The Ultimate Guide To Successful Art Shows and Fairs
Why art shows and fairs are so important, the upsides and downsides of doing them in person, and how you need to think about them tactically to win (no one ever talks about this).
Introduction to the Guide
This post is gonna be a beast. 👹
What it's not going to cover is how to find shows, or how to setup your booth, or which booth to buy. If that is what you are looking for then hit up Google on the internet machine. Posts abound on those topics.
Instead, this post is going cover what never gets talked about: the nuts and bolts of how to think about shows and how to get the most ROI — return on investment — out of them.
The goal is to make sure you you understand why shows and fairs are important, you understand how to properly think about them, and you are fully equipped tactically to dominate the next one you participate in. 💪
You don't need expensive courses or magic tricks to be successful doing shows.
This guide will contain all the wisdom you need to stack the deck in your favor and get the most out of every show you participate in.
During the show, and long after it has ended.
Why Shows and Fairs Are Important
I talk to thousands of artists and photographers every month and have been doing so for years.
All ages, degrees of success, niches, and geographic locations.
In my experience, 95 out of 100 of the successful ones (75k+ in annual sales) are either doing the show and fair circuit, selling direct from their websites, or both.
They are almost never successful selling via galleries or online marketplaces like Etsy.
If you want to turn your creative passion into a business, including some art shows and fairs as part of your sales and marketing is an extremely effective way to do so.
But just doing them isn't enough. They must be done properly. They must be optimized to ensure you get the MOST out of each one.
This is the key to ensuring you don't have to do them for the rest of your life.
A few years of hard work put into shows and you can be left with a collector list that can support you for the rest of your career.
Let's start with the upsides and downsides of shows and then we can get into the tactical advice.
The Upsides and Downsides of In-Person Shows and Fairs
The Upsides! 👍
Good news here is the upsides FAR outweigh the downsides. Let's take a look at a few of them:
On balance, doing in-person shows and fairs are chock-full of upsides when done correctly. Like everything in business though, they also have downsides...
The Downsides 👎
Why list these here? Anytime you are evaluating a business strategy, you'd better know the costs. And there are some costs and some downsides to art shows to be aware of:
On balance its clear doing in-person shows and fairs are a great way to grow an art or photography business.
They do have downsides though so if you are going to invest the time, energy, and treasure to do one it's critical you understand how the smart artist or photographer thinks about them and what they know, that most don't.
How the Smart Artist or Photographer Thinks About Shows
Perfect example of a class they should of had in art school or photography school.
How to generate consistent income and grow a creative business by exhibiting at shows and fairs.
If that class was taught in school the chapter in the book would begin with the 3 bullet points I am about to lay out.
If you read no other part of this article understanding these 3 bullet points is perhaps the most important part of the guide with number #3 being the most profound.
Shows are a game of archery 🎯
The bullseye in this case, let's say, is a 5x + return on the investment made to exhibit at the show.
If you only do one of them you only have one arrow to fire. Odds are never good with only one arrow to fire.
If you instead give yourself 3-5 arrows to shoot you stand a much better chance at hitting that bullseye.
The smart artist knows this. So when they start planning the plan is always 3-5 rather than just one.
When this planning enters your thinking, everything changes in your strategy and mindset, and your success will follow as a result.
The leads you capture at the show are the most important thing 💌
Not everybody is ready to buy wall art right now!
Even if they are attending an art show or fair.
Your job is capture as many leads as possible at a show such that you can market to them in the future for years to come.
Shows and fairs are incredible opportunities to gather leads yes but more importantly, leads gathered in person, face to face, are WAY more valuable then ones achieved digitally.
The smart artist can afford to lose money at the show 🤑
Yep. When you do a show with the proper plan, you capture leads, and MOST IMPORTANTLY you market consistently all year long after the fact, you can afford to lose money on a show up front as you know you will make it back up in time.
How art sells in the real world 👇
Marketing activity --> you capture leads --> you market consistently and you make sales for years to come after the original event.
This is a profound point so lets use some real numbers as an example.
Stu does a show. Show costs him $2000 all in. Stu sells $800 at the show and another $150 after the show follow ups (more on this in the tactical section below) and he also captures 73 emails. So all in Stu lost $1050 by doing that show.
