Surtex 2018: Six Lessons from My 2nd Show

When I signed up for Surtex 2018, I was nervous about how my second show would measure up to my first experience in 2017:

  • Will it be worth it to come back?
  • Would I meet any new contacts or just the same people?
  • Will the time and money investment pay off again?

Each year you exhibit is a gamble and you never know whether it's going to work out. However, three months post-show, I can tell you that exhibiting for a second time at Surtex was absolutely the right decision for me.

Surtex 2018 Recap: Thoughts on my Second Show | Part of my Surtex Blog Series at shannonmcnab.com

It's been about a year since my last recap from Surtex 2017's show and nearly everything I wrote in that post is still relevant this year. However, there were a few things I learned in my sophomore show at Surtex that I thought would be helpful, especially for those of you on the fence about exhibiting (or thinking about coming back to exhibit after taking a year or two off).

Six Lessons Learned from my 2nd Show

In some ways, my second year at Surtex felt much like it did the first time: setting up the booth was still exhausting, several of the same exhibitors and buyers from 2017 were there, and Surtex was still using that awful orange carpet (and it still cast a weird glow on all my photos).

But there were lots of changes I noticed too: it was cooler because we were on the 1st floor of the Javits instead of the 3rd, the Design District was split up and flanked both ends of the show, and instead of an after show mixer, they handed out beer and wine during the last two hours on Sunday and Monday. Sipping red wine at 4pm in my booth was quite the treat!

However, most of that stuff is pretty frivolous when looking at the bigger picture. Exhibiting at Surtex is first and foremost about getting your work in front of art directors and buyers. It's about gaining momentum, licensing your work, and building a business you can eventually sustain yourself on.

With that in mind, here are the six lessons I learned from exhibiting at this year's show:
 

#1: Protect Your Time Pre-Show

Unsurprisingly, it takes a LOT of time to prep for a show – especially in the final 3 months leading up to it. That's not something I gave much thought to when prepping for 2017's show, as I was new to surface design and didn't have any major clients at the same time.

Instead, I poured all my time into creating as much portfolio work as I possibly could and designing everything needed for exhibiting at the show. Never at any point did I get overly concerned about not being able to finish everything on my to-do list.

Fast forward to February 2018. I was busy prepping for the show again, however, I also had client projects (several with late March or April deadlines) and I ended up feeling very frazzled when May finally came along.

Don't get me wrong, having client projects is great AND it's a crucial part of my business to continually receive commissions throughout the year.

My big mistake was poor scheduling and setting unrealistic expectations on what I could feasibly accomplish at that time of year.

Surtex 2018 | Photo courtesy of @surtexshow

Surtex 2018 | Photo courtesy of @surtexshow

So for Surtex 2019, you can bet I'm going to do things differently. Especially since the show's date has been moved up 3 months, it's now even more important that I protect my time and make sure I'm not overextending myself in the months leading up to the show.
 

#2: Booth Location is Important

It makes sense that the closer your booth is to the front of the show, the more foot traffic you'll get. However, it's not a theory I could test until I had done the show for a second time.

In 2017, I was about 15 booths back from the front of the show. I remember at the time feeling like the traffic was slow (mostly due to discussions with friends that had booths near the front – they saw many companies I never did).

Compare that with 2018. The booth I got was much closer (about 6 booths from the front) and I noticed a huge difference, especially on the first day. By the end of the show, I had filled out over 50 intake forms (compared to just 37 last year).

So my advice is to pick a booth as close to the front as you can.

I should note here that Surtex does give priority to exhibitors based on the amount of years exhibited at the show (which seems fair) – so if it's your first time, don't be alarmed if you're placed near the back of the show.

With that in mind, I also want to reiterate that even with the slow traffic, 2017's show was still a success for me. So your booth location isn't the only thing that matters.

