Running a Convention: Stage 1: The Business Plan Cheat Sheet

Some of you may remember from last Wednesday’s post that I am releasing mini-notes from my book project on running conventions.

I frequently get asked lots of questions about this process. In part it’s  because there are lots of people looking to start conventions, and in part it’s because AnomalyCon is one of the most successful startup conventions to ever occur in the Denver-Metro area. But more about that later.

Chapter 3 of this book will be entitled “Stage 1: The Business Plan Cheat Sheet.” It has that title because I like nerdy titles, but the truth is that there isn’t a true short cut to planning out your business. However, in this abridged introduction to the chapter I will summarize some key points I would like to drive home.

First of all–and this is vital to your success–you have to treat the convention like a business. There are some key ground rules. You can’t accept personal gain in exchange for convention property. For example, you shouldn’t be exchanging a table in the vendor’s room for a product that vendor carries if you’re keeping that product (prize exchanges might be OK if you want to build your model that way. I don’t).

The very first step you should take is to get out some scratch paper and figure out a few things, like what you’re going to call it. I advise you google any cool names that come to mind and MAKE SURE that they aren’t already in use. If there’s another convention with the same name, find something else. It doesn’t matter if that convention no longer exists (bad juju there) or if it’s in another country (bad SEO for you). Name it something unique. And then think about that name and make sure it doesn’t have an easily-negative connotation. I have a friend who I tease about her con name because it’s easily misconstrued.

Granted, no one can spell AnomalyCon apparently, so we have to put “anomoly” in our metatags too. But these are important things to watch out for.

While you’re at it, figure out about what date you’d like to be on–and make sure it doesn’t conflict with any major events in your area. Don’t just look at other conventions–geeks like to go to renaissance festivals, outdoor rock concerts, etc. Don’t kill your own audience by scheduling the same weekend as an established event.

Now that you’ve named your business (which will be the name of the convention unless you are planning to do other products as well), you need to nail it down. So go get an EIN (so that you have a legal registration with the federal government) and apply for an LLC in your state. It doesn’t matter if you are planning to apply for a not-for-profit status, an LLC will protect you until that paperwork goes through. It’s usually about $50 to get an LLC. So these are the things you can do online, and before you even present your convention ideas to someone else. The other thing you need to do (as soon as you have an LLC and EIN) is go open a business bank account. I advise finding a bank with no minimums, free checking etc. Avoid banks that charge fees just to have an account. A credit union may be a good choice. More on this in the chapter on financing your convention.

So you have an EIN, a bank account and an LLC. Congratulations, the government considers you a business.

Now, your business plan is the next vital step. This is only a sneak peak so I won’t give you the full cheat sheet, but here are some starters.

To succeed, you need to have low expectations but big plans. What I mean is that you need to budget to have little-to-no-income, but plan to have the kind of entertainment and growth that occurs with an influx of attendees. This will keep you out of trouble financially, if you’re careful.

Your business plan needs to cover a minimum five year plan. The first part of this plan should contain your WHY statement, your mission statement in a paragraph or so. This is your driving force. Your next paragraph or so should cover what you want to do differently to set you apart from other conventions.

Now you need to write out how you will make that happen. Your business plan needs to contain your growth goals per year–be realistic. Don’t expect 3,000 people the first year. Don’t expect your entire Facebook friends list to show up either. *Most* first year cons are happy to hit 150-300 people (unless they are backed by major sponsorship, IE a major comic convention). AnomalyCon hit 600, but we were the first Steampunk-related event in a huge radius, and one of the first Steampunk conventions in the U.S.

So let’s say you want to have 150 people year 1 and 600 year 2. If that’s your plan you will need to find a space that will fit the 600, but won’t seem too large with 150. Colleges, student unions, and other event centers are good choices to examine. More on that later.

Write down how you’re going to get an audience. Are you going to hand out fliers? Attend other conventions to garner interest? Hit the forums? How will you pull in new audience? This is the place to brainstorm about things that cost time but not money (or minimal money, such as printing lots of fliers personally).

A lot of this business plan will be about the finances. How much out of pocket will you spend? What is the payback schedule for the convention paying those expenses? The answer to the former should be a small number and the payback schedule should be “after the first event.” Many conventions die the first few years by virtue of bankrupting their proprietors.

Now move from the financing segment to programming. What kinds of programming do you hope to have? Who do you need to talk to to make that happen? Schools? Authors? Artists? Bands? Write out a five-step where each year you are increasing your guest impact.

