All’s fair in marketing

All’s fair in marketing

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Pushing my barriers for a personal first

Last Friday was a big day for me. I spent it at the B-Travel event in Barcelona, the first time I’d been to promote myself at a trade fair. I was doing it as part of my campaign this year to find more direct clients in my specialist areas, one of which is tourism. So this week’s post consists of some advice, based on that experience, for anyone who’s thinking about doing anything similar.

1. Choose your event

For me, B-Travel made a lot of sense. It’s all about tourism, one of my favourite specialist areas, and, having visited it as a member of the public once before, I knew it would be attended by all kinds of potential customers likely to have material for translation in my language combinations. It’s also very close to home. This meant I didn’t need to invest a huge amount of time and money in travel and hotels, which made it much easier to justify to myself as a first step. I wouldn’t rule out travelling further for an event in the future, but if you can get on the metro and reach a trade fair with genuine potential in less than half an hour, that’s surely a good place to start.

2. Do your preparation

I’ve been thinking of going to this event for more than a year. Why didn’t I go in 2014, then? Simple. I wasn’t prepared. Specifically, I didn’t have the right sort of material to give to potential customers. Business cards are all very well, but they’re easily lost and easily forgotten. I wanted something a bit more substantial in the form of an attractive leaflet and last year I didn’t have time to produce one in time, especially as my priority, at the time, was to get this website up and running. So, I decided to target the event in 2015 and, at the beginning of the year, I started working towards, it, beginning discussions with my designer on what kind of leaflet I wanted and starting to write the copy. For various reasons it took longer than I expected, but I was very pleased with the result, as I managed to structure information on several of my specialist areas to relate them to the central specialism of tourism. An important result of all this was that I was proud of my material, and this made me feel much more confident when it came to handing it out.

One side of my leaflet, unfolded

One side of my leaflet, unfolded

Did I do enough preparation? Well, I bought my ticket in advance, but perhaps I could have investigated my potential customers a little more. Who exactly should I be trying to see? Which companies and institutions were likely to be most interested in translations? If I went to the event again, or to another one in the future, I think I would do more online reseach to orientate myself a little better, although I’m not sure how profitable it would be.

3. Dress sensibly

I considered two things: firstly I knew I was going to be walking all day, so my shoes had to be comfortable. No experiments with new ones. Secondly, should I wear a suit and tie? I decided it wasn’t necessary and I think I was right, largely because, after spending a large part of my previous working life in a suit, it’s not something I ever wear unless it’s absolutely essential.

4. Pick up a map of the venue when you arrive

For some reason, I didn’t see anyone handing them out when I got to the trade fair and then, when I had been there for half an hour, I started to wonder why everyone had one and I didn’t. If I’d looked harder for a map when I started I might have saved myself a lot of aimless wandering. I finally found one on my way out the door!

5. Don’t panic

My worst moments came as soon as I arrived at the trade fair centre at Montjuïc, Barcelona. I’m not a lover of crowds and, when I saw all the stands and all the people rushing about, I began to wonder what I was doing there. Although I hadn’t been at all nervous before the event,  I certainly was now, and I felt temporarily unable to approach anyone.

6. Take a deep breath

I gave myself a stern talking to and reminded myself why I had come. But to settle my nerves, as well as to get my bearings without that essential map, I decided to take a walk around and see exactly what was on offer. I found everything from inflatable bears to full-size model rhinos and zebras, go-karts to desert haimas and climbing walls to Dominican dancers. Gradually I calmed down and, after a detour through the food tourism section without succumbing to temptation, I reached the part of fair I was really interested in: the stands of the Spanish and Catalan tourist boards and businesses.

7. Hit your rhythm

Another deep breath and I approached my first potential customers on the Extremadura stand. It wasn’t too difficult to get my message across, hand over my leaflet and move on to the next stand, Cantabria, and so on. Within a couple of hours I’d been to all the stands representing organisations likely to need translations and handed out twenty or thirty leaflets to tourist boards, hotel companies and even wildlife parks. Most of them had, in fact, been quite well received. I became quite an expert at telling instantly whether there was any interest in my services or not. One or two people told me from the start that they had translation covered and weren’t interested. Others took the leaflet but clearly weren’t going to do very much with it. Most promised to pass it on to the person in the organisation in charge of translation. And, once or twice, there was genuine immediate interest. These, I suppose, are the ones I’m most likely to hear from.

I didn’t stay long on any particular stand. There seemed little point in doing any more than explaining who I was and what I wanted and leaving my information. Everyone was busy, we all had more people to see and it seemed discourteous to waste anyone’s valuable time, unless they asked specific questions, which few did. What I wanted to do was to make initial contact and, hopefully, be remembered. In the end, the whole process took on a rhythm of its own. Approach the stand, catch the eye of someone I wanted to talk to, give a brief explanation, hand over a leaflet, say goodbye and move on to the next one. With so many stands to visit, the approach that developed naturally seemed like the right one to follow.

