Running A Convention: Stage 2: Financing Your Adventure

“How do I fund my convention?” This is definitely the most common question I receive from potential con directors. Typically, they are hoping I will give them an easy answer–go get a loan from such and such bank. Make it 15,000, and mortgage your house to get it. If you talk to this particular book vendor they will give you loads of money. Here’s the magic.

Unfortunately for all of you, there isn’t actually an easy button. But there are some very straightforward principles that will keep you out of trouble and out of debt. If you can’t follow these, you might want to reconsider running a convention before it ruins your personal financial life.

First of all, let’s clarify. AnomalyCon was started on $147. That broke down to $50 for an LLC, $25 to start a bank account, and the rest was for web domains (and I think we had to pay a couple bucks for some modules for our website). $147 out of pocket. The rest paid for itself.

To do that, you’re going to need some integrity, a website, a business bank account, a paypal account, a business plan (see previous chapters), and a ticket pricing schedule.

And a return policy. This is the most important. Since this is your first year event, you need the website to have information about your plans, and a way to take money. Have a cart with tickets, but make sure that the disclaimer says the tickets will be refunded in case of event cancellation. This is where your integrity comes in.

Now, notice I did NOT say you need a hotel. I didn’t mention location at all, actually. Since this is your first year event, I’m going to advise that your nearest college and cozy up with a member of a student organization. Make friends, then negotiate the use of rooms for the student rate. It might be a weird space, but it will be close to free. In most cases you don’t even have to pay until it’s almost time for the event. AnomalyCon didn’t nail down our space until we’d been taking vendor registrations for a couple of months. Thank goodness, because we needed a bigger space than we had initially scoped.

Now, here’s the key. Go steal vendors from other events.
What I mean by that is–attend other conventions. Find out who’s local. Meet the vendors and talk to them about how they are doing at the show they are at, and whether they’d be interested in a startup show. Charge them maybe $50 for a table, and explain what you’re doing to get attendees. They get the same refund policy in case of cancellation.

If you do it right, the vendors pay for your event space. Your job is to make sure there are enough attendees to make it worth it for them.

Do NOT promise guests that you’ll “pay them if the show does well.” Bad BAD precedent to set, and also without integrity. It’s better to find locals willing to perform/appear for the sake of a first year event than to lie to guests.

Most importantly, budget as though almost no one is going to attend, but plan as though you’ll have great attendance.

So You Want to Run A (Convention? Business?)…

I’m working on a book project that will likely release as an ebook. I intend to title it something like “Business Principles for Geeks: So You Want to Run a Convention?”

Yeah, snazzy. Obviously I need to come up with a better title. I’ll get on that after I name my bard. Snarflord Flarghlehopper maybe?

In the process, I’ll post updates and snippets of the idea of where it’s going here. Probably on Wednesdays because today is Wednesday and that just makes sense.

First of all, let’s say you do want to run a business. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that its a convention you desire to run. You should be able to answer all of these questions.

What will the convention be about? Will it be a Pony con, a Whovian adventure? A generic Science-Fiction/Fantasy convention? Who is your audience? How old are they? Where do they live? What do they like to do?

What is your motivation? What’s driving you to make this happen? Why do you care?

Who will help you? Why will they help you? More importantly, why will they helpĀ you?

There are those who say that if the WHY is big enough, the HOW won’t matter. I prefer to think of it this way. If your WHY is powerful enough, the HOW HARD won’t stop you.

The facts always count. Success is in the details.

Before you start counting your thousands of planned attendees, picking your venue, rolling out your red carpet, and especially before you quit your regular job, you need to know what you want from this venture. You have to understand why you want to venture outside of your comfort zone.

And remember, this WHY has to be really, really big. Otherwise it won’t survive the five years it will take before you’re established enough to even consider escaping the huge workload you’re about to take on.

Brace yourself.

To understand your end goal, you need to decide what it should be first.

Do you plan to run a successful science fiction convention on an annual basis with positive increase in attendance every year? What does that look like? 500 attendees? 5,000?

Do you desire to have interesting and thought-provoking entertainment content and a well-rounded vendor’s room? Does that mean people are making their own content and programming, or are you controlling the whole schedule yourself?

Now why do you want these things? Is it to become well known in the community? To fill a gap that exists? Are you starting the first convention in your town or joining the ranks of many?

Write your final destination out in positive present tense, and make sure it’s something you can grasp onto. Make sure it really lights a fire in you to think about it happening.

For example, mine for AnomalyCon is this:
“I lead a highly successful convention that grows every year. We provide diverse content that supports authors and artists in their personal growth and chosen career paths while entertaining our attendees. We offer a safe, friendly and diverse environment where everyone can enjoy music, art and literature without fear of harassment.”

Ask yourself why you want to take on this project, or any major project. Until you have the why deep in your gut, your foundation will be shaky at best. This is like the very beginning of your business plan. It’s your mission statement. It’s what defines you. And if you can’t reach inside yourself, Simba, your volunteers won’t know how to find direction either.

So find your Why.