Only recently, I exhibited at Blueprint Live along with eight other fellow surface designers. A lot of you DM’d me on Instagram, asking me to share my experiences with you, and that’s why I decided to write a blog post about it.
While this blog post is specifically geared towards those wanting to exhibit in future at Blueprint Live with a group of designers, I do have a more generic checklist that you can download, irrespective of whether you decide to go solo or as a group.
What is Blueprint Live (and is it worth exhibiting at)?
Blueprint Live is a virtual (online) trade show for surface designers and illustrators. While Blueprint is usually an in-person trade show, the pandemic has brought about the introduction of an online trade show as well since last year. Blueprint is meant for, but not limited to designers intending to collaborate with companies in the fabric, home decor, stationery, and greeting card industries.
I asked a few designers who have exhibited in the previous Blueprint Live shows whether it is a viable investment, and most of them had the same response: it is difficult to get seen. There are so many designers and studios exhibiting at Blueprint Live that it’s very unlikely that a prospective client would notice you (especially if you’re new to the industry) and book a meeting with you.
Now you’re wondering, “Why on earth should I exhibit if I don’t even get a meeting?”
But here’s a plus: at the end of the show, you are provided with the contact information of all the companies that registered to attend the show. If, like me, you believe that pitching your work to clients involves extensive research, making contact, and following up, then this information is going to be extremely valuable. It definitely cuts down a lot of time that you would be spending otherwise on researching contact information of prospective companies that you want to work with.
If you’re wondering whether the in-person show is for you, you should check out this post.
So, how much does it cost to exhibit?
Before we even dive into how to exhibit, don’t we all want to know how much it would cost us to exhibit?
This time we paid 250 USD, but I’m not sure if the price increases with every show. There are a few other costs involved, which is why I will talk about the costs, once again, a little later.
What are the initial steps involved?
The first step is to register on the website. You will be asked to send across 6 low resolution JPEGs of your artwork for their review. As a collective, it’s fine for just one of the designers to send their artwork. This step is just a formality to secure a spot for yourselves in the show.
2. Receive your Welcome Pack
Once your application has been reviewed and approved, you will receive an email providing you with the following documents:
A few screenshots to give you an idea of how the Blueprint Live pages would look and work.
A Welcome Pack that provides you with detailed instructions on how to prep your images and get your show page up and running. It also includes the contract that you would need to fill up and sign before you make your payment.
3. Sign the contract and make the payment.
Read the contract provided in the welcome pack carefully, fill it up, and send it across to Blueprint Shows. Once they generate the invoice and send it to you, you can make the payment.
In our case, we had one designer making the entire payment. This is where you might think that you can split the payment. However, as I mentioned before that there are other costs involved, and so it's best to split the costs after you've taken into consideration all expenses involved.
How To Go About Preparing for the Show as a Collective?
1. Find (preferably) like-minded people to exhibit as a group
One of our collective members had posted on a common Facebook group that she wanted to exhibit at Blueprint Live and if anyone else was interested in joining her, we could get in touch with her. That’s how our collective was formed. In the beginning we had quite a lot of people interested in joining the group, but we decided to keep the number of designers limited to ten. Eventually one person opted out and the remaining nine of us decided to do this together.
2. Choose a name for your collective
Deciding on a name for your group is imperative, needless to say. While it is ideal that you discuss amongst yourselves and zero in on a name, for our collective, we fell in love with the tentative name suggested: Collective Soul Studio.
3. Start a Facebook Group...
...or a group on any platform that can help you stay connected with one another and post important announcements as and when necessary. We use our FB group to discuss important agenda, post meeting recordings, exchange ideas on presentation methods, and so on.
4. Look at the big picture
Identify why you’ve decided to form the collective. Ask yourselves the following questions (and more):
Are we doing this only to split costs for this show?
Do we plan to have the same group of people exhibiting at future trade shows, both virtual and in-person?
Are we comfortable sharing our portfolios with one another?
Are we willing to contribute time, effort, and money required for the initial setup of the collective?
The answers to these questions need not be a yes. Depending on whether you answered yes or no to some or all of these questions, you can plan your next steps better, and divide your responsibilities accordingly.
5. Make a preliminary list of the tasks you need to complete before the show.
Do a bit of research to familiarize yourself with what a collective is and how a collective works. Here's a blog post that I found particularly helpful. Make a list of everything you need in place as a group to exhibit at the show. Remember that this list is different from the list you would make specifically for Blueprint Live. This is how our initial task list looked like.
