It has been about 2 and a half years since I started pursuing my art as a business, especially online with my etsy shop and this blog. Another big part of my creative career is doing bi-annual craft shows (during spring & holiday seasons… as you may have noticed with a few of my previous posts here, here, here, just to name a few) as well as summer markets (like here and here). I am by no means a veteran yet, but I am a firm believer that “experience is knowledge”, so I do have a few things under my belt that I can share with curious artists out there who have yet to exhibit in settings like this, or who need to refine their experience for next time. With the fast approaching Make It shows, I felt it was a good time to distill my advice into a post.
The biggest bits of wisdom seem to have all centered around finances. Artists spend most of their time dwelling on the creative right side of the brain, and if you are trying to turn your talent into a business, you need to learn how to shift to the analytical left side. At the end of the day, it still is about the money honey, So Know Your Costs! Things can add up quickly at these big craft & art shows; it is important to know in advance what things are going to cost, so that you can be financially prepared for every aspect of the event from start to finish.
-Space at the Show: The booth fee is always just the tip of the iceberg. Lighting, walls, flooring, chairs, table rentals, tent top, display racks, signage, insurance, etc, can all be added costs to booking a booth space at a multiple day show. You need to be conscious of much more than just your square footage rental.-Product Preparation: Do you have enough of your wares made and ready to sell? If not, what are the material costs, shipping prices, time requirements, packaging, etc. that you have to have on hand in order to make new work? Producing any type of hand-made item is going to take a bit of an initial investment, so make sure you have the moolah and the time to pursue your new designs or creations.-Marketing Materials: Each business card, promotional postcard, or even shopping bag that you give out to customers will cost you money! Make sure that these “freebies” are cost-efficient so that they don’t take much away from your profits. For example, you could make business cards at home instead of getting a print shop to produce them, hand-stamp plain bags with a logo, etc… On the other hand, you can consider the cost of promotional print items as “advertising investments.” It’s great to have your branded bags flashed around the show by recent customers, or have one of your free postcards get sent by a customer to someone who’s never seen your work.-Travel & Shipping Expenses: Whether driving, flying, teleporting (i wish), etc, the method you choose to get to a show can add up! Sometimes getting your stuff to the exhibit can be even more daunting than getting your sweet self to the show! Know your mileage, gas estimates, wear & tear on your car, etc. What can you take with you? What needs to be shipped? How many outfits do you really need? Look for ways to save like carpooling, seat sales, using air miles, or taking a slower but cheaper option like the bus or train. Explore shipping options from sending a box with greyhound to packing a pallet; it is important to look around in order to find out what is the most applicable and affordable travel option for your practice.-Food Costs: It may seem silly but if you are out of town, it’s easy to rack up bills at drive-thrus and dinners out. Before the show starts, take a trip to a local grocery store and buy healthy snacks and easy to make meals like ready-made dinners or sandwich/salad ingredients. I love to find food vendors at the shows and ask if they do trade: “art for eats” is super awesome! Of course you can treat yourself to a night or two out, but research restaurants to compare prices, order an appetizer, or share a large entree with a friend to help reduce the expense. Also, while you’re at the show, be sure to drink lots of water; people often confuse thirst with hunger!
Obviously doing these big exhibitions isn’t just about moolah, but about very important non-tangible perks like the experience, the connections, the opportunity… however, counting your costs sure does make a big commitment a lot easier to handle and a lot more prone to success. I hope these great financial tips for craft shows will help you be a little more conscious of your bottom line at big events. Happy creating and good luck selling at your next show!