Anime conventions and Comic Cons are a dime a dozen. Do we need one more? Of course, we do! Not everyone lives within forty-five minutes of a major convention, nor do they have the money to attend even if they did. This is where the small-town convention comes in, and anyone can get one going if they have the motivation and desire. What follows are seven essential tips for starting your convention no matter where you are.
- Have An Idea With A General Framework
So, you’ve decided to start a convention in your town. Great! Is it going to be an anime convention? Science fiction? Comic? Is everything nerdy?
Who’s your target demographic? Adults? Teens? Families?
When do you want to have it?
Shoot for a year out, so you have time to plan and raise any money needed to make it happen. Also, try not to conflict with nearby conventions or community events as these will steal your attendees.
Once you’ve answered these questions, develop a basic outline. You’ll use this to plan out all the final details, to estimate a budget, and it will be your go-to for promoting it to the public.
Don’t be afraid to do your research, either. Successful conventions are successful for a reason. Feel free to contact different conventions and ask for their advice on getting started.
- Recruit Volunteer Staff
Now that you are sure you want to start a convention, you’re going to need some help. You cannot run such a large-scale event by yourself, and it’s just not possible no matter your convention experience level.
Put the word out on specific volunteer sites or social media and create flyers to post locally. Let people know that you want to start a local convention and look for anyone interested in volunteering as staff. Keep everything clear, clean, and to the point. You can get more in-depth when you meet in person for the first time.
- Meet and Plan
Once you have your volunteer staff established, it’s essential to create a meeting schedule. A good rule of thumb, especially with a first-time convention, is to meet once every one to two weeks. Meetings don’t need to be very long, usually about an hour. Keep everything on track by developing a schedule that outlines precisely what you want to accomplish during the meeting.
There are three major things to discuss in those first few meetings: budget, ticket prices, and convention activities.
Budget is your most important topic. You have to outline your budget so that you know what you need to be successful. You need to consider the cost of the location, the cost of any supplies you’ll need, how you’ll make money, and how long it will take to do so.
Ticket prices are the second most important topic because it involves your potential attendees and your main revenue stream for next year’s convention. When you’re just starting, you can’t expect to have ticket prices at the same level as established conventions (i.e., you can’t charge people $100 per ticket, it won’t work). Start low at about $25-$30 per ticket. You can also offer early purchase prices, allowing attendees to save a little money versus buying tickets at the door.
This discussion will focus most of your planning after taking care of the other details. What are you going to do at your convention? You have days to fill with entertainment that will entice people to attend and keep them coming back in the future. This is an excellent opportunity to look at other conventions for ideas.
This is the big-budget killer and can be tough to secure. You have a few things working against you: you have no reputation in the community as far as being an excellent client to work with, and you are promoting a niche event that isn’t always widely accepted.
The key is to provide a professional presentation that is well prepared and thought out. Convention centers are perfect for events like this; however, many areas don’t have them, and you’ll have to resort to a hotel.
Fortunately for you, your convention is small, and you can save costs by securing only one large meeting room. The other benefit to using a hotel is that they have the audio/visual equipment and tables/chairs available for your event that you would otherwise have to rent.
You still have to pay for the A/V equipment, but it will all be integrated, and you’ll have onsite help to assist with any technical difficulties. The downside to a hotel (and the upside to convention centers) is the inability to have outside food available for your attendees. If you have to go for a hotel, shoot for one within walking distance of many cheap food sources so that your attendees don’t starve. You do not want to pay for hotel catering.
- Get the Word Out: Social Media and a Website
Once you feel confident in your convention plan, let the world know. You don’t have to give out all the details like date and location yet, since you likely won’t have your site officially secured right away (don’t make promises you’ll have to break or refund later).
Set up a Facebook page for your convenience. You can either do an actual “business” page or create a profile for your convention.
Post and Engage with your audience. Either way, you are getting right to where most people are and putting your event in front of them.
This is a great way to connect with local people, share updates in a mass forum, and develop a convention community.
There are a lot of free services for website hosting that you can start with. Just look around for the best fit for you. A website is crucial because it’s going to let you do three things: provide detailed information about the convention, provide direct contact for people to ask questions, and allow you to set up early ticket sales. Look at other convention websites for ideas on the layout for your site.
This is the perfect way to post quick updates regularly. It’s vital to continually connect with your potential attendees and keep them interested in your event.
A significant plus is that you can cross-post from Twitter to a Facebook profile; so, if you go that route for Facebook, your updates will post to your entire audience with one click.
Aside from planning the activities of your convention, you’re going to be spending a lot of time trying to raise money for it. This will take some creative thinking at times, and you’ll want to research some ideas and give yourself options.
As one of the main areas of brand marketing, connecting brands to events is a powerful tool for brand recognition.
As part of field marketing, marketers will be willing to invest to reach their audiences.
Early Registration is a great way to generate funds for the convention while also giving you an idea of the expected turnout. Offer it through your website and make sure to promote the savings for early Registration versus buying a ticket at the door. Even if the difference is only $5, people love to save money.
Check with your staff, family, and friends for unwanted items and host a yard sale. It’s best to do this during peak yard sale season to ensure good traffic at your sale. You won’t make a ton of money, but a few hundred dollars goes a long way towards your budget goal.
Car washes, flash mobs, and fair booths all generate community interest and funds. Again, this is where research will come in handy as you develop fun activities for everyone.
- Talk to a Tax Professional
This tip is vital if you want your convention to continue past the first year. Conventions generate a lot of revenue, even if they are small.
When you take in money, you’ve got to pay taxes. There are a variety of options for conventions: non-profit, 501-c3, business, hobby. These are complex tax options, so make sure to talk to someone who knows how they work and what will be best for you. The last thing you want is to get your convention going and then get slammed with significant tax fees.
This is not going to be easy.
There will be drama, complications, stress, and moments where you want to give up and quit. Just see it through to the end of the first year; after that, it’s up to you if you’re going to continue, and it’s okay if you decide not to.
These tips are just starting points to get you on track, and you are going to learn so much more along the way.
So, there you have it: a beginner’s guide to starting a convention. Good luck!