8 Derby Business Pitfalls to Avoid


Roller Derby Merchandise TableOpening a roller derby business is an exciting, adventurous and potentially dangerous idea. How would I know? I acted on it in 2007 with Flyin’ Squirrel, a novelty t-shirt company. Flyin’ Squirrel closed in 2010 after one of the worst economic crashes in U.S. history.

Exciting and adventurous? Yes. Confidence boosting? Absolutely. I still have the equipment, the know-how and am smarter because of Flyin’ Squirrel. However, unlike playing derby, running a business isn’t something you can jump into with only excitement as your fuel.

The economy improved and so has the success rate of small businesses in the U.S. Fifteen to twenty years ago, only 5-to-10% of small businesses lasted five years. In 2012, approximately 50% of small businesses made it that long. It could be attributed to the popularity of online shopping and various distribution options available for online businesses. A store can sell online with much lower overhead. A creative marketing campaign can have a tremendous impact through social media.

I’ve selected five pitfalls most applicable to derby business from Patricia Schaefer’s article: “The Seven Pitfalls of Business Failure and How to Avoid Them,” which nicely summarizes known start-up issues. I added a few tips from my experience.

1. Starting a Business for the Wrong Reasons
Wrong reasons include: making big money, having more time for yourself and your family or being your own boss.

Unless your product is truly unique, highly technological, has a high profit margin and dollar amount or can be marketed beyond roller derby, don’t expect riches to rain upon you.

A reasonable living or part-time income is more realistic. Furthermore, running your own business is more work than most realize. Design, development, production, order management, fulfillment, accounting, marketing and even employee management is what you’ll face. Don’t go it alone.

Derby-Fashion2. Poor Management
Poor management is often listed in reports as a leading cause of small business failure. It’s also one of the top reasons people leave their jobs. If you’re not a “people person,” hire someone who is. Sales, customer retention and employee relations depend on it. Good managers know how to reinvent stagnant business, create a positive image of the company and keep competent employees.

3. Insufficient Capital
Remember, it’s not just the cost of getting started; it’s the ability to fund everything for at least a few years. Most businesses aren’t profitable immediately and you need to plan for that. You cannot mix funds for the business with money you need to maintain for living expenses. It’s one thing to close your company and another to jeopardize your everyday life.

4. Location, Location, Location
Depending on the type of business and its structure, location can have a heavy hand in your success. Oftentimes, skate sales are required to connect to a brick and mortar store before they can be distributed online. That said, you shouldn’t open traditional retail shop just so you can start selling online.

Location factors:
• Customer location
• Accessibility
• Location of competitors
• Building’s condition
• Area incentive programs for start-up businesses
• The history and community receptiveness to a new business

5. Lack of Planning
Roller derby requires a lot of planning. Though leagues vary on their planning abilities, it’s far from a new concept. Planning is the core of a successful business or league.

Business plan components: 
• Goals, mission, vision
• Number of people (employees) to make it work
• Identification of potential problems and their solutions
• Financial analysis
• Competitive analysis
• Marketing and promotional campaigns
• Budget and growth management
• Design of marketing and promotional campaigns

I personally experienced these last 3 pitfalls with my derby business. They are not referenced in Schaefer’s article.

6. Trying to be More Than You Can
I suffered from too-many-good-ideas-at-once syndrome. Not only did I want to sell merchandise online, I wanted to help others sell unique items, post stories about my many trips across the U.S., and try to push forward charities related to derby leagues.

I spent too much time developing material that grew outdated quickly. I should have focused on my business plan to design and sell reasonably priced t-shirts. Instead, I buried myself in projects.

Roller Derby Appearel 7. Not Hiring a Website Manager
(This applies if your website is your main channel of sales and promotion.)

I knew just enough about web sites and coding to be dangerous. The more I learned, the flashier I tried to make the site. Too much time (again) with little payoff. A nice, clean site with easy navigation and payment tools is all you need. Having someone to update prices and prices, or give it a fresh look every year or so takes a big part of the work off your hands.

8. Selling Merch at Far-Away Events
Of course, this totally depends on what type of products you sell. It might work for you if your product is not high-margin or you’re able to take orders and don’t have to provide the product on site.

