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This is a guest post from Robin Lawson of Lumen Electronic Jewelry, a startup from the Madison area. Thanks, Robin!

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As an entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur, I get it.  Your time is limited and therefore valuable.

Like me, you may be bombarded with all kinds of networking events, pitch contests, hackathons, etc.  If we went to all of them we’d have no time to do the things you actually love.

And the ROI (Return On Investment) is nebulous.  I’ve been there, awkward and bored, saying the same 3 phrases over and over to strangers.  And then walking away feeling like my time was wasted.  No leads, no connections.

However I also know staying home means my baby may never grow.  I HAVE to put it out there and take a risk.  It’s what we entrepreneurs do.

But they have to be calculated risks.  Educated risks.  The stakes are high.

My baby is Lumen Electronic Jewelry, which I co-founded with my brother.  We custom design solar powered twinkling LED jewelry.  Yup, no batteries, all green energy and blinky lights.    It’s hard to explain in words, so take a moment and check it out!

Early in our journey friends and family told us our stuff was awesome and we should sell it at craft fairs.  So we applied to a lot of fairs.

And you know what?  We got rejected from a lot of fairs.  We brushed it off, it happens to everyone.

A few of the smaller fairs let us in so we went, all excited.  And did we sell bucket loads?  NOPE.  Almost nothing.  Many people loved our stuff but they didn’t put money down.   We were left scratching our heads.

Then we realized craft fair attendees are not our target audience.  Geeks are our market, and they don’t generally go to craft fairs.

Seems obvious in hind sight, but at the time we thought we could sell to everyone.

Do we think all those craft fairs were a waste of time?  Hells no,  we learned a ton.

First, we perfected our pitch.  We talked to hundreds of people and figured out what the common questions and confusions were.   We learned how to answer those questions concisely and clearly.  We also went through iterations of our display and packaging, observing what worked for other vendors at the fair.

Second, we made connections.  We talked to other vendors during lulls in the crowd.  We found out what fairs were awesome and which were not.  We learned how to display merchandise, what are their best sellers, how long they’ve been in the business, etc.  This information was invaluable to us and our business.

I could go on and on, I have dozens more examples of all the things I learned going to craft fairs we didn’t sell enough to break even.  And the same goes for other networking events.

I am pickier now, savvier.  Before considering any event I ask myself 3 questions:

  1. Is my target market going to be there?

This is the perfect place to try my pitch, learn more about my customer’s needs, concerns, and get their feedback.  Listen to them.  You may turn out to be wrong about your customer like we were.  We thought craft fair attendees would get our product.  Most didn’t.  We thought geeks would be there.   They  were, but in VERY small numbers, not enough to live on.  Do’h!

  1. Are friends going to be there?

Being an entrepreneur can be lonely.  Lots of long hours by yourself.  There are some things only a fellow entrepreneur can understand.  My support network is invaluable, it keeps me sane.  They are a sounding board for ideas and make connections that I wouldn’t think of.  And support when things inevitably get tough.  Face to face time is still the best, Facebook or Linkedin can’t replace someone looking you in the eye and saying “I’ve been there.”

  1. Are mentors going to be there?

Is someone or some company attending that I admire?  Learning from others is great, it prevents history from repeating itself.  Sure I’m tempted to launch into my pitch right away, but I’ve found it much more effective to build relationships by staying curious about successful people.   How did they get where they are?  How much money and sweat did it take?  What worked, what didn’t?  Biggest regret, hardest moment, biggest victory from the last year?  Most entrepreneurs love to talk about themselves and their business.  Some people may not be willing to share and that is OK, I don’t push.  I find the ones who are.

And guess what?  Startup weekend may have all 3 of these elements for you.  Take a chance, it’s what entrepreneurs do.

This is a guest post from Robin Lawson of Lumen Electronic Jewelry, a startup from the Madison area. Thanks, Robin!

Tess Grey