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Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

I have my first art/craft festival coming up and I’m still unclear about something. I don’t have an official, registered business yet. I am a photographer and I plan to open a studio in a year or two, and my plan was to make my business official at that point. Right now I use the name “Kristen Keller Photography”, which I plan to have as the name of the business, but it is not an actual business yet. My questions are:

Can I participate in art festivals without having an official, registered business? (I know I have to collect sales tax either way)

If so, if it okay to have “Kristen Keller Photography” on my booth, even though it’s not official?

Lastly, I’ve read that business cards are extremely important to have at your booth. Can I get one without having a business, for example having just my name and contact information? Or can I have Kristen Keller Photography written on them as well, even though it’s not a legal company yet?

Thank you so much for any insight you can share.

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You need to have a tax resale number from your state. Some shows (most?) require that and have proof with you at the show. You cannot collect tax without it legally. It's easy to make your company name official for that. Go to your city hall. It doesn't cost much. You will then have to file sales and use tax several times a year. I am licensed in three states and have to file quarterly even when I didn't do a show in that state, but for one, I only file once a year, even if there are no shows or one show the whole year. You can certainly put your name on a business card without being official, but you need to look professional. Yes, the cards are important. Lots of visitors pick them up and a few actually follow up to ask questions or check my website or ask about commissions. Good luck! 

It would be in your best interest to register with your county/state as a business entity. It would only take a few minutes online. You can register as a 'sole proprietor' and when you do your taxes, have it fall under your personal tax forms as a side business. But you'll want one sooner than later for insurance and sales tax purposes. Using your own name would be easiest and no one can prevent you from using your name even if it's already taken.

As far as getting business cards or business name 'enforcement'... no one will be following up with that. Sometimes venues will want to make sure your booth is insured or want your tax id# which is why you should register a business name. If you decide to change the name or end it, it's easy to go back online and cancel. Plus with a 'business' you can write off your expenses which will definitely help when you are buying booth and inventory supplies as you ramp up.

Others may disagree but here's what I'd do:

* Go to your county clerk's office (at least that's what you do in Michigan) and apply for a business license. It's quick and easy. You'll probably want to do this anyway before your first show so you can be clear on expenses/taxes/etc. 

* You don't need an official studio to have a biz. I have a fulltime job and do my art (photography and encaustic) out of my basement (no portraits - just landscape stuff). You really just need the license, sometimes known as a DBA - Doing Business As. Did I mention it's quick and easy? (Your mileage may vary!)

* The only thing I think I've had art fair ask for in terms of licenses - and they are inconsistent here - is your state sales tax license. And here is where I think you'll really need your biz license. So apply for one of those. This one, in my experience, is more difficult so ask around for artists in your state if you're unsure. It took me years to figure out how to get one in Ohio - and i still messed it up. My Michigan sales tax license was easy.

* Keep your show and art expenses separate. So while you're already out of the house, go by and open a separate bank account with a little cash now that your have your biz license. Get an accompanying credit card (got all mine through Huntington) so you can put your applications and expenses in one place. Don't rely on your debit card (notoriously hacker friendly).

* It's ok to put Kristen Keller Photography on your tent or in your booth, even if that's not your official biz name.

* It's ok to skip the biz cards now if you're not sure what name you want. I've done shows for about five years - as a photographer - and the cards have only moderately helped. A few times, yes, they led to a couple of larger sales later. Personally, I'd have some. They're cheap and - as a photographer - you can customize them pretty easily at Moo.com. I don't put my biz name on the card - I put my name and contact info (and an image). 

* My last two pieces of advice: keep track of your expenses and plan for about 3-4x in terms of work involved. Photography - especially with frames and mats - can get expensive. Shows are expensive. Travel is expensive. You have to keep the finances separate so you can show the tax folks at the end of the year how little you really made. 

Hope that helps. First couple of years of art fairs are always a mixture of "I'm really doing this" and "Am I really doing this?" Be patient. Ask your neighbors for tips - I've been blown away by the friendliness of my neighbor artists. And keep your expenses separate. Did I mention that?

All good advice here.

I only add that my business name is my name plus - Fine Art Stoneware.  I have never registered anything but it could have changed by now? I've been in business many years and when I started I was told that as long as you are using your full name as part of the business name, you're good, as that IS your name.

Good luck to you!

In Ohio, you can register for a vendor license under your own name, you don’t need a business name. This allows you to collect sales tax and participate in shows. But registering for a business name isn’t expensive or difficult.

I sooo wish I had known this ... 

All good advice here. I will add my $0.02:

1. Make sure you bank will cash a check made out to your business name - or just tell customers to make it out to you personally. Or, you likely will want to set up an account with Square or similar  so that you can swipe credit cards at a show (I mean run one through so you can accept credit card payment, not "swipe" as in "steal")

2. Good luck at your show! Go sell something. Your first few shows are a test - like pasta, you are throwing it against the wall to see if it will stick.