Most are not moneymakers. If you decide to sell merchandise at an event you have to fly to, consider costs involved:
• Table(s) for your booth
• Shipping merchandise to and from the event
• Flight, hotel and food

In the U.S., with the exception of the top three or four most-attended events, you will likely lose money or break even at best. That might be perfectly fine, if the contacts you make and product exposure pay dividends later on. Let’s do the math: $500 for one table, plus a $650 flight, $90 a night (4 nights) and $200 in shipping would be $1710. That doesn’t even include food. And this is a low estimate, as table fees have probably climbed.

It might be better to attend events close to home with your merchandise. If you can drive and return home at night, the cost equation changes dramatically.

New Derby Project

I wanted to take a moment and recognize an important derby project. Neil Gunner, a derby photographer in the Toronto area released a book of derby photos and stories. Preview the book, Into Battle: The Roller Derby Experience in Photos and Interviews.

I’m honored to be in the book, but that’s not why I mention it. I love Toronto Roller Derby and so I offered Neil help with marketing advice. In particular, my ticket blitzing strategy, where coordinated blasts on social media multiply ticket sales.

In Neil’s words: “Bob’s plan for ensuring that multiple people share the same post on the same day across social media was directly responsible for increasing awareness far beyond what I would have been able to accomplish otherwise. Needless to say, it was a pleasure to be able to include Bob in the book. The book itself owes its success in large part to Bob as well. The marketing ideas Bob has shared with me, developed as part of his role as a Doer, have proved invaluable in spreading the word and generating both interest and sales.”

Eh, sometimes I know what I’m talking about.


Fight for Fair Web Access in Seattle


seattle-internet-campaign-space-needleBrown Paper Tickets’ Doer, Sabrina Roach is shaking things up in mild-mannered Seattle. She’s leading a grassroots group of community activists, tech-workers and artists in a campaign to make Internet a city-owned utility. The goals are clear: improve speeds, lower prices and allow all residents Internet access.

But the campaign still needs a name and they need you to help choose it. Seattle for Equitable Internet? Internet in Seattle’s Hands? Connecting Seattle? Vote for your favorite or stretch your creative muscles and add your own suggestion. The campaign name will be revealed at a launch party for new Puget Sound radio stations on World Radio Day February 13.

The Need for Internet Speed and Access

“Nearly 20% of Seattle residents do not have any Internet access,” according to a report by the city. In our modern, tech-driven metropolis, that’s more than an inconvenience. Students may not be able to do homework assignments. Job seekers may be unable to apply to or find open positions. Small business owners may struggle against online competitors.

The same city report shows that 45% of Seattle residents who have Internet in the home want better prices. Thirty-three percent want higher speeds than offered by Seattle’s dominant providers Comcast and CenturyLink. Roach’s yet-to-be-named campaign takes a cue from smaller cities that have implemented fiber-based municipal broadband: Cedar Falls, Iowa and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 3.51.36 PM

In a recent video, a preview of his upcoming State of the Union address, President Obama points to these two towns as examples of municipal broadband done right. And fast—at 1,000 mega bits per second, both communities’ services are on par speed-wise with Paris and Tokyo.

Although Seattle is considerably larger than Cedar Falls and Chattanooga, it has some of the necessary infrastructure already in place, which would make things considerably easier.  In a January interview with The Stranger, Roach says “there are 550 miles of city-owned fiber-optic cable already in the ground. We just need to connect it to homes and businesses.”

550 miles? Who knew? Help name the campaign or get involved with our Doer’s efforts.

Photo credit: Anupam via Flickr

Graph: WhiteHouse.gov


New Burlesque Hall of Fame Fund


PERSEPHONE BurlesqueBrown Paper Tickets has long supported the sassy, sultry, outrageous-in-the-best-way burlesque community. We want to ensure that the burlesque story (your story) is told with care and that legends live on to inspire its future.

We’re excited to announce our new Burlesque Hall of Fame Fund.

Established from a friendly acquisition of GlitterTix, this new program allows event producers the option to add $0.35 or $1.00 donation amounts to their ticket prices—100% of which goes directly to the Burlesque Hall of Fame (BHoF), a nonprofit museum on a mission to “preserve, celebrate and inspire the art of burlesque.”

The Burlesque Hall of Fame Fund carries on the good work of GlitterTix—a ticketing portal for burlesque and variety art shows. In the wake of GlitterTix dissolving, its co-founder Will Longfellow approached Brown Paper Tickets and asked that we continue its fundraising efforts, since we have such close ties to the burlesque community.

