I've been in the convention game for only a couple of years, and there are a lot more experienced people out there that have been showing for decades. But I've picked up on a couple of things that can help you have a successful weekend.
This past year threw a wrench in going to conventions, but I think they will make a comeback very soon. In fact, I have a couple in-person conventions coming up this year that I have to prep for.
Here are some of my essential and non-essential items, tips and advice that can help you have a successful convention.
Buckle in, this will be a long post!
Your Products: Whether you sell stickers, prints, comics, plushies, or anything else, be sure to have a nice stock of products! Depending on the convention and the audience in attendance, you may want to create pieces that cater toward that audience.
Card Reader: You'll need a way to take credit card payments. You want to make it easy for your customers to pay you in many different formats. The brand I go for is Square. They have many different card readers available that you can hook up to your phone or iPad. I recommend getting a regular swipe reader to start out with, then you can upgrade to a chip reader. They are very handy and easy to use.
Grid Displays: Grid displays like these ones are very helpful in con displays. They can be used to hang up prints, provide shelving for your plushies, and when decorated, they can make a booth display really stand out. I got my grid displays from Amazon. They come with corner pieces to attach them together too.
Tablecloth: If you want to hide the unsightly, grey tables provided by your convention, add a tablecloth. I got my cute pink one from Amazon. It's a basic tablecloth that fits a 6' table. It hangs down low enough to hide my storage area, and I can clip it away with clamps so I can reach under the table if I have to.
Banner or Poster With Your Name and Brand on it: You want your customers to know who you are, right? Having a banner helps. You can get a poster size print of your name, social media links, or even the things you're selling printed at your local printing store, or order it online at a custom print shop. I plan on creating one for this year's cons, and using it for a while. If you want, check out the products from Greko Printing. These are the guys I print my comics with, and they also do custom printing as well. I love their services, so I thought I'd mention them here.
A Way to Track Sales: At past conventions, I would write down in my Notes app every sale I made on what day. After the convention I would put the sales in a spreadsheet. This is one way to do it. If you have Square, the app tracks every transaction made. By writing down every sale made, you can track all sales, even one's paid in cash, which square doesn't pick up in some cases. If you've been doing cons for a while, you can track what people buy, how much they spend, and what method of payment they choose. You can use this information to better improve your con products in the future.
Business Cards: Important for networking and those who love to collect business cards (i.e: me). There are lots of places to print cards out. I tend to use Moo to print my cards, but they can get expensive. I recommend somewhere cheaper like Vistaprint. And if you like the nice (and expensive) rounded edges that Moo, do it yourself with this hole puncher I got off Amazon!
Display Prints/Products Only for Show: I have prints that I only use for a display. When someone wants to purchase that print, I have copies that I can give them. This works for prints, stickers, keychains, whatever you sell! This makes it so the customer gets a fresh copy of the product they bought without the germs of other people touching it. If your product is getting low, they can always grab the display product if you want, too.
When I sold out of a print at a con, I taped a "Sold Out!" sign on the display print as well.
Board for Displaying Stickers, Buttons, Pins, Keychains, etc.: My biggest challenge at cons is how to display my smaller items, like stickers. The best ways I've seen is to have a grid display with a flat surface on top, and having the product display.
I've also seen it displayed on the table in these cute compartment displays:
You can really get creative with how to display these smaller products. As long as they catch the eye of your customer, then you've done your job correctly!
Displaying stickers has always been a challenge for me. I used to put my stickers on larger sheets of paper, or I'd print out a selection of my stickers. At my next con, I want to up my sticker display game and purchase a cute compartment display like shown above.
Lockable Cash Box: This is very handy for storing your money. My cash box locks and has a code you have to enter to get in. If you have a slippery customer, you can protect your funds easily this way, and every night after the con take your cash box with you and count the change to make sure everything adds up. It's good to keep your money out of sight of customers.
Scissors and Tape: Maybe you need to adjust something, or cut out some last minute stickers. I use tape to hang my prints, but you don't realize how helpful scissors and tape are until you don't have them. Maybe your neighbor needs some tape too!
