What's inspiring for entrepreneurial thinkers is the vivacity and, let's admit, a little bit of the organized chaos of a festival, especially if there's the kernel an idea taking root in your own creative mind, alongside a demonstrated awareness that there is enough interest to sustain the theme.
But pulling off a successful festival can be a surprisingly long journey, whether success is defined financially or in terms of less tangible value-adds to a community.
So how do you do it?
You learn from someone who's done it from scratch.
Gurvinder Bhatia launched the first Northern Lands festival in 2015, a three-day food and wine event in Edmonton, Canada that has grown into that country's largest. This year Northern Lands drew 60+ wineries, breweries and distilleries from across Canada. It sold more than 5,000 tickets, and raised tens of thousands of dollars for charity.
Here are eight lessons that Bhatia has learned, to help bring your festival idea to fruition.
1. Consult with stakeholders.
Ensure that they share the mandates for the event and are on board to participate and assist in its promotion. This could take a couple of years, and it helps, especially in the early stages, to enlist the support of well-known personalities in the space.
2. Ensure that there is a need.
Is the community ready for the festival? How do you know? Bhatia gauged interest based on his experience of 20+ years interacting with consumers at his retail wine boutique, plus his weekly radio and television columns. "I knew that the consumer was ready for this sort of festival and that selling tickets would likely not be a problem," he said.
3. Tap into the local entrepreneurial culture.
Your location may not jump to mind as an entrepreneurial hub, and neither does Edmonton. But Bhatia channeled inspiration from a number of national and international companies that were started there by entrepreneurs, such as Running Room, Boston Pizza, and Booster Juice. Edmonton is also the home of Canada's first Food Bank and the largest Fringe Festival outside of Edinburgh.
4. Welcome volunteers.
"There is rarely an event, situation, crisis or cause [in Edmonton] for which there is not a lineup of volunteers willing to assist," Bhatia said, whether that's for a sports event, other festivals, or natural disasters like a tornado or fire. Northern Lands is organized entirely by a volunteer committee, Bhatia included. "We are fortunate to not just have great volunteers, but rockstar volunteers from the drivers to the experienced industry crew working the wine competition and seminars," he said.
5. Build for the good.
All proceeds from Northern Lands go to the High School Culinary Challenge and the Edmonton Community Foundation Grateful Palate Fund.
6. Enlist more sponsors than you need.
Ensure that you have a strong sponsorship committee. "As much money as you think you need to raise, you need to raise more," Bhatia said.
7. Staff to execute.
Have a clear vision for the planning and execution of the event, and staff accordingly. Plan to staff with at least these roles: website lead, graphic designer, marketing and public relations, volunteer coordinator, décor/venue/set-up/tear-down lead and administrative assistant as part of your team.
8. Match quality with flexibility.
Don't compromise quality or your ultimate objectives, but be flexible in your execution.