Roses and Rust 2011 – Photo by Kara Stewart

I know how tough it can be to get into the shows you really want to be a part of.  But don’t be discouraged, because everyone has to start somewhere.

My first piece of advice?  Be realistic.  You want to challenge yourself, but make sure you’re honest about the quality of your product and whether what you’re selling is appropriate for the show you’re trying to get into.  Do some research about the show.  Think about the audience.  What kind of crowd will be attending, and how many people are expected to attend?  What is their demographic?  What kind of disposable income do they have?  Don’t be shy about asking organizers these details, but be prepared for them to exaggerate a bit.  After all, would you bother to apply if you knew they only expected 100 people to show up?  Probably not.  Most folks are honest, but I have on occasion been told a little white lie (or even a whopper) about attendance or other details.

Don’t apply for shows that are too large for you (especially when you’re just starting out) and don’t apply for shows that don’t feel “right” to you.  For instance, if the show has a country theme and your aesthetic is urban, it probably isn’t a good fit.  If the crowd will consist of an age group that might not connect with what you’re selling, give it a miss, because your sales will be reflective of that.  Save yourself money and a lot of frustration by doing your research first.

Ask other people who’ve participated in the past what their experience of a given show was.  Take care to consider what they sell, because one person’s experience may be vastly different than another’s depending on their product, price point, location, and whether they already have a relationship established with the show organizers and attendees.   Find out the negatives and the positives.  Remember that what one person may consider a drawback may actually benefit you.

Armed with your research, think about where you’d like to sell.  Is there a particular area you like to visit?  Have you attended shows in that area that appealed to your aesthetic?  Check on that city’s chamber of commerce website to see what shows are coming up, and find out how to apply.  If you have a product that won’t necessarily sell well in your immediate area, consider shows in the surrounding area.  Location can make a tremendous difference in a show’s success.   If you’re just starting out, you may want to consider sharing a booth (if it’s allowed) and see if you can carpool to help defray the costs.

Keep in mind that some shows may have an application deadline that’s six to twelve months before the show date, depending on the size and popularity of the show.  Start looking for shows at least six months in advance, although many smaller shows have application cutoffs that are much closer to the show date.

There are many places online to find out about upcoming shows.  You can go to your search engine of choice (mine happens to be Dogpile) and type in some relevant terms, such as “craft show,” “art show,” the name of the city or area you’re looking for, and any specific theme that may apply, such as “holiday,” “children,” “pet show” or whatever you think will narrow your search.  Another option is sites such as Festival Network Online, or Craftmaster News, which offer both free and paid options for searching events.  Take some time and explore.  If you’re not tech savvy, find someone who is and have them help you.  The internet is an invaluable research tool, and as more organizers move to electronic submissions versus hard copy applications, you’d be well served to utilize it to your advantage.

Once you’ve figured out which shows you want to do, and you have the applications in front of you, study them and pay close attention to what they’re asking.  Make sure to give complete, comprehensive information.  Remember, this may be your first (and only) contact with the person viewing the vendor applications.  If you haven’t taken the time to properly fill out your application, they won’t be inclined to consider you for participation.  Consider who may be reading your application, and tailor your answers accordingly.  For example, if you’re applying for a “green” show, and you sell a product that is recycled, repurposed, upcycled, or otherwise Earth-friendly, highlight that in the description of your business.

If you’re asked to submit hard copy pictures of your product and/or booth, make sure to include them.  If you’re asked for digital copies, make sure your picture files sizes meet their requirements.  Don’t send enormous files, or they’ll know you weren’t paying attention.  If they ask for five pictures, send five pictures, not three or ten.  Think about how you would feel going through all those applications from people who couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to what was being asked for.  Would you want to read them?

In this increasingly digital age, it’s important to have a web presence.  It gives you a professional appearance and allows people to gauge how you present yourself.  It can be as simple as an Etsy shop or a blog that features a good sampling of pictures of your work.  Make sure it’s professional-looking and strictly business.  Don’t link to a personal blog with your review of the latest blockbuster films or your poems about Ryan Gosling.  Again, keep in mind that people are making their decisions based on what you provide them, since most often you won’t get a chance to meet them until after you’ve already been chosen.  Your first impression is really key, especially for larger shows.

Always remember that if you want to participate in a show, you have to play by their rules.  If you don’t want to follow their rules, then find another show.  Don’t aggravate people by asking for special consideration, or pestering them for information that’s easily available on their application or online.  That tells them right off the bat that you’ll be a headache.

If your application isn’t accepted, don’t take it personally.  The show’s organizers may be inundated with folks who offer a product similar to yours, or perhaps your product just isn’t a fit for their event.  For future knowledge, you may choose to ask the organizer what caused them to deny your application, but don’t be obnoxious about it.

If there’s a show you have your heart set on and they didn’t accept you, make it a goal to apply the next time around.  Then attend the event and pay close attention to those who did make it in.  What are they selling?  How are they presenting themselves?  What kind of aesthetic does the show have, and how do they fit into it?  All of these things will give you an idea of how you can alter what you’re doing to fit what the show organizers are looking for.

My most valuable piece of advice is this:  Be positive.  Have confidence in what you do and convey that to others — after all, if you don’t have confidence in yourself, neither will anyone else.  Share your story.  Share your passion.  Take time to engage with people on a personal level and develop a rapport.  This will make you memorable in the sea of vendors, I promise you.For more information about successful show applications, check out this article from IndieMade that offers some valuable insight from show organizers.

If there’s something I haven’t covered that you’d like more information about, let me know!  I’ll be happy to address it.

Until next time, good luck and happy sales!