A Sketchbook to Draw: There may be downtime at the convention, or a panel has made the customers light. Keep yourself occupied by drawing, doodling, or planning. People may come by your booth and be fascinated by you drawing, which is always funny and sometimes awkward. Don't be afraid to show off what you're drawing, you might be surprised at what might happen. You might also get more inspiration to make more art for the next con!
Portable Charger: Very important if you have a long day ahead of you. This is definitely a lifesaver for when you're taking payments; you don't want your phone or iPad to die on you in the middle of the day. If your booth is close to an outlet, you may be saved. But if you're outside, this will come in handy.
A Reliable Helper: Not only will your helper be someone to talk to, they can watch your booth while you make a quick bathroom break, grab some food, and walk around the convention. They can also help with transactions by bagging up products or swiping cards. My boyfriend is my helper during cons, and he's a real trooper. He helps me in all aspects of the convention experience, and I can't do it without him.
Equipment that you might think you don't need but actually you need it
Top Notch Organization of your Products: When a customer buys something, you don't want to be scrambling around for the product, wasting time. Get some folders, binders, compartments, anything that can help with organizing your products. If you have small things like buttons, keychains, and stickers, I suggest mini baggies, and compartment boxes like this one. (link to amazon) That way, if you have many different kinds of keychains, like lots of characters from an anime for example, you can easily fish them out.
Plastic Covers/Bags for Prints: Most likely your prints are printed on high quality paper. You'll want to protect the print before selling it to the customer just in case of smudges, debris, or mishandlings. You'll also want to invest in some small bags for purchases, especially if you're selling lots of tiny things. If a customer buys a couple buttons, a keychain, and a mini print, they don't wanna carry all that in their hands; they might lose it! Even if they have a bag from the convention, you want your name and brand to stand out, right? Why not get some small plastic bags, or canvas bags in bulk, and put your logo on it? You can get creative and get a custom stamp made and stamp a bunch of paper bags to use. Get creative! For my booth, I plan on getting some eco-friendly bags and putting my logo on them.
Change: This is big. You'll have lots of con-goers pay in cash, so change is a must. I suggest breaking 1 $20 bill into:
This is a good starting point. As you get more sales, you'll get customers paying with $20's, which you can break up again! If you have more than a $20 to break, go ahead! You'll want lots of $1's. Quarters are also good to have. Honestly, change is the last thing on my mind when con prepping, so make sure it's one of your top priorities!
Best Practices for Being a Good Neighbor
If you find yourself in close proximity to your booth neighbor, don't be afraid to say hi. You don't have to make friends with them (unless you want to), but be kind and courteous. If you're lucky, maybe you'll make a new friend.
Mind Your Space: If you have friends or family visiting your booth, be sure they aren't blocking your neighbor's booth. I can't tell you how many times this has happened to me. It can get really frustrating when you can see potential customers walk right past your booth because there are people in front of it. Politely ask your friends to come closer to you, or if you're allowed at your convention, come behind your booth. This way you don't interrupt anyone else's sales. This also applies if you have a lot of people trying to buy at your booth. Don't be afraid to speak up and ask people to form a more orderly line.
Some cons will allow you to play music at your booth, but ask that you keep it quiet. This is self explanatory, but be sure to follow this rule; if you have music, keep it at a polite volume; if you can't hear the people talking next to you, it's too loud.
Follow the Con Rules: Again, self explanatory, but make sure you read the con rules very carefully before applying. You don't want to get kicked out of a convention. Some cons are more strict than others. If you do something at one con, like have lights at your booth, it may not be allowed at another, so just double check. If you have a question, email the convention directors directly.
Other Con Tips
Mock Setup in Your Home
To avoid last-minute scrambling the day of, practice how your booth will look at home before the con. It helps if you have the same size table at home, but if you don't, you can set up on the floor. There are many references online for a good table setup that can help lead the shopper's eye. I remember seeing a good twitter thread a while ago about this. If I can find it, I will link it here.
Have a good balance of products. If you only sell prints, try selling different sizes, subjects, or mediums. If you sell many different things (prints, stickers, postcards, keychains, books, buttons, plushies, etc.), it's easy to spread yourself thin. If you know that plushies might not sell well at this particular con, you can leave them out. If you have a large enough booth however, bring everything!! This is where setting up a mock booth at home will come in handy.
