Read the original post here [X]
Its been a little while since I’ve posted anything in my “How To Be A Con Artist” series, so here we go again… I’ll remind you that when I post about this, its just advice to help out others who are traveling to conventions and showing their art and trying to sell and hopefully it will make someone’s life easier and answer a question they might have.
Please be sure to read the previous entries which I’ve linked here:
How To Be A Con Artist Part I
How To Be A Con Artist Part II
How To Be A Con Artist Part III
How To Be A Con Artist Part IV
How To Be A Con Artist Part V
In this blog entry, I’ll be trying to cover something that may cause some of us stress when we prepare for a convention: What to bring!
Everyone has different supplies that they need to help with their set-up along with the displays and the items they actually sell, but you should always be prepared for the what ifs. There is nothing better than the feeling of being at a show where you feel completely prepared for the day, but the times that this happens are rare, so whatever you can do to help yourself out, the better! I’ve broken this up a bit, so it isn’t just one long forever list and some reasons why you should have them with you (in case it isn’t clear).
Before I get into the lists, there are two things you should always have with you. One is for your health and one is for your business:
Water: Dehydration is a constant danger at conventions. To keep yourself healthy and functioning, you NEED to have water with you. Have a couple of bottles with you or one that you can refill.
Business cards/post cards: No matter what, you need a card with your contact information for people to take. It is one of the most basic of business practices. It should have your web address (multiple sites if you have them) of where your work can be seen or your web comic etc. It should also have some form of contact information, like an email address or a business phone number (I never recommend putting your personal phone number on a business card).
So let’s start out with the basics. I kind of think of it as the things you might need to have with you when you start school. Its the supplies that will help get you through the day and are a portable office.
Pencils: You never know when you’ll need one. These can be good old #2 pencils, mechanical pencils or any drawing pencil.
Pens: You should have a few extras with you no matter what. Black or blue, or both. You may have to fill out paperwork or need to write something up and you should have them for your receipts anyway.
Scissors: Its amazing how many times you suddenly need them when you don’t have them.
Masking tape/Duct tape: It’s always best to have tape handy just in case something tears or you need to rig something up quickly. It’s great also to keep people from tripping over wires.
Glue pen: This is another thing you find you may suddenly need and it’s better to have it with you. I prefer glue pens to bottles because the chance of spillage and drying out is less. Better to have no sticky mess to clean up.
X-acto knife/utility knife: Most cons have rules about sharp items, but these are tools and if you need to cut something with some finesse you’ll need them. Just don’t have them laying out.
Post-it notes: This is one of those things I find helpful if I need to remind myself of something during the con, like a person’s name or to mark something a person is buying and will be right back for. They also work as ‘quick signage’ should I need them.
Highlighter: Just one of those things I like to have in the box.
Small ruler: An oddity, but I’ve needed it a few times to measure out space on the table for set up or to figure something out on the display.
Blank price tags: Sometimes tags fall off or I might want to put something on sale or realize I want to change a price.
Small tools/multi-tool/leatherman: You should always have tools with you for a just in case moment. Sometimes it’s useful for your displays, but there are times when you find a screwdriver is needed. Better to be prepared.
Notebook/Sketchbook: I find it’s great to have one handy to write down information - whether it’s contact info, an order to fulfill at home or notes to myself about the convention, hotel or the artist alley for future reference. Besides, you’re an artist - you should ALWAYS have a sketchbook handy to draw when you get the chance.
So, that’s the basics that you should have with you. Almost all of that can fit into a small box or container that can be tossed in with the rest of your stuff for the table without taking up a lot of space. It should always be packed and I never remove this stuff from my convention supplies - this never gets used at home or anywhere so that I don’t forget to repack it by accident.
In previous blog posts, I’ve mentioned having a folder of your convention paperwork. When you get to the convention and check in, don’t throw the folder away! Those papers are still important and should be kept with you. To this packet you’ll be adding your vendor/convention information, like a map of the venue, Artist Alley hours/tear down times as well as locations to bathrooms and food etc. Keep the program in there and the time-table… All in one place if you need it.
