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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Learning to Say No

My instinct is to try absolutely everything in an effort to market or sell my products then eliminate what doesn't work.  While not an entirely stupid strategy, it has resulted in a lot of wasted time.  After a year and a half, I'm beginning to get a sense for what doesn't work for me.  Even so, I have hard time turning down an invitation to participate in a festival or show - it's flattering, right? - that I know in my gut won't yield much.

Today is a case in point.  At the weekly farmer's market, I was invited to participate in a fall festival at a local private school.  "Your sandwich bags would be perfect!" the organizer said.  "I love your sign; it's got to be there."  And she said the magic word, "free," as in, no cost to participate.  Part of me thought, yes, my sandwich bags would make sense at a school. (

Then the experienced side of me weighed in.  How well organized is this event, given that they're accepting vendors the day before?  How much money do young parents have to spend on reusable sandwich bags?  If they're attending to support their school, why would they buy from me when the school has asked for neither an entry fee nor a cut of the sales?  Is this really how I want to spend 5 hours on a beautiful fall Saturday?  In the best case scenario, could it possibly be worth my while?

Taking a hard, objective look forced me to admit that this was a time when it was in my best interest to say no.  Unfortunately, I'd already committed to my market partner to participate with her.  Fortunately, our contact person never responded to my email, so I was off the hook.  But I realized that this analysis needs to take place prior to making the decision to participate in an event, not as an afterthought.  I think the salient questions to ask are the following:

  1. Is it a cause, event, or organization that I personally care about and support?  If so, the rest of the questions may not be relevant or may carry less weight. 
  2. Does it appear to be well-organized or am I being contacted within 1-2 weeks of the event?  Is there a single point of contact and does s/he respond quickly to queries?
  3. Who are the attendees, and how many are there likely to be?  Is it likely to be a "spendy" group or just there for the fun or to show support?
  4. Given the appropriate product mix for the event, could I hope to make an amount of money that would compensate me for my timethere?  If I'm limited to small items $7 or less, as in the case of the school, that would be difficult.  And elementary school parents are not likely to buy laptop cases ( in great quantities at a fall festival.
  5. Similarly, can I reasonably expect to cover the entry fee, if there is one?  (The answer to this one certainly would have knocked the Women's Conference, below, out of the running.)  If there's no entry fee, why isn't there?
There are probably other relevant questions but these would paint a pretty accurate picture of whether an event was worth attending or not.  And while trying everything is not such a bad idea for a beginning business, it certainly shouldn't be the going-forward strategy.  Time to put the last 18 months' experience to work for me, and learning to say no, when circumstances call for it, as an important part of that.

1 comment:

  1. Your point 2 in particular resonates with me, Janet. I am swamped this fall with requests to participate in events that are due to be held in a few weeks, if not a few days. A clear sign of desperation on the part of the organizers!