20 Tips to Totally Smash Your First Market or Fair as a Small Business

If you're a small business thinking of venturing into the world of craft fairs or markets, it can all seem totally intimidating and daunting, can't it?

From the initial expense, to pondering what you might need, to worrying if you'll even make any money - it can be a totally bonkers thing to comprehend even trying, let alone throwing yourself into. 

But after 3 years of doing regular craft fairs, markets and pop-ups, I've learnt a whole load of tips and tricks that will help you smash it - and take one hell of a lot of pressure off those shoulders, so you can enjoy it. And trust me - they've been a total game changer for my business, and I just know they will be for yours too!

 

20 Tips to Smash Your First Craft Fair or Market as a Small Business by Until Dawn Shop

2-4 Weeks Before (or a little more)

Yep, if you want to totally smash trading at a market, prep starts wayyyy before you've even arrived.

Being super prepared will not only make the day easier, but once this bit is sorted it'll make upcoming markets and fairs way easier too! 

1. Get Booked and Paid Up

Most markets will require you to apply, and pay for your space, before they can guarantee a spot for you.

This usually involves a quick online form, or maybe even a quick DM to whoever runs the market.

Fill in any forms, and make any payments, before you do anything else - once this is out of the way, the fun can begin.

When doing this, keep a note of what they need, their bank details and keep any invoices for your records.

2. Buy Insurance!

Any market worth it's salt will require you to have insurance for your stall.

It's worth shopping around for this, as different providers will not only have different public liability terms, but it'll also cover different things.

I personally insure with Simply Business as I was able to insure both of my businesses at the same time, but have a look around and get some quotes!

Man on the Moon Earrings by Until Dawn Shop

3. Stock Up - and I mean RIGHT UP.

Ok, so here's a hard truth:

Your first market, you probably won't make any money.

Sure, you'll make some sales, but you'll likely have to spend out a lot before you even make a penny - from insurance, pitch fees, display props and stands, it all costs a tonne. 

And if you're like me - you might not really sell, well, much at all on your first market. I sold about 3 things at my first craft fair.

However, if you're keen to do this regularly, it can be way more profitable than online sales and WAY more fun, so it's worth preparing for this by stocking right up. Make/source/buy as much stock as you can.

Not only will it look way better to have a stall choc-a-block with your gorgeous products, but it'll mean you aren't totally wiped out afterwards AND you'll have plenty already there for your next event. It's truly a no brainer.

4. Build and Prepare a Kick-Ass Display

When you're shopping, what kind of window displays draw you in? What kind of interiors make you want to go in and peruse a new store?

I'm going to go right out and say it: Pretty ones.

Until Dawn Shop Stand Set Up at Styled Sunday by SunDay Nails and Charlotte Lodey Aligned

 

You need your stall to look aesthetically pleasing and on brand, and the best way to do this is to theme your display with what you're selling - a plain folding table and some boxes full of stuff don't only look naff, but they look cheap, and you want your brand to look aspirational and luxurious...

Selling industrial style lighting? Get some dope industrial style furniture to display it on - wire racking, old lockers, stands made of upcycled pallet wood and scaffold boards.

Selling beach inspired jewellery or sea glass products? Use white washed plywood to make shelves and decorate your stall with seashells, driftwood and beach-combed rope.

Selling antique brooches and vintage jewellery? Head to your local thrift shops and get some cut glass/crystal bowls, pretty lace and crochet doilies and vintage table cloths!

You want to tempt people into your stall who align with your brand values, your aesthetic, and who are your target audience, so plan a display whilst thinking of them - but also allow that, it's your first go, and it might not be quite right. Plan it with a growth mindset and allow yourself room to improve.

I constantly have a Pinterest board where I pin anything I think could work for my display, and anything that inspired me - mine is HERE on my Personal Pinterest, but I urge you to take a look and then start your own!

I'll do another post soon where I go into my market display in a little more detail, so stay tuned for that!

5. Order a Card Reader

These days, people just don't carry cash - but almost everyone has either a contactless card or Apple Pay in their pockets, so open yourself up to more sales and get a card reader.