One year later one of the 73 emails buys a large metal print for $700. Now Stu is down $350 on that show.
In year 3 one of those 73 emails, just bought a vacation house, and because Stu has been marketing to them consistently over the years he is top of mind.
The client buys $25,000 worth of Stu's art to decorate the new home.
When you combine the 3 list items; doing multiple shows per year, capturing leads at all of them, marketing consistently after the fact is when the wins really start compounding and stacking up.
You never know which show or event is gonna be the big winner and quite frankly you don't care. You are going to win because you are doing multiple per year and doing the marketing after the fact.
Most artists and photographers treat their fairs and shows like they would a bet in Vegas. Is $ in > $ out? Then it was a win. If not, then no.
When you understand the big picture, and you realize each show is an investment with a longer payback period then just day of, you approach them and especially how many of them you do, completely differently.
None of the above is possible though without a proper tactical plan. So let's get to sorting that part next.
The Tactical Steps to Get the Most ROI Out of Shows and Fairs
Ok so the plan is to list out, step by step, with examples, of how we advocate our customers run their shows and fairs.
Disclaimer: This is going to be a bit advanced— especially to the non-techie/new to digital marketing types — and some might find it overwhelming.
For the purposes of the tactical guide I think we split it between the "must haves" and "nice to haves."
Your job is to implement the must haves first and work your way to the nice to haves as you can. Most people cannot do all of this right out of the gates.
If you just focus on the must haves then you are already gonna be setup for success and the rest will just amplify your efforts.
Must Haves 📈
Good news here is there are really only two; What your overall inventory looks like from a pricing standpoint and ensuring you are setup to capture as many leads as possible.
Let's break down each then we can get into our "nice to haves."
Inventory and Pricing 🔖
This topic is so incredibly important to getting the most ROI out of shows and fairs it needs its own blog post.
Thankfully we have one for you.
Below is the link to that post and what some folks have been saying about it on Facebook 👇
Advanced Pricing Strategies for Artists and Photographers that are already selling
Everything you wish you knew about pricing that nobody ever told you, how to solve your pricing woes, and how to set your pricing for maximum ROI on your marketing efforts.
Read it 👈 (I'll wait here for you, take as much time as you need)
The post covers this in great detail but at a high level it's the following list.
The most important thing you can do, is start doing shows. If you don't have all of above on your first few that is ok. You need to work up to this level though if you want to give yourself the best shot at maximizing your ROI.
Optimizing for Lead Capture 📧
Aside from the sales at the show this is the next most important thing you can do when you do a show.
I would go as far to say it often times is what separates a show from being a loss into a win (in the short term).
Long term — when you do the consistent yearly marketing after the fact — it's what separates 6 figure a year + art and photography businesses from everybody else.
Here is the technique for shows at its core.
That's it? Yep.
It sounds simple, and it is, but its also incredibly effective.
Yet show after show myself and my team visits — big ones, small ones, does not matter — we see almost nobody doing this!!!
Not only is it effective at capturing leads, but in the nice to have tactical section below it becomes even more powerful.
If you do your next show with these two must haves covered you are already properly setup for success.
Now its time to turbo charge those efforts.
The Step by Step Tactical Guide to Rocking Shows and Fairs aka the "Nice to Haves."
Time to start cooking with 🔥
You know that doing shows have upsides and downsides and the downsides are primarily financial in nature.
The following guide attempts to answer this question; What is the best sales and marketing strategy, that gives me as many ways to win as possible, by doing a show?
We are going to split the guide/strategy into three sections; before the show, during the show, and after the show.
In order to understand the various steps (and how they all fit together) you need to know ahead of time what you are going to be doing so below is a succinct list and the details will follow in the sections to come.
As I mentioned before this will likely overwhelm many (this is COMPLETELY normal and our customers tell us this on a weekly basis 😃).
You don't have to do all of it right away.
Do what you can and work your way up to all of it. You level up, step by step.
Before the Show ⏱️
The marketing starts before the show even begins here is why.
