Sunday, May 8, 2011

More Advice For Entrepreneurs

Today I planned to do a Shoutout Sunday showcasing the awesome purse organizer I bought at The One of a Kind show a few weeks back.  Unfortunately, when I tried to Google the company for purchasing information to share with y'all, I came up with nothing.  This company that made the organizer apparently doesn't have an online store or a website, meaning I have no idea how one would go about purchasing their wares aside from running into the company randomly at a craft fair, meaning that a shoutout about them would be less "This company is cool!  Please buy their stuff!" and more "I have a cool thing and you don't, suckers!"

I've actually been thinking about marketing strategies (and mistakes!) a lot lately, and here's why: yesterday, The Boy and I went to TCAF (the Toronto Comic Arts Festival).  And it.  Was.  Crowded.

The Boy took this pic from the stairway, near the end of our visit; when we first arrived it was so crowded that the floor would not have been visible at all.
Regular readers of this blog may remember me mentioning once or twice that I have some anxiety issues.  Specifically, crowded and chaotic places give me panic attacks.  After ten minutes in this building, pushing forward at a snail's pace while being constantly buffeted by people's shoulders and knapsacks, my brain was in major Red Alert Mode and I told The Boy I might have to bail and go home. Somehow, he convinced me to stay - and so I found myself trying to enjoy art and interact with artists while in the throes of blinding panic.

Ultimately, I didn't get much out of TCAF at all....and after The Boy and I burst out of the Toronto Reference Library into sweet, sweet freedom, I started analyzing my experience and wondering what the vendors could have done to make the experience simpler and more rewarding for me.  I came up with several ideas (which I'll totally implement myself if/when I try to sell my stuff at a craft fair):

-Dramatic signage: some vendors had a big sign behind their table with their name and a drawing on it so you could see who they were and what their style was like from across the room.  That was awesome.  Most vendors didn't, though, and so they blended into the general chaos.

-Clear labelling: I was too overwhelmed by the crowds, etc., to try to make conversation with many of the artists...but there's a better chance I would have if I'd known who was who.  Many tables showcased more than one artist and I was worried that I'd pick up a graphic novel and go "Hey, I love your work!" and the person would go "Yeah...that was drawn by the girl next to me."  I have decided that if I'm ever sharing a table at an event, I'll cover my side of the table with a piece of coloured bristol board so it's obvious that all the stuff laid out on there belongs to that side.  I'll also wear a t-shirt with my company name and/or url and/or one of my drawings on it so I'm even more identifiable.

Also, there were a bunch of times when I liked someone's work and thought "I can't talk to the artist or buy their comic right now because my brain is pounding with fear-chemicals, but I'll take a business card so I can look them up on the internet at home!"  But what I initially assumed were business cards often turned out, upon closer examination, to be business-card-sized stickers the person was selling.  Or else they were business cards but they were right in the middle of a bunch of other little paper goods for sale.  At any rate, I had this fear that if I tried to take a business card I'd end up busted for shoplifting, so I rarely took one.  One table had a little sign next to their business cards saying "please take one!" and that was wonderful - it removed all the guesswork.  I'm totally doing that.

And, I never knew what the etiquette was with the graphic novels - will the artist get annoyed if I thumb through one without buying, or will they see it as an expression of interest?  Some vendors had a stand-up rack with one copy of their comic on it and then a bunch more stacked up in-behind, which pretty clearly indicates "here's a sample copy for you to read, and if you want to buy it I'll give you a fresh one."  Clarity rocks.

Friendliness: a surprising number of artists just sat behind their tables sketching or whatever and didn't even look at the attendees. I'm sure an established fan who wanted to buy something (and was not cripplingly shy...) would've spoken up no problem, but to a n00b like me who just wanted to maybe ask a question, the lack of eye contact acts as a big ol' DO NOT DISTURB sign.

On the flip side, though, there were people who said hi to all passers-by and tried to engage them in conversation - which meant that The Boy and I glanced through a few portfolios of people whose work didn't actually appeal to us, just to be polite.  Awkward!

I think if I'm ever the one sitting behind the table, I'll make eye contact and smile at my customers to show that I'm approachable, but wait for them to start conversations if they're so inclined.  And I'll try to prominently display art that's provocative in some way so it gives people a natural conversation-starter.

In conclusion: I realize that most people don't attend comic conventions/art fairs/craft shows/etc. in a state of mind-bending terror.  However, since my anxiety makes me the least likely to buy things, talk to people, or even take a business card, if you can manage to woo me as a customer, you'll be able to woo anyone.  And that's why my advice here is sound and sensible and not just the ravings of a madwoman.

I'm really glad I went to TCAF, even though being there burned me right the hell out and made me useless for the rest of the day.  The experience got me thinking and gave me a much better idea of how to conduct business once I'm ready to sell my stuff in a not-online kind of way.

Do you have any tips to add?  If you've ever been a vendor, what are some things you've done to improve your customers' experience?  If you've ever gone to any kind of festival or convention where they sold stuff, what did people do to catch your eye...or what do you wish they did?  Please share your thoughts in the comments!


  1. My experience at I-CON was very similar - certainly in the anxiety department - and I agree with these points, especially the clear labeling. There was only one real super pro-lookin' graphic novel table at the show, and after 15 minutes of deciding whether I wanted to make conversation or not, I stepped up. The conversation went as follows:

    "So, uhh, hey! This is...your work is great!"

    "Oh, this is my WIFE's work. She just went on a lunch break."

    "Oh. Well, her art is very stylistic."

    "She was actually the writer. The artist couldn't make it to the signing today."


  2. See? SEE?!? That's what I feared would happen if I got up the nerve to talk to anyone. And my fears were probably well-founded!

    So, okay, I'll add to the list that if people ever collaborate on a comic, they should add "inker" or "writer" or whatever to their nametag so people know exactly what's up.

    Sorry to hear you haz teh anxiety, too. Sucks to be us...