You should have a small money box of some sort to hold your money. This should be something secure that you carry with you all the time. NEVER LEAVE YOUR MONEY BOX/BAG AT YOUR TABLE! It doesn’t matter if the AA is locked at night or closed. You keep your money with you and take it back to your room. DO NOT TAKE YOUR MONEY BOX/BAG OUT WITH YOU IF YOU LEAVE YOUR ROOM! Take the extra time to get back to your room to put your things away. The last thing you want to do is go out for dinner and forget the money box/bag somewhere. In your money box/bag there are a few things you should have to be ready for the show:
Change: Obviously, you want to have change to give for those paying with cash. Most people will have $20’s from the ATM so you want to be ready for that. I usually have mostly ones, some fives, and a few tens (2 minimum). I don’t usually have coin change with me, though it depends on if I have to deal with sales tax or not.
Receipts: Because I always handle my convention Artist Alley time as a business, I give receipts with my sales. This is a good way for me to add up sales at the end of the day and to keep track of things. It is also good back-up at tax time should I need it. Also, it makes you look legitimate at cons to the customers. This is also a good way for me to deal with a theft. If you don’t have a receipt, you obviously didn’t buy that from me (I put receipts in the bag). It’s a good habit to get into - yes it takes time, but its important as a professional artist making sales to have a paper trial.
Counterfeit Bill Pen: While it doesn’t happen often that a wave of counterfeit bills will come through a con, it is possible and at the end of the day YOU are the one that loses the money since the bank won’t take your fake bills. I don’t use it on every bill, just 20’s, 50’s and 100’s. It would be easy for someone to walk in early in the con, buy something for $5 from the table with a 100 dollar bill. You lose all your change and get nothing in return. Don’t be that person. (If you find a counterfeit bill, there are a few ways to handle it. You can simply apologize to the person and say, “Sorry, I can’t accept this, it has come up as counterfeit.” The person may not know they are carrying it. Usually someone who is trying to pass off fake money will leave or cause a scene. If you suspect someone is doing this purposefully, notify the Convention Staff IMMEDIATELY.)
Sales Tax and Use License: This is something that you should have handy should you need it. Some states have different sales tax and you should/can print up a list of prices so you don’t drive yourself nuts trying to figure it out.
Credit Card Processor: Paypal and Square have credit card readers that you can use with your phone or tablet and I know there are others out there. I keep mine in my money box to avoid losing it or misplacing it. In today’s world, it is becoming more important to be able to deal with cards as people don’t like having cash or using it like they use to - it will expand your sales as well, especially if people run out of money (which we all know happens). You can simply smile and say, “Well I do take credit cards.”
Pens: While I have pens in my basic kit, I have two in my Money box as well.
Calculator: Are you good at math? I’m not. Especially when you have to add up with sales tax. Better to have a solar powered one that you can quickly use rather than stress out. They are pretty cheap nowadays too.
Record Book: This is different from receipts and some may want to not use it. This is a book you write down your sales in. Its a great back up to your receipts and a great way to double check things and keep track of inventory.
Here is where it gets a bit more complicated because some of this is going to depend on what you are selling and your own personal needs, but these are items that I always bring with me because I’ve found them necessary. Again most of this is stuff I always have available in my convention supplies and don’t use anywhere else or take out.
First Aid Kit:This doesn’t have to have a lot, but the VERY minimum you should have is bandaids. When in doubt, you’ll cut yourself and you’ll need them. I personally have an actual office first aid kit that has various bandages, alcohol wipes, burn ointment, gauze etc… If you have allergies, you should have an epi-pen or benadryl or something ready to use in an emergency. If you are traveling with a friend, let them know where it is so they can get it for you quickly. If you require special medication, have it in the kit as well. If you wear contacts, have rewetting drops or solution in there in case you need them!
