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The Very First Things to do When Starting a Haunted Event

Location and funding are the two hardest pieces of the haunting puzzle to lock in, and you need both before you can go very far. So those are your main focus until both are secured but there are quite a few steps that need to be taken as soon as you decide you will someday start a Haunted Event, even before you are fully funded. They aren’t free, but they are necessary, and you might as well get started on them now.

1) Pick a name for the event. Before you can even discuss your project with someone you need to call it something. Choosing the name for your event is a huge step and should be started as soon as you decide you are going forward with the event. Hauntrepreneurs.com helps you with this effort as part of Phase I of our project proposal. We have years of experience creating branding for Haunted events and steering you away from problem names, but you can do it yourself.

Make sure you can buy the .com for the name you choose. This will almost guarantee that no one is already using the name. Eventually you need to Trademark the name, or someone else can take the name away from you. Or someone else using that name could ruin your business by injuring someone. Currently there are 5 or more events in the US called “Field of Screams” because no one ever trademarked the name and stopped other people from using it, and recently there were a number of arrests and convictions of sex offenders praying on minors working at one of the events. Now all of them are tainted with the bad press and may be forced to change their name.

Never put your location in the name of the event. Someday you may have to change locations, either because of your success, or you want to sell the event and retire, or some other issues out of your control and “Nightmare on Elmhurst Street” becomes a problem when they move away from Elmhurst. Nightmare and Terror are also overused in the industry and should not be used, but a city or the business you are next to, or a street name should never be part of the name or the URL. Remember, this is the name of the overall event, not just one haunted house at the event, so the name isn’t “Bob’s Haunted House” it’s “Bob’s Haunted Event.”  

2) Sponsorship money is allocated by December of the previous year, and getting sponsors is like building a relationship and that takes time, So you should start courting companies now. When speaking with sponsors, it is not always cash that you are looking for. Any assistance they can provide that would help you is gold. Customer database, advertising opportunities on their website or a tag on commercials they are already running, exposure to employees, anything that helps you build, promote, product, or saves you money or can be traded for something you need is as valuable as cash and can be easier for a sponsor to provide. Take whatever the sponsor is willing to offer. Under promise and over deliver each year, and the size of the sponsorship will increase over time. Hauntrepreneurs.com can help you formulate your sponsorship package. Call for details 972-951-5100

3) A social media following also takes time to build and should be started as soon as you have the name of the event locked down. Grab your event name for every social media you can find. This also gives you an idea if someone is using the name. (It stuns me how many haunted houses don’t have websites, and rely on Facebook as their main web presence, but I see it all the time.) If someone is using the name for a haunt, I recommend changing it. They have first use and can take the name away from you if you started using it after they did.) Once you have collected all of the social pages, start posting to let people know your event is coming. Join all the haunt groups and start posting. Use these platforms to drive interest in your project and look for talent in your area. You can even give your followers some perceived ownership of your event by asking them “What scares you? What do you like/hate in Haunted Houses? What monsters creep you out the most? Should vampires sparkle?” As people respond it opens a discussion that you can use to shape the experiences, or at least give them that impression, so they feel some ownership in your event. Those people can become your biggest fans and help you build a large following before you even open your doors.

4) Now that you have your name you need to create your brand. That starts with logos and graphics and continues with the look and feel of your website and social icons. Your logo and graphics need to be created by professionals. This is not the time to hire Uncle Dan or Nephew Uniqwa to build your website. Just because they know how, doesn’t mean they are good at it. A website is often the first impression people have of your business and should kick ass! Spend the money to have a professional HAUNT company create your branding, and use it EVERYWHERE!

5) Build your website. With a name and URL and graphics, you are ready to build your website. Again, the website is the first thing people will experience about your company, and it should be state of the art. An experienced HAUNTED EVENT web designer will make you more money that it will cost you. Make sure there is a calendar, buy tickets button and video on the first page. Your website is a sales pitch for your event. Who, What, Where, and Why people have to attend should be above the fold on your site. The Buy Tickets Now button is where you add your up-sales. If you are doing timed ticketing, which you should, you have a chance here to sell attendees stuff while they have their wallets open. Include any extras attendees could get for buying a combo ticket or VIP pass.

6) Write Your Business Plan. Many people think that a business plan is something you write and show the bank so they will loan you money. Sorry to burst your bubble but no bank will loan you money for a haunted house unless you have enough other collateral to cover the loan. And DO NOT get a second mortgage on your home to start a haunted house! Starting a business is a gamble. You would not borrow money to gamble with. Use ONLY money that you can afford to lose to start a business.

So why write a plan at all? A business plan is a set of made-up assumptions, that if all go according to plan, will make you rich. But nothing ever goes to plan. Maybe some things will be cheaper or perform better than you planned, but mostly your estimates will fall short. A business plan should be a living changing document that monitors the success and failures of your business. Update the plan as new information is available. Once you open, you have real numbers rather than estimates. Plug in those real numbers to see how they affected other parts or the plan. Double down on what worked well, and abandon or fix what didn’t. Then look at the bottom line and adjust accordingly to meet your goals.  

The website should have a link for media with pre-written articles for press to use. It should have a description of your sponsorship packages, and a signup sheet for actors. (Create a Facebook group for your actors to communicate and talk about their experiences at your haunt. You are trying to mold them into a community, and this is a great way to start.) The website should also have the backstory of the overall event and a storyline of each attraction at your event. This content is also included in Phase I of the Hauntrepreneurs.com proposal.

This list will at least get you started while you look for a location and funding for your haunted Event. Be sure to check out the Haunt Startup on a Budget article as well. Now GET STARTED!

Owner of Hauntrepreneurs(R) Haunt Design, a consulting firm for the Haunted Attraction Industry, Leonard Pickel built his first haunted house in 1976 while still in college. Since that time he has designed over 200 original and creative Haunted Attractions including Haunts for Madison Square Garden, Universal Studios Florida, Six Flags Great America, several Six Flags parks, Morris Costumes and The Playboy Mansion Halloween Party. Leonard’s creative accomplishments include design and sales of the industry’s first turn-key Haunted House ‘kits,’ and the first adaptation of “Field Theory” (triangular grid system) in a Haunted Attraction.