Now move on to staffing. You’re on your own right now maybe. What does your staff need to look like? Answer: You need at least two leftenants and a number of volunteers that is about 1:10 ratio volunteers to attendees for the first 200 attendees and then about 1:20 after that point. That may seem like a lot of volunteers, but it gives you flexibility if someone is sick for example. As you expand beyond that ~1000 attendee mark you need to expand your leftenants, or you will go crazy. This is where you will write down your plan for recruiting.

Finally, you need to address income intake. Namely, vendors (how many, what kind, what growth rate), and merchandising (what kind and when).

Ultimately, your business plan is a road map to your next five years. It’s important not just for you, but so that you can show people this plan to gain support before you have an event under your belt. If you’re not already notoriously awesome, this is your key to getting that interest.

Next week I’ll touch on the most popular question–financing your adventure.

 

Colorado: Beach Front Wonder

So I’m excited to announce that my house still stands, although it did try to wash away…

We live in the path of some of the larger storms on the eastern side of town, so on Thursday I had to leave work early so that I could get the water out of our window well and save the basement from flooding. Lots of mud and water bailing, but we got it under control with only an inch or so of water in the cement room holding our furnace etc. I also had to pick all of my vegetables to save them, and our skylight sprung a pretty solid leak.

Friday was the start of NDK, so after Jamie finished what she could of a Sword Art Online piece she was working on, we ran off to the con.

Aubri basically didn’t nap this whole weekend. On Friday she was wearing her kimono, on Saturday she was Roxas until we were caught in a really dreadful downpour. I was Duo from Endless Waltz Gundam Wing for about 2 hours… basically no one recognized me, so I shed it for something more comfortable.

Aubri_05

I didn’t get to attend a single panel, although there were several on my list. I did run into people I hadn’t seen in ages, chat with the hotel liaison for AnomalyCon, see most of the AMVs and see the costume contest. I had some experiences that made my eye twitch–a single white male with a beard informing me that my 2-year-old was too “distracting,” for example, during the AMVs. Wandering through the vendor room only to overhear/partake in this conversation:

Socially Awkward Guy 1: “So how are you enjoying the convention?”
Socially Awkward Guy 2: “Oh, it’s pretty good, except I’d like more skimpily dressed girls.”
SAG 1: “Uh. I assume you meant that as a joke?”
Me: “It had better be, since most of the girls are under 16.” <insert Mom Rage Stare>
SAG 2: “A joke, a joke!”

I wasn’t amused. But by and large I was surprised to see far fewer scantily clad under aged girls than previous years. I didn’t see a single WiiMote costume and very few that I felt desperately needed bloomers. It might just be the pouring rain outside, freezing them into covering themselves…

Note this is not in any way a commentary on scantily clad girls being at fault for being harassed by the geek guys.

Saturday evening we ditched the con for a couple of hours to get Aubri over to Grandma’s and head home to work on art before the Industry soiree. Grandma had 6″ of hail on her porch, and 3 miles away we had none. We were up until close to 3am rubbing elbows–I met some charming Lolita designers and chatting about anime and adventures in Japan felt like the good ol’ days at anime cons, back when I was young and energetic.

The Impending Storm:

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And then Sunday morning I went downstairs and stepped off the step into 3″ of water pooling around my ankles. The cement room appeared to be dry and the window well was empty, so despite the mess we decided that it couldn’t get worse, and went off to NDK to get that darned signature.

Unfortunately, we never got the signature–the flood had slowed us down too much and the line was too long. We wandered the vendor’s room one last time, then ran off to get totes and shelves to get the AnomalyCon merchandise off the floor.

When we got home we heard rushing water like a waterfall as soon as we stepped in the door. Sure enough, the window well was full almost to capacity and pouring water through every crevice. I had to switch pants, run outside and jump into the window well to start bailing. The water came up to my thighs, so about 28″ deep.

It took us over an hour to get the water low enough to handle, cover the window well with a tarp, dig a trench to redirect the flowing water and toss enough mud at the corner of the window well to block some of the leak into it.

And then the real fun began. The water had soaked a ring all the way around my basement, which is mostly carpeted and the full length of my house, plus the width of the main floor. Not a small space. We sent out a call for some friends to help. With a hand from Josh, Ryan and Mike, we managed to get everything from the basement upstairs, mop most of the 3″ of standing water in the furnace room into the drain, shop vac some water out of the corner under the porch that was speed-leaking through a small shift in the foundation, staple up a rubber liner to block some of that flow, sort through the disaster, and begin vacuuming up the water.