My 2018 Surtex 10x10 booth | shannonmcnab.com

#3: Each Year is Unique

One thing I was genuinely concerned about when returning for my second year was the attendee traffic. I don't just mean the volume of people I'd see, but also whether they'd be new companies or mostly those I'd already met or worked with from last year's show.

However, my fears were misplaced because at least 80% of those who stopped at my booth were new contacts. More interestingly, many of those people also attended last year's show and were surprised to hear that I had exhibited in 2017.

The lesson here is that you can never predict who will stop by your booth and that the ever changing landscape of attendee traffic is actually a GOOD thing.

Going into my third year, I realize that I will see different companies at the 2019 show and although not all of them will pan out, I know I will likely gain many valuable new contacts.
 

#4: The Show is Still Nerve-wracking

You'd think that after your first show, you'd get over the fear of talking about your work and the first day jitters wouldn't be as intense. That's what I thought anyway. Boy, was I wrong! 

I was just as anxious this time around. Putting yourself out there is both mentally and emotionally exhausting. There are moments of pure joy when a buyer swoons over your designs, but there's also times when you want to hide under your counter after a really uncomfortable interaction.

However, knowing that each show will give you butterflies and you can expect both negative and positive experiences is a bit freeing.

And of course the good news here is that you're likely to have many more positive experiences than negatives during the course of a show.

Chatting with potential clients in my booth | Photo courtesy of @surtexshow

Chatting with potential clients in my booth | Photo courtesy of @surtexshow

#5: The Surface Design Community is Everything

The easiest way to sum up this lesson is to quote the caption from the last photo I posted of Surtex 2018 on Instagram:

"More than ever, I feel like I’ve found my tribe: people who are warm, supportive, and exceptionally talented. To every single person I met and talked to, I’m grateful to have shared in your design journey, even if only for a brief moment."

My booth buddy, Lizzie Clark, and I in my 2018 Surtex booth | shannonmcnab.com

This year's show definitely convinced me that I'm in the right industry. Not only have I had the pleasure to work with some great new clients that I saw at Surtex, I've met some of the most kind-hearted and brilliant people on this planet through surface design. I am talking, of course, about my fellow designers.

Of all the interactions I had at Surtex this year, nearly ALL of my favorites were with fellow designers, most especially with Lizzie, my accountability partner (and booth buddy).

It's so rewarding to be part of an industry filled with friendly, talented people. And it's something I never want to lose sight of!

#6: Follow Up is Still the Key to Success

My main focus in previous blogposts has been about the prep work that's involved with exhibiting, but I haven't really shared much about post-show work. And that's a something I want to change because I think it's actually the MOST important part!

During this year's show, I'm happy to say I sold/licensed 2 designs. However, since Surtex I've worked on commissions from 4 new companies and licensed 6 designs. To put that into another perspective, the pieces sold during the show accounts for about 6.5% of my income for the year, yet my deals post-show account for nearly 40% (with the possibility that the percentage could be even higher come Dec 31st).

This illustrates just how important it is to follow up with all those juicy leads from the show as most of the action happens in the months (and even years) following it.

So even though you may be exhausted after coming home after exhibiting (rightfully so), don't shrug off that post-show work. Instead, set aside a few weeks and strategically work through all your contacts. You won't regret it!


There's so much more I could say about exhibiting at Surtex, but I'm going to stop before I get too long winded (maybe it's already too late for that).

As always, I hope you find my insights helpful for your own creative journey. I wish there was more information available to designers about exhibiting and I aim to do what I can to change that.

If you have any questions about the show or any topics you'd like me to discuss, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.


Surtex Announces New Dates for 2019

I'm sure by now, you've heard the news: Surtex 2019 is moving to February.

There were lots of mixed feelings about the change among exhibitors at this year's show. Frankly, it was the most talked about topic on the show floor. Many designers were already convinced they wouldn't return, while others were a bit more optimistic.

