The last six months of shows has taught me many things. Among the most important lessons is to choose my shows carefully. It takes just as much time and energy to do a show with little sales potential as it does to do a show with buying customers.
Part of the reason that I've done the shows I've done is that I didn't know how to tell the difference and I got such a late start applying that I had to do whatever shows would accept me on such short notice. I have a plan to get myself up to the next level of shows, and it's going to take planning and money. I've just gotten my new photo backdrop to allow me to take photographs that will be acceptable to stricter juries. And now I need to choose the shows I'm going to try to get into, and make sure that I apply before their deadlines.
While I've been doing the shows this past season, I've spent lots of time talking to other vendors and finding out where the shows are that have customers who can afford my work. I take notes after our conversations. After every show I take those notes and research the shows, entering my findings into my management system. Well, all of this careful organization has really paid off today. I started yesterday, entering the show dates and deadlines for every show that seemed to have potential and that didn't already have those details entered.
Today, I printed two documents from that data - a calendar of the year showing all of the potential shows and a linear list of all application deadlines and shows. This lets me see the two pieces of information that I need to make a decision: the show dates, and the dates that their show fees are due.
I then went through and decided which shows to enter. I set up a travel schedule that's not too grueling, chose between conflicting shows, and got to see when the shows' fees are due.
Here's a lesson for folks doing this for the first time: most of the good shows have deadlines from January to March, right when there is little income to pay for them. It's going to be extremely tight for me to pay for all of the shows that I want to get into, and I'm even going to try and beg my way into another little show in March just to help cover those fees.
Making the hundreds of little decisions that I made today really did feel like playing Sudoku. "If I'm traveling to this part of the country for this show and there are two other quality shows in that part of the country at that time, then I'll do them, too. If I'm doing them, then I can't do the nearer shows that overlap them and I should really have the weekend before and after a three-week trip free as well." After about six hours of this, I whittled my list of potential shows down from 49 to 21. It'll get whittled down even more once I see a calendar with only those events on it. I'm sure there are times that are packed too tightly, but I just can't see them on the cluttered calendar.
The next analysis to do is to project my ideal income from each show, starting in December and going backwards, and determine what my inventory levels need to be in order to sustain that level of sales. Then, I can start from now and move forward with my production requirements to be sure that I don't run out of inventory, especially during the three back-to-back shows out of state. If there's a danger of running out of stock, then I'll have to see when that might happen and cancel a show at that time to stay home and weave. The last thing I want to do is to commit to a show and pay for it only to cancel at the last minute, lose my registration fees, and damage my reputation. I really want to catch this potential before I apply.
Another task left to do is to use the management system to its full capacity and notate why a show was not entered. This way, when someone asks why I didn't do a show, I can go to that show in my system and review its history, seeing that it was skipped because of a conflict. (I also keep detailed notes on my research and can see at a glance if there was some other reason I dropped that show from the running.)
I use this management system because I have a TERRIBLE memory. And today it saved me. Nobody would know how bad my memory is to look at my beautifully laid out show plan. Yay, technology!