Show them what you&#39re made of

Seminars and exhibitions enable financial advisers to make personal contact with large numbers of potential customers and deliver their sales messages in a relatively controlled environment. Success or failure depends on careful planning and attention to detail.

Seminars help build business by enhancing your image and bringing you face-to-face with potential new customers and business contacts. Following a few simple principles can make organising a seminar straightforward and the rewards worthwhile.

Seminars should excite curiosity, challenge perceptions and make those invited feel privileged to be there. After all, they are giving up their time so will look to gain real benefit from attending. It could be increased knowledge or an introduction to products or a service relevant to their needs such as saving money by remortgaging.

To retain a degree of intimacy the ideal number of attendees is between 12 and 20. This means inviting between 50 and 100 people in the first place. You could target existing customers, local businesses, other professionals (e.g. solicitors) and groups of people with a common interest (e.g. trade associations).

When planning the subject for your seminar make sure it&#39s pitched at the right level for your target audience so they leave having gained real benefit. This way, you stand the best chance of recruiting them as customers or business contacts.

In deciding when to hold your seminar, check if the target audience is likely to favour any particular day and if it clashes with any other events – like major sporting fixtures, for example. The best time of day to hold a seminar is usually early evening.

The best place to hold a seminar is at your office but if this is not possible you could look for an alternative venue, perhaps at a local conference centre or hotel. Make sure the quality of the venue supports the image of your business – smokey rooms at the back of pubs give a very different impression to well laid out, air-conditioned conference rooms in hotels.

The presentation itself should last between one and one and a half hours and be as interactive as possible to make your guests feel involved. Use technology to explain points clearly and provide your audience with notebooks and pens.

Exhibitions, on the other hand, provide a neutral ground on which potential buyers and sellers can meet and exchange information. It takes a great deal of hard work to make an exhibition a success for your company so each event must be well planned, well administered, well promoted and above all well manned by skilled people.

The first step is to choose which exhibitions to attend making sure they are relevant to your business and your customers and that they will enhance your business reputation.

Find out which of your competitors are also exhibiting, what the total cost of exhibition will be and what is the level of professionalism and competence of the organisers. All these factors will provide you with the information necessary to determine whether the exhibition will be worthwhile attending or not.

Organising an exhibition stand and making it a success is an involved task. So nominate one person to co-ordinate everything or recruit a professional event co-ordinator to organise the whole event on your behalf.

Some of the jobs that need to be done for an exhibition are:

•Organising the stand design and setting it up

•Ordering literature and give-aways

•Liasing with the exhibition organisers

•Organising a rota of people to man the stand

•Dealing with press enquiries

•Making sure the stand can be kept tidy

•Co-ordinating the follow-up to leads generated at the exhibition •Evaluating the success of the exhibition

•Organising any on-stand promotions such as a prize draw Don&#39t forget that exhibition selling is quite different to the normal sales situation and it is useful to plan what information you want to try and obtain from each potential customer. This will allow you to gain the right information to confidently contact them following the event to arrange an appointment for a more in-depth discussion.

A prize draw or a special offer on the stand is a good way to encourage visitors and an easy way to start up a conversation and encourage them to stay and talk. Always offer them a cup of tea or coffee.

After the exhibition, make sure all the leads gained from the event are followed up quickly while they&#39re still hot.

Also, evaluate the success of the show with all those involved to check it achieved the objectives set beforehand.

Stand and deliver – exhibition tips

Design and position of your stand is important

•Corner sites are generally preferable, as there are two open sides •The open sides should be the longest to allow more people onto the stand •If possible, always check the position of your competitors before you book your stand plot •Look at the likely flow of visitors through the exhibition and make sure your stand is positioned near the beginning of the flow •A position near a refreshment or information area can be an advantage as large numbers of people tend to congregate there •Keep the entrance to your stand open and inviting – don&#39t allow tables to create a barrier between you and potential customers •Ensure any promotion you are running is highly visible

•Try to set aside an area for note-taking and the recording of leads.

•Ensure the stand is well-lit

Maximise the benefits of exhibiting

•Presenting to an affinity group, such as members of a trade association, gives you the opportunity to run a seminar to a number of people who share a common interest •Target local employers to promote the benefits of helping employees review their finances and offer to run a seminar on key products •Don&#39t forget to advertise in the local press that you will be at the event or send a press release to the same effect •Include your stand number

•Why not invite your best customers along for some refreshments and canapés •Placing and advert in the exhibition brochure means those people who did not get round to visiting your stand can at least read about your firm