Surtex 2019: Will Moving the Show to February Be Good or Bad for Us? | shannonmcnab.com

No matter where you stand on the issue, I think it's important to take some time and think about how this change could affect us and our industry. That's why I put together a little pros and cons list of Surtex 2019 moving to February.

I complied this list based on my conversations with exhibitors and buyers at both Surtex and Blueprint this year and tried my best to remain neutral when discussing each point, even though I've already made my decision  (read to the end if you'd like to hear what I think).

Why Moving Surtex to February is GOOD

  • Cheaper Flights & Hotels: Every penny adds up when you're exhibiting at a trade show. Late May is the beginning of the summer travel season in NY and because of that, it's more expensive to fly to and stay in Manhattan. February, on the other hand, is considered "off-season", so it's possible to score better prices and save a little bit of money.
  • An Earlier Show Could Mean More Sales: There doesn't seem to be a consensus on this, but I've heard from several people (both designers and buyers), that May is simply too late in the year for many companies to look for art. By pushing the show back 3 months, it gives us an opportunity to connect with companies who's buying season is earlier in the year. 
  • Access to NY Now Companies: Instead of exhibiting with the ICFF in May, Surtex will now be at the Javits during the NY Now show. At the January 2018 NY NOW show, there were 2,300+ exhibitors from multiple markets like home furnishings, gifts, and children's products. Conversely, ICFF's May 2018 show only featured 900+ exhibitors within a single market: home furnishings. The breadth of NY Now means we have the potential of reaching a much wider range of companies.
     

Why Moving Surtex to February is BAD

  • Winter Weather in NYC: The average high during February in New York City is just 40 degrees – yikes!  It's also the time of year when bad winter storms strike, causing travel delays and canceled flights. If the right storm comes along at the wrong time, we may be stranded in Manhattan afterwards or worse, not even make it to the show.
  • Too Many Shows at the Same Time: There's an abundance of shows early in the year. Printsource takes place mid-January, as does the Gift Show in Atlanta, Creativation in Phoenix, and Heimtexil in Germany. There's also NYFW happening the week after Surtex. With all the shows happening around the same time, both exhibitors and buyers may have to choose one show over another because of time and budget restrictions.
  • Less Time to Prepare for Next Year: At this moment, there's exactly 7 months and 2 days until Surtex 2019. To put that into perspective, at this same time last year we had 10.5 months. Think of how much new work you could accomplish with an extra 3.5 months? Less time to prepare will mean having less new work to show.

Of course the decision to exhibit at Surtex will ALWAYS be a personal one – each designer must decide what's best for them.

But I hope that by discussing the potential problems and benefits of Surtex moving to February, it will at least make your decision a bit easier, especially if you're considering exhibiting next year.

Surtex 2018 | photo courtesy of @surtexshow

Surtex 2018 | photo courtesy of @surtexshow

My Personal Thoughts on the Matter

As I mentioned at the beginning, I've already made my decision – I plan on returning to Surtex in 2019. And while the thought that there's only seven months from now to prepare is freaking me out a bit.... ok, a LOT, I still believe I can have a successful show.

What's most important to me is to keep the overall view of my business in mind when making these major decisions. The fact is, I made great new contacts at this year's show and am confident that I'll meet my income goal by the end of 2018 (my goal this year is almost double my income from 2017).

I truly believe that if you put in the work and focus your energy where it needs to be (namely on consistently connecting with buyers and designing new work for my portfolio), it won't matter that the dates of Surtex have moved.

It's all in how you approach it. You can either look at it as an opportunity or a disadvantage. For me, I'd prefer to view it as an opportunity!


I'd love to hear what you think! What are your thoughts about Surtex moving to February? Love it? Hate it? Indifferent? Tell me in the comments below.


P.S. I hope to write up my thoughts on this year's show, much like I did for 2017's show, a little later this summer. If you have any specific questions about exhibiting, please feel free to post them in the comments below or email me directly.


