8 things you should know before starting your own convention

I will continue to post helpful advice here for those of you who may be considering starting your own event. You can see all of our “Con Solutions” posts by clicking this link. If you are an artist who is looking for technical, business, or con attending help, check out my tutorials over at Onezumiverse.com.

This post is meant to help those of you who have a great idea for a convention or event and want to know if you should go ahead and do it.

1. You must be OK with working an unpaid full time job until your event becomes sustainable. Cons are not cheap to start. I advise saving up at least $5,000-$10,000 to invest into an event that is a 3 day, full featured event like Intervention. More, if you can. Scale that down if you intend to start off small. No, you probably won’t make any money in the beginning. Yes, you will have to work harder than you do at your day job.

2. It might take 5 years for your event to become sustainable. You have to be OK with taking a short term loss your first few years. Let’s face it – you and I both know that people are more willing to support an event that they complain about that has been running for 10 years rather than try something new. It is human nature. I am guilty of this as well. Why should I go to a new, unproven event rather than go to where my friends already are? The devil you know is sometimes better than the unknown. In the beginning you will find that most of the battle is proving to people that you won’t do a bad job and that you are here to stay. The other part is that unless you are funded by a multi-million dollar corporation or have celebrities backing you with promotional signal, it usually takes a year or so for people to get the message that you even exist.

The upside is that once they see how much you really care and what a great job you’ve done, they will likely stay with you. It just may take a few years for the message to get out. Prepare financially and mentally for that eventuality. Do the best job you can do regardless of your size and your attendees will subconsciously advertise you after your first year. This is how you build it.

3. You must be able to afford to pay up front for an attorney, event insurance, printing costs, event space costs, and all other fees. Like I said in #2, it may take awhile for people to hear enough about you that they start attending your event. If you can’t afford your basic needs before starting your event, you probably should concentrate on straightening your finances out and getting a job that will allow you to pay for your event and absorb any casualties. If you don’t, you will almost surely bankrupt yourself. I got the capital together for Intervention through my store that sells things based on my webcomic. I also work as a Project Manager during the day and earned investment money by working ridiculously long hours. I also got a lot of help from our Enablers who graciously donate each year to help keep us going.

4. You and your key staff should have at least 5 years experience each running the sort of event you want to run. My staff and I are old pros at this point. I didn’t just wake up one day and say, “HAY GAIZ I LIEK A GAMEZ LET’S START A KON OMG.”


I have been active as a key staff member for most of the cons in the northeast for years now. During that time I was silently vetting staffers who did good work. Little did they know, I was waiting to pounce on them for my event. (BWAHAHA!) They agreed because I had also built up a reputation for being serious business. (One of my nicknames is actually, “CEO”.) By the first year of Intervention, we already had a rapport that is a lot like family. That is one reason why the event ran so smoothly last year. I am keenly aware of the great work that Intervention staff do. I actually consider it to be part of our overall brand. We are the SWAT Team of con staff. We don’t just take anyone into our key ranks – everyone has either worked with me or one of my key staff members before. Failing that, they have to undergo an interview with me to see if they will fit in.

Whichever way you do it – make sure your staff has actually run cons before and not just attended cons. Also make sure they understand professional conduct. Your staff are a reflection of how welcoming you are.

5. You should have a good relationship with the community and be known for finishing what you start. Everyone thought I was crazy when I started Intervention, but no one thought I’d screw it up. Why? My track record speaks volumes. I’ve staffed cons, maintained my own webcomic and web presence for many years, helped many people along the way, and climbed the ranks of corporate America like Conan the Librarian. Everything that I start, I finish. Everything that I say I’ll do, I do. I am notorious for getting things done and working hard.

Think about the community you want to serve. Ask yourself if you understand where they are coming from and what problems you can solve for them. Then ask yourself if they know and trust you. Knowing the answers to these questions will make your job much easier. You’ll need the community behind you. It takes a village to raise an event.

6. You should leave any competitive venom in nursery school where it belongs. If you are looking at other events as your enemy, you are in for a rude awakening. Nothing good ever came from that type of thinking. Fan events are only as good as they can harmonize with each other. At the core, we are about the community. If you fail to work with your neighbor and support the community, you are failing to engage with your demographic. Fans and con runners are one and the same. Crapping on the very people you purport to serve is kind of silly, in my opinion. It is like shooting yourself in the foot. Negativity and competitive venom have no place in my world.

7. Realize that transparency and fairness go a long way to resolving any disputes and treat everyone like you would want to be treated. I find that a lot of “internet drama” comes from people sensing that someone is not being authentic or honest. I go about things just like I do during the day at my Project Management job – I explain to people where I am coming from and why things are like they are. I find that just treating everyone like I would want to be treated goes a long way toward keeping things drama free and happy. Don’t hide things or try to make things more complicated than they are – just be cool and everyone will understand.

8. You must love this. If being cool, honest, tireless, and planning well doesn’t sound like a good thing to you, you might have a problem. You must absolutely love what you do, because this is not as easy as I might make it look. This is long hours of working tirelessly – sometimes for no recognition. You will get negative feedback that is absolutely ridiculous and unfair from somebody complaining that there were no live dinosaurs in their martini. You will get people who take you for granted, eat your food, and ditch without so much as a “thank you”. You will get entitled talent that behaves crankily, and staff members that have to drop out at the last minute due to life issues.

This comes with the territory, but the positive interactions, great people, fun times, and lifetime of great memories and new friends outweighs it by far!

You must be able to quickly rise above and keep your goals in sight. If you don’t love it, it could destroy you. I am lucky that my natural personality as it is today matches up well with con running, but when I was younger I don’t know if I could have done this. You must love this because the results are worth it, but your heart must carry you through it to get there.

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