Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Writing Bureau - Diary of a designers first trade show

It's been a while hasn't it? I thought we could all do with a break from the Cheeky Blogs for a while as I find too much info can get a bit overwhelming at times, don't you? But we are back with part two with Jo, from The Writing Bureau and her extremely inspiring blogs about her first ever trade show. 

Please read part 1 here where Jo talks about how she started her greetings card business and the reasons why she took the nail biting decision to book her first ever trade show. Part two is about how she prepared for the show, a diary of the busy weeks of preparation and also the weeks after and the sales she made. I know you will enjoy this blog as it is just so, so positive!!
Go on, gab a cuppa right now, you may also need a couple of hob nobs :)

over to Jo.......

I started The Writing Bureau, which is a wholesale greeting card business, in July 2011. 
I mainly sell to independent shops with direct selling through not on the high street

In February 2012 I booked my first trade show, 'Progressive Greeting Live' which was on 29th and 30th May.

I was told when booking not to expect many orders on the day but that orders/interest will come in afterwards. With this in mind, once I booked the show I decided to write down what I wanted to have achieved by the end of 2012 rather than by the end of the show. 

Sort social media and blog
Update website
Create new ranges
Sort product photography
Good press coverage
Sales agent representation in the UK
Achieve good sales with enough cash flow to grow business in 2013
Book and pay for 2013 tradeshow using cash from business

My main purpose of PGLive was to launch the business. However, The Writing Bureau has so far funded itself so I also wanted to take enough orders to at least cover all my costs.
In the run up to the show there were a lot of expenses and they went on the business credit the show got closer it really felt like make or break!

trade show diary....

I booked the tradeshow when I only had 24 card designs. I knew I had a massive amount of work to do but I felt confident I could do it. Due to my lack of computer design skills it took me a year to get my first 16 cards printed to a high enough standard. Once I'd sorted all those frustrating 'how do I' questions, I knew that creating further designs wouldn't be so tough. 

So here's my diary in the run up to the show. I hope it makes sense and helps others thinking about booking their first show. If you have any questions please drop me a line and I will try and help.

February 2012:
I booked the show and within a week started blogging more regularly and finally joined Twitter, two things I've had on my to do list but had never got round to. Both have definitely helped spread the word of the brand and also helped me meet people in the industry.

This month I also wrote press releases, worked on new range designs and took time photographing and editing images for press pack.
I also found out I was pregnant...brilliant news but comedy timing :)

March 2012:
I spent every free moment in March creating artwork for cards. 
However, pregnancy wise I had a hard month, I was ill and my energy levels were totally zapped. The techniques I use to create each card are labour intensive and my original goal of 64 cards soon became a more realistic 48. Through Twitter I discovered lots of previous exhibitors who also launched with 48 cards so this helped reassure me that my stand wouldn't look empty!

On the positive, having less cards to print meant my cash didn't get completely tied up in stock. 
I still created four ranges as planned just with a lesser number of designs in each range. 
It also gave me the opportunity of talking to customers at the show about their best sellers. 
From this feedback, the cards I planned to add to each range are very different to what I am now going to create.

April 2012:
Like many stay at home mums, I've set the business up whilst looking after my toddler.
It's a tricky balancing act and it's meant I've had to develop the business at a slower rate than sometimes I'd like. 

But, the positive of this is that I am definitely more focused and efficient with the little time I have. I always carry a notebook and I've spent many mornings at toddler groups, feeding the ducks or whilst washing up planning exactly what I need to do with the next free time I have. 

When I found out I was pregnant we decided to put Annalise into nursery two mornings a week.
Wow, six whole hours to work on the business during daylight hours - it's made such a massive difference to growing the business.

1st April - Exciting times...I have my first sales agent start, so now The Writing Bureau is represented in the South West!

5th April - Wowsers, more exciting times...TWO more sales agents start, The Writing Bureau is now represented in the South East and East Anglia! 

30th April - Artwork for the last card is finished. 
I definitely cut it fine, but knew I could rely on my graphic designer and printers as they are both brilliant and stick to their word.

May 2012
Really busy this month with orders from agents but the pressure is off as artwork has been completed. I designed the brochure in a couple of days as I'd had it planned in my head for months. So far, no major wobbles!  I think pregnancy hormones make me calmer than I normally am!

1st May - Press coverage in Progressive Greetings Magazine about exhibitng at the show. The coverage brings new stockists and more sales agent enquiries.

11th May - Samples back from printers and fortunately they are all perfect! 
To be honest, I really didn't have any time left to alter them if they needed changing.  
I spend lots of time photographing and editing the new ranges.

14th May - Brochure proofed and sent to printers.

16th May - Ordered brochures and biz cards and told they can take up to 10 working days. Only problem is the show will be over by then! 
It's a gamble but I decide to stick with these printers as the price is really competitive. 

19th May - This was my major wobble day! Fortunately it was a Saturday so husband was home to look after Annalise and give me some space. 
The wobble was all about the stand design; I knew exactly how I wanted it to look, I bought all the materials to do it but realised it wasn't going to happen. 