New Year, New Goals: 3 Easy Tips to Help You Achieve Them

The beginning of a new year can be wonderfully motivating; you have a well of ideas and energy and can set exciting new goals. However, did you know that only 20% are still working towards them come February and by the end of the year it's only 8%?

The reason goals are so hard to stick to is that most people don't develop a plan to get themselves from Point A (where they are) to Point B (accomplishing their goal).

3 Tips for Setting Creative Biz Goals You'll Actually Achieve + FREE 15-page Worksheet | shannonmcnab.com

I was once part of the 92% that didn't stick to my goals, but last year was a wake up call. My 2017 goal was to exhibit at Surtex and successfully land enough work to exceed the costs of the trade show by 150%. And I'm proud to say that I had hit my goal by August.

But it wasn't just a fluke that I achieved my goal. It was because I was so driven to make it happen AND I developed a year-long plan to help keep me on track. So today, I'm sharing 3 helpful tips  to help you achieve (and exceed) your goal!

1. Set a Meaningful Goal

This may sound obvious, but in order to be successful, your goal needs to be something that excites you to your very core. Whether it's an income goal you wished you'd reach someday or landing one of your dream clients, pick something that will keep you motivated all year long.

There will be times during the year where you'll struggle, but if you have a goal you're eager to accomplish, you can tap into that excitement and help it carry you through.

Surtex 2017 at the Javits Center | shannonmcnab.com

In my case, Surtex was something I have dreamt about since I first learned what it was in graduate school a decade ago. So when I transitioned to surface design in the summer of 2016, I knew that Surtex was where I wanted to be. Of course my path to exhibiting wasn't easy and there were several moments of self doubt or frustration, but one thing that helped me keep going was the thought of walking into the Javits as an exhibitor for the very first time.
 

2. Do a Brain Dump

In order to create a solid plan for your goal, you need to contemplate everything you need to do to get there. Take out a piece of paper (you'll probably need several) and write down every task you can think of to help you work toward your goal, no matter how small.

My 2017 Goal Brain Dump: Exhibiting at Surtex | shannonmcnab.com

If that feels too daunting, start by breaking your large goal into smaller goals or categories and work through them one-by-one. By focusing on smaller aspects of your large goal, you're less likely to get overwhelmed.

When I did a brain dump for my 2017 goal of exhibiting at Surtex, I broke down tasks into the different aspects of preparation for the show, like exhibiting logistics, marketing, building my portfolio, etc.

Then I worked on each category one-by-one until I had 3 full pages of tasks I needed to complete.
 

Don't get too hung up on whether you've thought of absolutely everything. You can always come back to your list and add to it. 
 

3. Stay Accountable

For your goal action plan to work, you need to continually keep it in mind. One of the best ways to do this is to find someone like your partner, close friend, or family member. Tell them what your goal is and have them check in with you every month to keep you on track. 

You could also get a accountability buddy; it’s especially helpful if they are in the same industry and/or are working towards a similar goal. Or you could announce your goal on Instagram, to your email list, or even in the comments of this post (hint, hint!). Declaring your goal publicly can help make your goal seem more real, plus you’re likely get some people to cheer you on.

Me & my accountability partner, Lizzie Clark at Surtex 2017 | shannonmcnab.com

I was so fortunate enough to have an accountability partner for Surtex. My friend and fellow surface designer, Lizzie Clark, was also exhibiting for the first time in 2017, so it was the perfect solution for us to pair up. We Skyped every other week and emailed in-between; it kept our to-do list in the front of our minds and little by little, we checked off everything together. She's been an incredibly supportive partner-in-crime! 
 

Want to Achieve Your Goals This Year?

Goal Getter Worksheet by Shannon McNab | shannonmcnab.com

The business life of a designer can be a struggle, but developing a road map to get to your goals can make the journey a lot easier. So if you liked my tips in this post, but are struggling to figure out how to reach your goals or expand your business, my Goal Getter worksheet can help! 