“GlitterTix service fees were among the lowest in the ticketing industry, but with Brown Paper Tickets, attendees of burlesque events will see ticketing fees go down, while donations to the Burlesque Hall of Fame increase,” said Longfellow on why he chose us.

It all comes down to Brown Paper Tickets and GlitterTix sharing the same goals to grow the burlesque community and pay tribute to its legends.

Speaking of legends…

The Ladies, the Dream, the Museum

Jennie Lee Vintage BurlesqueLegendary tassel-twirler, Jennie Lee dreamed of a “Burlesque Hall of Fame” back in the early 1950s. Lee wanted to honor burlesque’s memory and its future. She envisioned a world-class museum, affordable housing for retired dancers and a school for aspiring performers.

Lee passed away before she was able to see her dream come to fruition. Dixie Evans, Lee’s friend and the “Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque,” took up her efforts, opening a museum in California in 1990, 15 years after Lee’s death. In 2006, the Burlesque Hall of Fame moved to Las Vegas.

Today, it occupies a space in the Emergency Arts building in Downtown Vegas. A small part of the several-thousand-piece collection of costumes, stage props, photographs and personal effects is on display to the public. The museum continues to foster awareness and understanding of burlesque as an art form. Visit our donation page to donate directly to the Burlesque Hall of Fame.

The Burlesque Hall of Fame, GlitterTix and Brown Paper Tickets hope to continue what Dixie started and realize Lee’s vision for a supportive and educational infrastructure for burlesque artists.

Jennie Lee photo courtesy of Burlesque Hall of Fame

5 Social Media Best Practices for 2015


Social media continues to evolve and morph into our daily lives personally and professionally. Real-time sharing of photos, updates (tweets, posts, etc.) happen at all types of events. Here’s to using social media more strategically before, during and after events.

socialmedia-SS1. Instagram Dominates Visual Engagement

The visual revolution is driven by mobile smart phones and social media channels such as Pinterest and Instagram. They’ve turned browsing the web into a visual experience unlike any we’ve seen in web history. Photography and graphics drive engagement in these channels (and others). Twitter also allows photos to be added to posts and stats show tweets with photos often yield higher engagement than those without.

People love sharing selfies while they attend theater shows, parties, festivals or are exploring town. Instagram, like Facebook and Twitter before it, is now a must use social channel.

2. Video Content Explodes

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all now show preferences for videos uploaded and hosted on their platforms, cutting into YouTube’s market share of video engagement and views. Facebook recently surpassed YouTube for most video views on desktops, according to comScore in 2014.

You don’t have to be a pro to shoot or publish video now. Use your smart phone, select apps and simply share what’s happening at your shop, in your local area and with your products. Polished videos are less necessary with the rise of social video sharing tools such as Vine, Instagram’s video tool and smart phone capabilities. Authentic interviews, previews of products, welcoming words from entrepreneurs, backstage clips. Content is ready for filming and an increasing number of social site welcome it.

Ask a vlogger how important video is.

3. SlideShare Ideal for B2B Sharing

Content is king and SlideShare makes sharing content easier than ever, especially for businesses who service other businesses and don’t necessarily have loads of consumer-rich, delicious photos. Think of it as a simplified PowerPoint tool. Use SlideShare to distill benefits of using your service or company and allow your sales crew to share the presentation online, via email or even use for presentations.

Since SlideShare is owned by LinkedIn, which has made major strides to ramp up content publishing for all, new features and functionality have made SlideShare a necessary part of business marketing, thought leadership and relevancy.

4. Hashtags Focused on Tribes

Hashtags are officially ubiquitous sliced and diced methods of searching and finding across all social media platforms (except LinkedIn, bless its heart). They’ve become the norm (thanks to Twitter for introducing us to these utilitarian beauties).

Use too general of a hashtag and you’ll lose your audience. Instead, focus on highly targeted, localized or temporary hashtags that a niche tribe cares about and focus a conversation around relevant topics. Forget #food #socialmedia #events. I attended Seattle Interactive Conference and they annually use #sic2014 (etc) so attendees can hone in and join conversations or follow threads more easily.

Host an annual festival or conference? Use an acronym or abbreviation and possibly the year. BottleRock Napa Valley could use #bottlerock15 this year.