There's loads of different ones out there, but I swear by my SumUp machine. It's tiny, the battery lasts for ages, it's cheap and cheerful and they don't take much off in the way of commission. 

Once you've got one, it's worth testing it, charging it, and making sure it's all ready to go in plenty of time before your market!

 

6. Create a Social Sharing Post

Once you've booked, paid for, and confirmed your market - tell people about it!

Most event promoters do everything they can to make their event a success, but it can make a huge difference if all the traders do their bit and share with their audience too!

I use Canva for most of my graphics, and always take a little time to let people know about any events I'm going to be at a little while before they happen.

This not only means your friends and loyal customers can come find you, but it means yours post can be shared by them and the event organisers and get you some extra follow too!

Social Sharing Images Promo Markets Craft Fairs Events Until Dawn Shop

 

2-3 Days Before

Once all of those bits above have been done, you can kind of chill. Making stands and preparing stock can take a while, but the big bits are sorted... 

However, there's still a few bits that I totally recommend getting done before the day arrives. It's all about preparation and these are some of my essential prep tips...

7. Pack an "Essentials Kit"

I have a plastic box I take to all my markets - and in all honest, the inside usually looks like a total mess. It's a bit like the "Man Drawer" of my business, where everything gets thrown.

Until Dawn Shop Essentials Kit Image

But, this little mess of a box actually contains some super essential, top secret bits that I swear by at markets and events, and luckily for you I'm happy to share these secrets with you...

  • Brand Essentials - business cards are a must, and I always take some of my Thank You cards too that I pop in my orders so I can put one in each bag when people buy from me!
  • S Hooks - I use these to hang signs, to display bags and more. These are so handy for so many things and you can buy big packs of them online or at Ikea super cheap!
  • Bulldog clips and clamps - you never know what you're going to need to clip - from table cloths and stands to stock to hang up, these are super useful.
  • String - I've used this to tie things down in a breeze, to hang things up or fix stands. Honestly, such a handy thing to have!
  • Blu-Tac - Same as above, it can be used to stop things blowing over, sticking up price signs or attaching labels.
  • Hand Sanitiser - I hope I don't need to explain this one haha!
  • Paper Tape - You never know when you're going to need to wrap things up, tape them together or use it for impromptu signs and labels.
  • Safety Pins - I use these for fastening swing tags to jackets, but they're also super handy for wardrobe malfunctions!
  • Posca Pens and Kraft Card - I always forget some kind of price tag or sign, so having these means I can whip up a pretty, on brand sign in a jiffy. 
  • Allan Key - My stands are made of scaffolding which fastens together with allan keys and screws so I try to have a spare just in case!
Until Dawn Market Essentials Kit Contents

 

 

8. Get Change - if you're taking cash...

Ok, so not everyone is on the cash train these days - but the same as in number 5, being flexible with payment options can make or break a sale.

We've all gone to get cash and then at the last minute decided actually we don't need those pink sparkly cowboy boots after all...right?

Get yourself a money belt, or a lockable cash tin, and find yourself some change. I don't tend to have any prices in denominations under £1, so I get some pound coins and some fivers, and ask if people have the right change wherever possible, but your chainge tin will depend on what you sell and your prices 

9. Practice Setting Up - and pack accordingly

Always have a run through before you go and take photos. Not only will it give you way more stress-free time to faff with your display and get things just right, it'll also give you a better idea of what to do on the day and how long it's going to take you.

Even if you're the calmest cucumber in the world, getting everything set up and ready for a certain time can be a bit of a panic - and nothing ever runs smooth on market days. Being prepared beforehand will not only make the morning smoother, but it'll help you prepare for any mishaps before they happen.

Once you've practiced, pack down according to what order you need to set things up, and put them in your car or van in this order too.

Need to put your stands up first? Pack them in the car last so you can get to them.

Earrings have to go on last but necklaces first? Pack necklaces above earrings so you can get to them quicker and easier.

It's another stage which takes an extra 15 minutes of prep, but it'll save you a LOT of hassle once you're there!

 

My helpers Calvin and Heidi after setting up at the Eco Park!

