Home Education Magazine
January-February 2000 - Articles
How Any Ol' Homeschooling Mom Can Organize a Convention - Sherry Stacy
Have you ever gone to a homeschool convention and wished that you could have picked the workshops that were offered? A simple way to have that decision-making power is to organize your own homeschool convention. Did I say simple? Well, if you have a computer, are a fairly determined person (what homeschool mom isn't?), and know the Five Secrets to Convention Organization, anyone can do it.
When I talk about the Five Secrets to Convention Organization, it doesn't mean I'm going to sell you a video for $19.95 with all the latest information on being the Ultimate Homeschool Mom. Instead, I'm going to pass on the secrets for free, in hopes that lots of small homeschool conventions will pop up everywhere. I believe there is a need for more local gatherings of homeschoolers to exchange ideas, pick up tips, and encourage each other along the journey. What better way to do this than at a local convention?
I have organized two conventions. Both were successful in attracting homeschoolers (300-400 attendees) and homeschool curriculum/supplier vendors (about 40). Both conventions provided a small income to my family in addition to the feeling of accomplishment I got from helping new homeschoolers get started. Before I started planning, my husband and I sat down and carefully considered the impact on our family.We talked over the time it would take, the advantage of working at home, and the income I would expect to earn over the time spent working. By charging a very reasonable registration ($12) for attendees,and an average space rental for vendors ($35), we figured I'd be able to make about $1,200 on the convention. This means, since I started convention preparation six months in advance (a necessity), I earned about $200 a month. In our case, that was more money than I made per month working part-time outside the home, and we decided it would be worth it.
If you decide the satisfaction and income would make organizing a convention something you'd like to do, the Five Secrets will help you make it a success!
Find a good location that you can afford.
The first secret is location, location, location. You will need to find a low-cost facility with classrooms and a vendor hall big enough for about 500 people. In my search for a building I checked with churches, colleges, schools, and even hotels. The public school buildings were the best and most economical, by far. For some of them, the only fee required was to pay a janitor for setup and clean up (in my case about $300). You will need to locate the person in charge of renting facilities, whose actual title varies depending on the size of the school district you contact.
Once you have found a site,set the date of your convention for six months ahead and book the facility. Most schools do not require payment until a couple of weeks before the event occurs. That means you don't have to come up with the money before your income for the convention has started coming in. When you are starting from point zero dollars, that is important.
Booking the facility will require filling out a contract for facility use. I usually rent four or five classrooms and a gymnasium or cafeteria. Since both of my conventions have been one-day Saturday conventions, I rent the facility for four to five hours on Friday night for set-up and from 7 A.M. to 7 P.M. on Saturday. The convention runs from 8:45 A.M. registration to 5 P.M. close.The Friday evening and early (before 9 A.M.) Saturday morning times are for vendors to set up their booths. After the convention closes, allow a"take down" time for vendors and for clean up. Even though I always pay for a janitor, we stay to help. (It would be a lot of work for one janitor to clean up after 500 people!) I learned that staying to help clean afterwards gave us a good reputation with the district, which was useful when it came time to reserve a building for the next convention.
Expect to find a clause in the facilities contract where the school district will require you to have event insurance of up to 1 million dollars or to have a"no fault" agreement in place. Event insurance protects the facility from liability and can be purchased from most insurance carriers. It tends to be expensive, so shop around for a good price. I obtained event insurance from the same insurance company that holds our home insurance for about $300. Some school districts will not require this, but they might suggest you include in your registration a "hold harmless" agreement. The agreement reads something like this: "The following registrant agrees to hold harmless the school district and the homeschool convention from all claims, liabilities, damages or rights of action resulting from the use of the facilities during the convention."
Schedule good speakers.
The second secret is the fun part: finding speakers for the workshops that you will choose.Here I did a bit of networking with other convention organizers. Another homeschool mom, whose convention I had spoken at in June, sent me a list of her speakers and her vendors. That was a great start! I contacted some of the speakers and asked if they would be available to speak at my convention. I suggest you network with as many homeschool moms, convention organizers, and friends as possible to come up with topics and speakers. I enjoy finding great speakers for the convention the most! I only pay $25 a workshop, but I have found that almost all homeschool speakers are willing to come and prepare a workshop for this amount. If a speaker has a product or curriculum they wish to sell at the convention, I will give them a free booth rental in exchange for a speaker's fee.
