7 Things I Wish I Had Known About Becoming a Professional Performer

Laura-804I have learned something from each and every gig I have had. Sometimes it’s something I should do more of, and sometimes it’s something I need to change for the next one. I could write several books on how to make it as a performer, but for this article I’m going to share with you the top 7 lessons I’ve learned. My hope is that if you’re looking into becoming a professional performer you’ll read this and avoid some of the common pitfalls that are out there. If you’re willing to put the work in, performing can be extremely rewarding, but you need to work smart as well as hard. So get off of Facebook, stop watching YouTube videos, and start getting your act together.

Most of what you do as a professional has nothing to do with juggling

When I first became a professional performer I thought it would enable me to juggle all the time! Truth is most of what I do all day is marketing, contacting clients, and all kinds of other work that lands me in front of my computer. There’s still juggling-I practice every day and have shows, but the time spent leading up to those shows far exceeds the time spent on stage. And that’s just how it is.

It’s not about you

It’s not about the awards you’ve won or how many balls you can juggle. What your client really cares about is what you can do for them. This should be reflected in everything from how you speak to clients and what you write on your promotional materials to your website wording. Put yourself in your clients place. What would you want? What kind of fears would you have about hiring a performer? When you are writing any kind of promotional script, imagine your client asking “So what?”, “Why does that matter to me?” When you seek to fulfill other people’s dreams, it will help you fulfill yours.

Let the IRS help you, not hose you

Keep good records of what you make and what you spend on your business. You don’t want the IRS to come knocking on your door with no proof of where your money has gone. Uncle Sam will help you with your business expenses. Set up a bank account for your business and always put the money you earn into it and use it to pay for business expenses. Your props, the food you eat on the road, hotel stays, costumes, this all comes out of one account and that makes it much easier when April comes around. Find yourself a good accountant, because as a performer, chances are your taxes will be complicated. You will need to file in EVERY state you perform in. I also recommend using a program such as Quickbooks to keep your records. Update your records every week throughout the year and your taxes will be a breeze. It’s also a great tool to help create and track financial goals. Speaking of which…

Make goals, don’t just dream

A goal is a dream with a time limit. We’ve just started a new year. Have you made any resolutions? Take a really hard look at every aspect of your business and make goals that are SMART: Specific, Meaningful, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. An example of a smart goal would be getting at least one show every month in 2013. It’s a specific number of shows, it’s meaningful to the business, it’s attainable if you work hard, it is relevant to your larger goals, and it has a time limit. Write your goals down and tell everyone that will listen to you what they are. This will help keep you accountable.

GET IT IN WRITING

This is worth repeating. Get it in writing. GET IT IN WRITING! If you take only one thing away from reading this article be sure this is the one. Make sure you have a contract that covers all of your needs and all of the clients’ promises. They could tell you that they will give you a pony that poops gold after the show but if you don’t put that in writing, with both of your signatures, then chances are you’ll be walking home without that pony. Contact a lawyer to take a look at your contract or even write it for you. Make sure your contract covers what happens if the client cancels, as well as when, where, and how the performance is supposed to happen. Your contract can never be too specific. Think about everything you need for your show to happen. Do you bring up volunteers? Make sure that if the stage is too high that there are stairs. I have had to put things in my tech rider that I never thought I would have to- like access to a bathroom!

Just Do It!

Fear is huge. It’s debilitating and it robs you of new experiences and joys every day. It’s that voice that says you’re not good enough, this isn’t the right time, wouldn’t you rather stay in your comfort zone? That’s all bullsh#t. Go out there and just do it! Do whatever it is that you’ve been wanting to do. The worst case scenario is never as bad as you imagine it to be. I try to do something every day that scares me. After awhile, it just doesn’t seem so risky. I’ll be honest, I get scared every time I do a show, or even just calling up a potential client, but I would be so mad at myself if I let my fear get in the way of doing something that I love so much. I have no real answer to overcoming fear, you just have to go out there and do it despite feeling afraid.

You don’t have to do it alone

If you’re not a web designer, don’t put up your own website. If you’re not a lawyer, don’t write your contract alone. I have a whole list of people from comedy writers, to costume designers, prop makers, virtual assistants and graphic designers helping me with my business. I’m not alone. If I’m not good at something in my business or if I just don’t want to do it, I pass it on to someone whom I know can do it much better. At the beginning I did everything myself, and when I started to outsource it changed everything. I get more accomplished faster and better than when I did it all myself.

There are also programs out there designed to help out new artists and performers. They are just a Google search away. Here are a couple of my favorites:

www.springboardforthearts.org/

www.kickstarter.com/

www.getmorecorporategigs.com/

Also, most performers I know are more than willing to give advice, so don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t wait- make a list of specific questions and reach out to other performers for some great free advice. Be sure to thank them afterwords (may I suggest edible arrangements?).

Obviously, there are plenty more tips to be given. What are some of your tips? What is something you’ve been wondering about becoming a professional performer? Leave a comment below!

Laura Ernst

It started innocently enough- learning to juggle for a middle school play in her small Iowa hometown. Her first performances were at street festivals in that hometown, wowing audiences with fire manipulation. Several years later, Laura has made a career out of her passion for entertaining. Never settling for average, Laura has invented innovative props and brought new life to old favorites. She has performed all over the world, at corporate events, colleges, and cruise ships. She currently resides in Des Moines, Iowa with her wonderful husband Ryan.

Comments 0

  1. This is a fantastic article. I see too many performers who struggle because running a business doesn’t come as easy as our talents. (I’ve been one of those performers, at times.)

    I would add to the tax advice – always pay quarterly if you qualify for that. Don’t wait till the end of the year and have to write one big check. With every quarterly check you write to the IRS, you can say to yourself, “Wow, this is a small price to pay for being able to work for myself!”

    I’m not a juggler, but I see that this website is about the whole performing experience. This is inspiring!

  2. Thanks Annie. The business side of performing was definitely my weak side. I love the suggestion of paying quarterly. That’s way better than making one big check out in April.

  3. Laura, Nice article. I agree with all of it. I’d add three things re contracts:

    Get a deposit. Specify your cancellation fee if you have one. And never make your cancellation fee more than your deposit.

  4. Great article. Do a SWAT analysis on your act and business. Analyze the strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats in the marketplace.

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