Want to search hashtags across all social platforms? Use a hashtag aggregator like Tagboard.

5. Paid Facebook Posts Become Norm

socialmedia2-SSYes, Facebook mucked with their algorithm much to the chagrin of marketers, small businesses and nonprofits. Gone are the days of your post reaching 50% of your fans instantly. Now you have to work for it. Or pay for it.

Facebook, after going public, monetized their news feed incrementally. Luckily, a little money goes a long way. Test boosting posts, one of the most cost-effective paid placements available. Write a post, include an eye-catching photo and promote it to your followers and their friends. Then do another post and target new users by geography, age and interest(s) and see which attracts most engagement, views or drives traffic to your site. I’d recommend setting aside $20/month to boost select content. You basically have to pay to play more and more. Other social channels are following suit and offer options to pay to expand reach of your content or offer.

What other trends or tactics are you planning to tap or try in 2015?

10 Event Trends to Watch in 2015


Event Trends 2015 FireworksWhether it rocked or rolled, 2014 is about to be history. Time to look to the year ahead. A deep gaze into a crystal ball and discussions with Brown Paper Tickets‘ event specialists indicate that 2015 is going to be a pivotal year for events.

We narrowed it down to just 10 trends.

1. Alternative Venues

2015 will be the year to go wild with venues. Seattle Living Room Shows is a stellar example. In a matter of a few hours, the Watt sisters transform a room into a concert space with lights, mics and musicians. Sold-out crowds adore it because quaint quarters allow them to get up close and personal with their favorite bands.

Film festivals are using alternative venues too. Couch Fest brings strangers together to watch short films in living rooms, community centers—even boats. Where there’s a couch, there’s a gathering.

2. Restaurants Pop Up in Strange Places
Tacos from a train car. Hot dogs from a hot air balloon. Seafood from a submarine. Pop-up restaurants, underground suppers and food trucks aren’t a new phenomenon, but expect to see more mixed-use spaces and unusual eateries in 2015. There’s also a continued interest in tasting menus, where chefs curate a unique dining experience.

3. Butcher. Baker. Candlestick Maker.
Home-brewing, bee-keeping and canning classes were all the rage with the rise of DIY the past few years. In 2015, classes will feature a more … sanguinary aspect of agriculture: chicken processing and hog butchering. People not only want to know where their food comes from, they want to learn how to process it.

Bakers are now offering classes with a diet spin, like this gluten-free pie making class.

4. Pickled, Brothing + Beet Yogurt… Oh My!
Prepare for more pickled, fermented, cured. Our Food and Drink Specialist, Patrick Nelson reports, “Chefs are getting back to their roots by making vinegars and other mouth-puckering goodies.”

Brothing is a food fad coming to a mug near you. That’s right—instead of coffee, you might see passersby sipping, slurping and savoring morning broth. New York-based Brodo serves broth by the cup and it’s catching on.

More and more, health-conscious consumers realize the importance of veggies. Ugly root vegetables will be en vogue in 2015. And according to this 2015 food trend report, vegetable yogurt is on the table next year. Carrot. Beet. Butternut Squash. Mmmm … ? Events, caterers, chefs, even festivals will serve up surprising concoctions while guests mingle and feast.

5. Wearable Technologies Geekify Events
James Bond or Jetsons. Whatever visions dance in your head when you think of tiny devices surreptitiously strapped to a body, the future is now. Google Glass gleeks have multiplied while privacy issues seem to fade. Wrist-hugging fitness trackers will tell more event goers how many steps or calories they scored since walking in a door or ending an evening (“I burned 500 calories at this event. Sweet.”) Apple plans to release a stylish smart watch in spring. 2015—the year of the body gadget.

6. Marijuana, the New Merlot
We said it before and we will say it again: marijuana is the new merlot. More cannabis event organizers will sprout up to take advantage of recently passed state laws in Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon. Getting high will go high class, as pot sheds its stoner mystic. We might not be too far off from smoke-up tents at the symphony.

Oh wait—that’s already happened.

7. Live Pic is the New Live Tweet
“Pictures or it didn’t happen” is so 2012. In 2015, we’ll see more pictures as it happens. In 2014, Instagram surpassed Twitter’s active users with 300 million compared to Twitter’s 284 million. Live photo sharing from events is a creative, visually enticing way to engage.

