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Getting ready for festival season

February 6, 2017

The holidays are over. The high foot-traffic summer months are still on the horizon. But as a small business owner, you know that any downtime you get is time you can use to plan ahead. So why not use the relatively quieter spring to plan for festival season?

Festivals can happen at any time of year, but they tend to be concentrated in the warmer months, from May to October. In Milwaukee, for example, while there are festivals throughout the year, the vast majority take place from June to September, with 15 events in June alone, including the Milwaukee Highland Games, Pridefest, Polish Fest, Juneteenth Day, and the Lakefront Festival of Art. Businesses need to start planning early in order to get any needed permits or permissions, and to adequately publicize their involvement.

Why bother going to a festival? Attending a special event is a brand-building opportunity. It shows off a business’s connections to the community. A festival aimed at a specific demographic gives you a chance to build goodwill and loyalty with that segment of the population, and potentially expand your customer base. If some of your core products are seasonal, such as iced coffee, ice cream, or street food treats, going to a festival can help you double down on sales during your peak months. Particularly if you’re a one-location business, a public event can give you a chance to reach a new geographic area. You can even use it as a test-drive for expansion to a new location.

Use your lead time to make great choices so you are sure to have maximum impact from a special event. Here are 5 things to do before you set up a booth at a festival:

1. Choose the right event.

Some festivals celebrate a particular segment of the population, some draw a broad cross-section of the community. Some center around a run or other athletic activity, some are all about food, music, or art. Some are smaller, niche events, and some draw in enormous crowds. If you’ve never attended an event like this before, a smaller event might be a good place to start. Look into the different events offered in your area and think about which ones might draw the kind of crowds you’re looking for.

2. Evaluate the opportunity.

If this event has been running for at least a couple of years, talk to some business owners who’ve participated in the past. Did they meet their goals? Was it a good marketing opportunity? Did they learn any lessons they’re willing to share? If this is a new event, participating is more of a gamble. Talk to the event organizers to see if they can offer you anything, such as a discount on fees or a mention on promotional materials, to sweeten the deal.

3. Do your homework.

Contact the event organizers and figure out what kind of paperwork you need to fill out, where you can set up, and what restrictions there might be on your booth or display. You’ll also want to figure out how much you need to sell to break even in terms of staff time, materials, and fees. What are your goals in terms of marketing, generating new leads, and driving traffic to your store after the event? Setting specific goals ahead of time will help you determine whether the event was worth it after the fact.

Read more: Marketing & Promotions tips and tactics

4. Make a marketing plan.

Of course, you’ll want to publicize your involvement ahead of time so your loyal customers know where to find you at the festival. You can do this with in-store signs and on social media. You’ll also want to plan out how your booth will draw attention on the actual day—what will your signage look like? Can you have staff working the crowd? Can you do any kind of demonstration that will draw the eyes of passersby? Think about what customers will take away from your booth. Try to leave people with a business card, sticker, coupon, or something else that will remind them to visit you again later.

5. Take care of the technical details.

If you’re going to sell off-site, you’re going to want a foolproof system that won’t slow your staff down or discourage customers. If you have a Clover system, a Clover Mobile or a Clover Go are great options for event-based sales. You can accept payments anywhere—even if you’re offline—and all sales data will flow back into your central POS system, so you capture all that valuable customer information.

A festival can be a great opportunity to market your business to new customers and make some sales. But preparation is the key to getting the most out of any opportunity. If you’re thinking of setting up shop at a community event, make sure you’re prepared to unlock its full value.

[image: Downtown Street Fair by Fargo-Moorhead CVB on flickr]

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