“Throwing a Party” The Client Delusion (Part 3)

Written by Kyle Sipkens


Part three in our business series exploring better business practices discovered through real world experience in how to handle challenging situations with customers and improve your approach to business operations.

OK… It’s happened to all of us. There are a few things that businesses don’t like to hear (and yet hear all the time):

“We can’t pay you, but you will probably get more work from it”; or

“We didn’t budget for that rate…”.

Sound familiar? Well, you’re probably going to keep hearing them. But, let’s have an honest discussion about what is it that bugs us about them and how can we turn them into a positive, business building opportunity?

“Throwing a Party” Syndrome

“I throw incredible parties and everyone will be there… It’s a Great Exposure Opportunity!” You may have heard this (or something like it) from a client in the past. If I can give any piece of advice to anyone in ‘Customer Land’, it’s to wipe this phrase ‘exposure opportunity’ from your vocabulary. If possible, set your autocorrect to replace their phrase with “unpaid work”.

See what happens when Toronto design firm Zulu Alpha Kilo asked non-creative businesses to offer their services “on spec”:

You may not get very far asking a plumber to fix your clogged toilet for the promise it may lead to more work if it goes well! Your local fast food restaurant may not be willing to supply a a burger combo ‘on spec’ since you’re considering multiple restaurants for future lunches long term. And your mechanic may not be receptive to your recommendation to your friends for repairing that transmission.

If you’re not paying: say so. That simple. For any professional, this is how they make their living. “Exposure” will neither cover an artist’s costs incurred to make your booking happen, nor will exposure pay their rent, groceries, and other living costs… You may think that you throw a great party and everyone will want to be there but if it was only that person’s presence you wanted, you would have sent an invitation not a request to provide their services and add value to your event. After all, isn’t that what you’re looking to do? Guarantee a memorable guest experience and make your event a destination by promising attendees an anticipated experience value. This is why you’re able to charge a ticket for admission: The experience! This is just as pivotal to the success of any event as the food, lighting, decor (or any other essential element).

If you’re a charity, not-for-profit or someone with a tight budget give the details of your event and ask for rates. If your a event is a fundraiser, you can ask if they have charity rates (there’s no harm in asking). But the promise that someone may get more work by appearing at your event rarely happens. If this was the case, you would already have people knocking down your door to appear there.

People attending a party are rarely in the mindset to do business. They’re there having a good time (hopefully) and that’s by the hard work of those creating that experience.

And, while it’s great to give ‘up & comers’ the chance to gain experience, be careful hiring inexperienced performers, especially if they operate without insurance. This may end up costing you much, MUCH more if they damage the venue or -worse- injure themselves or a guest. The money you saved may end up costing you much more than those initial savings and you may be putting your home/savings at risk as the event producer.

We only really need you for a full hour…

First, most performers will be onsite up to an hour (or more) before your event depending on set-up/preparation. This is time to check in with you (so you’re not left wondering IF the performer will show up) but also to do safety checks/site walks, set up equipment, stretch, get in to make-up/costume… and a grocery list of other tasks. Just like in a theatre, there’s lots of work that goes in before the curtain goes up!

Also consider that time devoted to your event not only incurs cost associated (transportation, insurance, supplies, etc…) but also time away from earning needed money elsewhere. You may not be receptive to your workplace changing the terms of your employment to only 15 minutes each hour without paid breaks/lunches at the beginning and end of the day. You would be hard pressed being able to earn revenue somewhere else between those times and would still need to be there at the workplace ready work those times. Being at your workplace 40 hours/week but only paid for 1.5 hours each day will not make it easy to pay your bills. This is why performers (especially during peak times) may have minimum appearance fees. Depending on location/traffic, this could also mean lots of time commuting and possibly not being able to appear at another event.

“But you’re having fun while you work anyway right?!”

What’s a difference between a professional and an amateur? Someone who can make the incredibly challenging look effortless, and paste a smile on their face while they do it. Have you ever been fortunate enough to see a show by Cirque du Soliel? Their performers push beyond the limits of what a human body can do and discover new ways to achieve the impossible within a framework of beauty and artistry few can match. And do you see them sweat? Rarely… But that’s not because they’re not working furiously to achieve those incredible feats without hurting themselves or others.

“I wish I made that Much an hour”

Some customers may have a moment of sticker shock if you break down what a performer supplies based on an “hourly” basis. Certainly a sports team may get a similar shock if you broke down any professional athlete to only “game time”. But what don’t you see behind that value? The lifetime of training and endless hours of practice to make that performance time seem effortless. If you read the recommendations for speakers of the TED Talks series, you’ll note that they highlight the BEST talks are always the ones which seem spontaneous & effortless, but that comes from the amount of rehearsal! Run it again and again and again and – when you think you can’t possibly improve it anymore – run it again! This is what performers do… constantly rehearsing, constantly improving to ensure everything runs perfectly at showtime!

It would also be physically impossible for any performer be performing 40 hours a week (but that doesn’t mean they’re not working). Most professional performers are running their business of “I Am A Performer, inc.” handling bookings, travel arrangements, payments, book keeping, developing material, training, rehearsing, etc. which enables them to create that perfectly timed show and still make it seem effortless. They work far more than 4o hours a week (chances are it’s more like 80+) and the negotiated artist fee is not a slight against what you earn per hour, it’s what they need to charge to operate as a professional business that provides the act you’re enjoying.

Remember: This is how the performer is making a living. For the professionals who are lucky enough to make their living at it, this means they need to keep making a living. They will have set their rates based on industry standards but also their operational costs and need to generate a potential profit as any business would.

Turning the Tables: The “Customer Inversion Paradox”

Sometimes… A strange thing can happen when someone who is used to handling customers gets to jump into the other role and become the customer. The opportunity to be more at ease and feel like you have the power in the exchange can lead to an expectation that “Finally! It’s your turn to impress me!” (And you should wow them!)

However… This can get a bit out of control when the Customer becomes highly demanding. Feeling that the supplier should be able to meet the expectations of the customer and for the rates they feel that should pay. Obviously, no one will have the authority to tell you how to run your business, and sometime this requires extra time to explain what considerations go into your fee structure and how your product/service will specifically help them. The more they can envision your service/product improving their operations, the better your chances of agreeing to work together.

Does that mean they have permission to be that rude customer they aways have to deal with? Of course not. How did you feel being on the receiving end of that? No one ever wants to deal with that customer and no one ever (really) wants to become that customer. Keep reminding your client that they are being heard and how you are providing the solution their looking for in a reasonable manner to ensure the health of your business as much as theirs and you’ll be back on track!

Stay tuned for part four as we continue to explore The Client Delusion…

Posted in: