If your 2021 trade show is canceled, there are still ways many ways to network in a digital space. Check out these six recommendations. #CentSai #entrepreneurtips #entrepreneurideas #peertopeer #peertopeernetworkThe subsequent waves of coronavirus across the United States have spurred event planners including those for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to transition to an “all digital experience” in 2021.

In-person meetings are still proving to be a health risk as we enter the new year, which can be a major problem for small businesses who rely on these events to find and meet new customers.

Whether your small business targets medical offices, food companies, or some other specific niche, trade shows have always proven to be among the ways with the highest return on investment to meet a many prospects in a short period of time.

Additionally, if you have the authority to get chosen to speak at a conference like this, it increases your cachet immediately. 

If your 2021 trade show is canceled or moved to Q4, you now have to figure out how to continue your marketing so you don’t lose momentum. In these times of social distancing, it’s difficult to visit. Plus your customers’ and prospects’ journeys have changed during the pandemic. So what can you do now?

Get Social 

Whether we like it or not, now is the time to embrace social media. You don’t have to be on every platform. Figure out where your customers hang out and go there.

Social media is about giving more than it is taking. In other words, 80 percent of the posts you make —video, photo, or text — should add value in some way and the other 20 percent should be promotional.

The content you provide is your invitation to your ideal client to start a relationship with you. 

Video is easier than you think and probably easier than figuring out what to write. You talk all the time. Your videos need to be only one minute long.

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Think about a short piece of advice you gave someone today and share it with everyone by making a quick video on your phone to post. Do this every day.

Though your posts may not go viral and change your life overnight, they’ll serve as an important step for anyone considering doing business with you. When someone searches your company, you want them to find information that builds your credibility as an expert and problem solver. Your posts do that for you.

Skip the Zoom Meeting

Nine months into this pandemic, the last thing people want to do is join another Zoom meeting. If you have access to an influencer who everyone wants to hear from, people will make an exception and show up to your event.

However, the online cocktail class from July has lost its charm as there is a screen involved and people can drink without dialing in. 

Get creative and figure out a way to engage without a screen. To get the juices flowing for ideas consider these: 

  • Send a care package full of goodies including consumables they’ll love (think brownies) and stuff with your brand on it so they’ll think of you every day (note pads, pens, really any items you may have put inside the swag bag at the trade show). 
  • Run a contest using social media or snail mail. Play off popular TV game shows or trivia games and get folks involved. Use this to build a community of people who can benefit from knowing one another and who will gladly refer you for business.
  • Try a scavenger hunt using social media or snail mail. At the end, the winner wins some great prize that they can use to solve the problem your business helps them solve. For example, if you’re an audio engineer who helps clients produce podcasts, you could give away a home podcasting system worth hundreds of dollars.
    • If you know the characteristics of your ideal client and where they are along their journey when they’re ready to hire you, target this very specific person in that specific place to participate in your hunt. Make it entertaining and fun and get to know them during the experience.
    • Run the event until you have at least 50 to 100 participants. The winner will be super excited, and if you’ve done a great job targeting you should land a couple of clients along the way.
  • Send your clients a Starbucks gift card to let them know that you would be buying them a latte if there was no pandemic and that you’re looking forward to seeing them in person again soon.
  • Build an online community using Facebook or Mighty Networks to give people in your industry a place to network, get help, and exchange ideas.
  • Mail your clients a book you’ve read that you feel will benefit them in their work. Write a letter explaining why you choose this book. 

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Introduce Your Client to People They Should Know

The idea here is to simulate the network effect you would experience if you were at a trade show. When we go to these events, we may know only a few people, but then they introduce us to people they know, and our network expands.

Imagine who you would see if your trade show wasn't canceled, and create the network through introductions for your clients.

In turn ask them to introduce you to three people they think you should know. 

Reconnect with 2019-2020 Vendors

If you’re like most people, when you come home from a trade show, you have a bag full of stuff you’ve picked up from the vendor tables. Then, you let it sit on the shelf for the day you have time to look at it again, which is never.

Pull out that bag from the last trade show you attended and reconnect with the people you met. You can reminisce about the show and share updates on what’s happened since. You never know where that may lead.

Be a Guest on a Podcast

If you’ve spoken at trade shows in the past or led breakout sessions, where is your audience now? Many of them are listening to podcasts.

There are dozens of podcasts on every subject. Find your space and figure out how to connect with the hosts that talk about your space and to your audience. Reach out and see if you can be a guest.

Pick Up the Phone and Say Hi

Your customers want to hear from you. They love talking about their own businesses and they know you love to listen to them talk.

Call them to say hello, how’s the family, is everyone doing ok, did they have a nice holiday, etc. Not every call has to be a sales call. 

The Bottom Line

The vaccine doses started in December and with luck, hundreds of millions of doses will be administered by summer 2021.

Though life is never going to back the way it was before, we will be in person again at some point and the previously canceled trade shows will resume one day.

Until then, innovate not only how you solve problems, but also how you market to your customers and find new ones.

Belinda DiGiambattista is a serial entrepreneur, business coach, and outsourced financial controller, and can be found at www.belindadi.com.

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