Convention Strategy - Pros and Cons
Balancing our time as independent artists can be a tough thing. In a perfect world we would all be in a position to hire an assistant to work conventions for us. The reality is only a small percentage of artists can do this. Until we reach that point we have to navigate the convention scene and find time to create artwork. I’ve seen some things work for one artist and totally different things work for another - so let’s talk about the pros and cons of a few different convention strategies.
Do All The Shows!
This is advice that is often given when you’re first starting in the scene. Go to all the shows that are available to you and then keep going to the good shows and cut the duds. But what about pursuing this strategy for the long term? One way to look at it is like a touring musician - you create a body of work and tour around the country with it for a year or so before returning to the studio to make more.
Learn Quickly - This can be invaluable early in your career. The ability to rapidly improve at talking to people and selling your work will lead to more sales in a shorter period of time. You are also figuring out which types of shows your audience attends. Try out lots of different types of shows: horror, faerie, anime, comics, tattoo, oddity, art fair, Saturday market, etc.
Lower Risk - There is always a bit of risk when making the investment to attend a convention. Sometimes shows surprise you and have a great return on investment. Other times you’re barely paying for your table. When you attend lots of shows you can make up for the ones that didn’t go well with others that do better. Also, you can spread the inventory cost across multiple shows.
Make Money - This one is simple, if shows are profitable for you doing more of them gets you more money.
Build an Audience - It’s amazing how quickly you can cultivate an audience at conventions. Make sure to have an email sign up available, this is more valuable than followers on any social media platform.
No Time - This point really counts as at least two. Conventions take up a LOT of time. If you are the only one hustling the convention booth every weekend it’s hard to find time for friends, family, and creating art. This can spiral into a vicious cycle of making less money at shows because you’re not creating new art and your art isn’t improving.
Burn out - Conventions are straight up exhausting - mentally and physically. If you’re doing too many shows burn out can set in rapidly and it can be hard to find the motivation to work in the little time you have off.
Travel - Being on the road, or in the air, can take a toll on you and your wallet. These costs add up and take away from the profitability of a show and also add to burn out.
Only The Big Shows
It’s really no secret what the big shows are. These are the ones every artist is trying to get into each year. The idea is that once you’re doing these shows you can do a handful a year and you’re set. This can be the case, but let’s also shine some light on what the drawbacks can be if you’re only investing in the big shows.
More Time - Clearly you will get more time if you’re only attending a convention once a month or less. However, the real advantage here is that you will have more time to invest in other areas of your business and improving your art skills.
More Money In One Place - The sheer attendance of these events means that you can turn a much larger profit in a weekend than you could doing a months worth of small shows.
Industry Connections - A lot of artists look at conventions as a way to make industry connections and grow their freelance client base. If this is your goal then it really only happens at large shows.
High Risk - If you’re only doing one show a month it can really hurt to have one underperform. The upfront investment cost into these shows can also be much higher, which cuts into your profit margin.
More Competition - I don’t believe that artists are ever truly in competition with each other. But the reality is these shows are often very difficult to get into and once you’re in you have to know how to sell and display your work or risk being overlooked. There are also no guarantees you will get in again next year.
Slower to Innovate - Without lots of shows to try different ideas it can be risky to invest in a new product line that might not pay off. When you do find something that works you won’t be able to capitalize on it until your next show, which might be a month or more away.
Finding out what works for you is a process. I’ve talked to artists that do 50 shows a year and love every minute of it. For me, a single show is a large investment of time, energy, and money. Because of that I try to get the most from each show I do and I am selective about which shows I attend. The only way you will find what works for you is to get out there and try.