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Festival week: get your business to a festival

You might be a seasoned small business specialising in catering or crafts, or perhaps you’re just starting out and need a little help as the summer season approaches – in either case, getting a trade stand at a festival can be intimidating. It’s also a significant business decision in terms of your time and money – so we’ve done our research to try to make the process a little more straightforward.

Find a festival

First things first – you need to find your festival. And while you may have dreams of selling your glamping accessories at Glasto, cost and competition are key considerations. You’ll have to apply for larger festivals and they’ll charge a hefty sum for traders wanting a stand – up to £15,000 in some cases. If you require water and power, that’ll be an additional fee. For small businesses with small budgets, it makes sense to start with small festivals.

And you’re in luck: brand new boutique events are popping up all over the UK every summer. Festivals often plan six to nine months in advance, if not a whole year, so now’s the time to start thinking about who you’d like to target for summer 2016: 2000 Trees perhaps, Y Not? Festival or Also Festival? You’ll find, on some sites, that getting a trading pitch is almost as difficult as getting a general entrance ticket, as many organisers have preferred catering partners that they’ll want to stick with. If that’s the case, just move on. There are tons of festivals popping up across the UK – and even if your first stand is at a tiny festival, it’s all good experience and will warm you up nicely for busier events.

Take to Twitter and follow the many niche UK festivals – updates on trade applications and stand prices are likely to be released on the social network direct from the festival organisers, which means you’ll be able to strike while the iron is hot.

Do the maths

So you’ve applied to a number of festivals, been offered a stand at a couple and now have to work out what you can afford. Look at the stand price and think about your overheads: stock or food to sell; the stand itself if you don’t already have one; power and water; staff if you need them; your time; and keeping yourself fed and watered while you’re there. Is your offering likely to make you enough money to cover your costs and leverage a profit?

As a general rule, food and drink stands at festivals do best as you have a captive audience that needs regular energy hits. Specialist, quirky stands do better than ‘jack of all trades’ or bog-standard festival grub – so vibrant, fragrant, authentic paella or curry will naturally do better than a sorry-looking burger. Think about whether or not what you’re offering is unique, as there’ll be plenty of competition and you need to be honest with yourself about the potential rewards you’ll reap.

Similarly, if you’re a crafty or fashion stand, think about the festival-goer’s mindset when they wander past your stall. Are they looking for a long-term investment piece? Probably not. Are they looking for novelty accessories or trinkets that don’t cost the earth but offer a fun distraction? That’s more likely. Again, there’ll be healthy competition so make sure the stock you bring is tailored to your likely clientele.

Prep your paperwork

Take to online forums to find out the sort of paperwork you’re going to need, as it will depend on the festival you’re heading to and the sort of small business you’re running. For food businesses, you’re likely to already be a limited company, registered as a food business with a decent food hygiene rating.

But you’ll also need public liability insurance, as well as gas or electricity certificates where relevant. You may also have to produce a risk assessment. It’s worth getting this sorted upfront so you have it all to hand when it comes to writing your applications – you can then just update the paperwork as and when is necessary for future events.

Sort your social

Getting your social channels up, running and interacting is vital. Starting using the relevant hashtags when general tickets go on sale – celebrate and commiserate with respectively excited or devastated fans, and let the lucky attendees know you’ll be there when the weekend rolls around. Find relevant festival twitter handles and follow, like and chat with them, as well as other traders heading there, and get the conversation flowing about what you’re most excited about come the big weekend. It’s also a great idea to post updates throughout the year leading up to the event on the sort of food you’re going to be serving – recipe trials of delicious food and drink with your logo attached will stick in people’s minds – or crafts, accessories or clothing you’re thinking of selling. Feedback from your followers will also prove useful when it comes to deciding what to take with you.

Set up your stall

Already got a van or sturdy stall? Great – you can skip this section. For those of you who haven’t done this before, remember one thing: UK weather can never, ever be relied on. Flimsy tables and garden gazebos aren’t going to survive a festival weekend of unpredictable weather and jolly punters. Get a four-sided marquee that’s made of strong, waterproof tarpaulin: you need to be sure that it won’t blow away, will protect you and your wares from the elements and can be locked overnight to save you having to haul all your products to your car in the small hours. Most catering pitches are standardised to this size, too, so you won’t have to pay a higher whack.

Organise your hours

Although we think of festivals as running over a long weekend, traders regularly have to be on site for six days. You’ll want to be there when the gates open in order to give yourself plenty of time to set up your stand exactly as you want it – and similarly you’ll need to time to pack and clean up at the end of the festival. You’ll be working late into the night, too, so be realistic about how much of the festival you’re really going to see if you want to feel human the next day.

Do up your display

Doing well at festivals is about capturing the attention and imagination of passers-by – so it’s worth putting plenty of love into your stand’s display. Have a bespoke awning made for your stall so people can recognise your logo, use bright colours, bunting and well-placed signs. If you’ve got a clothing or crafts stand, display your wares on mannequins or – even better – wear them yourself. If you’re specialising in food or drink, include a really clear chalkboard menu that lets people understand the quality of your ingredients, the full range of options and your prices from a distance.

Master your marketing

Make sure your social channels are visible so people can spread the word about your fantastic offering while you’re at the festival. Another great idea is to leave small flyers or high-quality business cards with your website, email address and social channels on there so people can contact you about your business for any future events. You’ll find the festival is a brilliant opportunity to network with customers and other traders – so make the most of your time there to spread the word about what you do and make some useful contacts.

For free, impartial business tech help and advice, why not book a session with an O2 Guru? They’re available online, in store and over the phone.


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