This was because I run the business on a shoestring budget and to keep costs as low as possible I'm travelling to the show by public transport. I live near Wales and the show is in London so its a long way with lots of changes and I realised that I simply couldn't carry everything whilst pregnant. It meant having to alter the display of the show which I'd been planing for months. 

20th May - Spend the day sorting the new stand design. It all feels like its coming together and I'm starting to feel more confident.

24th May - Wowsers, little me has been featured on my favourite design blog, Print and Pattern
Perfect timing just before the show and it's really good for my confidence. 

Confidence' is a word that I've talked about lots to friends and family over the past few months. 
Having been out of the workplace for over two and half years the thought of promoting my own designs had been freaking me out a little. 

I talk a lot and am rarely lost for words (as you can probably tell by this blog) yet I've had this worry I'll be talking to someone, look down at their badge, see they are someone 'important' and just totally freeze. Honestly it's kept me up at night!
My youngest sister had the best reply out of all the advice I've been given on this. She simply said 'well Jo, just don't look down'. 

25th May - Brochures and business cards arrive which means everything is finally here...phew!
I spent the weekend doing last minute stuff that seems to take forever and head to my sister Kat's place in Oxford. She has taken time off work and is doing the show for free with me - legend! 

28th May 
7am - We take a taxi to Oxford bus station, catch the coach to Marble Arch and catch a bus to Islington where the show is held. We have all our stuff with us but the sun is shinning and we have until 8pm tonight to get our display all up ready for the big day tomorrow.

2pm  - Arrive at the Business Design Centre, getting through London with all the bags (and a including a wooden foldaway desk!) took longer than planned.

4pm - Many stands are up and finished - yikes! 
Everyone is friendly but you can feel the tension all around, it's an anxious time for everyone and particularly in our area as we are all newbies. We are having lots of fun but I've got to admit, our progress is slow...we finish with only ten minutes to spare before doors are locked!

10.30pm - Finally find the hostel, it's on the other side of London but it's only £20 a night - phew, it's been a long day.

29th May
Day 1 
The day went really well for us. Our first customer ordered our entire collection which got us off to a great start! We took more orders than I had expected. A couple of national companies were interested in licensing images as well as wanting me to work freelance for them. 

I met a couple of my agents for the first time. I had interest from another UK agent as well as distributors from the UK and overseas. 

30th May
Day 2
Speaking to a sales rep for a large company at lunch they said the show had been noticeably quieter than in previous years. However, being a new business and a first time exhibitor we had nothing to compare it to.

I received orders from new stockists and met a couple of journalists who wanted to feature me in industry magazines. My day was made up when the buyer from my dream national stockist stopped, introduced herself and wanted samples!!! And as predicted, I was quite literally lost for words...

since the show........

In the four weeks since the show I've been nonstop and received lots of orders from customers I met at the show. 

I've had another agent start which means I'm now represented in Wales and I'm currently in discussion with an agent for another area of the UK.

My attitude to the business is make it work in a recession and things can only get easier in the good times. I really do watch every penny and I'm glad to say our frugal travel and accommodation were all worth it! Our budget choices mean we've covered our costs and have cash flow to book a new show and continue to grow.

I'm currently in the process of changing the business structure to a Ltd company so I can bring my family on board to help when I have the new baby. I keep wavering at booking Top Drawer Spring 2013 and then I think, stop, your'll have a ten week old, are you crazy? But who knows....I guess time will tell!

a few things I've learned from the experience....

1. Have support in the form of a listening ear - some days your'll need to chat through decisions and just offload worries before the show.

2. It's not essential to spend lots of money on your display as eye catching displays can be created without a big bill at the end. I had lots of positive comments on my display from other exhibitors and visitors and I spent less than £50.

3. Most stands are 3m x 1m but it's worth considering smaller stand sizes if they are available. I had the smallest on offer, 2x1 metres, but this didn't deter anyone from stopping. I purposely chose a corner stand to have a more open feel to it and this really worked.

4. Remember - one of your unique selling points is that you are the new kid in town with fresh, brand new designs! Don't try to compete with the bigger companies or make out you are more established than you actually are. 

5. With this in mind, have a budget and remember that a simple brochure and business card are fine. You can get carried away with printing gorgeous brochures or double embossed business cards but they won't bring you any more orders in. All these things can come in the future.

6. Have someone with you at the show. It really helps to have a friendly face you can rely upon, bounce ideas off and simply help you out.

7. Visit tradeshows before booking one.

8. Get on twitter/facebook and introduce yourself to your neighbouring makes it more fun!

9. Be flexible with exhibiting your work - think of alternative ways to display just in case you need a back up plan or things don't look the way you had expected.

10. Enjoy it and have fun! Being designers, we spend most of working time on our own and tradeshows are all about meeting people.

Wow, who feels inspired right now? I know I do. Thanks Jo so much for a truly fantastic blog, we all really do appreciate it. Please feel free to write all your comments below.


Don't forget, voting is still going for Ausmumpreneur of the year where Cheeky Pickle is in the running for Favourite Handmade Business. I would really love it if you could vote for me. If you would like to, please follow the directions here

Thank you 
Ali xx

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