10. Price EVERYTHING

Here's something I've learnt about humans from doing 3 years of markets: if there's no price, they won't ask, and they won't buy.

Perhaps it's because they assume it'll be too expensive or maybe most people really are just too shy or anxious to speak out, perhaps they think they'll then be obligated to buy whatever it is...

Regardless, save this drama for ya mama and price every single thing. Put big prices on the top of stands, put prices on the labels of every item, PRICE. IT. ALL.

It might not be aesthetically pleasing and it might ruin the vibe, but I can promise you, you'll convert a whole load more browsers into paying customers if they can see the price up front - secret prices drive customers off.

Make some pretty handwritten signs with them on, and buy some packs of sticky labels. It takes an age but it'll work, I promise.

 

11. Plan your Transport/Route/Parking

Make sure you know how long it takes to get there, where you're going, and where you're going to park. I have done so many events where there wasn't trader parking and ended up driving around for ages trying to find somewhere to put my car, when I could have been using that time to prettily merchandise my stall and get a coffee.

I always make a morning plan by working backwards from the time the market opens, like this...

  • Market Opens to Public: 10am.
  • Minus 15 minutes leeway - 9.45am
  • Minus time to assemble stands and merchandise - 8.15am
  • Minus time to unload and then park - 7.45
  • Minus time to drive there (with 10 minutes traffic allowance) - 7am

See how just getting there, setting up and getting sorted can take HOURS?

This is why I always plan like this, with time to spare - I have been pulling stock out of bags as people arrive at markets before and not only do you miss those early bird sales, but you also look really unprofessional and might not be invited back for the next event.

If one person isn't ready, it can make the whole market look unappealing to customers and ward off the other traders potential custom too!

12. Plan an Outfit

This sounds totally naff and girly, but hear me out!

If it's summer and your market is outside, you need to have at least 2-3 light layers - early morning starts have a proper chill about them but you need to be prepared for the midday sun too.

If it's winter, prepare for standing still in the freezing cold - even if it's inside! I once did a Christmas Market in a barn where I knew they had a log burner, so I just wore a cute girly boho dress, tights and boots.

Well, they didn't light the log burner and the doors were open for people to come in and out of. I was FROZEN. I swear it took like 2 days to warm right up and even then I'm not sure I was quite thawed out.

You really do need to be prepared for sun, rain, cold, wind, whatever it is - AND the practical side. I've worn tight dresses before and they've been a nightmare when I'm crouching down to undo bolts and reaching up to hand signs.

If you know what you're wearing, life will be a whole lot more chilled on the day, I promise.

13. Check and Prepare for ANY Weather

If your market is inside, you don't need to panic about this too much - perhaps just change how you transport your stock if you need to keep it super dry.

But if you're trading outside, you NEED to be prepared. I've had stands blow over in the wind, stock ruined from deluges of torrential rainfall, and glue on signage melt in the sun.

I swear now by having spares of everything, a roll of binbags, and some large clear plastic sheets to throw over rails and stands if the heavens do open.

Outdoor markets in the sunshine feels like being on holiday!

 

On the day!

Finally, the big day is here!

You probably slept like crap and stayed up til midnight packing the car and then triple checking you have everything every 20 minutes until you fell asleep in a stress and anxiety induced paralysis, right?

Don't be daft! After following this list you're super prepared, but here's some final tips to make the day as fabulous as possible...

14. Post on your socials - a LOT if you can!

Not only are these my best performing Instagram posts, but posts about events drum up more sales because people will spontaneously come and visit the market and buy from you. 

Whether it's a quick stand snap, a fun selfie, or some stories of you and your fellow traders having fun, you followers will love seeing a bit of behind the scenes - from what food vendor you got your lunch from, to what special offers you have at the event, to who's trading next to you and their beautiful offerings - and don't forget to tag them!

In this age, social media fuels people's daily decisions and inspires their actions - be part of their week and post about what you're doing. I promise it'll land you in great stead with fellow traders, market organisers AND the algorithms (you know, the powers that be).

15. Eat and Drink PLENTY

I've ended up feeling awful after markets from simply not fuelling my body properly - turns out black coffee alone is not enough to fuel a grown woman, who knew?

