Whenever I read reports about TNNA, it's always either about the yarns, the various angles of business (inc. how to be professional), the practicalities of exhibiting or the social side of the show. I haven't found yet a blog post or report about the down side of TNNA. Seeing as we like to keep things real around here, it seems only fitting to approach TNNA from this hidden angle.
Now, don't get me wrong - I did have a great time. I got to catch up with previous TNNA friends like Kate Oates of Tot Toppers and Heather Dixon of Army of Knitters. I got to spend more time with people I only met briefly last year, like Mercedes T Clark and Miriam Felton; folks that I hope I can call new friends. I also got to connect with some great yarn companies, including. Lornas Laces, The Wool Dispensary and Baah Yarns. I did have a brilliant time and I'd do it again without hesitation. But I can't lie and pretend that it was all smiles and happiness, and that there weren't any difficulties.
One of the biggest issues is cost. It's not cheap for anyone to go to the show, unless they happen to live around the corner. It's not cheap for anyone to exhibit, either. And all of these costs are multiplied when you have to come from the other side of the world.
Travel: the travel alone cost a small fortune. All in all, including everything from bus tickets to excess luggage and flights, my total travel expenses came to £995. That's roughly $1492. And we booked 6 months in advance to get it that cheap.
Accommodation/general living expenses was one the cheapest aspects of the show, running in at £340 or $510.
Exhibiting was costly. Not just the booth hire and the hire of all the equipment from the conference centre, but also the building of the display and all the other peripherals. Tom doesn't work for free for me; if he puts hours into making something unique then his time has a value too, and he quite rightly gets paid for that. So let's break the costs of exhibiting into two categories: hire and tangible costs.
Booth hire, including all the extras such as tables, drapes and so on came to £525 or $785. I did this carefully, too, so if you're thinking about exhibiting you might want to budget for more.
The display materials, everything that came home with me, from the printed banners to the custom built shelves, doubled that total and then some - a further £725 or $1090. Thankfully this is all stuff I can re-use so I don't feel like it's cash totally lost, but it's still cash spent none the less.
And then you have the marketing and promotional costs - business cards and the like. They came to roughly £150 or $225. That's a lot less than many spend, but you already know I'm cheap.
That brings the monetary value of my 7 day round trip to £2735 or $4102. That doesn't include the months of worrying, thinking and planning beforehand, or the cost of a week off afterwards due to jet lag.
Now, you'll always hear folks saying that in business you gotta spend money to make money. Which is all well and good when you have money in the first place. And that's where that flippancy starts to piss me off, as TNNA this year cost me more than we spent on the double decker bus that we call home. It cost the equivalent of keeping my family fed, watered and sheltered for 4 months. Put into perspective like that, you can see why the outlay of this year's show is still stinging. I remain optimistic that it'll have been worth it, even if I don't see an immediate return. But I think it's worth noting just how much of an investment it's been, even if to some the fiscal cost is on the slim side.
This one is a much harder cost to quantify.
If you've ever exhibited before, you'll hopefully appreciate how difficult it can be to put yourself on show. As much as you're exhibiting your work, and that is what folks come to see, in essence it's you that you're exhibiting. Your creativity. Your planning. Your thoughts and ideas and skills. I both love it and hate it. I was taught well - with a good art college degree behind me I know how the game works yet I still loathe it. It's an emotional projection, and afterwards the come down can be pretty severe. Sure this is a business show - a trade show - and it should be treated like such, and I'm pretty sure many exhibitors may feel differently. But I wasn't exhibiting tangible goods or inanimate objects. And nor am I player in the wannabe corporate world. I'm a small time designer who put her ideas on show, even if the buyers were seeing something very different.
Last year was my first year at TNNA and I found the culture shock pretty hard to deal with. Mostly, I'm withdrawn, I rarely come out of my cave; we can thank the black dog for that. If I need to interact or be sociable I tend to adopt a more outgoing stance and alcohol is usually involved, as I've not yet found another way of coping. And it's exhausting. The life we lead couldn't be further from the world of business and trade - we hate waste, we recycle and reuse, we consider every action and reaction. We live simply and frugally. We're down to earth and take people as they come and expect folks to take us as they find us. We live pretty quietly, all told, and the idea of being at such a *huge* show, where everyone is there to sell something in the game known as big business, is pretty intimidating.
The one aspect that troubles me the most is the 'face' of business, for want of a better description. Everyone smiles and greets and is outwardly polite, which is all well and good when it's genuine, but when it's not it's a veneer. And I blogged before about how myself and veneers don't really get along. I can't trust people if I don't see a hint of human. If there isn't a sign of real life somehow, like a discreet cursing or an imperfection of some kind then I get paranoid. It wouldn't be an understatement to say that TNNA on the whole makes me paranoid, until I see a real, likeable side of someone, something you can connect with, and then I can let out a huge sigh of relief. I'm aware that a lot of this is down to being a Brit who's very European delving into the alien world of American business, because we really do do things very differently. But part of it is also my personality, I'm just not a business minded sort; I know how it works but it doesn't suit me very well.
Having braved it once I was better prepared, and the damage from the general meet and greet was limited, yet couple that with the exhibition fallout and you're left with a bit of a mess in this corner. The whole trip was a real whirlwind, so much going on and so far to travel in such a short space of time. And probably not surprisingly, given that I do live with the black dog, I'm still dealing with the emotional fallout from it all. My moods are all over the place; once a week I'm having to talk myself off the ledge, and I'm waking in the middle of the night with panic attacks.
You might be wondering why I bother with it if this is what it really costs, and to that I would say that it's something I need to do if I want to grow my business and continue supporting my family. It's as simple as that. I'm the breadwinner in our bushold and I gotta keep the pennies coming in. Or at least, for now I feel the benefits outweight the costs. That, and that I love to catch up with friends and stay in touch with the industry. As I said before, it's far from being all bad. It's a bittersweet thing, and this is a side which rarely gets acknowledged yet is so important to bear in mind.