Wednesday, 16 August 2017

How to know when to let go

It’s no secret that I love planning and organising; lists and spreadsheets are my kryptonite. Combine that with parties, AND crafts, and I’m done.

Having lived in London for most of my twenties, I was lucky enough to have access to indie makers with original ideas and quirky products, pretty much whenever I wanted. The amount of markets and craft fairs was unreal, and I was in consumer heaven.

By the time I started my own creative business, I was living on the London/Surrey borders, and the opportunities to shop small were diminishing. And then when I admitted to myself that I really wasn’t a London girl any longer, I really felt like the only way to reach independent designer-makers was online. I’ve always really prided myself on choosing cool little gifts for people, that wouldn’t be recognised immediately as being from x high street store, and aside from Not on the High Street, there was nothing. Zero. Zilch.

So I thought, why not go back to my roots in Marketing & Events (Sheffield Ski Village, I miss youuuuuu!), and start up my own version of these awesome little markets, only OUTSIDE of the big smoke? There are some awesome business models out there (Crafty Fox being just one – but in London, yet again), but social media was clearly showing that cool creative people are everywhere, so why not provide the opportunity for them to exhibit a little closer to home? Lower fees, a captive and ready audience, and enough enthusiasm to fill several airport hangars, let alone a local function space. And so, six months or so ago, bolstered by the success of Fickle Craftroom, and encouraged by my growing relationship with other creatives and bloggers, I decided to start pursuing one of my ultimate dreams. Fickle Fairs was born!!

I decided to run some workshops in the lead up to a late Autumn/early Christmas fair, in order to drum up a bit of extra local awareness, and carefully curated a calendar of various current and classic crafts. Some of these were more successful than others (DIY neon signs was a sellout, felt ball garlands a washout), but I kept on, reaching out to other local creatives for collaborative workshops and projects, and plugged my workshops everywhere I could. I actually even priced them far too low, convincing myself that they weren’t for profit, just for the sake of building awareness, but I enjoyed them more than I thought I would (my mum was a teacher, and the combination of seeing the amount of admin she brought home, with my abject terror of training anyone when I worked in Finance, has always utterly put me off teaching).

I spent HOURS researching the best venue for a craft fair, and finding talented local people to get involved. We set the date.

It’s fair to say that I did feel massively encouraged by the response – for 17 people to apply for a BRAND NEW venture, willing to part with their own hard-earned cash and time, and so close to Christmas as well, is amazing. They weren’t just any old craftspeople either, they are all hugely talented and interesting. But I needed 30 people in order to be able to afford the venue, table hire, insurance and some advertising.

I could have accepted the 17 and gone with a smaller venue, but for want of a better phrase, it would have felt a bit meh. In order to draw people in to actually SHOP, rather than simply chancing upon a side room in a café (or whatever we’d have ended up with), we needed a larger-scale event. If people were putting their faith in me to promote their businesses, offer drop-in workshops, and make sales, I owed them better than that. If I wasn’t able to afford a wide-spread marking campaign then no matter how many stallholders we had, it would have fallen flat. I would have been out of pocket, and people would have lost faith.

This time, although it was a difficult decision, I ultimately knew when to say no, even when it felt a bit humiliating, and I was turning my back on a long-held dream. But when I try again, I will have learned a little more. I still feel passionately about bringing the quirky outside of London, but maybe Fickle Fairs needs to grow a bit more, get a bit braver about reaching out, asking for advice from the bigger boys. Next time it will work.


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