As I ramp up for a busy summer market season, I have had a ton of you have reach out with questions, or general comments about your interest in jumping into the market scene, and the fears that are holding you back. Well, I am here to offer you some semi-solicitied advice on how I, as the worlds most anxious INTP, not only survive markets, but have come to really enjoy them.
First and foremost I am going to address the anxiety aspect of this post. While I did go to college long enough to be a human doctor, I am neither a therapist nor a health care professional, so what follows is just my own experience with anxiety and how I cope - anxiety solutions are not one size fits all, it is about finding what helps you ride the wave. If you or someone you love is suffering from anxiety or depression, which often come in a nice little bundle, please know there are so many resources available to you, you do not need to suffer, and you are not alone!
When I say I am an "anxious introvert" I don't mean I get a little nervy before I do certain things, I mean Anxiety, yes with a capital A. I have suffered from both depression and generalized anxiety in varying degrees of severity since I was very young. While I hit the genetic lottery as far as depression, I believe a lot of my anxiety in general stems from my introversion and my struggles to fit into a greater social fabric. It can be intimidating to weave yourself into environments that favor the extrovert while your preference is to be alone, and quiet. I often feel very misunderstood, which in turn kicks my anxiety into overdrive. Now, contrary to popular belief, being introverted doesn't mean I am anti-social, I'm actually very social, and energetic, and quirky, and just weird as hell, it just takes me a really long time to warm up to people. If you want to learn more about introversion and our secret hidden super powers, please give Susan Cain a read, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, this book changed my life!
So back to the point, how does someone with severe anxiety and a personality that prefers quiet solitude spend an entire day setting up a booth, working in person sales, networking, smiling, small talking, and all the hustle and bustle that comes with big markets? Well, here I offer my top 5 tips to help you take the leap into the market scene.
Finding the right market is the first, and aguably the most important step in setting yourself up for a stress free market adventure. I have sold varying products over the years, from felt flowers and accessories to fine art, and being in the right market makes a world of a difference.
Step One: Know your customer. A little biz 101, you need to clearly identify your customer. A strategy in identifying your customer is to visualize your average customer, not your ideal dream customer! This should be the average of the people who have actually given you money and taken a piece of your work or product home with them - be realistic and honest with yourself.
Right now I am focusing on painting, so I primarily sell original paintings at mid-range price points. My customers are typically late-20's, female, upper-middle class homeowners with an interest in art and an ecclectic style.
My typical customer isn't going to be at a craft bazaare in a high school gym, it's just not going to happen. My customer base is at open markets on the weekends, drinking beer and soaking in the sun with gals and pals, knowing this allows me to narrow my scope on research for ideal craft markets.
My price points are going to be too high for the average craft fair or farmers market, with this in mind, I focus on geographic location, as well as the marketing for the events I participate in, fine arts fairs and maker markets, generally have higher priced, fine-craft goods, which is where my target cusotmers will be!
I have made the mistake of setting up at the wrong market, because I didn't do my research, and it was very frustrating. It was a waste of time and energy that could have been spent accomplishing a myriad of other things for my business.
In short, when you know your product and your customer, you will pretty much immediatly be able to eliminate and narrow your application process for markets, and doing so will reduce a lot of stress and anxiety.
I have a tendancy to catastrophize everything, no really, every, single, thing. When I don't have a clear attack plan or feel unsure about a situation, I sit and imagine the 300 different ways things can go wrong- from simple, 'what if I get a flat tire on the way?' to 'what if there is a tornado and only my booth is hit and everything is ruined and my life is over and I die?'
I wish I was exagerating about my ability to turn seemingly innocuous events into full on tragedies in my head, but it is just the way my brain works.
So, how do I get past this paralyzing fear I construct in my brain? Well I work out the scenarios by researching all the things.
If you find yourself feeling anxious or nervous about an aspect of a market, see if you can find the answer. I know that seems to obvious, but you asked, so I am telling! You would be surprised at the wealth of information available to you concerning craft markets, check pinterest. If I can't find the answer online, or if it is specific to the particular show, I track down someone who has vended there before, and I shoot them an email. If that doesn't work, I just email the show oragnizer. Don't be afraid to be annoying, they organize these types of events because they enjoy people and working with groups of makers, you are paying them money for their service which includes show prep and organization, you are allowed to ask questions!
Nervous about location? Drive by, if possible, if not, google earth it. Take a trip to the market location when the market isn't there, familiarize yourself with the layout before it's bustling with people and booths and dogs and kids and craziness. Find out where the bathrooms are, closest ATM machine, if there are power outlets streetside you can use in an emergency, how rough is the sidewalk/area where you will be carting things, how far away is parking from the general booth area, how long might it take backup to get to you if you need someone to come help out - think of your anxiety triggers and prepare yourself with a solution ahead of time. I have found the number one way to combat my day-of anxiety, is to be prepared with answers to my potential needs.
