Every entertainer has a perceived market value – the amount of money people are willing to pay for your services based on their past experience with you or their name recognition of you. Unfortunately, during tough economic times many entertainers feel they must reduce their fee in order to get the gig. They think short-term and become a “gig pig” rather than adopt a long-term philosophy of protecting their value. Whatever your perceived market value is, you must protect it, nurture it, and grow it despite the current economy. Lowering your price in the short-term economic recession hurts your long-term profitability. Granted, you need money now to pay your bills, so it might be easy to justify lowering your rates. There are other ways to make some short-term money to fill in any gaps in income, such as a temporary part time job. Even better, start saving some money so you have a cushion to fall back on when times are tight. Whatever you do, if you want to build your reputation, you need to turn down gigs that could hurt or inhibit your long-term pricing. As you work your way through the current recession, keep the following best practices in mind.
1. Don’t change your price; change who you market to.
If your current target market can no longer afford your fee, offer your services to a new market who can afford you. If you are a corporate entertainer, for example, and your fee is $5,000, that’s a lot of money for a company who paid $1,500 for the holiday party entertainer last year. For a company that paid $10,000 for their entertainment, however, $5,000 is a steal. If you work fairs, don’t waste time and money marketing to one- and two-day events. Go for the three-week fairs in Texas, California, and the massive Calgary Stampede Fair in Canada. These are the ones with bigger budgets who can afford your fee. Likewise, if you work birthday parties, target wealthy neighborhoods. If you work schools, target wealthy school districts. Economic pain is relative. So shift your focus to the target markets that consider your current fee a great deal.
2. Just say “no.”
In order to be perceived as a $10,000 entertainer, you must turn down the $200 shows. Here’s a common example: An agency you have never worked with before offers you a show for $200. Your normal rate is $2,500 plus travel. For whatever reason, you accept the $200 gig. Regardless of what you said to the agency on the phone (“Okay…but just this one time”) or how you justified taking this gig in your head (“My fridge is looking pretty bare”) that agency now has you pegged as a $200 act. They’re certainly not going to think of you when that $5,000 gig comes in. Always remember that when you do a successful show at $5,000 you get more shows for $5000. When you do a successful show at $200 you get more shows for $200. When you do say no, don’t avoid the conversation and tell them you’re booked on that date. Explain your reasoning. Remind them that your price is X. It may take several gig turn-downs, but eventually the agencies and bookers will learn that you’re serious about your price.
3. Don’t equate dollars to minutes on stage.
Many entertainers think they have to lower their price for short performances. They say, “Well, it’s only a 25-minute spot, so I’ll do it for half the price.” Yes, it is a 25-minute spot, and you’re used to doing 50 minutes. At first glance, it may appear that you’re doing half the work, but the show is on a Friday night outside Boise. You’re still packing for the show, flying to Boise, renting a car, doing a sound check, delivering the show, packing up after the show, staying at a hotel overnight, returning the car, flying back home, and unpacking. That’s a full two-days of your life, not to mention any prep work you did for the show in terms of writing, tailoring your material, supplying promotional materials, preparing contracts, etc. Plus you missed your Friday night date with your wife and your child’s soccer game on Saturday morning. Remember that in addition to your show, you are being paid to be away from family and friends and to travel. The show is the enjoyable part – or at least it should be. If it’s not, then rethink your career choice.
4. Spend your time more wisely.
Performing for any type of audience at any dollar amount takes time and energy. If you’re scrambling around chasing low-paying gigs all over the country, you’re going to be too short on time and too exhausted to get yourself into a higher fee bracket. It’s very difficult to break this cycle once you get into that rut. You’re better off spending your time marketing to higher paying crowds. Do the math. It takes five $1,000 gigs to get the same income as one $5,000 gig. That’s five times as many days away from home, five times as many travel days, five times the work, etc. Let’s say your target income is $20,000 a month. That means you either need to get four $5,000 gigs or twenty $1,000 gigs. Think of the extra hustling, traveling, and the wear and tear that twenty gigs in one month will have on you and your family. Doing fewer shows for a higher value will give you more time to be at home with your family and friends. It will also afford you the time you need to devote to getting more $5,000 gigs. If you’re constantly traveling and performing, it’s difficult to promote and network, which are the exact things you need to do to reach that next level.
5. Be realistic.
You have to find that sweet spot where your perceived market value intersects with your ability to deliver. Therefore, when setting your fee, don’t randomly pick an exorbitant price out of the air and stick to it at all costs. Do a reality check. Maybe you’re not worth $20,000 a show…at least not yet. Maybe you need better promotional materials. Maybe you need a better act. For $20,000 a show, you probably need both! Simply find your “sweet spot,” hold to that minimum, and push it.
6. Grow organically.
Before you become a $20,000 act, you have to do a lot of shows for $1,000, and then a lot for $2,500, and then a lot for $5,000, $7,500, $10,000, etc. And that’s the way it should be. In order to handle the audience, the venue, and the pressure to deliver the value that comes along with a $20,000 price tag, you will need the years of experience and professional development that naturally flow from so many shows under your belt and so many years in the business. You will also need to win the trust of your client or event planner before this responsibility is given to you. Slow and steady is the way to go. Push yourself constantly, but enjoy the climb.
7. Know the exceptions.
Are there exceptions to these rules? Of course. You may choose to reduce your fee for family, friends, a good cause, etc. However, here’s the best advice: If a gig can’t pay much and you have personal reasons for taking it, make it a charity show. It’s a nice thing to do, and it looks great too. When people hear that you “donated your time,” they’ll think you’re a saint. Even better, you’re avoiding all those potential misunderstandings and conversations about reducing your fee in the future. Now when someone sees you perform at the fundraiser and contacts you for a show, you’re starting with a clean slate. Also, if a fundraiser wants to pay you $200 for your act, suggest that they take that money and make a donation of $200 to the organization in your name. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Stay True to Your Value
Performing for cheap doesn’t just hurt you financially that one time – it hurts for the long-term. Realize that clients or agencies who happen to get you for cheap one night don’t think “Maybe it was just this once” or “Maybe she’s trying to get extra money for Christmas shopping.” They just think you are cheap, and then they tell others about this great cheap act. Now you’re pegged as a cheap entertainer. Granted, not every cheap booking will directly impact your career in immediate ways you can see. These patterns develop, however, and you get trapped in them. Twenty years later you’re doing the same shtick and wondering why you can’t get your fee up. The bottom line: You can’t verbally convince someone they should be privileged to have gotten you for a certain dollar amount. Actions speak louder than words. If you don’t normally perform for that little, then turn it down. Whatever you do, don’t give yourself away.