Before the show we want to leverage all of our marketing assets and channels to get the word out; our email list, our social media profiles, and all of the various different social media post types they have on offer.
⏱️ Email List: Let your email audience know you are going to have a show. Let them know the details; the when and where.
We also advise that you tease some big announcements (which will be your show specific sale + live art show) at the show, that you audience really won't want to miss.
If folks have any questions let them know they can email you or send you a DM.
⏱️ Social Sites: Same message as your email. You are having a show, the when and where, and that you would love to see folks come / they are invited!
When it comes to your social sites do try and include both images and videos and for Instagram do include feed posts, story posts, and reels.
The content you make for this should be posted to both Instagram and Facebook.
⏱️ Sum It Up: Now everybody on your list / social sites knows you have a show coming up. You have some great content on your social sites too. Some are likely emailing you about coming. For those that cannot make it they know you are going to have a big announcement at the show and they are curious what that is.
Now we are ready to do the show.
During The Show 🎨
This section is going to cover the basics and advanced stuff in detail. We are also going to include some bonus techniques you can use. Let's start with our high level list and then into the detailed sections.
🎨 Continue to feed your social sites: It seems like a small thing but it isn't. Let's remember our objectives here; we still want to drive attendance to the show itself and we also want to have all of our followers and fans know we are having a sale.
Mark Hersch does a great job in the video above setting the stage for the size of the event and teasing the booth and his content.
Here is another one I really like from artist Mays Mayhew. Great content, great preview of the booth, calling people to come down, and creating FOMO.
🧰 Pro Tip: It's usually a good idea to spread the posting out across the entire day / weekend. You will reach different people at different times based on when you post.
Even if you photograph/video everything at once just spread the posts out through the day as you have time to do so.
🎁 Bonus Technique: When you make a sale its always a good idea (if it feels right) to ask the buyer if you can take a photo of them for your social media. When they say yes this is also really strong content.
One message you NEVER want to stop reinforcing is that your work is selling and having bright smiling faces of your customers goes a long way towards doing that.
🎨 Run a Show Specific Sale:
If you read our pricing article then you have already set your margins correctly that you can run a sale and still have a great show.
To increase your chances of getting us human beings to take action the following is an accurate equation.
Discount + Scarcity = Human beings more likely to take action
It's just that simple and its just maths. Its binary, its a 1 or a 0.
Do you have the equation in play at your show or fair or not?
If you do you are going to get more humans taking action i.e more sales and ROI out of the effort.
Does David bank the $1600 without the sale running?
We will never know for sure but the maths are the maths; discount + scarcity = human beings more likely to take action.
Run a sale during the show and its fun to call it something; The Inflation Sucks Sale.
Use a discount; 10%-20% off storewide on items over $100
The scarcity; Sale ends today or at the end of the show
Again, its just maths, so the what you insert above is less important than just having it as part of every conversation you have in that booth.
Important also to remember that the sale, and specifically having one, is going improve your chances at the in-person portion of the effort but its also gonna apply to everybody that can't make the show in person.
Two bites of the same 🍎
Next we talk about the FishBowl Technique then we get back to our sale and how it applies to everybody not coming to the show.
🎨 The Fishbowl Technique:
I should mention the fishbowl comes exclusively from using this technique in conjunction with people dropping their business cards in it.
Not everybody has as business card anymore so the technique has evolved to really just get the email address; it can be digitally via the ipad, or old school style on a clipboard.
There are a ton of creative ways to spin this particular technique. The important part though is really just to have it. When you do it just works. Point is don't over think the what you are going to give away. Pick something and go for it.
I do have to say though Mays I thought 👇 was pretty creative!
When you are coming up with yours I do like these general rules of thumb to try and follow.
Understanding that booth sizes, show rules, etc can vary from spot to spot.
Again though, rule #1 here... the only mandatory rule, is that you run this technique.
Ok with the fishbowl in place the leads are going to be rolling in; which is good because as soon as the show ends we are going to put them to work.
No we can get on to our live art show in the booth.
🎨 Run a Live Art Show at the In-Person Show
I honestly love this part of the strategy so much. Both for the quality of content it produces as well as the additional ROI it is capable of generating from the time energy and effort it takes to do a show.