Look at other people's booths as inspiration. I like to Google or search on Twitter different booths and find tons of ideas on how to improve my own booth.
People gush over PC setups and gamer rooms, but I gush over table setups.
Become a Salesperson
Don't be shy! Speak up when people visit your booth. A simple hello can be the gateway to a great customer-seller experience. If you have no idea what to say, ask them about the con, find something to compliment them about, and start talking about something they are eyeing. You'll have people ask about your art too, so don't feel shy when talking up the pieces you brought! At some cons, expect some people to feel a little shy themselves, or maybe they're kids who feel shy. Help make them feel better by doing the things above.
When I first started selling at cons, I was so shy and could hardly speak up to people. As I kept doing them, however, I've come out of my shell, now I love talking to people that come to by booth. I still have moments where I feel shy, but the consistency of people coming to me helps.
This next one is important! Talk about your work in a positive way! You got accepted to show at this convention for a reason right? Don't talk down about yourself or your art to your customers. They are there to see good art. If you don't think your art is all that good, then your customers will think the same. Have some pride in your work! I can do a whole other blog post about feeling confident in your art, so let me know if you'd like to see that.
Best Practices for Easy Transactions
Having an easy transaction sequence can help you make sales faster. If you have a helper, have them bag up the products while you take the payments, or vice versa. This is what my boyfriend and I do. You may get a little flustered at first, but don't worry! Making sales is a good thing!
I find working at a retail store for several years helped with me being able to make transactions and packing up orders. If you don't have retail experience, no worries! Anyone can do this!
If you don't have a helper, I suggest doing the transaction first, then packing the order second. I do this at the shop I work at when I'm by myself. It's important to get that payment secured. If you get flustered and miss getting the payment, that can be bad! Make getting the payment the most important part of the sale, especially if your customer is absent-minded and walks off with your product (this happened to me, I had to shout at them to come back).
Best Practices for At-Con Commissions
At-Con Commissions was something I tried for the first time at my last con, and it went over very well! I got to practice my drawing skills on the spot, and the customers were very happy with the results, which made me feel good. If you want to do at-con commissions at your next convention, here's what I suggest:
Have your commission rates in the customer's face. You will have people asking what your prices are regardless of how in-their-face the price sheet is. Make sure the rates are clearly worded so there will be minimal questions.
Make sure your customer is really specific in their request, especially if you don't know the character, or they have an OC. I had a customer request they draw the costume they were wearing. I took a couple photos of them as reference, and came up with something they really liked.
I drew a couple of characters from the anime "Boku no Hero Academia", an anime that I know, but am not too familiar with the character designs. I was able to Google them, and I still remember the reaction they had when I showed them the drawing. At-con commissions can be really rewarding!
Promote on social media that you're doing at-con commissions. Some people may not know that you're doing them. At the last con, I was one of the only artists doing commissions, which surprised me.
Set a limit on commissions. Say that you can only do 2 or 3 drawings at a time so you won't get too overworked with drawing and making sales. This also is where your helper can come in and do the selling while you work on the drawings.
Make sure you let the customer know how long you'll take too. I gave my customers an hour for each commission. This allowed me to take my time with the drawing, and I also took their number down so I could text them when I was finished, so they wouldn't forget.
I also took payment upfront! That's very important!
Have a "last call" on commissions, say, an hour before the con closes. That way, you can finish up any last minute drawings, and focus on selling and eventually tear down near the end of the con. If you have customers request, they can come back the next day, or follow you on social media to request. Many people don't follow up unfortunately, but give them that option anyways.
The Biggest Tip of them All:
Conventions are meant to be a fun experience, so if you are just starting out selling at conventions, don't forget to have fun. I have a blast doing conventions of all kinds, even when I'm helping out at someone else's booth. I love meeting new people and seeing how they respond to my art. It also helps when I make a profit!
I strive to improve my con experience every time I show, so I hope this super long post help you in your con-going quests.
I want to make a follow up post about the new purchases I'll be making for my next con. Expect that in the future!
Thanks for reading!