Cons are Hard - C2E2 2018 Wrapup
It’s the morning after C2E2 2018 and everyone in my house is a complete zombie.
Throughout last year, I worked to hire a dedicated salesperson to sell my work at conventions without me. Having Elaine take over convention sales for me has been amazing. The work she puts in has allowed me to focus on my health, my work and my family. After a six months of delegating away all my events, I've come back for my hometown show to learn a harsh lesson. Cons are hard.
The Positive Stuff
Convention appearances can be an integral part of being an independent artist. The money is obviously a factor. Having the opportunity to profit anywhere from a few hundred, to tens of thousands of dollars at a weekend event is always nice. Beyond that, there are also fringe benefits that justify the effort. Conventions are a hotbed of networking and fan base growth. The time you get to spend with people face to face at these things has the effect of strengthening the relationships that your whole business is built on. For me, this is what makes cons require such serious consideration.
Conventions aren’t REALLY a weekend long. They can take anywhere from 1-2 weeks, end to end. For C2E2 this year, I wanted to build a whole new booth. New signage, new display furniture and a gigantic new banner. Between everything, I spent several thousand dollars getting it all purchased. For me, investing the money was the easier part. Doing this also required me to spend time building mockups, shopping for vendors, formatting files, keeping up with email chains, testing the stuff as it came in and addressing all the problems that cropped up along the way. I probably spent 2 work weeks over the course of the last month grinding away at this thing and I didn’t even do everything that needed to be done. Elaine spent her last week preparing everything else for the show as well. She prepped and transported hundreds of pieces of inventory while also handling all the contracts, travel and planning.
Elaine landed in Chicago on Wed evening to help pack up the vans so we’d be prepared to spend all of Thursday setting up. We woke up every morning throughout the con at 6:30am to commute an hour in and arrived home late every night. Now it’s Monday and we’re barely standing. Door to door, she’s going to have been traveling or working under intense conditions for 6 days straight. Longer shows have demanded 7-8 days in the past.
A large part of why I hired an employee to take over my convention business was because I couldn’t keep up with my life while trying to maintain a travel schedule. It dawned on me that even if I got this whole process streamlined, I was still going to spend at least 25% of all my time doing cons. Not just 25% of my work hours. 25% of ALL my hours. That’s a pretty heft cost, regardless of how valuable these things can be.
Working Through the Pain
Speaking with members of the 1FW family throughout C2E2, one of the recurring themes was ‘hardship’. Physical, financial and emotional hardships were everywhere. Some people got shuffled to super shitty spots in the con, others drove incredible distances to feel mostly ignored and the least fortunate had serious medical issues throughout the event. Thinking back, I can remember so many times artists had to fight through extraordinary circumstances to claw back the time and money they’d invested in these events. Safety is not guaranteed.
If you look closely at any artist’s alley, you’ll see the danger. The vast majority of people in there are sleep deprived, low on cash and desperately needing validation for their life choices. Their booth is a prayer waiting to be answered. The crowd that visits them is their fickle god, demanding a sacrifice in exchange for its blessing. It’s a strange place. Much stranger than I think people even give it credit for. Behind the wild costumes and thinly veiled mating rituals, conventions are a place where creative people go to put their lives on the line. Failure in this place is not only disastrous for your bank account, it’s a personal failing that seems to reflect on one’s own value as a human being.
Is it Worth it?
Conventions have never been and will never be a safe bet. That being said, learning to manage risk is essential in business and finding your own personal limits can be powerful in life. So, despite the hardships built into the experience, I still think of it very highly. Yes, it’s worth it. Pain and failure are not worthwhile excuses for staying passive because the price for staying passive is also pain and failure. Taking a risk on your own success is the only option in my mind.
Cons are not hard in spite of their value, they are valuable because of their difficulty. Even at an event where I worked extra long hours, spent extra money and ultimately didn’t hit my sales target, I still got a return on my investment. Between the relationships cultivated at the event and the education I got from my failures, there was a lot to be gained in addition to the pay. Before long, the money will be spent but the growth towards a stronger showing next year will hold firm.
What to Make of Everything
The goal is never the money. The goal is the lifestyle. Investing in conventions in a way that allows you to make more money is good, but investing in them for life improvement is the real goal. For you, that might mean either cutting crappy cons from your schedule or buying your way into bigger shows. Each of us is going to have different needs, not only because our art is different but mostly because our lives are different. The next steps each of needs to take and the learning lessons we take away from every experience are likely to be different, but following similar themes.
My priority for the whole convention business is not to make the most money at each show. Instead, I’m focused streamlining the process of running the event without sacrificing scale. My brand needs a 20" wide booth to show off the full scale of my work, so I want to keep that intact while making events smoother and more easily repeatable. That’s going require a large investment of time and money throughout the year to accomplish. Moreover, we’re going to have to eat a lot of failures in order to learn the lessons I need to complete that vision.
C2E2 was a great reminder for me about where I’m at and what I’m aiming for. Getting my ass kicked by this show was tough, but it was absolutely worth it. Coming out of a tough event is the perfect time to start asking big questions and weighing priorities. Getting a moment to accurately measure the hardship of the labor against the payoff feels like a great time to start making plans.
Thanks for reading! And good luck out there!
P.S. Big thanks to everyone who stopped by the booth this weekend. You were all wonderful.
Pete is an independent artist and the creator of Angelarium (www.angelarium.net). His passion lies at the intersection of art and entrepreneurship.