This dancer used social media to promote her event and gave a little love to #brownpapertickets. You are following us, aren’t you? Ahem.

Expect to see super sleek photo booth: OnomonoMEDIA popping up at events. It allows photo sharing right from the booth and is hugely popular at corporate events.

8. Events with Social Impact
As the Not-Just-For-Profit Ticketing Company, we’re thrilled to report that giving back is going strong into 2015. Perhaps taking a cue from TOMS Shoes, restaurants are offering the option to buy a meal and donate a meal to the hungry. Event organizers are setting up “giving” tables to collect goods while people enter the event. Couples are making charity a part of their wedding celebrations.

Resolve to give more in 2015? Our fee-free donation tool can help maximize the money you raise for good causes.

BPT_NewYear_Graphic9. The End of Waiting
Imagine ordering a banana split and eating it in split seconds. Will 2015 bring the end of waiting in line? New customer-facing apps are coming out rapidly to meet the demands of mobile-wielding millennials. Club-goers want to customize their cocktails from where they’re standing, strut to the bar and have them ready. Love or loathe it, more apps for the increasingly impatient are coming out in 2015.

10. Planes, Trains, Uber-Mobiles
Ride services like Uber and Lyft passed the initial “early adopter” phase and will be more mainstream in the coming year. Definitely expect the cab line to get shorter as more and more will get to and from events using these slick services.

Wishing you the best in 2015. What do you think the next big thing is? Ring in below and help us ring in the New Year.

Fireworks photo by Christopher Chan

Comedians: 4 Lessons Learned in 2014


event-tips-comedy It has been awhile since our last Brown Paper Tickets guest post. The past few months have been a blur with lots of big things happening with Comedy Outliers. This year was very eventful in regards to the changes we experienced both good (being involved in the New York Comedy Festival) and bad (losing our main venue), but we have come out the other side feeling very confident for the new year.

We’d like to share event tips and lessons learned from 2014.

1. Networking Is and Always Will Be the Game

Always be ready to promote yourself. We learned to share our brand with new people we meet. Carry business cards, be prepared to speak about your credits and don’t forget to keep promoting. Each event we produced presented new networking opportunities. We tried to meet everyone in the room, from the waitstaff to audience members and cooks. You never know who someone knows. This year, networking led to working with Yelp, Webster Hall and Comedy Central.

2. Be Persistent, But Not Annoying

Trying to book talent for our show can be exhausting, even if it’s just on a monthly basis. There are specific comedians that we reach out to who are frequently unavailable to perform either because of conflicts, or unsure of their commitments that weekend. Eighty percent of the time, the comic will ask for us to reach out with a future date. Do they really intend to perform on our following show? We’re not always sure, but we still follow up. This has led to us booking some pretty impressive acts and gotten us on popular podcasts like Robert Kelly’s “You Know What Dude?,” “Keith and the Girl” and the Anthony Cumia Show.

3. Don’t Give Up When Challenges Arise

We experienced a few bumps in 2014 when it came to working with venues and managers to host our monthly showcase. Whereas at our original stable, “Lilly O’Briens” we worked directly with the owner, we found ourselves working with managers who believed in our “Outliers” shows, but the venue owners did not. This led to us having several one-offs at various venues throughout the year, which was exhausting and trying on our confidence. Our fans’ consistent support, despite venue changes helped us get through these hiccups.

4. Make Sure Your Following Feels Appreciated

This year, we began charging a small cover for our shows, changed venues several times, and took part in the New York Comedy Festival. We made sure our audience understood why these changes were happening and ensured them that our shows would maintain the same level of “Comedy Outliers” quality. With our recent New York Comedy Festival showcase, it was extremely important for us to tell our faithful audience how wonderful it was to have had their support over the past two and a half years. Allowing our audience to feel a part of our achievements was rewarding for us and them. It creates a sense of community that will hopefully drive us to even greater heights in year three. 

With the year wrapping up, it’s fitting that our upcoming holiday showcase brings us back to where it all started: Lilly O’Briens. Lilly’s has moved to a new location down the street from their prior spot, but like us they have bounced back and are ready to host our amazing show. So come out this Saturday night and have a drink and a laugh with us. 