But in all seriousness, you will get dehydrated, you will get hungry, and it is a LOT of work, so go prepared with a bottle of water and some snacks (maybe a couple of bottles if it's a hot day), and also some money to go get yourself a coffee or some hot food halfway through the day.

This is also a great time to say - offer your fellow trader-neighbours a round of coffees when you go, and they'll likely repay the favour. At markets, your neighbours are your family, not your competition, so be generous, kind and helpful - after all, someone will need to watch your stand while you go to pee!

Setting up at Porthleven Harbour Market
I love being able to set up like I'm in my own shop!

16. Jot down your sales

I don't do this so much these days, but when I started I gained so much valuable knowledge simply from writing down all my sale - what they were, what they cost, what time it was. 

From this you can start to see patterns emerging. Perhaps it's that your online bestsellers haven't done so well, and you need to rethink their display or packaging, or perhaps it's that one of those items you weren't even going to bother bringing actually work really well visually within your display. 

17. Go in Curious

If you go in thinking you're going to sell out and it's going to be a roaring success, you might well be disappointed.

Sure, there's a great chance this will happen - and I really hope it does - but there's an even bigger chance that it won't.  Which is why curiosity is your biggest asset at your first market.

See the whole thing as an experiment, and you'll bring away so much valuable, real life knowledge that is worth it's weight in gold. Learn what kind of customers your product attracts - it might not be your target audience! See how people react to your pricing, get feedback from customers and fellow traders.

Seeing this as an experiment not only lessons the disappointment when you don't take hundreds of pounds, but it teaches you how to make better money next time and continue growing as a market trader and small retail business.

18. Take Notes & Photos

After noticing all the things that have piqued your curiosity, take some notes!

You might forget a lot of those little things once your excitement and adrenaline has worn off and the post-market tireds set in, so between sales, jot down loads of notes of what you want to remember. Perhaps it's anecdotes from chatting to customers, lessons from new experiences, or just other traders' snippets of advice!

Write it all down, and go back over it a few days later. Same with photos - snap a tonne of pics on your phone so you can go back through them, notice how you can see some items better than others, or that bit of the display blocked people from entering your stand - or even marvel at how bloody great it looks, you smashed it!

19. Make New Friends!

I have met some of my favourite people from doing events. Not only are the organisers and traders super friendly, but you instantly have something in common with them that I bet you don't have anyone else to talk to about!

The Vintage Tent Trader Team at Great Estate Festival Scorrier House with Duchy Fairs

 

I know I bore the pants off friends and family when I witter on about vintage, markets and business woes, but I know my market pals not only love to chat about these things, but also have amazing and insightful advice and anecdotes. 

It won't just be your fellow traders that become your new friends - it'll be your customers! It always blows me away when people come to my stand and say "I'm ___ and I've been following you on Instagram for ages!" - you INSTANTLY know exactly who they are, what they've ordered, and you just know this amazing customer is going to be your new best friend. 

20. SMILE!

You made it, you did it, you're here and it's all happening - don't forget to smile. Smile at every passer by, chat with a big cheesy grin on your face and enjoy it. 

Customers are way way more likely to come over and look at your stall if you look happy and like you're enjoying it. Don't let Resting Bitch Face get in the way of a sale. 

Sure, you'll have aching cheeks by the end of the day, but you'll also be taking away

  • Loads of new ideas
  • Some new best mates
  • Incredible memories
  • Hopefully, some sales or leads
  • Loads of new customers!
Me, Hannah, Behind my Until Dawn Shop stall at Sunshine Cafe Yoga Penryn

 

And finally, a little bonus piece of advice from me to you:

If you only go in to these events hoping for enough money to pay for your stand fee, you'll always leave with more than you bargained for.

You'll gain experience, you'll network with new contacts, and you'll meet new people.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and enjoy an amazing first market with your amazing little business!

 

20 Tips to Totally Smash Your First Market or Fair as a Small Business
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1 comment

Just read your tips, I’ve never been keen to do a market but might just change my mind after reading your advise. Thanks for putting it out there!

Jane Reed

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