October 8, 2017

Hiring Staff for Your Art Show Booth

In many ways, being an artist and striving to make a living off your talents is an individual pursuit. You are the source of ideas, skilled labor, salesperson and customer service. You set the tone and ensure business is carried out to your standards in every transaction. And yet, Entrepreneurship doesn't have to mean running everything by yourself. While we could talk for hours about the benefits of hiring outside staff to support your art, I want to focus on one specific case - staffing your booth for art events because we're about to get into the busy season.

Vendors at Pecan Street Festival

 Whether you participate in one festival a year or as many shows and pop-ups as you can get in to, there comes a point when doing it all yourself is no longer ideal. This is as true for day to day business upkeep (hiring an accountant, a photographer, an assistant) as handling events and hiring staff to help you run your booth. On the one hand, this helper can make your event experience more comfortable and less draining, but depending on who you find, they can offer support in areas you may less skilled, like sales or social media. But what do you need to know to hire the right people?

The two simplest ways to get help at events without actually hiring someone are: 1) Sharing a booth with another artist so you can back each other up, and 2) Asking a friend, family member or significant other to accompany you. For the former, you can save money on booth fees and have a  helper whenever you need a break, but you get less display space, and always be sure the event allows for sharing; you'll probably both need to submit an application either way. For the latter, support from family and friends is always appreciated, but be careful not to ask too much of someone you're not compensating. They may care about you and your success, but be as motivated or skilled in the areas you need. So what's the third option? Hire someone you can train, motivate and compensate.

Recommended Criteria:

  • Trustworthiness - This may seem obvious, but when inviting someone into your business, even if just for a one day event, you want to know that they'll show up on time and deliver on the support you need. You're counting on them to be responsible with your inventory (no stealing, breaking, etc) and asking them to be a good representative of the brand. The last thing you want is to bring on much needed help and have that put you in a worse situation than when you were alone, all the while costing you money. 
  • Professionalism - Austin is a pretty casual city, and while you're less likely to ask for fancy attire, you do need booth staff that looks put together. Beyond how they dress, it's important to have someone professional in their demeanor - how they respond to your requests as their boss and how they treat customers. Their attitude towards every opportunity needs to be positive and friendly whether or not the person actually buys. The ideal person should also be able to handle the ebb and flow of shoppers. 
  • Sociability - As an introvert myself, you will never hear me say that we don't make good salespeople, but keep in mind that it helps to have someone comfortable talking to all kinds of people. Your booth staff needs to be welcoming and helpful as needed, but also respectful of customers that want to shop undisturbed. I've seen a number of sales not happen because the artist couldn't be found or didn't look like they wanted to talk. If you don't enjoy being outgoing for hours at a time, this is the perfect reason to hire support.
  • Other Positive Traits - Quick on their feet; Able to lift and carry whatever is involved in your booth setup; Good with math and remembering your prices; Takes initiative; Follows direction, but doesn't need constant oversight; Smiles; Cares about handmade goods.

Once you've found someone that fits the characteristics you need and compliments your personality, how do you prepare them to support you? You could just have them show up and give directions or you could spend a little extra time training to get them onboarded, invested and more likely to be good help at future events as well. Here are the key areas you should discuss with your staff to ensure you have a successful show.
  • Booth Setup - How to set up your booth and displays, including any requirements of the event like tent weights or fire department approved tent cover. Make sure they know how to secure things in case there is bad weather - wind, rain, etc.
  • Pricing & Discounts - In order to facilitate sales, your helper should know what you charge for your work and when, if ever, you offer discounts. There will be plenty of people who ask about price breaks for paying in cash or buying multiples. Make sure they know what's ok so they don't have to keep asking you. 
  • Photography - If you don't already have signage for this, make sure you let your staff know your thoughts on having your work photographed, whether its for press or remembering a piece they want to buy later.
  • Materials - I'm sure you've had people ask what you use to make your arts and crafts, especially if you offer bath and beauty goods or if you're catering to a specific market. Help your staff answer these questions with a quick debrief. 
  • Process - Part of selling people on art and handmade goods versus mass made is helping them understand the value of the time and craftsmanship. If your staff can speak to what makes you unique, they can better tell your story.
  • Commissions - Do you accept commissions or custom orders? If so, that can be a good selling point for someone on the fence. Make sure your helper doesn't over promise on something you don't deliver or aren't able to at the moment.
  • Contact Information - For your shoppers that aren't ready to buy in person, make sure they can find you online. Your staff can remind them to find you on social media, email you or visit the website. If you don't have a presence online, they'll need to know.