New Research: Independent Musicians Face New Challenges in Digital Age


Musicians at SXSW 2014You heard the rumors: there’s no money in music anymore. Bassist, drummer, keytarist. You are hosed. The only music you’ll make is the tap, tap, tap drumming your fingers on the surface of your cubicle-enclosed desk.

Or not. You’ve probably also heard that the digital age offers a wide-open creative landscape replete with opportunities, free from corporate interest. Send music to fans on the opposite side of the world in mere minutes. Make an album at home, in your jammies with your own recording software. Put it on an online streaming service, promote it and watch the dollars roll in.

Wait—which one is right? Maybe it’s time to take a more scientific look at indie musicians in the digital age.

Brown Paper Tickets Music Doer, Billy Geoghegan and University of Central Florida Professor Kevin Meehan, PhD co-authored the published paper, “DIY Noise and Compositional Horizons: Indie Musicians and Promoters in the Age of Digital Reproduction.” Other studies on music in the digital age zero in on high-profile artists. Geoghegan and Meehan explore digital reproduction at the grassroots level, “where smaller, independent, emerging and DIY musicians operate.”

Their research shows that while digital technology means that the cost of recording, manufacturing and distributing have dramatically decreased; corporate control and mindset still are an issue—even with DIY and independent musicians.

Musicians, creative types, digital entrepreneurs will likely relate to this research published in summer of 2014.

The authors conducted surveys with indie musicians and promoters and used a breadth of sources for their research. Attali’s Noise: The Political Economy of Music provides the framework for the argument. Geoghegan contributed anecdotes from decades of experience in indie records, live shows, booking and managing tours.

Indie Musician Research Highlights
The essay covers sound quality, promotions and what the emphasis on touring means for the future of the musician. For purposes of one brief blog, it would be impossible to include everything, so here are a few key findings:

Artist-Audience Relationship Changed with Digital Tools Like Social Media
In the study, 75% of quantitative survey respondents agreed that digital technology improved the artist-audience relationship—ease of reaching fans was found in the top pros of digital technology.

But respondents of the qualitative survey felt that though social networking helps promotions, the interactions aren’t authentic. A quotation from one survey respondent, “It’s still all about networking, and pre-digital networking may have been less convenient and less far-reaching but each connection had more gravity behind it.”

Building Fans and Notoriety More Complex Now
Some survey participants expressed that digital technology actually makes it more difficult to attract fans and there’s more pressure to conform to corporate business models. “There is more, not less, pressure to succumb to having PR, a tour manager, and all that because the music press, the blogs, the venues, and the local promoters are increasingly less likely to respond to an inquiry from an actual band … the pressure to take on some kind of business model from above has been increased rather than decreased by digital technology.”

Don’t be shy. Comment away with your thoughts and experiences. What have indie musicians gained and lost in the digital age?

Giving Refugees a Helping Handshake


Photo-IRC-RefugeesLanguage barriers. Financial worries. Finding a job. Refugees face enormous hardships, especially during the first few months in the U.S. On Giving Tuesday, a group from Brown Paper Tickets visited the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Seattle to facilitate mock job interviews with a refugee group who just arrived to the U.S. a few weeks ago.

Brown Paper Tickets allows every employee to use an extra 40 paid hours per year to give back to the community via nonprofit volunteering. Through this benefit, we’ve collaborated with some amazing organizations and met some inspiring people.

Founded in 1933 at Albert Einstein’s request, the IRC offers emergency aid and assistance to refugees and those displaced by war. The IRC works in over 40 countries and 22 U.S. cities, restoring safety and hope.

We joined the IRC for a day of job readiness training unsure what to expect. We left with a deep admiration for the participants and the realization that despite different backgrounds, we face similar challenges at new jobs.

To break the ice, we went around the room and dished about our first jobs. A volunteer from our group told us about biking through a treacherous blizzard to deliver newspapers. One of the refugees shared a story about fighting off feral dogs while carrying large bags of food. The anecdotes varied wildly from sad to funny, but the takeaways were similar. Everyone made mistakes and felt unprepared at their first jobs.

Volunteering with refugeesAfter the round of introductions and stories, we began mock interviewing. We practiced standard questions, such as “what are your strengths?” and exchanged ideas on what U.S. employers look for in candidates. Eye contact and strong handshakes are not a custom practice everywhere and relaying skills, even to a prospective employer can feel very uncomfortable to those from other countries.