Maxipads/Tampons: Ladies, you know that when in doubt, its better to be prepared. You should have these in your hotel room, at the table, in a pocket, in a bag, where ever you can put them - just in case. And even if you never need them, you will be the savior of someone who finds themselves in need. And just because you may not use them, doesn’t mean you can’t have one in your first aid kit!
Gum/Breathmint: You are going to to be talking to people. All day. You don’t want to be worrying about whether or not you are offending people around you - especially after eating. Have some gum or breathmints with you. Even if your breath wasn’t bad, you’ll feel better and more confident talking to others.
Chapstick: It can get very dry in the convention halls and talking will dry out your lips.
Claritan/Benadryl: Nothing like allergies to make your day miserable. Have something to keep you from being a sneezing, sniffling mess at the table. Besides, should someone have an allergic reaction, benadryl can be a life-saver (It has happened and I was very grateful I had something to help the sufferer).
Tylenol/Advil: Headaches aren’t unusual at conventions for a number of reasons. Aches and pains aren’t either. Between not eating or drinking properly and moving displays and supplies, you may find yourself in need of some sort of aspirin. Maybe throw in some cramps… yeah, better to have these with you.
Lotion: Dry skin is another troublesome aspect that you don’t want to deal with and they sell enough small containers so that this isn’t an issue to have with you.
Neosporin: This is another small item that it doesn’t hurt to have with you just in case.
Sun Block: Some shows you might attend are outside and the last thing you want to go home with (aside from con-crud) is a sunburn. Even so, you might be doing a lot of walking outside from the convention to your hotel and its better to avoid getting burned and looking like a lobster at the table the next day.
Wet Naps: Messes happen. You should have something to help clean it up.
Napkins: I usually grab some from a restaurant or fast food place at the convention. I like having a few in case there is a spill.
Hand Sanitizer: You’re going to be having people handling things, touching things, touching you etc… Con-crud is already a constant shadow, do what you can to keep it at bay!
Small trash bag: I bring plastic bags with me to give to people to hold my product when they buy, so I always have bags to use for trash should I need it. Sometimes it isn’t convenient to get up to find a large trash bin, or the con hasn’t placed bins out. Rather than leave garbage laying out on the floor - which is gross, rude to others and just… gross - I put it in my plastic bag and when I leave my table for the day/night, I drop it in a larger bin or find a place to throw it out.
Batteries: Some things I have at my table need batteries. I bring extras with me so I don’t have to have a moment of regret that I won’t have music, or my sharpener or whatever…
Little mirror:After eating lunch, I like to see how I’m looking to make sure I don’t have a huge leaf or piece of crud stuck between my teeth while I’m talking to people.
Hair tie/hair band: At some point, you might get hot or just annoyed at your hair or feel like its getting in the way. I always have something with me to pull my hair back or up.
Cereal bars/protein bars: Getting a chance to eat something may not happen. You may find yourself stuck at your table at lunch or dinner - or you may not have money to go to the McDonalds or KFC… Cereal bars and protein bars are a life saver in those cases.
Snacks: You are going to be sitting there for the day, so have something you can nibble on that won’t leave a big mess (Almonds are a great snack - protein and not messy!) on the table or on your fingers. I don’t recommend Doritos or greasy items because you’ll be handling your stuff and then leaving residue on everything. Pretzels are good, as are Twizzlers.
Jacket/Sweater: I recommend dressing in layers generally for conventions because the temperatures change during the day, depending on if there is a need for heat or A/C, how many people are in the Artist Alley or what temperature the building set the thermostat at and of course whether you are sitting right under the vent. Obviously if you are outside, you want to have something in case the weather turns. Have a jacket or sweater with you just in case you get a chill.
Umbrella: I usually have a small umbrella with me just in case… I’d rather have it and not need it, than not have it and get drenched on my walk to and from the convention.
Shoe inserts/flat/comfy shoes: While we all want to look nice at the table, few people are going to see your feet. I stand a lot at my table to be able to engage with customers, but even sitting, I want my feet to be comfortable and happy. Happy feet = happy person. Keep that in mind. Some people have a pair of comfy slippers that they put on at the table and when they leave, they use their other shoes.