Funny story, while setting up at this one craft show, I was already feeling a little anxious and shakey, as I went to put my coffee down to start unloading my handtruck, I hulk smashed the cup and it EXPLODED, like a volcano, IN MY FACE. Did I mention that it was a full to the brim, large, iced coffee? How about that I was wearing a white shirt? Or even better, I was already running late, over an hour and a half from home, and didn't have anyone with me to help. Serioulsy, I had never, and to this day have never again, seen a coffee explode with such velocity as that one did on that fated day a few May's ago.
Another good story; first day of this new, very large outdoor market. The 'organizers' were the worst, ironically so UNorganized, gave me the wrong booth location, TWICE - so again, already a little stressed. I finally get to my assigned space, I bend over to start unloading my cart and BOOM, my jeans have a full and total blowout (see image header for proof!). My entire butt cheek is now exposed to the world, and I am NOT petite. While I did bring an extra shirt, because I learned my lesson once before, i.e. see catastrophe above, I did not in fact have extra pants, because honestly, who could have predicted this?
So what do these stories have to do with anything you wonder? Well, I have intimate experience with some pretty epic and potentially debilitating pre-show disasters, and I can confidently tell you, that no matter what goes wrong on the day of the market, you will recover.
In the coffee incident, I laughed it off, borrowed paper towels from the saint-angel in the booth next to me, sopped up the mess and did the damn thing soaked in coffee. I had not one, but three different people tell me how great my booth smelled that day, I left out that they were simply enjoying my liquid courage turned to stained shame, but grinned through the pain and said THANKS!
As for the great exploding pants of 2014, I thankfully had a swater with me that I tied around my waist, and while I was freezing most of the day, I wasn't flashing my naked butt to half the greater city of Reston, VA, so it gets to go down in the books as a stressful, but successful day.
There is a quote I love that says "The way you perceive and react to the world is a choice." When you are stressed, or worried, or something goes wrong, try to remember that you get to choose how you react, and you get to choose if it ruins your day. Things will go wrong, it is the nature of the beast of carting things to an outdoor location, pitching a tent and basically opening a tiny retail store in 2 hours, make a decision to have fun with it, and you will find yourself reacting a whole lot differently when it gets a little insane.
The excitement of your first show, mixed with wild late night pinteresting, can lead you to try to tackle bold and elaborate booth displays your first go 'round. Let me tell you, this is a recipe for disaster. Your first show is going to be confusing, you will be behind schedule, and you will be scrambling until the last second to get everything in place. Even then, you will still be setting up as the first customers arrive, this is reality, accept and move forward. So, I urge you to K.I.S.S., with your first adventures out into the market world.
Choose a small show, and choose a 'table only' if it is an option. If you only have the option for a 10x10 space, it is OK not to use the entire space. If you are doing these shows alone, I further urge you to pare down your display and product offering, make it easy on yourself to move all these items, so you aren't completely exhausted and wiped out from set up, because after that, you have an entire show to work through, and then break down!
This doesn't mean your display shouldn't follow the rules of dynamic display, varying levels, clear price tags and signs, branded and cohesive labeling - all these things should be done, but on a smaller scale. Let your display and booth grow in proportion to your confidence.
This was the number one question request over on IG! Which is interesting, because while I understand, as a fellow introvert, small talk is the death of our lifeblood - being an introvert is a huge advantage in this sort of sales environment.
I personally don't like being accosted while shopping, and even my super extroverted friends don't particularly enjoy a sales pitch and a shadow as they shop around. Add to this a crowded market, a small retail space, and the likelyhood that people are in a group; the stress about needing to talk to every person who comes near your booth is useless.
So here is how I roll:
I make eye contact with every person I possibly can who enters, or thinks about entering my retail space. I give a big smile and a good morning, or the appropriate time of day (sometimes, sometimes idk where I am in the universe and say something random and awkward- people usually don't notice because they aren't paying attention anyways), and then state that if they have any questions, to just let me know! And finally, the big reaveal, I leave them alone. If a cusomter wants more engagement, they will engage. If they are lingering around something, or seem to be conflicted about a choice, I will offer a suggestion, or ask for more information - i.e. buying for yourself or a gift?
Keep calm, and remember that short of telling this person that they are smelly and their mother is ugly, what you say or don't say isn't going to send people packing. If someone is interested in spending money on your product, you will be able to tell. Be kind and warm, but comfortable leaving them to browse!
This is a key moment to harness your introvert powers. In general, introverts tend to be more aware of body language and cues, so tap in to this skill. Being a good sales person isn't about talking the customers ear off about your process or materials, it's about listening to the customers concious or subconcious cues, and trying to help them see that your product is offering them a solution. Whether you are a potter that makes utility craft vessels, or a fine artist, if they have a need for an object or a gift, you will be able to offer them a solution.
Ok now for the recap, or TLDR:
I urge you to take the leap, start some research and go for it, what is the worst that could happen? You split your pants and make some extra cash?
Until next time, I'll be wearing my yoga pants and never bending over in public again!