Juggler's World: Vol. 43, No. 2

Working Through Hard Times

by Keith Johnson

"I'm still working, but it's not the 1980s any more." I've had this short conversation with jugglers, magicians, landscapers and real estate sales people, over and over again.

America's economic virus known as the recession has spread coast to coast, giving many independent entertainers flu symptoms. Headaches, sluggishness, upset stomaches and loss of work are but a few of the maladies afflicting us. These early 1990's defy us to succeed. Are you up to the challenge?

Independent entertainers are a hearty breed. We have built in immunities that will help us recover and thrive in the 1990's. It's time we reminded ourselves of the control and power we have over the fates. We are self employed professionals who perform for birthdays, restaurants, malls, festivals and elementary schools, indoors or out, full or part time. Our dedication, skill and love of performing have made us successful in good times, trust that these same qualities are all that we need to keep working through the hard times.

When in doubt, begin at the beginning. Consider the steps you have taken to build your career. Most likely you started with an innocent desire to learn a skill, juggling. It was years ago and there were countless hours of practice, trial and error, research and perhaps some guidance and inspiration from an accomplished juggler. The fun you were having looked to others like hard work. You mastered the cascade and someone asked, "What else can you do?" After more hard work you mastered variations, added more props, some style and now people were asking you to perform for them. What happened then? You had the skill, a desire to perform and people ready to watch. You became an entertainer.

As word spread and business picked up you became an entrepreneur. Your business has proven to be a valuable asset to the community and people gladly pay for your skill and experience, congratulations!

The business of entertaining begins with the realization that you are a product, like a loaf of bread or a washing machine. Some performers fail to grasp the full meaning of this crucial concept. I have a friend who is an excellent juggler. He loves to perform but isn't willing to do the work to sell his act. He relies upon a small agency to find him work. He doesn't work much. Remember, you are your own best salesperson! You alone control the amount of entertaining you will do.

Consider that today you are starting your business fresh. You must define, market and produce your product. You should recognize the consumers needs as well as your own. Realize that your desire to perform is not reason enough for someone to hire you.

Periodically, I have found the following system of reviewing my goals and re-evaluating my services helpful. It exchanges my day to day tunnel vision for a birds eye view of where I really am in my market.

After some research, I've found the most successful entertainers in my area have a few things in common. On the phone they are great listeners, positive, sincere and they don't push for a decision. They fear nothing from people "shopping around." They are prompt, courteous and clean. They deliver exactly what they promise, send thank you notes and are always looking for ways to improve their product. Lastly, they dedicate time to the business of entertaining, keep good records and they love what they do.

People will hire you if they believe you are "worth it." If you find your birthday business is slacking off because a rival juggles and does balloon sculpture, you should seriously consider learning balloon sculpture and few magic tricks as well. Learn new props or work out new routines. There may be classes in stand up comedy or story telling in your area. Keep growing and stay fresh.

Teaching your skills is a natural extension of performing. Offer classes at local YMCA's, adult learning centers, libraries etc. This will give you added credibility and a greater exposure to those people who may someday hire you.

Learn to use free advertising. Give your business card to everyone you meet. Volunteer to perform at charity events in exchange for a mention in their advertising. Post fliers in super markets, childrens' clothing stores and libraries. Let your local news paper know when you have a show coming up. Send them a press release and request that they send a photographer. Offer yourself as a possible human interest story.

We independent entertainers have the power to shape our own destinies. Rise up and meet the challenges this decade holds. Thrive now and I believe when this recession rebounds, your hard work will pay off one hundred fold and you will find yourself far ahead of those who did nothing but complain.

Keith Michael Johnson has been a full time independent entertainer in Providence, Rhode Island since 1986. He entertains family and school audiences with a blend of juggling, magic, comedy, dance and balloon sculpture.

Working Through Hard Times / Index, Vol. 43, No. 2 / jis@juggling.org
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