A book/e-reader/tablet/something to do: While doing commissions, if you have them, is great, not everyone does them and there are going to be slow periods that you are at your table. Have a book to read, or a tablet or some activity to keep yourself from going crazy staring at the ceiling. Have a sketchbook and draw or work on new projects! Obviously, don’t have something that is going to draw all your attention and have you ignoring customers!
Cell phone: This is something I recommend for a lot of reasons. Partly it’s to keep in touch with people if necessary, partly it’s what you might use for your credit card reader, partly it might have apps to keep you entertained when it’s slow. When I do commissions, I take people’s phone numbers (if they give it) so that I can call them when the commission is done rather than have them constantly checking in to see if it is ready. It’s also great personal security to have a phone on hand should it be needed.
The above was a long list, I admit it, but most of it is small items you can toss in with the rest of your stuff. One thing I will recommend to make your life easier, is to get a trolley or cart to move your stuff place to place. Over time, I learned that having a rolling cart was my best option, but the best thing I did was invest in a mobile tool chest. Most of these are large bins on wheels and they are deep chests. Even better, they are sturdy and made to get banged up and take a beating without taking damage or breaking. I’ve had my Stanley tool chest for at least 10 years and its shown no damage or aging. At the table, it also serves as a little table for me to use so I have some surface area as needed. They are relatively inexpensive and can be bought at hardware stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot. For smaller items, I have a rolling cart from Staples that folds down flat when I don’t need it. While you might think you don’t need it, consider getting a cart, trolley, or rolling chest as an investment - its an investment in your business and your sanity. Besides, its a great way to keep everything in one place and will make your life much easier.
Because you’ll be so prepared, most likely, others will be asking to borrow items from you. It’s great to be helpful and to be able to help out others, but remember to get those things back. It’s easy if things are busy to overlook someone returning your scissors, or pens, but you’ll want to make sure you have those back in your bins before you leave. You might want to write your name on the items, or put colored tape on them. On the other side, if you borrow something, RETURN IT! And make note to add it to the items you should have with you when the next con comes up.
Now the following are sort of bonus lists.
For those who do crafting I recommend the following extra items:
Sewing Kit: This is a necessary evil should something get damaged in transit, or if you have to make a change as per a customer request.
Double stick tape
Small wire cutter
Needle nose pliers
Earring backs (for jewelry makers)
Glue/hot glue/fabric glue
If you are a cosplayer and at your table, the last thing you want is issues that make you have to run up to your room. Or perhaps you have cosplay supplies that you make and sell? Here are some items you might want to have with you:
Sewing Kit: Same as crafters!
Superglue/hot glue/fabric glue
Double sided tape
Stain remover pens
Small make-up kit
I’m sure there is more I could add, but after looking all over the internet and polling some AA artists, these were most of the general items that seem to be the best to have if you can.
Now, some advice to those of you sitting at the table that isn’t on the list.
What Not To Wear:
New shoes: You should never wear new shoes the first time at any event. They won’t be broken in and will be uncomfortable, sometimes painful. You aren’t doing yourself any favors wobbling around while trying to do business at your table.
New bra: This is another thing that needs to be broken in before spending a day in it. You’ll be twitchy and uncomfortable all day.
Any new confining costuming: Corsets and bodices and the like, if they are new and haven’t been worn before are probably not the best thing to wear at the table. The same as the shoes and bra, you will most likely be uncomfortable.
Large costuming: Wearing something big or that sticks out or has large wings might look good, but keep in mind of where you are and where you’ll be. Some Artist Alley set ups don’t have a lot of space behind the table or you may be close to your neighbors. Keep in mind you’ll be moving around, trying to get by others or around your table. Do you want to be constantly knocking things over, hitting your neighbors, or their table? To be honest, it can be less about your comfort and more about being considerate of those around you.
Please feel free to comment with more ideas of things to add to the list that I might have forgotten! And stay tuned for the next blog entry! Thank you for reading!