3. You are Constantly! tuning your booth, display, stock and sales pitch. Every show builds on the previous one. Your material, your choice of artistic subjects, your choice of artistic style of presentation, your sales pitch, closing of sales, labeling, lighting (or no lighting), all of it will be constantly improved and tweaked.

My first show, didn't have a booth, so built one out of a bunch of old doors from an architectural salvage place, screwed them together, painted them blue, used a bunch of old surgical lights out of my studio. Total cost, about $110. My goal: a sanity check, to see if anyone was going to look at, and/or buy, my work, so I only needed to get the one show out of the booth. If it didn't work out, already had the dumpster lined up to get rid of the whole thing (except for the lights, they were going back to my studio). If it did work out, well, I'd worry about that later.

During setup, volunteers came over and asked if I needed help getting things to my booth. Sure! I said, gave them a load of stuff to haul over, went back for the next load, got to the booth, and 3 volunteers were standing around, grim faced, mortified. I looked at them, one woman burst out crying, I thought, wow, my work must be really bad, where is that dumpster. Then they said "we dropped your booth", and sadly, guiltily displayed some damage to one corner of a door. I started to laugh, took the door, smashed the opposite corner of the door against the ground, so the amount of damage was symmetrical, they looked at me like I was really crazy. Then I explained, hey, I paid $40 for all of these doors, don't worry about it. We all had a good laugh. The woman walked away, not quite convinced though, just because that in and of itself did not prove I was crazy, did not mean that I wasn;t crazy. Maybe she was right. Hence the purpose of the show, prove or disprove the point

Showtime, opened at 5:00, until 5:15 no one, no one at all was there. 5:20 one guy walked through, turns out it was another exhibitor on the way to the bathroom. 5:22, a lonely couple came through, stopped to look at my work. At 5:23 there was a huge commotion at one end of the show tent, as a sea of people literally came flooding in the door. Some of them crowd into my booth. As I stood there, trying to figure out what to make out of all this, a guy comes up to me, no Hello, points at my most expensive piece, and says "That one". All I could think of to say, was, "What about it?" He looks at me and says "I'll take it". 3 days and 7 sales later, I happily tore down my booth, damaging all 4 corners of the already banged up door; I had thrown my work against the collective wall of an art crowd, and it stuck.

So good luck at your first show! Have some fun with it. You will sell a few things, you will say some brilliant things, you will say a few questionable things, don't worry about it, have a great time with it, not only will it help you relax and turn you into a better salesperson, you will enjoy it alot more. And when they ask about a piece, remember to say something like "will that be on a card or cash?"

If you can find it, maybe on Amazon, get this book by Maria Arango, Art Festival Guide, The Artist's Guide to Selling in Art Festivals. Some of her personal stories are funny and it is a good down-to-earth guide for new art fair artists. A complete rundown on what to do and maybe what not to do! Off all the do-it-yourself art books by far the most useful I've found for art fair artists.

As far as business cards are concerned .

They seem nice first hand , but basically IMO -people who take them are collectors of memories

seldom do we get calls from them , thou its nice to have a internet connection.

Easy solution is to make them on your computer - you can buy card stock and your printer should be able to handle that. ( or use standard printer paper in mixed colors )

When we open ( if we can open -for in person shows ) we will print out colorful slips

that are put with every sale -that will list our facebook account , etsy store and email

thinking also about a discount coupon - using this method -which can change from show to show seems cost effective -plus mixing colors makes them attractive ( plus its a whole lot cheaper )

also toying with other ideas - happy to help !

Probably for a first show, you could use, or not use, cards. As a photographer, Kristy probably has some good images, so getting them made will be easy. Bit which image? Kind of like jurying for a show - which 3 works represent your work?

Cards do get picked up by people collecting memories. Also, people buy artwork to collect a memory. 

A good way to end a sales conversation, when they are not ready to buy - 'take a card'. I use 'gotprint.com', although there are other card printing services. 1,000 cards is about $60 or $80, low enough that I don't worry about it. After all, after spending huge effort on artwork, then going to time and expense of doing a show, I don't care about another $60. 

To quote Randy, a ceramacist who does incredible cracked glazework, "I give cards to everybody who comes by. Everyone. Even little kids". He told me this at one of my early shows - didn't quite believe him

To the numbers: My last show, a year ago! a customer came up to me, said they had one of my cards on their refrigerator for 3 years, they are finally able to afford one of my pieces, which they bought ($800). Two years go, I also had two after show sales to people who had to think about it, check with spouses, etc before they were ready to purchase. That resulted in 2 sales totaling about $1,800. 

So, while it hard to say exactly how much of the marketing expense/success is due to a card, versus a booth, my smiling personality (LOL) or other factors, in 5 years I gave out perhaps 7,000 cards, total cost of $350, maybe $450, and sold $2,600 that I can directly attribute only to the cards. Sure, many of them get torn up, forgotten about, used as you say to 'collect' memories, and that is ok.

Last time I set up at a show near Randy, I told him, "Hey, you were right about the cards, now I give them out to everybody"

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