Damage Photos (Aftermath and during cleanup, I was too frantic to grab flowing water photos):

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Storm_03 Storm_04 Storm02 Storm05

At this point it looks like we lost around $200 of art supplies (mostly pastels), dozens of Jamie’s original artworks, a series of Asian puzzles in frames, six bags of mostly hardback books, some of them vintage children’s books, a gorgeous leatherbound album (empty at the time), numerous random papers, 60ish cardboard boxes, four or five copies of my novel, and possibly a set of Rockband drums (assuming drying doesn’t bring them back to life). We lost a very nice box holding hundreds of old family photos, but miraculously the photos are fine. We also lost an entire box full of boxes of high end facial tissue, but the toilet paper and paper towels next to it somehow escaped.
It could’ve been worse, but we are still working on getting all the water out of the carpet.

Aaand we’ll probably be doing a “Flood Sale” this weekend, possibly for some AnomalyCon merchandise as well.

But on the plus side, we don’t live in Boulder.

Wednesday: Adventures in Conventioning (And Earl Grey Cupcakes)

We’re back and all refreshed (finally) from running Denver’s ragingly successful Steampunk/Science Fiction/Alternate History convention!

I had the opportunity to meet a multitude of wonderful, talented people–including such greats as Gail Carriger, Selena (S.J.) Chambers, Jon Magnificent, Trae Dorn, and so many guests I don’t have room to list them all. The energy and transparency of everyone involved was exhilarating. We’ve had a wonderful time together, and now my head is already churning with thoughts of those new ideas to come.

In that light, it appears that we have decided to host a Cupcake War at the next AnomalyCon. With that in mind, here I share the recipe for the cupcakes we used for the AnomalyCon tea this year!

(Original credit to honeyandjam.com recipe from which we snagged the idea):

Earl Grey Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Earl Grey Frosting

This version makes roughly 30 cupcakes:

For the cupcakes:

1 cup unsalted butter (1 stick) at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3 1/2 cups of flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
4 bags of earl grey, just the leaves
2 tsp vanilla

For the frosting

We cheated and used 1/2 can whipped cream cheese frosting
A few drops (2-3) purple food coloring
3 bags earl grey (just the leaves)
1 tsp milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Either fill a pan with cupcake liners or use the self-supporting silicon or aluminum cupcake liners (we prefer the latter). Cream butter on high with standing or hand mixer. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, incorporate completely. In separate bowl combine tea leaves, flour, salt and baking powder. Mix half of dry mixture into butter, then all of milk, then finally the rest of the dry mixture. Mix thoroughly until combined well.
Fill cupcake liners 2/3 of the way full of batter. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, until tops are beginning to lightly brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cupcakes completely before icing.

For the icing, beat whipped cream cheese frosting with earl grey leaves and food coloring. Either spread on completely cooled cupcakes or add 1tsp milk to make the frosting a piping consistency.
If you don’t like the light texture of the earl grey leaves, run them through a food processor before adding to the other ingredients.

Voila! Enjoy a cupcake of tea!

Friday: Steampunk World: AnomalyCon!

It’s Friday, and upcoming events are on my mind! Mostly because today is the first day of AnomalyCon 2013: All Things ‘Punk!

For the tiny handful who read this blog but don’t know, I am the CEO of Victorian Productions, the company who runs AnomalyCon. We also have done an amazing pulp fiction podcast, called Radio STEAM. It’s out of production at this time, but there are four full seasons of hilarity for downloading.

I’m excited about the convention this year. We have a variety of business/art/writing workshop oriented panels that we haven’t been able to provide before, and over 9 full tracks of programming. We are expecting a great number of people, and we have more special guests than ever before. Badges are only $35 at the door for the entire weekend. The convention is at the DoubleTree DTC at Orchard and I25.

Jon Magnificent will be performing–and he is. He will also be running our tea dueling event. The Lego Contest is on again, and a Murder Mystery is afoot! Our program is a full 20 pages–bigger than ever before! We have junior mad scientist programming this year, as well–don’t miss out.

Also, I’ve been published in an anthology–Penny Dread Tales Volume III–that will be hitting the shelves at AnomalyCon this year!

Someone asked me recently what my goal for the convention is–what we want out of. Well, besides a convention that we would want to attend.

I want a convention that gathers together brilliant and successful minds, to teach writers how to improve their writing and market themselves. I want artists to be able to come together and learn how to make a life for themselves, to escape the “starving artist” moniker. I want makers and recyclists and creators to come together and make green sexy again. And through it all, I want to see the thread of acceptance, style, and equality that pervades the idea of Steampunk.

And so, AnomalyCon was born.

I hope you all can join me this weekend! We have amazing things in store!

Friday: Steampunk World and…

Greetings, and Happy Friday! If you have the misfortune of not being off on the weekend… happy whatever day it is to you. Just remember, it is five o’clock Somewhere.

