As I’m sure many of you guys know, trying to run your own creative business is Hard. Work. And part and parcel of it is taking part in trade shows.
I know! Wince, cringe, shrink all you like, but you have to get out there and tell people why your work is worth it.
I’m not going to lie to you, it’s hard. You can work hard, grind ’til you own it and just make a couple of sales. People can lift you up, take a keen interest in you and you can bond over a shared interest (for me that’s usually dinosaurs) but there can also be people who do not want you to talk to them, look at them and ultimately they just don’t like what you do.
Every fair I’ve done has taught me a little bit more about how to do it right. This isn’t a definitive answer, as each business is different, but hopefully this how-to will help you feel a bit more confident when it comes to doing your own shows!
DO jump in head first.
It seems counter-intuitive, but bear with. If I had sat down and gone “when is the best time for me to start doing fairs?” I never would have done it. Because when are we ever ready? If you’re anything like me, you’re a bit of a perfectionist so you can be your own biggest barrier.
When I agreed to do my first fair, I didn’t have a product range. I didn’t have an Etsy store. I was probably in one of the worst places I’ve ever been mentally. And I still, to this day, have yet to take the leap to get anything printed. (That’s right, I make every SINGLE thing by hand). But guess what, I made over £100 that I could reinvest right back into the business. I sold things to not just friends and family, but complete strangers.So no, I may not have been ready, but I had a good go at it and it paid off.
DON’T forget the essentials.
My helper had to drive back to our house to pick up all the things I’d forgotten this weekend. I felt so bad, so I beg you to be better prepared than me. The must haves are: tack, drawing pins, tablecloth, scissors, business cards, email sign up sheet, a good range of change in the cash box, wooden pegs and any packaging you might need for your items (shopping bags, tissue paper, bubble wrap, etc).
DO get snappy.
Take as many photos as you have time too! They’re great mementos, especially in polaroid form (if you want to get to grips with polaroid photography I wrote a handy little how to here). If you can, get pics of people around your stall – they look great on social media and websites.
DON’T fly solo.
I always try to have a friend or family help me out. First, you don’t have to pay them (hoorah!) but also, everyone needs to pee sometimes. Make sure you’re not missing out on sales on that toilet break and have your helper cover you! (Here’s my bestie landing a sale while I was in the loo).
DO go local.
It is so, so easy to feel all alone and like you’re the only person struggling to make your creative business work for you. But you’re really, really not. It helps to have the best Instagram network ever (love you guys), but actually meeting other local creatives is really important for your sanity. I’ve met some truly lovely people doing local shows, like Kirsty Gadd Textiles and Holly Mae Illustrates.
Not only will you make fab biz friends, but it’s a great way to dip your toe in the water. Often your local shows won’t cost you as much as the big ones, so it’s a good time to experiment and get as much feedback as you can on your products.
DON’T get trigger happy.
One of the biggest compliments I get is about the layout of my stall. It’s so tempting to gather up everything you’ve ever made and just throw it all on the table and hope for the best. But think of it this way, that table (however small, flimsy or unsuitable) is your shop. If you owned your own shop you would visual merchandise the hell out of it – because why have a shop if it isn’t Instagrammable? So do the same with your table.
Tell a story. I have my cards in the centre of my table, surrounded by gift suggestions that are grouped by category (all my cross stitch on the left, ceramics on the right). This makes it really easy for people to get what you’re about. For example, if you’re more about making art prints, you’d make them the focal point of your display, arranging by size, colour, etc.
Sometimes clutter is unavoidable. I have different unique designs on each notebook I make. So, if it’s going to be more difficult for a passer by to see everything, make it the closest thing too them. People like to rummage, but they need a little encouragement from you!
DO get your pen and paper ready.
Not only do you need to keep track of what’s been bought – but keep a note of what people picked up and looked at, what they commented on, what they laughed at. Write down any handy feedback or ideas people give you for new products. It will help direct you in making better products for your customers.
DON’T listen to that niggling voice in your head.
Dude, this is your show. Don’t look at what anyone else is doing. Make like Beyonce and own what you’re doing. Twirl all them haters.
There’s a lot to be learned from people who have been doing shows longer than you. When I did my first fair I didn’t have any specific stands or furniture to display my work. I pretty much collected random wire stands and picnic baskets and tried to prop everything up. As a result, my cards were all over the place and people weren’t really looking at them, even though they’re my best sellng range. However, I saw the stand of a lady I really admire who was running the event. Her cards and prints were displayed so clearly and it made the stall look that little bit more varied. So, here I am at my second art fair with my very own card stand!
It’s okay to magpie little tips, as long as they suit your brand. If the stand I bought hadn’t been white and wire, it wouldn’t have fit in with the look I was going for.
And don’t forget, ENJOY it! This is the most nerve-racking but also the greatest part of our job. It’s easy to hide behind your Etsy page, but seeing the reaction to your work and getting to share your passion is something we should all cherish!
Let me know your own tips in the comments below!