows not only offer entrepreneurs booth space to promote their wares, but they also provide on-site educational opportunities.  

Business owners who develop a good relationship with show and seminar organizers should consider suggesting topics where they can serve as speakers and promote their expertise.

This year Green Festival, showing in NYC, Chicago, Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles, invited people to apply to speak at the events by submitting a topic proposal.  

SPONSOR SOMETHING:
From a cocktail hour to chair massages or a popcorn station, giving attendees a treat for free is a sure fire way for business owners to ensure they will be remembered.  

Some trade shows restrict sponsorships, offering them only to exhibitors. Others are more flexible, especially if it is coming down to show time and they are strapped for cash.   

Poulos of Granite Partners recommended entrepreneurs work with vendors and trade show organizer to see where sponsorship opportunities lie, since often these deals can be worked out individually.