8. Know the limitations of the process

I think it’s important to recognise the drawbacks of self-marketing at a trade fair, as well as the obvious advantages of having a relatively large number of potential clients clustered in a small area. The main problem is that you don’t know who you’re talking to. They might wear a lapel badge saying they’re called Jorge or Raquel or Montse, and who they work for, but you have very little idea of whether they’re a boss in the organisation or whether they normally make the tea. Where there was a choice, I tended to gravitate towards older people, thinking that they were more likely to have a more important role than youngsters, but I admit that’s a very crude approach.

The other side of my leaflet.

The other side of my leaflet.

The difficulty is compounded at fairs like B-Travel by the fact that some institutional stands represent a whole raft of smaller organisations. So when you approach someone on one of these, you don’t really know whether they represent one of the smaller organisations or the parent institution, and you have no idea really whether you need to see everyone on the stand or whether it’s enough just to make contact with one of them. I decided to take a flexible approach, sometimes being satisfied with one leaflet drop, other times leaving several at neighbouring desks, depending on how I saw the situation.

Other drawbacks include the fact that there is enough publicity material at an event like B-Travel to giftwrap the Sagrada Familia – and here I was adding to all that paper.  Some of those precious leaflets of mine would inevitably be lost in transit, if only due to the law of averages. Hopefully at least some will get taken back to the office.

9. Know your own limitations

Trade fairs are tiring. After a tour of the event delivering my leaflets and another checking I hadn’t missed any stands (I found one or two that had slipped through the net) I was exhausted both physically and with the emotional effort of approaching so many strangers. There were various talks and demonstrations I could have stayed to see that would perhaps have been useful, but I decided to head for home and spend a couple of hours with my family. It was a great decision and I didn’t regret it. I’d done what I’d come to do. Next time I’d do it better.

10. Follow up

This is the part I still have to do. As I’ve already mentioned, some of my leaflets won’t have got to the person they needed to get to. Others will have been lost. I need to make sure the contacts I made haven’t simply slipped down the side of a hotel bed or gone in the wastepaper basket. That’s not going to be an easy job for something like me, with my very British sense of not wanting to be a nuisance, but it’s got to be done and I shall do it one by one over the next few weeks.

I really have no idea how many new clients I plan to secure from this event. That’s why I think it’s ridiculous to set targets for this kind of action unless you’re a lot more experienced at it than I am. I see what I’ve been doing as sowing seed by hand in a field: I know only some of it is going to sprout and that’s only to be expected. So if only two or three people respond to my leaflets and become even one-off customers I’ll still consider it to have been a success. The financial costs – leaflet design, printing and translation, ticket for the event – are irrelevant anyway as they’re all tax deductable. My accountant is always on at me to find things I can deduct, so I might as well have genuine, useful expenses.

After taking the first step, I’m fully intending to visit at least one non-translation-related trade fair every year from now on, probably on a rotating basis to avoid the diminishing returns to the same one every time. After all, I’ve still got the rest of the print run of leaflets to distribute. And next time I’ll do it all a lot better!



  1. Jane

    Simon, this was was really interesting to read! As I think I mentioned on FB, I also went to my very first trade fair on Saturday (Musikmessse in Frankfurt), and a lot of your points match my experiences.

    I also had the "what am doing here?" reaction at the beginning, and was absolutely shattered by the end. And I also opted to go home relatively early, instead of staying for any events.

    I think your leaflet is a great idea and I will aim for something like that next time, as I felt that my business cards were just going to get lost (and they only have my contact details, whereas you can obviously say a lot more on a leaflet).

    What I tried to do was summon up the feeling of excitement I felt when seeing all the gorgeous instruments and hearing people play, and keep hold of it while approaching potential clients. I certainly got better at it throughout the day 🙂


      Thanks, Jane. It’s interesting to hear that you had a similar experience. It certainly gets easier as you go on, which is what I meant by finding your "rhythm". I’m also sure I can do better next time. I hope your efforts bring you some inquiries.

  2. Corrie

    Great article! I plan to do the same thing in June, and making a leaflet is something I handn’t thought of yet.


      Thanks for your comment, Corrie. Good luck with your plans. If you want to produce a leaflet, I’d make a start now if I were you.

  3. Giulia - Wordsofnona

    Hi Simon,
    a very interesting post and I am glad to see I am not the only one who feels intimidated by approaching people at a fair!
    I think that, as with everything, practice makes a difference: I’ve been chasing clients in fairs 4 or 5 times now, and with time it does get better and less scary. I spoke with people who have become my clients now, so I hope it will be the same for you!


      Thanks, Giulia. It’s good to hear I’m not the only one who finds this difficult. One of the points of writing the post was to show others that feeling worried about these things is entirely normal.


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