By Becky Moore
As some of you know, I’m not just a fair organiser, I’m also a designer-maker myself. I think that gives me an insight into what our stallholders need and expect from fairs. They’re looking for a well publicised, well organised, well attended platform from which to sell their products. It sounds like an easy formula, but it isn’t, as anyone who’s organised a public event can testify. It takes experience and planning, lists and calendars and more lists, and data bases, and systems, and schedules, and yes, more lists! And on the day it takes a good deal of people skills, quick thinking, problem solving and negotiation to pull it off and keep everyone happy.
I recently applied for a stall at a prestigious event. The application process was a little shaky, mistakes were made at their end that led to a fair few very vocal complaints. (Also I didn’t get in, but that’s the way these things go, you can’t always get what you want.) I wrote to the organiser accepting her apology and thanking her for her hard work. Mistakes happen. It reminded me just how big a job organising an event is. I love it, I really do, and I’m good at it. But sometimes the unforeseen happens. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes events organisers even seem like they’re just fragile human beings!
I’ve been doing this sort of thing since I was 16 – organising people and events. I wasn’t terribly good at it back then, but the intervening 4 decades have taught me a thing or two, and now I think I’m ok at it. Sometimes I worry too much and get in a flap, (my partner thinks I’m too nice to my stallholders, I think I’m good at customer relations!) but generally things run smoothly. Those (nearly) 40 years have taught me how to anticipate problems and head them off at the pass.
But so much of it relies on “me”. If you run your own micro-business, you’ll know just how much stuff you do that no-one, that’s NO-ONE with capitals – can do. It has to be you. It’s all in your head, it’s all about your mind, your soul. So what happens when you just can’t be there? What happens when – as I did earlier this month – you trip and fall and smash your face into a tarmac road and end up in A&E with a fractured nose and a bust up lip requiring stitches and you can hardly talk and look like you’ve been in a brawl? The day before an event? Yikes!
Well, what I did, was lie on a gurney in A&E and issue instructions on how to run an event, with bullet points and a schedule, to my son. Now, he’s helped me set up fairs before, and he’s stood on stalls with me many times, and as one of the chefs at the venue, he knows the place well, but he’s not an event organiser. He hasn’t got 38 years of experience of managing conferences and festivals and fairs and shepherding humans. But there I am, whimpering in pain, covered in blood, and he’s all I’ve got.
Turns out that all I’ve got is a pretty damn good substitution. Saturday morning comes and as I lie in bed munching on various forms of analgesic and drinking through a straw, I get messages from various stallholders telling me everything is set up properly and my son is doing a grand job. Such a grand job in fact that I’m wondering whether I can get away with staying in bed on the mornings of every fair! (Preferably without having to drink tea through a straw though).
Obviously he couldn’t have done it without the help of the venue staff, one of whom is also my partner (full disclosure here!), and also without my impeccable planning. It’s those 38 years. See, even though Design@HEART is a micro-business that relies on, and is, essentially ME, and even though I’m … erm … a control freak, the first rule of good events management is “organise yourself out of a job”. Never be indispensable.