The room filled with nervous laughter as we went through the questions and shared interview tips. As we started to pack up our stuff, one man said, “The IRC are our first American friends. You are the second. Are we going to be friends for life?”

Whoa, that made it hard to leave. But they’re in good hands with the IRC. And we had such a positive, rewarding experience, we know we’ll return one day.

12 Ways of Giving and a Message of Gratitude


giving-tuesday-blogThis Giving Tuesday (and everyday), Brown Paper Tickets is grateful.

Before we get to the season of turtle doves and French hens, we’re taking a gratitude pause to reflect on the little things that aren’t little at all. Food and water. Speaking without fear. Reading, writing, dancing, singing. Health. Safety. View our UNselfie video or see it posted below.

Read on for 12 ways of giving and find charity and fundraising events in your area.

1. Give Time

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 62.6 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2012 and 2013. Volunteering may not require an intensive time commitment—there are walk-a-thons, community gardens, outreach and all kinds of one-day activities.

Volunteers often come away from the experience with lasting friendships, perspective and maybe even improved health. The Corporation for National & Community Service reports that those who volunteer have lower mortality and depression rates and feel more connected to the community.

Check out Volunteer Match to find a volunteer opportunity that matches your interests and schedule.

Throw a Fundraiser

Or put the fun into fundraising—organize an amazing, out-of-the-box, knock-their-socks off concert, performance or dinner to raise money for causes. Learn how you can use our Fee-Free Donation Tool to set up your page and collect funds with or without selling tickets.

Some examples of creative fundraising:

2. Have a Wine Competition

Put your palate to the test with competitive wine tasting. Form teams and have them bring two identical bottles of wine then do a blind taste test. Proceeds go to a good cause.

3. Laugh Out Loud with a Comedy Cabaret
Your charity event doesn’t have to be a bake sale or a black-tie benefit. You can make people laugh and raise money like this comedy cabaret that helps Team Towanda Foundation, a non-profit that provides women in need with funding for mammograms and other health services.

4. Stir Things Up with a Cook-off

If you’re planning a food-related charity event, stir things up by adding a competitive element. In Holiday Chefs Challenge, an event in North Carolina that benefits food banks, chefs compete to create delectable appetizers, desserts or entrees based on a list of everyday items distributed by the food bank.

5. Dance-a-Thon

Want to get physical with your charity fundraiser? Think outside the 5k. Shimmy, shake and move for a good cause with a dance off or dance-a-thon. You could even theme it to the dance like Zumbathon.

6. Treat a Veteran

Give military members a well-deserved night of entertainment. Brown Paper Tickets Salutes is a partnership with Veteran Tickets Foundation that donates event tickets to active military men and women, veterans and family members of those who gave their lives.

Giving-Tuesday7. Give Tickets to a Charity or Holiday Happening

Tickets make great gifts. They are more personalized than sweaters, almost guaranteed to be used and don’t clutter up the house. Buy your friend or loved one tickets to a charity or holiday happening and give back with your gift. Some ideas:

8. Broads for Bones
For your friend who loves to laugh, give tickets to see some of Los Angeles’ funniest women and help raise money for Ankylosing Spondylitis, a crippling bone disease. The hilarious line-up includes top-tier comedians, directors and television writers.

9. Green Generations Holiday Party
Send your favorite environmentalist to a swanky celebration with a signature cocktail and silent auction. Proceeds help Green Generations, Inc. an organization that teaches NYC children about sustainability.

10. Meowy Catmas Cat Circus
Surprise the cat-lover in your life with tickets to see acrocats walk tightropes, perform death-defying jumps with the greatest of ease and yes, rock out on keyboards and drums.  A portion of ticket sales goes toward cat rescue and the organizer strongly advocates adoption.

11. The Nutcracker
Bestow the gift of holiday ballet magic and sugar plum fairies while supporting the Alameda Civic Ballet, a non-profit and charitable organization.

12. Happy Giving
Who doesn’t love happy hour? When it’s for a great cause, it’s even happier. Enjoy wine, beer and appetizers while benefiting the Head Start program. Bring a toy and take joy in the act of giving.

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20 Creative Ways to Support Small Business Saturday


Small Business Saturday Brown Paper Tickets is big on small business—shops, restaurants, theaters, local makers, movers and shakers.  We were the first solution for small businesses to ticket events for free and we continue to offer a wealth of free resources and services to events of any size.

