Just got home from a 5-1/2-hour, outdoor, poolside job. The air temperature was 99 degrees, humidity was about the same figure, and I'm headed for a nice, hot shower before hitting the sack.
Several years ago I traveled to New Jersey to meet up with Uncle Dave, Donny Pesce and Fran Carango. I learned a lot from them all. I learned a lot about keeping the dancefloor packed, learned a lot about transitioning rapidly from one song to the next, learned a lot about reading an audience, and really got some great tips on equipment setups.
As for the marketing aspects, I was already familiar with how to sell myself and how to market the product, which in this case is entertainment. It took about 6 months to become established, and I treated the entertainment business like any other business. It was full-time, 16-hours a day, 7-days a week work. Holidays are just another day of the year, but they do command premium prices. NYE, however, is an exception. It commands 4-times the regular rate and I've never had a problem getting jobs for NYE.
In 2009 I posted an article on working the nursing home circuit. For anyone interested, here's a copy of he article:
The best technique I've found for booking jobs at nursing homes, assisted living centers, retirement communities, senior centers, and similar venues has been direct mail. However, you need to do more than just send a flier to a perspective client and hope for the best--it doesn't work that way. Here's what worked for me.Create Advertising Package
First, I sat down at the computer and using Print Shop, put together a very attractive series of advertising packages. They ranged from simple cards, to fliers, to full blown packages that cost about $4 to compile. The full-blown package used a dark-blue presentation folder (available at Staples) with a photo inserted in the cover. Inside, there was a letter of introduction with exerts from various satisfied clients, 4-page song list, a 6 to 8-song CD and a business card inserted in the card slot. This cost nearly $2 to mail, which puts the package cost at approximately $6.Make Simple Card or Flier
A simple card, or one-page flier, again compiled and printed using Print Shop, is a lot less expensive, can be mailed in a 6 X 9 Calendar envelope and requires only a single first class postage stamp. They too are quite effective.Contact the Right Person
The secret to success, though, is to get the information to the right person, otherwise it will end up in the trash-can along with the tons of junk mail they receive every day. This was done by calling each facility on my mailing list and obtaining the name of the activities director (AD). This was easy. I merely called the facility and said
"Hi, this is Gary Diamond from Travlin' Easy Productions. We're updating our computer files on the various centers in the Baltimore metropolitan area and just need to verify the information we have on file."
At this point I would provide them with the mailing address I have in my computer, then ask about the number of beds or residents, and the name, and the correct spelling of the name of the Activities Director. Now, you have the information to get your advertising package to the right person. I usually updated the list every 6 to 12 months, just to keep it current.Follow-up Your Mailing
The next part of the process is the follow-up to the mailing. After allowing about 5 to 7 days for the package to arrive, pick up the telephone and call the person you mailed the package to. Once you have him or her on the telephone, ask them if they received your package. If the answer was yes, tell them you are putting together your schedule for next month or next year, whatever the case may be, and you would like to meet with them to set up an entertainment schedule for their facility. Some, ironically, will actually offer to do it over the phone, while others will set up a meeting at the facility.Become a 'Salesperson'
I prefer meeting the AD in person, which then allows me to take a close look at the facility as well. (For a variety of reasons, there are some locations where I just will not perform.) At this point, you must become a salesperson. And, as any successful salesperson will tell you, you must dress for the occasion. In most instances you should wear the same apparel you would normally wear if you were going for a job interview.Put Together A 'Formal' Schedule
Sit down with the AD, and with your scheduling calendar, put together a schedule that fits both your and their needs. Once the jobs have been scheduled, go back to your home office, sit down at the computer and compile a "Confirmation of Appearance" letter that lists all dates, locations and times of the upcoming performances. Again, Print Shop makes this an easy job that looks very professional and businesslike. Send two copies of the confirmation to the AD, along with a SASE, have them sign one of the letters and mail that copy back to you. In some instances, I actually use one of my contracts and list all the performance dates on one contract. It's a bit more formal, and it provides the client(s) with clear descriptions of the various exclusions within the contract.Stay in Touch With Customers
Once the client has been booked, they are placed on another mailing list I have compiled. This is one that I use for sending wall calendars, pens, Christmas cards, and other forms of advertisement that keeps my name high on their list. They're purchased from National Pen Company and over the years have proven very effective. Because my name is on their wall calendar, and the pen they use daily, I'm one of the first entertainers they call when it comes time for special events, parties that command a much higher fee. The calendars only cost me a little over $1 and about .25 cents for the fancy envelope. Most of the time I deliver the calendars in person, usually in late August or early September, and at the same time, book the upcoming year's entire schedule. The pens cost about .39 to .49 cents apiece and can be mailed out with the cards and packages. If you want a great calendar that can be mailed at a reasonable price, pocket planners sell for about .60 cents and can be mailed in a standard #10 envelope.
For those of you who may be wondering where all these senior places are located in your area of the United States, do a Google search and you'll be amazed at how many centers are located within an hour or less drive time from your home.
While everyone believes competition is high in their particular area, keep in mind that most of the individuals providing entertainment are not full time entertainers. Some can only work nights and weekends, which means there are huge numbers of locations where you can work weekdays. Provide them with a great show, act professional, schmooze with the residents, and your calendar will be so full you will have to book your own vacation two years in advance.
One more thing. Rates vary throughout the United States and the rest of the world. Until two years ago, I charged $100 per hour for my performances with a $400 minimum for private parties. After doing my income tax return in 2010 I came to the stark reality that I was slowly going in reverse. Everything had increased in my expenses, but the hourly rate had remained the same for more than a decade. I decided to raise the fee to $125 per hour, a move that many people on this forum felt was excessive. Well, in the end I lost two regular customers, and gained five new ones. That's not a bad way to do business. And, the two regulars I lost said when they can get it approved, they'll be hiring me back and hope I can fit them into my schedule.
As many of you know, I'm going to take a 7-month sabbatical beginning in October. I'm sailing south to the Florida Keys, Dry Tortugas, and maybe the Bahama Islands. I'm taking my music gear with me and hope to be performing in the sunny south for at least 5 of the 7 months. I have already ordered my 2013 calendars and they are due to arrive August 1st this year. When they do, I will be spending several days visiting with my current ADs and filling out dates beginning April 1 2013. All of them said "no problem" and wished me well on my voyage of a lifetime.
Now, if for some reason I happen to get my aging a$$ killed on this 7-monthy voyage, someone in my neck of the woods is gonna' end up with a lot more work than they want. I gave the ADs some names - just in case: Joe Ayala, Gary Alesandro, Ken King, and a few others. They'll probably be pissed because they'll have to work their a$$ off, but if I'm dead I won't know how pissed they are.
Hope this helps,