15 MORE things to think about when starting your own event

Here is another installment in the sporadic series of posts I will make to help other people start their own events and pursue their dreams. How do I decide what to post about? I answer your emails and questions that you send to me. When the answer is good enough, I re-purpose it as a blog post for everyone.

For a full list of every tutorial I have done, click over to the tutorials section of my personal blog.

A recent question I got was – what are some things one should think about when starting a new con. Here goes:

1. What don’t you know? Find people who know those things and recruit them. In my case it was hotel negotiations. My first recruit was our Hotel Liaison.

2. Define what events you might want to have at your con as best as you can, then decide what key positions you need. By “key positions” I mean managerial. These people need to have professional experience in these fields and be able to recruit people they trust for their staff. I also made sure my staff knew other staff so I could get people I previously didn’t have access to.

For our first year we had:

– Hotel Liaison
– Treasurer (Since we had no money he functioned as a Financial Advisor in the meantime.)
– Operations Manager
– Dept. Head of Security
– Dept Head of Guest Relations
– Dept Head of Registration

Harknell and I both did Web, Finance (we were funding it), Programming, Artist’s Alley, assigning guests to panels, approving guests, Marketing, sponsorship, staff training, and everything else. We had to do so much because it was a new thing that we had to shape.

I think there were only about 20 staff including runners for our first year. Most did work at con. We did almost all pre-con work. I did all the marketing and sponsorship.

3. Know your limits. We didn’t have things like Art Show and Cosplay in our first 2 years because we knew we didn’t have enough staff to handle it yet. Don’t do stuff you can’t handle. Remember, this year’s con is your best advertising for next year’s con. Do what you have RIGHT and people will notice.

4. Understand that you might do most of the work the first year (and subsequent years…). Your staff is still getting used to their jobs and likely won’t be familiar with what you expect from them yet.

5. Make sure you get legal advice and start the proper type of business to handle your event. Don’t sign a contract that will bankrupt you in the worst case scenario. If for some reason Intervention got sued (god forbid), I’d still retain the rights to my comics and t-shirt shop. It’s 2 separate businesses. Also, make sure you put an “act of god” clause in there. If a storm happens or a war breaks out or a volcano erupts out flying smurfs, you shouldn’t have to pay for your event that never happened.

6. Plan for the worst case scenario. Don’t agree to pay anything you can’t afford to lose. A lot of things could happen that might affect your attendance. This is not a “get rich quick” scheme. Most events operate in the red for the first 5 years.

7. Get event insurance for fraks sake. It’s only a few hundred bucks and can save your butt.

8. Make sure you have a grasp of Project Management techniques or know someone who does. (I am a digital media PM during the day. It helped.)

9. Decide how your staff should be structured. Some cons use a board of directors. I don’t, because I wanted to retain full control over my vision. More pressure is put on me, but it was the right choice for us.

10. Interview well. Realize that your friends may be nice, but not every friend is a good fit for every job. I either interviewed or observed quietly while my staff was working at other events to vet each person. How people respond to stress and their problem solving capabilities dictated where I assigned them or if I accepted them at all. I also took note of things like who had industry contacts, police experience, legal experience, customer service experience…you get the idea. Assign them to stuff they enjoy.

11. Try to plan some redundancy. If you can, every key position should have an understudy. Stuff happens.

12. Realize that it takes a couple of years before people will start to really notice you unless you have the budget of a large corporation. Most people are skeptical of a new, unproven event. It sucks. but most people will choose what their friends have already told them about over something new. I’m also guilty of this. It’s human.

13. Realize that I make this look easier than it is. Prepare for the worst and (in my case) best year of your life.

14. Actively reach out to bloggers, press, and guests. If they can’t attend, politely ask if they can post about you. If they can attend, keep in contact with them to make sure they keep telling their fans to come. Many guests don’t realize that cons aren’t magically going to fill with people unless they help you help them.

15. Don’t pay a lot of money for a big name just because. Research how well they communicate with their fans. Fame doesn’t necessarily mean anyone will come to an event for them. I’ve seen people with small fan bases attract more people than the famous guy. (In 2005, I was the newcomer who did just that.) I find that the ability of a guest to attract people is directly related to how much they seem to care and converse with their fans.

OK that’s some stuff… :) New events are a totally different animal than established ones…there is so much…

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