Saving $$$ During Live Shows and Travel

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Yes, it’s another show post. This one was fan-voted, which you can do too by voting on my poll here. And I’m not surprised this was the first thing people voted on. Travel is crazy expensive - gas, lodging, food, plus the outlay for books or whatever it is you’re selling. And shows are a friggin’ butt-ton of work. See my Live Show Guide here and my post specifically on doing Bookcon here. Spoiler alert: I’ve changed/updated some of my systems, which I’ll discuss below. Anyway, weather, physical labor, traffic… one should really consider hard before diving in. If it’s not something you’re ready for, you can crash real hard. But let’s say you’ve considered all the factors and you still wanna make doing live shows a part of your business. Fear not, friends. There are lots of ways to save money.

Start Small ~ I get a lot of people telling me they can’t afford to do shows. Totally fair. Shows are expensive. Just the table fee is usually over $100, in addition to the stuff I mentioned above. So do other shows. Make connections with local (the operative word here being local) bookstores and ask if you can do a signing in their shop. Same with coffee shops. Ask if you can set up a table for a few hours and invite all your friends - it helps if there’s something extra on offer for people. Then you just have to show up with your things.

Oftentimes, these sorts of small events are free. Hooray! But you have to make friends first. I cannot stress this enough. If you want someone to do you a solid, then you’re going to have to put some work into the relationship first. I do events whenever I can at McKay’s here in town. They don’t charge me anything for it, and it’s a great place to meet new readers. And every single time I’m there you can bet I have on my friendliest, most helpful face. And why not cheerfully welcome people and tell them where the bathroom is when they ask? So what if I don’t work there; I know the answer. You should always be kind anyway. And not only do these small acts help people, but fostering relationships will pay off.

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But, Dana, I still have to pay for the books. Yes, you do. So only order a couple at a time. No more than ten. If you have multiple books, shave that down to no more than five. Fewer for numbers two and three and so on in a series - the first ones always sell way better. Then reinvest the money you make from sales into buying more stock. If you need help with sales tips and presentation, read the Live Show Guide I linked to above. But you can legit get away away with a display as simple as the books-in-basket picture I stuck in here. Get creative and make the space inviting.

Getting There ~ Right. Travel. That energy-sucking monster. It can also suck funds pretty quickly too. I admit to having spent more than I needed for a long time, but I eventually (and still am) getting wiser. So let’s start with getting there.

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No Tolls, No Rolls! ~ If you’re driving, set your Google Maps to avoid tolls!!! Do it right this second. Don’t be like me this past weekend and pay almost $9 in tolls on the way there, forget during the weekend, and then on the way back suddenly find yourself picking through your nickels to come up with enough for a cash-only toll. Only to then have to try not to crash while changing the Google Map settings and pulling up new directions. Seriously, plot a course to somewhere else right now, click the little “…” on the side to pull up the Route Options menu, and choose Avoid Tolls. And for the love of almighty coffee, check the Remember Settings option too so you don’t have to do this again! You will be so happy you did! And it often doesn’t make a huge difference time-wise. Check out my before and after changes example below. It added all of four minutes to my route.

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Leaving on a Jet Plane ~ If you’re flying, use Incognto mode in your browser to do your searches. I’m not saying the NSA is watching you and cahooting with the airlines to cost you more money. But I am saying cookies are used on basically every website to gather data, and companies wanna make money, so sometimes you’re shown what the companies’ want you to see based on what they know about you. I also recommend the app Hopper because it finds all kinds of deals. The hubs and I recently used it to research flights overseas. Sometimes the price doesn’t vary that much from Expedia or Travelocity or Kayak*, but check all those places. Better to be informed and not find anything than uninformed and pay extra.

*A friend of mine who travels a ton also recommends Scott’s Cheap Flights. I’ve not used them, though, so I can’t speak to how good they are.

And you might think this sounds like extra work. Well, yeah, it is a bit. A little extra work can save you a lot of money, though.

