Andi Best Freelance Designer

Fair and Square

  • Published 07-01-2023
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Fair and Square
If my livelihood relied solely on the income generated by my web shop's artwork and gift sales I'd need to encourage unprecedented rapid hair growth, purely so I could tear it all out, cook it and eat it for even a trace of sustenance.
Properly promoting and developing my web shop occurs at glacial speed owing to my primary design and coding occupation holding my complete attention. Though for a largely neglected, stagnating side-hustle my web shop scratches an itch - or rather, gingerly applies gentle pressure upon a burning desire.
In lieu of notable profit my products are pretty good at yielding likes and shares, hearts and comments on social media, and whilst those won't help settle my energy bills they do warm my soul; people at least like the idea of my art, if not the idea of parting with funds to own it.
Several weeks ago I was preparing a promotional post for social media, photographing a spread of illustrated prints, greeting cards and notebooks on the dining table. The session was going smoothly until my in-laws, wife and children suddenly came flocking over, excitedly rifling through all the items with wide eyes as though they'd never seen them before, inspecting them in turn, gathering them in their arms, ooing and aahing. They were positively ravenous.
After the initial confusion I realised what was happening...
The table!
The table was making everybody giddy.
My website serves my art in a limited, prescribed sort of way but a table gives it an impressive physical grounding; a sprawling freedom and abundance - like a real shop.
I decided then and there; I needed to be where the tables were. I needed to go shopkeeper LARPing.
Fair and Square
On the final weekend of November a Christmas craft fair and Grotto took place at a local barn (converted, for humans), and amongst the seasoned stall holders was I, a blithering interloper stood behind Table 9, ladened with virtually every product I still had in stock. I'd come armed with a newly procured card-reader from Square (approx £15 outright and then 2.6% of each transaction) and tendered my £35 registration fee for 5.5 hours of trading, chair and 6' table supplied. I'd taken heed of some forum advice and packed a lunch (jam sandwiches and biscuits - like a toddler - as we'd run out of anything more substantial in the house), opted for comfortable footwear, and brought with me a cash float and paracetamol. I was ready to make my fortune.

Apart from a car boot sale back in 2012 I've never sold anything to live crowds before, so my only comparable selling experience comes from back when I had a Saturday job working in a high street shoe shop - and I enjoyed that about as much as one would enjoy substituting their toothbrush for a cheese grater, so quite why I'd volunteer myself to engage with retail again so readily was difficult to comprehend.

But there was no time to ponder on that further - the doors had opened and the crowds weaved in out of the rain. The place instantly became a hive; a cacophony of cheery greetings, of sales patter and Fairy Tale of New York, which for some infuriating reason was playing on a loop.
As it turns out, it was a positively uplifting day. It was so nourishing to experience those social media interactions come to life - an ironic actualisation of the simulated likes and comments. If compliments were currency I'd have left that venue exceptionally wealthy. I could dine out for months on the favourable adjectives showered onto my table - "beautiful", "very clever", "cute", "these are so cool"...
I could easily pay my annual council tax with all the index fingers pressed to the surface of my Coral Octopus prints and accompanying "ooooooh I like that" approval.
"How can something so simple be so good?" asked one smiley browser about my Hip Hip Hooray greeting cards, funding a trip to the south of France.
"Look at this lovely drawing mummy" badgered one child, besotted with my Menagerie prints, and covering the cost of jet-ski hire.
"You drew all that with dots!?" exclaimed one disbelieving visitor about my Internal Reflection artwork, generously installing a personal water park in my back garden.
The wry smiles and sniggers emanating from those taking stock of my One New Notification T-shirts could have bought me a private island.
My web shop excludes me from this aspect of customer interaction. If I don't make sales online I assume it's because nobody cares, but in a live-fire exercise, the genuine joy and intrigue is right there on display. Sure, joy doesn't always open wallets but it does confirm what social media has been telling me - that my art is indeed resonating with spectators.
Fair and Square
So in terms of financial performance, how did my artwork hawking go?
During my interview on the Being Freelance podcast I'd described the artwork in my webshop as "ill fated illustration with nowhere else to go". Personal projects, rejected concepts and work released from license - all hoping for a second chance reimagined for retail. My webshop does a lacklustre effort with selling those but how did the Christmas market table fare (ha)?
Initially, whilst exchanging pleasantries with browsers and little else, I was overwhelmed by trepidation. I was unconvinced that I'd sell anything at all. But after 45 minutes I'd made my first sale; one of my greeting cards had left the table. A couple of prints were next and a very friendly chap bought a cursed cat sticker which he says will adorn his car. The standout favourites were my Menagerie notebooks, the sales of which tipped me past breaking-even towards the last quarter of the event.
In all I came away with £5.50 in profit - enough to pay for the congratulatory pint I'd certainly earned. It was a delicious pint. A triumphant pint.
Some may look at £5.50 and laugh their affluent arses off. I look at my £5.50 like this - I sold more in this handful of hours standing in a local barn than I'd done in a whole year from my 24hr, globally accessible website. By comparison the Christmas market was a goldmine, and the secret to its success was connection. The human connection, which unlike an internet connection, operates with greater bandwidth. Primary interaction between my customers and I, they and my items, gave the sales dynamic of my art what it's evidently been missing.
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