On Fridays I kinda feel like this blog is just a directory of links… Speaking of, I recently stumbled across this delightful directory of Steampunk Fashion resources–do check it out!

News in Steampunk for the day:
The European Steampunk Convention is happening at the end of this month, and it’s going to be ridiculously huge. If you’re planning to be in (Western?) Europe during that time, don’t miss it!

I might be the only one to not have noticed this, but I remember Kevin J Anderson mentioning it around the time of AnomalyCon this year. I found the album cover at Starbucks and remembered–Clockwork Angels, by Rush (friends of Kevin’s) and the book, by Kevin–don’t miss the lovely pairing. The book just hit shelves along with its album counterpart. Here’s a link to an interview about the partnership.

The Steampunk-themed Educated Gentlemen and Ladies Who Do Assemble to Imbibe trivia gathering will continue this month, likely changing to Saturday the 29th. Hopefully we’ll have a new Trivia Artist awaiting his chance to shine.

I have almost no other news to report…more things need to be planned! We expect to announce the bulk of our special guests at AnomalyCon in the last two weeks of this month, so stay tuned!

Friday: Steampunk World: A busy week!

Hello steamy darlings! It looks like we have a very busy week in the world. This weekend alone, the Steamfitter’s Ball featuring Pandora Celtica, Hydrogen Skyline, and Abney Park will be in town. Tickets are $15, but AnomalyCon is giving away a pair. If you like their Facebook Page and share the page by midnight Sunday morning you’ll be entered to win. Tickets to AnomalyCon are only $20 still for the weekend, don’t miss it!

Next weekend, August 10-12, will be the Denver County Fair. The Colorado Steampunks and all affiliates are really taking over the Geek pavilion this year! At 1PM on Friday on the Fashion stage Luminous Thread will be putting on a showcase of musical and performance talent as a teaser-trailer for their upcoming season of Steampunk cabaret, opera and Day of the Dead fun. The Colorado Steampunks are hosting a Steampunk Fashion extravaganza at 8PM on the fashion stage. At 1PM on Saturday, at the Gazebo, Luminous Thread and the Colorado Steampunks will be hosting our second annual Steampunk Picnic Auction. All proceeds go to Inventing Earth and Luminous Thread to fund the season! There will also be wandering lunch buskers all weekend–have a great lunch for an awesome cause!

Luminous Thread will also be hosting the “Unsinkable Molly Brown” dunk tank, and yours truly will be taking a spin. Here’s your chance to “Dunk a ‘Punk” to fund community music theater!

Tor.com has lots of great events for August featured on its website, check it out!

So what events would you like to see? Rumor has it that there will be a very fancy themed tea coming up at the end of August…

Friday: Steampunk World: News and New Toys

Greetings, anachronauts! Today we explore a variety of news in the Steampunk World. Since it’s still hotter than hot in the real world, I give you a rather creepy collection of photos on pinterest. I wish I could claim them, but the collector has a fascination with morbid photos, I believe.

Bruce Boxleitner (Tron and Babylon 5) was at the Denver and San Diego Comic Cons, and he revealed a new project he’s working on–Lantern City. It’s a mainstream purely Steampunk (according to sources) fan-made TV series. He’s hoping to bring participation and more spotlight attention to Steampunk, which is pretty cool. Incidentally, Babylon 5 was my favorite SciFi series ever, so I am really looking forward to this project. Watch his interview, he really compliments our community!

Also, Steampunk Holmes, a new interactive game for iPad, is looking for beta testers. Go check it out!

Another group, Steampunkstore.net, is putting together a “Steampunk Business Directory” that is worth checking out if you’re building up your business. It’s a way for creators to have their name in the white pages, so to speak. It’s free, so that’s a plus.

If you’re interested in mainstream Russian-inspired Steampunk, check out this new fall collection by Banana Republic. It’s inspired by the Keira Knightly movie coming out, Anna Karenina. Banana Republic occasionally has awesome Steampunk-inspired accessories (IE men’s vests), so I am excited to see some women’s wear fall into that category.

The Steampunk Haunted House is developing a new story this year, and I hope it will inspire someone in Colorado to do a similar project. Denver does love its themed haunted houses, and this seems tantalizing.

Finally, if I haven’t mentioned it before, the Da Vinci Machines Exhibit is open at the Denver Pavilions. It’s $14 for adults, but what I saw from the windows looks like an exceptional display. Many of the displays are reported to be interactive, so this is a good time to get an idea for your next working device.

Until next week, my friends, stay steamy!