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Ship Shape ~ And if you’re flying, that means taking books is gonna be harder, right? If you’ve ever turned your biblio nerd loose while on vacation, you know books make those luggage weight fees rack up fast. So consider shipping those babies. If you’re shipping directly from wherever you’re ordering them, there’s not a lot of flexibility when it comes to shipping. If you’re shipping them yourself, however, you have some options.

The US Postal Service offers flat rate boxes. Basically, if it fits, it ships for a set rate. But, if you’re only sending books, be sure to compare that to media rate cost. Media rate only applies to, you guessed it, media. So books, printed music and test supplies, CDs, etc. You can find the full list here. And it’s really cheap. Just be aware you can’t send anything that’s not on the list. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. The folks working at the post office are highly trained. Lean on their expertise and be sure to say thank you. You might notice a theme here: kindness goes a long way, though you should always try to be kind anyway.

Staying There ~ Whew! So you made it to the place. So now you need a place to sleep. Please don’t tell me you waited until you got there to figure this out. Unbelievably, that’s how some people roll, but I beg you not to do this. Planning will serve you so much better! Anyhoodles, staying with a friend is always great if you can swing it. If you can’t, though, look into a rewards program for specific hotel chains. They can save you some money, but that does require you stay in the same hotel everywhere you go. We use Hotels.com a lot, and they offer a free night at participating locations after ten at eligible places. Again, research, research, research.

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All the Kids are Doing It These Days ~ And then there’s the new player in the game: AirBNB. I just experienced my first solo go with them this past weekend in Chicago. I stayed at two different places because my first choice was booked on my last night. I paid about half for the entire weekend than what I would have in a hotel.

The first thing you need to know is that every AirBNB experience is different. Last year, I went to St. Louis with a friend (she arranged the whole thing) and we had an entire apartment to ourselves. Last weekend, I had a room in a shared house in both situations. Yes, it was very college-esque in that way, but hey, again, it was way cheaper than a hotel. I loved my first place in Chicago. The directions were clear, house rules and other signage was clearly posted, and the place had all the amenities I wanted. The second place… not so much. Maybe it’s just my personal style, but I want as little contact with the hosts as possible. That was not the case with the second place, but I learned an important lesson - go for places with lots of clear information on the front end.

Parking Perils ~ In bigger cities, parking can be a beast. While in Chicago, I chose to take Lyfts and keep my car in its happy little provided parking spot. Look what’s around, though. Google Maps gives a lot of info on parking rates. Maybe, depending on how often you’re planning on using Lyft or Uber in a day (doubly so if you need one of the premium options like Lyft XL or Uber Black), driving and parking will be cheaper. Again, do your research. And, when providing your rideshare driver with your destination, be sure of your address. I paid a bunch of extra money for one ride because I gave the driver the wrong street 🤦‍♀️. If it’s just a street, like in my case, choose a business on that street and use that as your drop-off instead.

Eating There ~ Food is always a huge expense for me because that’s how I explore a new city. Here’s what I don’t spend money on in a new city: food I can get back home. Why bother? You’re paying money for more of the same**.

**Food allergies are a huge exception here. While en route, if the hubs is with me, then we almost only stop at Chick-fil-A because they cater to his celiac needs.

I also usually only splurge on local coffee shops and dinner. During breakfast and lunch, I’m too busy to really take time to treat myself. Therefore, I bring food for breakfast (bananas, granola bars, apples and peanut butter, etc.) and bust out my secret weapons at lunch.

This thermos is one of the best investments I’ve ever made. You heat up your lunch in a separate container that morning, pack it up nice and hot in the thermos, and it’s still piping hot at lunch. There’s nothing better. In cases where I can’t bring leftovers with me (homemade red beans and rice was particularly nice in Missouri this past spring), I bring soup. I especially like Pacific brand. They have a bunch of GF varieties and they’re not packed with salt like so many others. Yes, my links are for whole cases. Because that is how much I favor these magical little cartons. Even when I’m doing a local event, I’ll use these soups. At just over $3 a carton, that beats fast food any day of the week. I recommend some cheese toast in baggies for dipping in the tomato soup.

