There’s nothing harder than getting good attendance at events – unless you have a few factors in place. Or some good old fashioned luck!
So while I want to offer you some suggestions here, I also mostly want to exhort you not to get down on yourself or feel bad if you plan an event – no-cost or at a premium rate or something in between – and you don’t attract loads of attendees.
What I want you to know is: it doesn’t mean your product(s) or service(s) aren’t needed or wanted.
It probably means something entirely different – you didn’t have enough marketing, enough exposure, or you didn’t get the value proposition across. It could mean you’re giving away so much of your time, that people perceive time with you isn’t valuable. It could mean that people had other things to do that day!
Focusing a little more on strategy instead of just hoping for the best, is worth the effort!
Last Saturday I cohosted a kick-ass MENDING LAB with a friend of mine, at a local art collective. To prepare for this event I built a registration link and sent it to my email list, I designed and printed a poster, got word to local papers and community sites (I didn’t advertise on the radio – which likely would have been very effective – because it’s super right-wing and gross!), and posted to Facebook groups. I retained an awesome DJ (who sported the coverall I made her, naturally!) and my co-host and I hauled our awesome mending supplies down to the collective to get set up for a six hour event.
And – it was a great success! Time flew, the music was pumping, and it was a very high-energy, fantastic time! By the end of the day, my co-host Traci and I had finished eight free mending jobs for the community, shown off some skills and provided education – and taken home eight more pieces to finish in our studios! We had several lovely community members stop by – and one stinker! But all-in-all – it was a fantastic time and I can’t wait to do another one!
This kind of attendance and overall success is pretty impressive considering the area we were working in (a side street in a small town without much foot traffic) – and considering it was a one-off: our first MENDING LAB ever!
So here are some of my bits of advice I’d offer, if you want to get attendance for the events you so diligently plan (or to get “asses in seats”, as I like to say):
Remember, most people aren’t going to be that curious about your art! Usually at events people are browsing, shopping, or socializing. You may love your art but for many people you’re likely a footnote in their day! So that leads me to recommend that you:
Temper your expectations. What exactly are you hoping to achieve? Are you wanting to make sales? Get followers on Instagram? Snatch email addresses? Establish community presence? Provide a low-cost or no-cost service? Or do you just want to get out and about? Don’t roll all these objectives into a big mushy ball. Think carefully which objectives are most important to you, and make plans accordingly.
Do your marketing! I spent almost equal time marketing, as I did running the MENDING LAB. All of those poster designs and uploads and links in IG and calls to the paper. If you don’t market, you may still get attendance – but chances are a lot slimmer!
Hire (or pressgang) some help! If you have one “barker” style person handing out flyers or working the crowd, and another person (politely) asking people if they’d like to be on an email list? – that is ROCK solid assistance! That will free you up for any demonstrations you need to do, any clients you need to speak with – or any Chatty Charles types that try to monopolize your time (there are usually a few of those)!
Consider the long haul! While talking to one of my mentors in my Yoga Teacher Training program, I asked her about low-attendance yoga classes. She told me she commits to teaching for her own sake, and decides she’ll practice no matter what. So if she hosts her regular class and no one shows: she practices on her own. If one person shows, she puts her mat besides them and the two of them practice together. If two or more people show – she’s got a class!
Put another way: consider making a series of events, not just a one-off! For instance if I made my MENDING LAB a regular thing, say the first Saturday of the month, and I regularly enacted marketing for it – well then yes, this would become a bona-fide community event! If you are able to niche and focus (I’m terrible at both!) you can build yourself a nice little community pretty quick!
Find (or make) a partnership! One of my most strategic suggestions is that you think very hard if there is already a high-volume retailer, shop or project that you can partner with. I have loads and loads to say about collaborations – and last year I hosted a lot of Lives on that topic! – because you want to be careful who you approach, and how! But I will say that if there’s already an outing or an event or group that has the right kind of people attending, they may very well love to have you aboard and sharing your expertise, your services or your color!
Bring all your energy and love – regardless of outcome! I don’t care if you have ONE straggler who wanders in: treat them with the utmost gratitude and respect (as long as they’re not a creep)! Don’t say anything disparaging about the attendance or lack thereof – and give your best! And don’t forget to:
Enjoy yourself! Remember how I said that for a lot of events – like Farmer’s Markets or Holiday Bazaars, that kind of thing – people are kind of cruising and many of them are only kind of glancing at your work? Well there are always a few others who are highly interested and engaged. Sharing with these folks is wonderful – even if you these wonderful people don’t translate to a sale! I guarantee: community connection like that is never wasted. The world needs more of this!
Make sure to thank everyone who stops in. Let them know how much their patronage means to you.
Consider a follow-up campaign. If you register people for the event, it’s easy to send follow-up emails. If you collect emails on paper, get a Thank You campaign to them soon. If you’ve got a coupon or survey – hand it out!
Community events are sweet spots in my otherwise hard-hustling day. I treasure each opportunity!
Good luck, homies!