I'll walk you through the entire process step-by-step from setting the RIGHT goal through developing a plan to stay ahead all year long.


Surtex 2017 Recap Part 3: The Cost & Value of Exhibiting at a Trade Show

Today's post is the last of my three-part Surtex recap series and it's probably the most important one of all! Because while exhibiting at Surtex was a huge step for me, it doesn't matter much unless all the time and money I spent towards it helps propel my design career forward.

Surtex 2017 Recap Part Three: The Cost & Value of Exhibiting at a Trade Show | shannonmcnab.com

That's why this post is all about the monetary costs of exhibiting at Surtex. Cost is such an important factor in deciding whether or not to participate in a trade show as it can literally make or break your business finances for the year, so I wanted to make sure to include it in my recap blog series.
 

My Costs to Exhibit at Surtex 2017

Trade show costs will always vary and what I've posted here are my own real costs associated with preparing for Surtex 2017. And while it's a bit nerve wracking posting something this personal, I feel it's important to be completely transparent with all the expenses related to exhibiting at a trade show. Since I started this series as a way to help others in their own journey, I felt it would be disingenuous to talk about costs without providing actual numbers.

On the right is a screenshot of a cost analysis spreadsheet I created to track my 2017 Surtex expenses, broken up into four categories. And as an analytics nut, I also calculated the cost percentage for each category (to see where my money was going).


Now before you shout "There is NO way I could afford to spend that much!" I want you to know that it is possible to exhibit at Surtex for significantly less than $9K.


The Cost to Exhibit at Surtex 2017 | shannonmcnab.com

I made several thoughtful decisions that contributed to the overall costs you see above, however, many factors can heavily impact the overall cost (and make it higher OR lower). Here's just three expenses that deeply affected my overall costs:

Booth Size

There were 3 standard booth sizes available for Surtex 2017:

  • 5x10: $2,700
  • 8x10: $4,120
  • 10x10: $4,900

The 5x10 booth is part of the Design District which is only available to first time exhibitors. And while I did initially consider the 5x10 booth as a newbie, after seeing the 2016 booth configuration and the lack of privacy those exhibitors got, I decided on the 8x10 instead.

It was absolutely the right decision for me, however, I know a few designers who exhibited in the Design District this year that are not only on their way to securing deals with buyers, but one has already received representation from a well known agency. So you could potentially save almost $1,500 from exhibiting in a 5x10 booth or even split an 8x10 booth like the girls at the Pattern Social and save about $2K.

My 8x10 Booth Mockup for Surtex 2017 | shannonmcnab.com

Choice of Accommodations

You may have noticed that my hotel cost seems incredibly high. But there were two major reasons for this:

  1. My husband joined me for Surtex, however, since accommodations are a necessity when traveling for work, the entire hotel bill during the trade show qualifies as a business expense (and can be deducted from my taxes).
  2. I'm a Best Western rewards member and although I could have stayed at a cheaper hotel, I decided to reserve a room at the closest Best Western to the Javits, which just happens to be one of their Premier hotels. So while it was more expensive than other hotels, I also benefited by racking up lots of reward points.

Next year I will probably do things a bit differently and stay at a hotel that's much closer to the Javits. Also, a friend and fellow designer will likely be accompanying me which means we'll split the cost of the room 50/50. In the end, that will save me around $900.

Marketing Materials

All of my marketing costs associated with Surtex 2017 add up to less than 10% of my overall expenses, however, that's still nearly $800! If I had to do it all over again, I'd make some changes that would have saved me about $300:

  • Business Cards: I mentioned this in the last post, but I panicked and bought 550 cards yet I needed WAY less than that! I wouldn't bother purchasing more than 200-300. 
  • Press Kit Cards: I felt like these were a waste of time and money. Instead, I'd rather just print a few more promotional postcards to have at my booth.
  • Mailing Charges: I spent $70 just for 2-day shipping to get my initial set of banners to my friend's house (read the entire horror story here). Next time I know not to waste money with quick shipping and instead ship my stuff much earlier.
  • Giveaways & Product Mockups: While I didn't go overboard with either, I still feel like I didn't need nearly as much as I had. Next year I plan on getting less product mockups made and only having 100 buttons to give away.

