Friday, 1 July 2011

Exhibiting at Events - Episode 3

Are you ready now to make your first foray into the world of exhibitions? Have you chosen an event, sorted out your style and stand - so what else do you need to know and have in place?

You need to tell the Taxman! Essential. The tax officers are very helpful these days, phone them up, they won't bite, honest! Tell them your circumstances and about any other employment you have, then ask for advice, guidance and any paperwork needed for your new venture.

Remember, stock, material costs, overheads, stand fees etc., are all allowable against any income generated, so keep records from day one. Set yourself up with a simple day book of income and expenditure, then enter the purchase cost of your new day book as expense number one in the expenditure column!

If you also have a "proper job", it's worth checking your employment contract to make sure that you will not be breaking your terms of employment by working elsewhere. Some companies can be a bit funny if they think their employees may be being "disloyal" or creating a "conflict of interests".

Start a second bank account. A "number 2" personal account. It's not essential to have a business account immediately, but it is a very good idea to keep your self employment earnings and costs completely separate from your normal banking - it will help you with bookkeeping and to see how well or badly you are doing. You may need a business account later if for example you decide that you want to accept credit/debit cards.

Insurance. You need some, at the very least you should have public liability cover. There are quite a few ways you can arrange this. The amount and type needed will depend on the requirements of the organiser, always ask for advice.

1. There are companies who will cover you for individual events but it does work out a lot more expensive. There was a time when PL insurance was not needed by individual exhibitors at all events, (...the days when the event organisers could actually AFFORD to insure everyone!) But there were a few where you needed your own cover and I remember many years ago paying £47 for £5,000,000 product liability and £10,000,000 public liability cover for one particular five day event. Bearing in mind that the cost of the stand for five days at the time was £200 ish, you can see just how expensive it was in real terms!

2. Annual insurance cover is easier and less expensive to organise. You can either go through a specialist broker, (Google "craft event insurance" or ask other exhibitors for their agent) or you can join an organisation like the NMTF, (National Market Traders Federation) or other trade associations who will often include insurance and all sorts of other benefits like legal cover and special card processing deals to their membership. Average cost it seems is between £80-£150 per year.

Be prepared for taking payments at events. This is becoming a real bugbear. The cheque guarantee card system is being scrapped this year which means that payments made by cheque may not necessarily be honoured by the issuing bank. So if you accept a cheque from a customer the transaction will have to be based on trust......

Card payments are more and more popular, but the costs of being able to accept them can be quite high. First of all you need a business bank account, then a merchant bank account and a card payment processor like Barclaycard or Streamline. You will also be expected to commit to a contract term of generally 18 months or more. All of this will take time to organise and a lot of paperwork, so if this is your chosen route, make sure you set things up well in advance and do plenty of research and comparisons between providers before you make a decision.

Alternatively you can use one of the ever increasing number of companies who offer shorter term rental of card processing machines. They organise the processing and merchant bank account set up for you but you will no doubt pay handsomely for the privilege in terms of set up fees and commission charges. Then there's the new idea of phone to phone payments, and Paypal through a laptop, the mooted "oyster" type cards....It is a complicated labyrinth of different charges, rentals and contracts to negotiate which is incredibly "catch 22". The card processing company will base your charges on how much business you expect to do over say one year - but until you have accepted card payments, how do you know how much business you will put through? It's all guesswork!

Good old fashioned pounds, shillings and pence! It seems we are going back to the past - cash is king again. The large events now provide at least one ATM cash machine on site and most now have more than one bank offering a counter service. Even at smaller events, it is likely that there will be an ATM machine fairly close or a local shop offering a cashback service, so ironically it has become easier for folks to obtain cash than it once was. The only problem of course is keeping cash payments safe. It's a good idea to equip yourself with a discreet money belt, please don't ever leave cash lying around even in a locked box, it's just to easy to take.

What else? There are other things you will need to check out but they will depend on the service or product you are supplying. For example if you are involved in food of any description, do you have any necessary hygiene certification and full ingredients list with allergy warnings? If you are a maker of toys, furniture, clothes, household decorations etc., do your products meet the needs of Trading Standards? For cosmetics, potions and lotions, have you checked out what ingredient labelling is required. For jewellers, woodworkers, etc., there are requirements of a makers to describe their products accurately.

Better safe than sorry, a bit of time spent in research beforehand can help prevent problems later on. Do your homework!

I must point out that all of this information has been drawn from our own experience and that of our crafty friends. I can't claim that it is a complete guide by any means, but I hope at least some of it will be of help to someone. The next (and final) episode will be about the big day itself.....

Far too much blabbering again, time to go now!

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