November 29 is Small Business Saturday. Discover what’s new in your neighborhood. Catch a band in your town. Buy gifts at a local craft fair. See what’s shakin’ at the local theater. Shop microbreweries and distilleries.

According to the Retail Merchants Association, for every $1 spent at local businesses, 45 cents is reinvested locally vs. 15 cents or less from non-local purchases. Local stores also tend to hire local people and make neighborhoods more visually appealing.

Not sure where to begin? Here are 20 creative ideas:

San Francisco
1. Take a tour

Relatives in town for the holidays? See your city with fresh eyes and support local tourism with an eclectic walking and riding tour. Learn about local architecture and explore the impact of the Gold Rush.

2. Sign up for sake class
Love sake, but aren’t sure whether it should be warm or cold or what to eat it with? Take a sake education class with friends and support a Japanese eatery at the same time.

Los Angeles
3. See, cook, learn

Fascinated by Samurais? Tour the renowned LACMA Samurai exhibit and then get schooled on Japanese cooking techniques at Surfas in Culver City.

4. Catch a Krampus fashion show
Krampus walks are now a thing here in the US. Add a devilish scare to your holiday reverie by watching locally made Krampus costumes take the runway at the Goethe-Institut Los Angeles.

5. Support local theater

There are so many great indie theaters to support; we couldn’t possibly name them all. But this one struck our nostalgic side. Revisit old favorites from the Twilight Zone Live on-stage at Theater Schmeater.

6. Enjoy craft brews + burlesque
Can’t choose if you want to support local beer or local beauties? Do both. Check out Revelry—Seattle’s only Monday night burlesque revue.

New York City
7. Take a bite
New Yorkers are serious about bagels. Explore neighborhood bagel shops and sweeteries with this unique food tour that works around your schedule.

8. Go to the Olde Grand Market
Celebrate the holidays and support a local performing arts center at the Grand Market celebration in Queens. Face painting, holiday portraits and more await.

9. Drink in “A Beer Carol”

Drinking and writing tends to go hand-in-pen. A Beer Carol at the Haymarket Brew Pub combines them both with a theatrical output from craft beer advocates. One reviewer describes it as “awesome and tasty too.”

10. Visit your local Santa
Avoid long lines at the mall to see Santa and support a local bookstore with an Evening with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

11. Pop-in to a pop-up dinner

Chef Bradley Kilgore is opening a restaurant in Wynwood named Alter. Sample an exclusive 4-course fixed menu and help support a new spot.

12. Show regional writers some love
Watch a battle of wits go down at the Laboratory Theater of Florida. In this 24-hour playwriting project, 5 playwrites are given a theme, director and actors. The audience gets to see the writers’ visions come to life when the plays are performed on stage.

Washington, DC
13. Spot the liar

Another great indie theater event in the District of Columbia. Four storytellers tell a story and only one is true. Vote and interrogate. Brace for the truth—it may be shocking.

14. Laugh locally
Need a laugh? Support the DC Arts Center by going to see local improv. Separate Beds is a senior-level improv show, so you’re practically guaranteed a few giggles.

15. Catch a cabaret show
There’s no place like home. Recapture the magic seeing this Judy Garland cabaret concert by a critically acclaimed tribute artist.

16. Get to know the North End
Boston is arguably one of the best food towns in the US. Take a neighborhood food tour and get to know the North End’s Italian fare. Find out about new restaurants and established ones you might not have heard about.

17. Go nuts

Do “The Nutcracker,” Austin-style with the Invisible Czars. Audience members are encouraged to dress up and let loose. Prizes are given out to the wearer of the best holiday costume and more.

18. Revisit a classic
Instead of big-box cinema, see a play. Bring the family out to see “Ebenezer’s Journey”—an interactive theatrical presentation in the old buildings of Pioneer Farms.

19. Sip brew made near you
Take a two-hour guided walking tour to the best local breweries in the historic LoDo. Learn the history of beer, how it’s made and maybe pick up a one-of-a-kind gift for the beer lover.

20. Brunch like a local
Forget mimosas. Drink 5 excellent Local Relic beers paired with brunched-up food at the Colorado House in Colorado Springs.

Comment below with your own ideas on shopping or supporting Small Business Saturday.

Photo 1: Shopping in Austin
Photo 2: Literary Affairs event