While my costs for 2017 were nearly $9K, I plan to spend less for 2018. But I want you to know IT IS possible to exhibit at Surtex for around $5K (if you are in the Design District or share a booth with someone).

Of course I realize that $5K is still A LOT of money and not everyone will have the business resources to immediately pony up that kind of cash. However, if exhibiting at a trade show is something you're seriously considering, I'd encourage you to spend a year or two saving up for it (like Nicole Tamarin did for her first time at Surtex in 2012).
 

My ROI: The Value of Exhibiting at Surtex

It's been exactly 3 months since Surtex and I purposely waited to discuss the show's cost and value last so I had a much time as possible to track how well I did as a result from exhibiting. So the real question is what did I gain from the $8,712.34 spent on exhibiting at Surtex?

In the 3 months since Surtex, I've already secured contracts and commissions with more than 5 different companies and the income received will easily surpass my costs associated with Surtex 2017.

So yes, the financial gamble I took when I decided to exhibit has DEFINITELY paid off!

Stuck on You Collection | ©2017, Shannon McNab

However, I feel that the value of exhibiting at a trade show extends beyond just my generated trade show income. Here are just a few other reasons I feel Surtex was worth the cost I paid:

  • Company Contacts: Hunting down contact info is a tedious process. And even if you find it and cold call or email them, there's no guarantee you'll hear back or that you've contacted the right person. But at Surtex, you are literally in front of hundreds of companies in the span of 3 days AND you can actually get their correct contact info.
    Also, in the fast paced, internet age we live in, there's something to be said for having in-person conversations. I feel these connections make all those who choose to exhibit, much stronger candidates to companies looking for designs.
  • Great Market Research: Not only do you get to see what trends are dominating other designers' booths, you also get to hear what themes companies are looking for. My favorite question to ask buyers was "What are you looking for?" People who are interested in your work will be really candid and specific with what they want, so I came home with a list of motifs I'm hoping to add to my portfolio over the next year.
    For example, several companies asked for cacti and so the first new portfolio piece I designed after I got home was a cactus themed pattern (see above). I'm happy to report that it's already been licensed to a Brazilian fabric company.
  • Building Community Ties: 90% of the time, I work at home. Being constantly by myself can get lonely and that's why I am so thankful for all the connections I made with fellow designers at Surtex. Since we're all dealing with the same challenges, exhibiting at a show brings you together in a unique way. I was happily surprised to bond with several designers and look forward to seeing them at the show next year!

I realize that was a lot of information to take in, so if you made it to the end... bravo!!! I hope you've enjoyed my post-Surtex blog series and that it's given you some insight into how to make a trade show experience successful.

I'd like to continue blogging about trade shows and touch on things I haven't had a chance to yet, but I think I'll take a few months break from it for now so I can once again focus on building up my portfolio for next year's show (yup, I'm already signed up for 2018)!

If there's anything you'd like me to discuss in future posts, please feel free to post them in the comments below.


Surtex 2017 Recap Part 2: Was it Successful?

NOTE: This post contains affiliate links. I never promote anything I don’t love and use myself. And although I may earn a small commission for sending business their way, there’s no cost to you!

I want to start off by saying that I hope you're finding this blog series helpful! I created it because when I went hunting for information last summer, there were lots of details and aspects of the show I simply couldn't find. So for me, if I can help make someone else's journey to their first trade show a wee bit easier, then that makes me happy!

