I have to apologize for my lengthy absence on this blog. Obviously, Halloween kicks off the holiday season for everyone and it is a busy time of year. However, for me, November included preparing jewelry for my first craft fair ever, my husband undergoing surgery, and Thanksgiving... along with everyday normal life and full time job teaching. I'm breathing a sigh of relief and giving myself an extra glass of wine now that I've come out of that for a bit... just in time for Christmas craziness.
Earlier, this year, I wrote about setting up my Etsy shop, Juvel Lera.This was a big step for me, but it was also part of larger dream to become more of a "teaching artist" rather than an "art teacher". I hope to share more of this process and my entrepreneurial arts journey with you as things continue. Another important part of that larger dream was to put myself out there in real life, not just online. I applied to a local craft fair, the Selden Handmade Fair. This is a very cool event that happens in Norfolk every winter, along with many other local holiday-timed craft fairs. It focuses on indie crafts and art. I applied for this back in September and was overjoyed to be find out in mid October that I was accepted.
However, after that initial excitement subsided, I was hit with the staggering realization that I had absolutely no idea how to set up a booth at a craft fair and now had to make more jewelry than just the sample available on my Etsy page. I actually had to stock a large table. The level of production that I went up to led to a lot of pre-winter hibernation in my apartment, lots of chores being piled up, a lack of blogging, loads of quick fix dinners like EasyMac, undereye circle, and reduced endurance from a lack of running. And blogging took a huge step to the backburner.
All of that said, the Handmade Fair was an amazing experience. I am so grateful for the opportunity that I had. I fulfilled a desire to push myself and was rewarded with people actually liking my work enough to buy it. I made a small profit on the weekend, thanks in a large part to the support I had from some amazing friends who came out to visit and purchase holiday gifts. And while the weekend was positive and there are aspects of the event that went well, there are also things that I would adjust in hindsight. Putting these together, I've written a list of tips for all of the aspiring artisans out there.
- Determine if the event is realistically worth your time and effort. This particular fair took place on Friday and Saturday. I had business on Friday night and all day Saturday, but made NO sales on Friday afternoon. While I had lots of time to make jewelry on Friday morning and afternoon, in retrospect, I would not have set up until 5 PM during the work week. If everyone you know is going to be at work during the hours, chances are the foot traffic will be low, and you could wind up just hanging out. Similarly, I was lucky to be at a well publicized event with a great deal of foot traffic. I would not choose to do something off the beaten path or under the radar unless the booth fee was LOW.
- Don't compare yourself to seasoned vendors. There were some amazing artists in the booths around me, so much so that it was intimidating. The booth next to me was run by a husband and wife woodcarver team who have a little over a year of experience under their belts. During the fair, they frequently came up to me, asking what my sales numbers were and how I was doing. This was veiled with concern and friendship, but it was still a competitive interaction, and one that got under my skin on the first night. I would love to take back all of the self consciousness I began to feel that night; it sucked the energy out of me. I'm a big believer in the phrase, "Don't compare your beginning to someone else's middle." and should have reminded myself of that frequently. Just stepping out there is an achievement in and of itself.
- That said, be as professional as possible. I spent a lot of time researching booths on Pinterest to find a display idea that I liked- one that was rustic, chic, and elegant. Craft fairs can sometimes have a bad reputation for being housewifey rather than business savvy. Figure out an aesthetic for your booth and make sure you present it. Also, keep yourself stocked with business cards, gift wrap (tons of it), change, and consider picking up a card swiper. With the amount of options out there (Square, GoPayment, Paypal) and popularity of using a debit or credit card rather than cash, you're kidding yourself if you think it isn't a smart business strategy. The majority of my sales were done on my Square, and I highly recommend it.
- Be active and enthusiastic. As I said before, the self consciousness I felt on the first night got to me. I began to sit down at my booth more and had less fervor in my interactions with passersby. On the second day, I approached things with a "fresh slate" mindset and kept up the enthusiasm. I stood up for most of the time, working on necklaces, and greeted as many people as I could. You will be amazed at the difference just standing up makes. It makes you look more active. Does anyone want to give money to someone who looks like they're just hanging out? No. People want to support someone who is friendly, warm, and working their ass off. Look like that's you, even if you don't feel it.
- Take care of you. My desire to create and create and create inventory led to many 2 AM bedtimes and 5:30 AM wake up calls the week of the fair. On the first day, I was sleep deprived in the extreme, and I know that it impacted my interactions and mood. After that first day, I was exhausted, and actually went to sleep while guests were over at my apartment, falling asleep in my day clothes and leaving my husband to entertain and clean up. The second day, I felt a hundred times better... because I had actually taken car of my own basic needs the night before.
- Diversify your inventory. I brought loads and loads of bracelets and necklaces. I didn't even think about the possibility of selling Christmas related items... like ornaments. Looking back, all I can think of is what a huge hole that was in my potential sales. A metalwork jeweler had made ornaments that fit her nautical aesthetic, the glassblower had made ornaments, and the woodworkers had made ornaments (they shared with me that the ornaments made up the bulk of their sales for the weekend). After talking about the weekend with a colleague on Monday, she suggested that my beadwork would lend itself to making wine charms. I think it's a great idea to diversify my inventory. In hindsight, my booth was extremely specific and that likely hurt my financial outcome.
- Similarly, have a large spread of stuff prepared WAY in advance. I applied for the craft fair on a whim, thinking maybe I would get in and maybe I wouldn't, and I didn't ramp up production until I found out. Filling a 6 foot table is harder than you think, and some people will push the "8' by 10' square of floor space" to the fullest, bringing in custom shelving. You want to look like you're selling more than just your extra personal stuff. The week of the fair, I called my father in a panic, hoping for some "we believe in you" comfort. When I mentioned how much jewelry I was making, he replied with, "Well, unless you're famous, no one wants to buy the last of anything from you, so I would make more stuff." Harsh, but true.
- Don't expect people to get what you do. Advertise it. I make all of my ceramic beads by hand. It's why the jewelry is special, I think. However, I was shocked at how many people, and how many informed artistic people, assumed that I bought mass produced beads and just strung them. The reality is that plenty of people do that. Customers immediately warmed up when I told them that all the beads were made by hand and could show them my fingerprints on some of the jewelry. By day two, I had made some quick signs advertising "handmade beads". Before the next fair I do (whenever that is), I will probably make some cooler looking, custom signage to inform passersby.
- Finally, just do it. If you want to pursue a venture, try it. Do your thing. Seize the day. Lean in. Follow your dreams. Don't just hang out on the couch watching Bravo and Pinteresting photos of work other people have done in the pursuit their dreams. Nothing is going to go perfectly, but it's worth it. That's all super corny, but totally true.