Let's look at an example. Go ahead and skip around the video and tell me this is not an awesome thing to see.
Ok so you have now seen an example of a live art show but how do you do one, where do you stream it, how are you going to learn how to do it?
How To Run Live Art Shows 2022: A Quick Start Guide
The future of selling art and photography is via live Art Shows. This guide will define the terms, explain the "why" you need to be running them and the "how" you run them.
Read it 👈
That post, in two pages, covers everything you need to know about how to successfully run a live art show in your booth at your show.
Below are some finer points and tips on how to approach the show part and then what to do with the show afterwards.
Don't overthink it! (almost all artists and photographers always do, and it massively gets in the way). See how simple David's show was above. It can and should be that simple.
Read the guide on how to go live I linked to above. Turn the cell phone camera on, talk about your show, and let them know about the sale. Then email your list.
You will be amazed at just how effective this can be.
🎨 QR Codes
They (the technology) are almost 30 years old at this point yet few people in this country used them.
Then Covid hit. Then, when the restaurants finally opened back up lots of them no longer had menu's. You had to use your phone and scan the code for the menu.
Now the whole country, regardless of age or tech fluency, knows how they work which means its a good idea to use them in your booth.
Perhaps I am standing outside your booth and things are busy.
I don't want to come in, I am not going to write down your website url, but I see your QR code.
So I scan it quickly and move on. Now contemplate how many times a day that could potentially happen; you quickly realize its worth printing out some signs for your booth.
Like many of the concepts in this guide you can start with the basics and work your way up to the pro level.
The important thing here is to just get one on your booth so somebody that is outside can see it and scan it.
Some tips, tricks and hacks below.
QR codes, despite being almost 30 years old, have a bright future ahead of them. They are just getting started.
Covid has (finally) brought them mainstream to the U.S. and the smart artist is thinking about where in their marketing stack they can include them and at the top of that list is at in person shows.
Next we can talk about what to do after the show and then (finally, I know) wrap this post up.
After The Show 🌄
"It's the after party, and after the party, it's the hotel lobby..." - Jay Z circa 2000
That might work for Jay Z but for the smart artist and photographer the minute the show ends is when the real work begins.
Often times, whether or not the show loses $, breaks even, or makes $ — "in the show window" — is dependent on this next step.
You ran the fishbowl, you have some leads, so you pick a winner, email the fishbowl entrants, announce the winner, and then for everybody else... you extend the sale.
Turns out everybody loves to see if they won so this email get's a very high open rate.
The big picture of this email is to try and capture all of the fence sitters. The folks that almost bought. The ones that left, went home, looked at the blank wall and thought of your piece on it.
Here are some pointers for the email and some different ways you can approach the sale after the fact.
🧰 Pro Tip: This is extra credit but I like to also extend the sale for the entire email list.
You can email your entire list, let them know you had so much fun at your show, that you got a ton of entries to your fishbowl, that you extended the sale for those folks so as a way of saying thanks for being on your email list you are also extending the sale for them.
Ok. Time to sum things up. 👇
Summing It All Up
I told you this thing was gonna be a beast 👹.
We felt strongly that if we had the audacity to call something the "Ultimate" anything we had better deliver. It is our sincere hope that you get a ton of value out of this guide and more importantly put it into practice.
These steps are the difference between just "doing a show" and dominating a show before, during and after the fact.
Again, we know for many, after reading all of this you are going to be overwhelmed. Totally ok and totally normal. You do not need to do all of it at once. You do what you can and you work your way up to the full playbook.
As long as you nail down the two most important steps; Properly sorting your inventory and running the fishbowl technique then you are 80% of the way there.
If you enjoyed this post you might want to check Art Storefronts out. Not only can we help you when you do in-person fairs and shows, but we also teach our customers how to stay consistent and effective with their marketing and grow their businesses all year long. Hit the button below and let's chat about your art or photography business.
In case you were wondering Art Storefronts has everything you need to start, run, and grow a successful art business. We are coming up on our tenth year in business and 👇 is how our over 7800 customers feel about us. We have been reviewed over 1000+ times on Trust Pilot, Facebook and Google.