Surtex 2017 Recap Part Two: How Successful Was it + Complete Vendor List & the Best Advice I Received | shannonmcnab.com

Well, it's been a few weeks since my last Surtex recap post and I thought it was about time I get to the "good stuff" (ie. talking about how exhibiting actually went for me). If you missed my last post, I discussed my pre-Surtex booth setup and shared lots of things I wish I had known ahead of time about setup.

And because I cover A LOT in this post, here's a breakdown of each section, with links so you can jump straight to what you want to read about:

Exhibiting at the Show: Discussing how I did with my three pre-Surtex goals
The Best (& Worst) Advice I Received: Nuggets of wisdom from some very smart people
Complete Vendor List: Services I Used for Everything Surtex related

My Surtex 2017 Booth: Counter Closeup | shannonmcnab.com

Exhibiting at the Show

Deciding to show at Surtex when I am new to the surface design industry felt like a huge (and expensive) gamble, but I also knew it was likely the best option to get my art in front of many companies in a short amount of time. So I'm not surprised that the most common question I've received since showing at Surtex has been "Was it worth it??" And my answer is: HECK YEAH!!

If you've read my May pre-Surtex post, you might remember how I gave myself 3 goals for exhibiting at Surtex. As I mentioned in that post, having these pre-determined goals was an easy way to be able to measure my success after the show. Here's how I did:

Goal #1: Attempt to strike up a conversation with at least 50% of the people who walk past my booth.

About 70% of the people who walked by were either fellow exhibitors, buyers looking for art in a completely different style, or people going to the adjacent furniture show. The other 30% were companies/buyers who were actually interested. Of those that seemed interested, I made it a point to strike up a conversation with nearly all of them. And those that weren't? I attempted to at least give a warm smile and hello if they looked into the booth. Goal accomplished: YES!

Goal #2: Come home with at least 20 solid leads of people/companies I'd like to work with. 

After tallying all the intake forms I came home with, I ended up with a total of 37 leads. Of those, I'd consider 24 of them solid leads (and 9 that I'd be over the moon excited to work with). Will all these great leads pan out? No, but I'm ok with that. Goal accomplished: YES!

Goal #3: Sell/license 3 portfolio pieces during the show.

By far my most difficult goal to accomplish, especially as a newbie, but I'm happy to say that I mostly completed this goal. What do I mean by "mostly"? Well, a company purchased licenses for two of my illustrations at the show, but wanted another to complement it, so they commissioned me for a third piece. So while I didn't technically sell 3 licenses at the show, I felt confident I would achieve it within a few weeks. Goal accomplished: Let's say YES!

It was a great feeling at the end of the show to know that I had accomplished all of my goals, most especially because I had made enough to pay for part of my booth fee!

My Surtex 2017 Booth: Counter Closeup | shannonmcnab.com

The Best (& Worst) Advice I Received

I have a notebook full of notes for Surtex from my entire trade show journey, but some advice I received was better than others. Here are my absolute favorite words of wisdom, plus two pieces of advice I wish I hadn't followed:

Best: Register Copyrights for Your Work Prior to the Show

Who Said It: Emily Danchuk ESQ during a Surtex Copyright/IP Webinar

In order to protect your work as much as possible, you need to file copyright applications in a timely manner. According to copyright.gov, "timely" is considered within 3 months of publication of/offer to sell your work. So I registered all my designs in early May so I am protected in the event that someone copies the work that I presented at Surtex.

Worst: Have 20-25 Personalized Press Kits Available in Press Room

I mentioned this a bit in my May Surtex post, but felt it deserved to be mentioned again here. I printed 50 of my press rack cards; we left 25 in the press room and had 25 at my booth. My husband checked Tuesday morning (the last day of the show) to see how many were left in the press room and only ONE had been taken

Next year, I think I would completely forego creating press kit cards and instead just focus on a promotional postcard or small booklet that showcases my work. I'd probably still put 5 or so in the press room (just in case), but would keep most of them in my booth to hand out to the buyers.