Invite lots of popular vendors.
The third secret is finding vendors to show their curriculum or homeschool supplies at your convention. While not all homeschooling families use pre-packaged curriculum, many do, and many like to purchase science kits, fun activities and supplies like maps, books, and art supplies. I prepared a "vendor packet." In it was a cover letter telling them about the convention (where and when) and the costs of renting space. I sold 10x10 booth space for $30 a space. If they needed tables (which I had to rent) I charged an additional $12 per table.
In my vendor packet I also included "General Exhibitor Conditions" and a Vendor Contract for their signature. In the Conditions I listed eleven rules of display. These included set up and take down times, cost and deadline for payment of booth space, cancellation of booth rental, power cords, security, licensing, and local taxes. All booth space was sold on a first come, first served basis. In order to reserve a booth, payment had to accompany the returned contract. In the contract I also added the hold harmless agreement for liability concerns. I set my deadline for vendors to purchase space two weeks before the convention, which enabled me to plan my vendor floor and provided the income necessary to pay for the school rental and insurance.
Finding businesses to exhibit at your convention will require telephone calls and personal meetings with potential vendors. I used a phone book and additionally asked my friends (online and offline) where they liked to shop for homeschool supplies. I got lots of suggestions, then started calling businesses and sending out my vendor packages. Because many of these businesses had email addresses, I was able to upload my vendor package and email them the material. It saved tons of time and long distance phone costs. Many of these vendors I only contacted through email prior to their showing up.
Publicize the event everywhere you can.
The fourth secret is getting the word out. The best way to contact homeschoolers is through their homeschool newsletter. It's important to get a short paragraph about your upcoming convention in as many of these newsletters as possible. The next avenue of getting the word out is the local library. I placed my announcement for the convention in about 30 libraries. How did I do that? I asked friends to help, and I found a librarian who sent my flyer to about 20 other libraries in her district for display. Librarians love homeschoolers; we keep them in business!
I paid a 17 year-old homeschooler $50 to design a web page for me. She did a great job! I had her list all the classes offered, the date, place, cost, and directions for the convention. I believe, prior to convention, I had over 500 visitors to the web site. I also printed the web site address on all my flyers so people didn't have to call me to get information. (For those without a home computer, many accessed the web site at the library.)
The local newspaper would seem to be a good system for sending out information but I found that though there were a few that agreed to carry an announcement of my convention, they would only carry it a few days before the convention (something about news being timely). I did write up a public service announcement and a news release for all newspapers and radio stations within a 200 mile radius. I used the public library to locate addresses of publications in surrounding cities, and then I emailed many of these announcements, using regular mail for those who didn't have an email address.
Prepare the facility for convention day.
The final secret is preparing for the day of convention. The many last minute tasks was to make up all my speaker nametags on my computer. Then I wrote thank you notes to my speakers, and placed their $25 speaker's honorarium in the note. I placed these nametags and notes in the cash boxes that the registration tables would have. That way the speakers could pick up their nametags and payments when they arrived at the convention.
Throughout the convention planning time I used an old copying machine my husband's business had surplused. By using the old machine and just buying paper, I saved lots of money on copying costs. Brochures to hand out at registration were copied a few days before convention. I "hired" help at the registration desk by giving a few friends free admission to the convention. When registration was over, they were free to attend the classes. I paid my family members to work the convention with me (help ready classrooms, take late registrations, and be "go-fers"for anything that came up).
The night before the convention my husband and I went to the vendors' hall and used floor tape to block off each 10x10vendor booth area. (This took about three hours.) We had made a map of where each vendor would be located, so we taped sheets of paper to the floor with each vendor's name. When they arrived we directed them to their spaces.
Even with all this preparation, we worked hard all day during the convention, helping vendors find their sites, directing people to classes, making sure speakers had what they needed, and finding answers to last-minute questions. But seeing the happy smiles of those shopping in the vendor hall and talking to the many participants was very fulfilling. I felt privileged to have hosted a convention that encouraged and helped so many homeschoolers.
It turns out that the real secret to hosting a homeschool convention is simply having a heart to help fellow homeschoolers in their journey. I found that it was worth all the work. I got paid to do something that I loved. It was the best part-time job I ever had!
© 2000, Sherry Stacy
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