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How To Start a Con: Beg, Borrow and Steal (Part 6 of More)
Posted Apr 21, 2010 - 11:17:10

Old con photoThis is part six of an ongoing series, so you may want to read from the beginning, or check out the index of all installments of "How To Start a Con" first

Most of what we've gone through in this series has been basic logistics, from choosing a location to building and training your organization. In this installment we're going a different route. It's time to get down to the central philosophy which will help you equip your convention, get your policies in order, and make your life generally easier.

Some people say never buy anything you can rent, never rent anything you can borrow. Personally though, I've always preferred the line "Beg, Borrow and Steal."

You're running a first year convention and, frankly, it can be expensive to do so. But you can mitigate some of these costs by being frugal and planning things out.

If you're running this as a student organization, you may have access to resources that other's don't. Perhaps you can get a discount on using a University Student Center. When you go this route, there may be inexpensive to free projectors you can borrow for the event. Going down the list, there are quite a few things that you can legitimately get for free a non-student convention will likely have to pay for.

Many a video game room has started out as the TVs and consoles from the convention staff's living rooms. Heck, while 90% of the TVs in No Brand Con's video game room are convention owned (or on loan from another convention), this is a recent development. Almost every console in that room though belongs to a staff member who has been so kind as to lend it to the event and not the con itself. Frankly, if you're paying money to run your video game room your first year you're doing it wrong.

Heck, even as an established convention, it doesn't make sense to buy a bunch of the latest consoles which will be obsolete in five years. At the first No Brand Con we had people playing DDR on a Dreamcast. Imagine if we had bought ten of those for the con. Sure, we'd still be using a couple for retrogaming, but the majority would be sitting on a shelf collecting dust. Likewise, trying to buy 10 XBox 360s doesn't make a whole lot of sense for your event. Get what you can from your friends, and make do.

You should be looking for every loophole and cost cut you can find, really. If a staffer owns a set of radios, those should be the ones you use rather than buying new ones. If you do need to buy electronics, does one of your staffers work at a Best Buy and feel like misusing their employee discount?

(That last one? That's the steal one. Technically. That's as gray as I encourage people to go though, so don't rob a bank or something to fund your con.).

If you've been following my advice, you're also working a lot of other conventions as a volunteer. Network with the staff of other cons and see if they can lend you stuff. Most of us are fairly sympathetic as we all were in the same financial boat as newcomers to the con scene at one point. When Geek.kon asked us at No Brand Con if they could borrow our sound system, we said yes. When Daisho Con asked if they could borrow one of our projectors, we said yes. Likewise, when I asked a Daisho Con staffer if I could borrow his Laser Disc player... he said yes. Some people who run cons are jerks, it's true, but at least in the area I'm from, most of us have realized that mutual cooperation builds a stronger convention scene... and that raises everyone's attendance and creates an even better event for them too.

This philosophy doesn't strictly apply to materials though -- it also applies to policies, structure and, well, how you run the event.

When we were starting No Brand Con I had to put together our staffing structure for "at-convention." Rather than re-invent the wheel from scratch, I heavily lifted from policies other conventions I'd worked at. We copied quite a bit from whoever we could crib from in those days, because it worked. The very fact that you're reading this article though means you're open to doing this too. If a convention does something right, do it the way that convention does it. I was at a convention once that's newer than mine, and someone commented "Hey, didn't they sort of rip off the way No Brand Con does that?" about some random detail. I saw what they were doing, and I replied "Yes. Thank god. It took us four years to figure out that's the best way to do it."

Needless to say, if you copy the way I do things I won't be offended. I do it the way I do it because that's how I think things should be done.

Just remember, this isn't about cutting corners -- it's about finding the cheapest way to give your attendees the full experience. People should walk away having no idea that you found ways to cut costs. Five years down the line you can start doing things the expensive way, but at first... always beg, borrow and steal.

Continue onto Part Seven or go to the How To Start a Con Index
- Traegorn

Post a Comment
I'd just like to take a break from my usual caveats to point out that this is an excellent blog series.  Kudos to you, Trae.  The con world needs more of this sort of thing.
For the record, the badge holders for Geek.Kon (...and No Brand... and possibly Daisho and Milwaukee next year...) were a compromise between my employee discount and our normal bulk rates. ;)




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