Best: Use an Ergonomic Mat for Your Booth

Who Said It: Sandy Dumais, Illustrator

There was a big discussion in the Advice for Artists FB group about what types of shoes were best for the long hours of standing at the show. Many had great suggestions, but my favorite recommendation was from Sandy; she uses an anti-fatigue mat in her booth to stand on.

As someone who suffers from arthritis in my ankles and hips, I knew orthopedic shoes wouldn't be enough for me so I scoured Amazon for the best, compact mat I could find (see direct link below in vendor list). It fit perfectly flat inside my checked baggage and was so helpful at making my legs and feet less achy at the end of the day. 

Best: Sell Designs in Small Groupings (main print + 1 to 3 coordinates)

Who Said It: Jennifer Nelson, Art Agent

This is something Jennifer mentioned often in her Prep Talks and I'm so glad I heeded her advice. Coming from a scrapbooking design background, I'm used to creating large collections usually consisting of 6-12 patterns. However, such large groupings can be tough to sell simply because you have to sell them at a higher price (to make your time investment to create them worth it).

Most buyers I talked to had fairly specific budgets for purchasing work, so having smaller collections made it easier to license and sell my work. Plus, by showcasing one main illustration or hero pattern with a few coordinates makes the customer feel like they are still getting a lot for the price. At least that was my experience at the show.

Worst: Have 500 Business Cards with You (minimum)

I initially purchased 250 business cards from Moo, but heard that you need to have at least 500 cards so you don't run out. So I panicked and purchased 300 extra cards from Zazzle as a precaution. Now I don't know if it's because of where I was on the show floor (I was near the back) or if it's because attendance was down for buyers, but only about 120 were picked up at my booth.

That means I came home with 400+ leftovers and never needed to purchase extras from Zazzle. Especially when flying from CA where space in my luggage was precious, I have to say I was a bit annoyed I wasted so much of it on business cards. Next time, I'll probably just buy 100 new ones and then supplement with my extra Moo cards from this year (which will save me money too).

Best: Categorize Your Intake Forms During the Show

Who Said It: Anne Bollman of Anne Was Here, Surface Designer

This was hands down, the most useful piece of advice I received, so thank you Anne! Her tip was to categorize each intake form you receive into 3 groups:

  1. Companies you absolutely want to work with.

  2. Companies that you could see yourself working with.

  3. Companies you may or may not want to work with.

Over the course of the three days, you talk to so many people and all the details and excitement will start blending together. So after the end of each interaction with a new buyer at my booth, I would mark which group they fit into on the top of the intake form. I had a file folder for each grouping so everything stayed organized behind the counter.

My Surtex 2017 Booth: Samples Shelf | shannonmcnab.com

Complete Vendor List

Something that I felt was really important to share was who/what I used to get everything ready for the show. While a few things get discussed a lot (like banner printers and business cards), other things can be tough finding information about (like where to print carbon copies). So here's a complete list of all the great vendors I worked with and all the things I needed: 

Booth Design & Setup:

Portfolio & Marketing Materials:

  • Portfolio Sheet Printouts: Colorprint (my favorite local printer)

  • Business Cards, Press Kit Cards, & Promotional Mailers: Moo.com

Giveaway Items:

Product Samples:

Also included on my product shelf were samples from scrapbook products I designed from Becky Higgins LLC & Echo Park Paper Co.

Miscellaneous:


I hope you enjoyed my second Surtex 2017 recap blogpost. The third and final post will be all about the costs and value of exhibiting at Surtex. Since cost seems to be the #1 factor in deciding whether or not to participate in a trade show, I feel it's a really important topic to address.

Finally, if you missed any of my previous Surtex blogposts, here's links to the entire series:

September 2016: My Journey to Surtex Begins
February 2017: 100 Days to Go
March 2017: 2 Months and Counting
April 2017: Only 1 Month Left
May 2017: Ready or Not, Here I Come!
June 2017: Booth Setup as a Newbie