I went to my first trade show to learn what I could about art licensing. I chose to attend the CHA Winter show because it was relatively inexpensive to attend and crafting is half of who I am, so the concept of the show was exciting in itself. Not to mention, another artist going to the show is also from Colorado and I knew her, so I knew I wasn’t going to be there completely alone.
I went to the show having no idea what to expect nor much of an idea of how to prepare or what I should be doing while there. I spoke to a few people ahead of time to get a rough idea of what would happen, but really, nothing beats the experience of being there first hand. Here are a few of the things I learned from the show that I think I can carry with me regardless of which show I might attend in the future. Also, I picked up on information and insight that I think will carry me through working in this industry in general.
Put together a press kit
You do not need to be an exhibiting artist to submit a press kit. You only need to be attending the show as a designer. I didn’t know this ahead of time. So the night before the show opened I made an quick display to hold some postcards I brought. There’s also a press kit contest, yet another opportunity to show off your creative genius.
Participate in the Designer’s Showcase
For about $100 I could have had a table display for a few hours one night of the trade show. Although I didn’t see a ton of foot traffic to this event, I think it’s a great experience for a first timer to meet other designers and begin showing off some of your work. I did not know about this ahead of time either, but I did have a press pass so was able to check it out.
Sessions are good
I purchased the “all sessions” pass so I could attend any of the extra learning sessions. I ended up only attending about 4 of them, however all were wonderful. Over the years I have found conference sessions to be a great opportunity to meet people. You never know who you might be sitting next to. Additionally, after the session is over, you can always go up and introduce yourself to the speaker/s and thank them for their time and sharing… another great opportunity to get to know people in the industry.
Be prepared to talk with people
Everyone I met at CHA was very friendly. I didn’t expect the warm welcome and crowd of smiling faces that I encountered. I should have anticipated it a bit more… how can people not be happy around all that crafty-ness? Everyone that is there is there to do business and talk with potential clients. However, there are moments of calm when I was able to chat with other artists and designers. I also did a few walk thrus of the show floor to see what was what and meet more people. You should definitely come prepared with your elevator pitch.
Plan ahead, do some research and make appointments
Being as new to the industry as I am, I had no idea where to begin with doing research on who to meet. If you can plan far enough ahead, you can use the tools and resources that the CHA offers to do your homework ahead of time. Find out which companies will be attending that you’d like to chat with and start communicating before the show. Try to set appointments during the show. I didn’t have this opportunity so I did a lot of impromptu chatting… not nearly as effective as designated sit down talk time, but better than zero talk time.
Leave time to mingle
There are a number of opportunities to mingle and socialize with the other designers, but you have to be prepared to make friends. If you go to the event not knowing a soul and you keep to yourself, you’ll lose valuable “make new friends” time. Make a point to say hello and get to know people while you’re there. If you’re in a booth the whole time, there’s always end of day mingling, dinner, etc. Making friends is the key to successful networking.
Exhibit setup and prep requires some patience and love and tape
I talked with a number of people as they were setting up their booth who had extra unexpected fixtures or only partial information about their booth. This makes it really difficult to come prepared. If you aren’t going to walk the show before you exhibit (it’s always smarter to walk a show without exhibiting the first time you attend), I highly recommend you do all you can to plan your exhibit and materials with flexibility. The displays I saw that seemed to work the best were long thin panels of art. Big images also work nicely. You can pick your favorites or a theme of art for the booth display – catch their eye and draw them in – and then have multiple books to allow browsing of images when people stop to chat. If you can, talk to others that have exhibited previously and ask for their advice with booth setup as well.
Use the CHA Resources
The CHA has a number of resources to help you research and connect with other CHA members including the CHA networking site. If you attend any of the CHA shows and they offer an orientation, definitely go so you can hear about the benefits the organization has to offer. There are many!
And finally, for any show you attend as your fabulous designer/artist self…
Bring business cards! And have them with you always…
When I say business cards, I’m a big fan of making your cards part of you. Cards for artists, in my opinion, shouldn’t just be a nice card with contact information. Artist business cards should represent the artist with style and personality. Create your cards to be something that people will remember if they see it again. Everyone hands out so many cards in so many directions… make yours stand out, but remember to be practical. Standard sized cards are best so people can store them easily, but don’t hold back on the art… you’re not paying an artist to draw it up!
Be confident, you’re here for a reason
Someone has to toot your horn, and if it’s not you, who else will it be? For me it’s very intimidating being surrounded by so many talented people. I always end up doubting my abilities and my skill. Don’t let this stop you! You need to remember that you have a talent and you’re doing what you’re doing for a reason. When it comes to selling yourself and your work, this is no time to let shy take over. Just jump in, and be proud of what you’ve accomplished and confident of where you’re going!
For me, this was definitely money and time well spent. I am more confident in my interest to work in this industry and I met some amazing people… even a few new friends. I highly recommend taking the opportunity to walk a show if you can… the networking alone is worth the investment. Besides, nothing beats the opportunity mingle with like minded people when it comes to motivation and inspiration for success.