In August of 2015, Mark Wade published a post here on the Maher blog about what it takes to go pro. It has been almost two years since Mark shared that post, so I thought I would look back and add some thoughts of my own.
Ventriloquism is fun. It seems like a great way to make a living. And it is. But it definitely isn’t easy. Because of the “fun” aspect, there are many amateur & semi-pro vents who would like to take the step into the professional realm. If that is you, I hope you’ll find these insights helpful.
Mark’s first tip was to make certain you have a saleable act. I have to agree with that. You need an act that people want to see. You need to make certain your act meets your client’s needs. Just because you have an act, doesn’t mean it is saleable.
So how do you know if you have an act people want? As my good friend Sammy King says – “Time On The Boards.” You need to put in your homework. Get in front of as many people as possible. Cut the “B” material so you have a great show. Record your shows and listen to the laughter. Only the laughter. Time it. Are you getting 4 to 6 strong laughs a minute? Are you getting standing ovations? If so, you may have a saleable act.
Can you personalize your routines and still draw laughs? Learning to customize your material leads to having a saleable act. Remember audiences don’t always like what you like. You need to entertain them. As Mark indicated, there is a difference between making a few dollars with your act versus making your entire living doing shows.
As a professional, you are responsible for paying the expenses of the business AND your personal bills. Add up your mortgage or rent, electric, water, health insurance and other living expenses. Now add on advertising & marketing, business insurance, office expenses, phone, car & consumables. Plus don’t forget saving for retirement and having an emergency fund. You can see that the figures add up.
Do you have an intended market? You may be able to work a couple of different ones, but as a pro, you simply can not work them all. That is an amateur approach.
Do you enjoy entertaining audiences in the markets you plan on working. You’ll need to do a lot of shows, so you better.
Are you disciplined? Working for yourself means working harder than ever. Do you have the discipline to create new material for repeat audiences? Can you sit down at the computer to search for program opportunities, send emails, proposals and contracts. Are you good with numbers? There is bookkeeping to contend with.
You can’t hire people to book the shows for you. Your chances of success drop significantly. I know plenty of people who have tried. It seldom ends well. You will likely be responsible for finding, booking and doing the shows.
When you are busy performing, it makes the office work even harder. That is why some have dead time in their performance schedule. Can you deal with not performing for several weeks? It can be stressful when that is your only source of income.
Discipline is also needed for expenditures. Can you forgo something else because you need available cash to send out mailings?
Can you sell? You have to be a salesperson as a professional entertainer. How else would you convince clients you are the right choice for their event?
When I went pro, I had enough money to cover my bills for six months. That was in 1984 and I never looked back. Before you attempt to go pro, I highly recommend you have a financial cushion too. Another indicator that you are ready, is when your show income matches or exceeds your regular income. That provides you with the confidence to move forward.
Going pro is a big step. It is more than just doing shows. It is a business. If you plan on taking the step, try taking some business courses at your community college. Knowing what to expect is half the battle.
If you haven’t read Ken Groves’ Breaking Down The Brick Walls Of Showbiz, you should. It is a no-nonsense look at the business end of our art from a consistently successful ventriloquist. You can check it out here …