6. Create a logo for the collective
Discuss with your fellow artists what kind of logo you’d want for the collective. Based on the article we’d read, we decided to keep ours clean and graphic as well, since all of us have such varied design styles.
We decided who would make the logo; that person chose the fonts and then came up with a logo for our collective. This is how our logo looks, though we are open to changing or refining this in the future.
7. Build Your Website
For us, this step came a lot later. Since we were focusing on just exhibiting at Blueprint Live for now, we thought we could get away with an Instagram account and our individual websites. However, we soon realized that we definitely needed to have a website for our collective.
It’s good to keep that in mind from the beginning so that your website isn’t hurried or you don’t end up overworking yourself in a short period of time.
We made ours using Wix, since it was more cost effective than Squarespace and we weren’t looking for a lot of functionalities.
If you’d like to learn how to make a portfolio website, you can give this blog post a read.
8. Decide how to make payments
Though we had it down on our checklist, we didn’t really make a business plan. We did, however, decide how to make our payments. We used PayPal to both make the payment to Blueprint as well as to pay each other for the divided costs.
9. Prepare all marketing collateral for your exhibitor page
We had to get the following in order to send across as one zipped folder to Blueprint Shows:
A bio for the collective as a whole
An exhibitor thumbnail
One show image for each designer (you can include up to 12 images)
The specification for each image was 1000px x 1000px at 144 DPI resolution. The exhibitor thumbnail should have the logo on the top left and the name of the designer/collective on the right-hand side.
Bonus Tip: To create these images in AI set up the artboard at 500x500 px. When exported at 144 dpi, they are the right size of 1000x1000 px.
10. Prepare all marketing collateral for Instagram
For Instagram, we created one image for each designer and included a bio for each of us before sending this as a zipped folder to Blueprint. We included our websites and Instagram handles in each bio.
These images are used by Blueprint on their Instagram account during the days leading up to the show. We also used the same images along with a few others to announce our participation in the show, on the collective’s Instagram account.
Again, the specification for these images was 1000px x 1000px at 144 DPI resolution.
11. Have a Marketing Plan
We decided to only go with Instagram. However, if you do have time on hand and someone willing to do all the marketing work, you can choose a few other social media platforms. It’s also a great idea to announce the fact that you’re exhibiting at Blueprint Live if you have a newsletter that you send out to art directors. Send out your flyers along with the meeting booking link, so that art directors interested in your work have a clear idea of how to go about scheduling a Zoom meeting with your collective. We also sent the Instagram flyers to Print and Pattern Blog along with a short write up about the collective in general and bios of each artist. You can take a look at our feature here.
12. Create Doodle account and a Zoom account
Remember I spoke about a few other (hidden) costs? Here’s where it comes in. You definitely need a Doodle account for buyers to be able to book Zoom meetings with you. There is a 14-day trial but that time isn’t enough to last you till the show dates. That means you end up paying for an account, which is 83 USD for a whole year. You cannot pay for it monthly.
Here’s how the Doodle page would look like (you’ll also be able to see time slots available on the show dates) when the buyer goes to book a meeting.
The free version of the Zoom account should suffice for the show.
13. Plan how you will present your work if you get a meeting
This is really important. If you do get meetings, how would you like to present your work? Would you be directly showing the client your sell sheets? Would you be showing them your password protected licensing portfolio? Would you be preparing a Powerpoint presentation? Or would you prepare a PDF of some of your best pieces?
We agreed on preparing Powerpoint presentations or PDFs of some of our best work.
What happens when you get a meeting?
I would have skipped this part if we didn’t get any meetings for the show dates. However, we were lucky enough to get one meeting with a major quilting fabric company. They wanted to see all our work. But we did prepare a short questionnaire to gauge the buyer’s preferences and interests. Doodle allows you to ask specific questions while booking the meeting.
We also decided to present in alphabetical order of our names to avoid confusion. We recorded the meeting for those who weren’t able to attend the meeting. One of us took the responsibility of presenting their portfolio to the buyer.
Also make a note of any questions that you might want to ask the buyer on the day of the meeting.
So now we’re back to the question: How much does it costs to exhibit?
We spent about 360 USD (Blueprint registration + website + domain + Doodle) divided by 9 of us.
Exhibiting at Blueprint Live, whether solo or as a group is an informed choice you have to make. I’ve tried to make this post as informative as I could so that making that choice becomes a little easier for you.
Irrespective of whether you decide to exhibit individually or as a collective, this one-page checklist should make your life easier as you prepare for the next Blueprint Live.