It's hard work, it's time-consuming, and it costs money. But for many small businesses — especially ones that rely on word-of-mouth and personal relationships to thrive — there's nothing better than an expo or trade show to boost sales of products or services and connect with customers, old and new.
But you don't have to fly solo. As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you now have plenty of help in the form of mobile apps and services. You can call on these apps to guide you through the process and make your show experience rewarding. Here are a few of our favorites.
They may seem like a relic of the past, but good old-fashioned paper business cards are still going strong — especially on the show floor. CamCard gives you a thoroughly modern way to collect and search for the information they contain. You can exchange e-cards with customers and business contacts; scan and organize business cards and customer data; export data to systems such as Salesforce, SugarCRM, Outlook, Google Contacts and Excel; track communications with customers; and even assign tasks to members of your team and set reminders for yourself. Business cards are stored in the cloud and synchronized with smartphones, tablets and a web app. You can try out CamCard for free, and the entry-level business subscription starts at $12 a month.
If you seek an efficient way to collect data from current or potential clients, look no further than QuickTapSurvey. You can use this app online or offline on your iPad, iPhone or Android device to generate leads, get feedback, and create forms for conducting online research. In addition to conducting surveys in real time at trade shows or events, QuickTapSurvey lets you customize and brand your surveys, categorize questions by type, capture signatures, pull reports and analytics, and export leads to Salesforce, Infusionsoft, Mailchimp and SurveyMonkey. The Basic annual fee is $16 per month, but you can try out the Basic, Pro or Premium subscriptions for free with no credit card required.
Let's face it: Most people don't carry much cash on them anymore, especially not at large gatherings in strange cities. So, if you're selling products or services on the show floor, be prepared to accept payments via credit card. Square is our favorite app service for mobile credit card processing. The Square Point of Sale contactless chip reader ($49) connects wirelessly, letting you accept NFC transactions (such as Apple Pay and Google Pay) and EMV chip cards, or you can use the magstripe reader that comes in the Square box for old-fashioned swiping. The reader is compatible with iPhone and Android devices and works with a companion app that lets you manage merchandise, customers and personnel. Square charges you 2.75 percent per swipe (or 3.5 percent plus 15 cents per transaction for manually keyed-in cards), with no monthly or setup fees.
Attending a trade show is an expense above and beyond your regular business, as it includes travel, documents, graphics and booth setup – not to mention client lunches and meals and lodging for you and your staff. Expensify helps you gather and track all your show expense reports, mileage and time. You can use the built-in SmartScan OCR to take pictures of receipts, annotate entries with additional information, and link the app to a credit card to match expenditures with specific items. For larger companies, it also handles automatic credit card reconciliation and next-day reimbursements, manages company cards, and integrates with various accounting and HR software packages. You can download the app for free, but a monthly subscription costs $4.99.
When you and your staff and potential customers are scattered all over town, there has to be a way to bring everyone together. That's where the free messaging and calling app Viber comes in. Viber keeps you connected to anyone you choose through your internet connection, preferably Wi-Fi. You can use Viber for group chats of up to 250 participants, long-distance calls (including free international calling), HD video calling and instant video messaging. Best of all, your communications are secure with end-to-end encryption. You can manually authenticate contacts to be sure you're talking to the right person. Viber also lets you express your fun trade show vibe with a selection of thousands of stickers you can use on the go.
Additional reporting by Mona Bushnell.