And you can use your thermos for more than just events. My older sister has about five of these. She packs the kids’ lunches in them (mac and cheese, soup, leftovers, you name it), takes them camping, all kinds of stuff. You can also chill or even freeze stuff and put it in the thermos to stay cool.

The food options don’t end there. You can bring a cooler bag (or, if you have space, one of these big suckers in the picture) with some ice packs to keep cold stuff that won’t fit in a thermos cold. Mason jar salads, bread and peanut butter for sandwiches. I’ve even bought a rotisserie chicken and kept it in my hotel fridge to eat off throughout the weekend.

Oh yeah, I definitely booking a place with a fridge and a microwave too. Again, saving money on food takes a little work, but that means more $$$ for you and your business (and maybe a little extra to treat yourself at dinner.

Other Stuff ~ You may have noticed a theme throughout this post: the more stuff you do yourself, the more money you can save. I can hear the groans of frustration now. I get it. You’re busy. So build in systems to help yourself. I’m not saying build the Great Wall of China. Start small with little things that take back time and stress. Whatever form that comes in. For me, that means checklists. I lean super heavily on my checklists because my brain just cannot remember all the things. Seriously, I have a checklist for everything. I currently use Trello for those (that’s another blog entry), but figure out what works for you and your life. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. I mentioned this in one of the other show posts. I’ve contracted my older sister to help me with a show or two when the hubs couldn’t. I paid her in breakfast and coffee. Bartering is still very much alive and well.

Bookmark It ~ I mentioned in a previous entry that I use VistaPrint for bookmark printing. I may have also mentioned I use them to print my stickers too. Well, no longer. After a lot of discussion and research and price hunting, the hubs and I invested in a new printer. I now use it and the linked sticker paper here to print my own stickers. I also use a 2” hole punch to pop them out. An illustrator friend of mine, Vickie Lee of Dungeons and Doggos awesomeness, uses this same paper for her Doggos stickers, which she just cuts out freeform.

I’ve also switched to Overnight Prints for my bookmark printing. Again, research paid off. VistaPrint was alright for smaller bookmark quantities, but I’ve started saving money by ordering about 1000 at a time***. At that quantity, VistaPrint’s prices became obscene, so once again, research saved the day. I’m also going to look into UPS’ print services because I like their bookmark sizes a bit better than Overnight Print’s, but UPS’ website was being janky when I needed to make a decision. I’ve included some screenshots below to show the difference. For 1000 bookmarks, even with a sale on, VistaPrint would still cost me $300. On the other hand, both Overnight Prints and UPS would cost me less than $100. And I wouldn’t have to pay shipping with UPS since I can just pick the package up from my local UPS store.

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***You might think ordering 1000 bookmarks is crazy, but everything on them is permanent information. Including the QR code. Friends, hear me, you don’t have to pay for a QR code service! I was paying $70 a year for one until I found out a bunch of places do them for free. No, they’re not dynamic and changable depending on whatever you want to push at any given time, but it’s FREE! I personally like https://www.the-qrcode-generator.com/ . Then you can download it, or just take a screenshot if you’re leery about downloading, and save it to your computer. And then I just print the code multiple times on regular address labels and stick them on my bookmarks. So I can print off labels for one specific event and just pass out those bookmarks there.

I also print my own candle labels. The more stuff you outsource, the more money you spend. Yes, it saves time too (sometimes), but that’s the tradeoff.

So those are my ways to save money. Whew! That was a lot! Do you have other suggestions? If so, feel free to share them below 👇.

Thanks for reading!


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Related Entries: Live Show Guide and Vendoring at BookCon.

Next Time’s Entry: ACX vs. Findaway ~ My Audiobook Creation Experience.

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