Posts Tagged ‘Heywood Banks’

Entrepreneurial Evolution

July 25, 2014

Monday July 21st, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Like it or not, a whole lot of us are going to have to get more entrepreneurial in a hurry. I have been interested in having my own business ever since I can remember, but it always took a back seat to being a comedian. It’s only been recently that I’ve understood that comedy IS a business.

What a dummy I’ve been, but it’s not too late to change. I always use the great James Gregory from Atlanta as the gold standard of comedians that understand the business side best, and I have yet to run into anyone better. The only close horse in the race is Heywood Banks, and then all of the rest of us are sliding around in a giant mud pit hoping to find a couple of straggling nickels.

There are a lot of stellar business people in the comedy field in Los Angeles, but I am thinking of road dogs like me. James figured it out early, and has been consistently at the top of the game for decades. Heywood has done well for himself too, and I respect both those guys enormously.

If they’re not natural entrepreneurs, they sure have worked hard at fooling everyone. They are both extremely hard workers, and it is no accident either one of them has achieved their success. They have handled their business well, and didn’t choose to play the Hollywood roulette game.

These are two shining examples of entrepreneurs in the comedy game, but I’m talking of life in general. Ma and Pa public are broke, and there’s no sign of relief in sight. They can either get out there are start some kind of a business or they can learn to like cat food. Times are excruciating.

My grandfather used to tell me horror stories about The Great Depression, and from all he said it wasn’t that great. He was forced to become an entrepreneur, and he did just about anything he could get involved in to try and feed his family. According to both Grandma and Gramps, it was nothing to joke about. Everyone was tense, and nobody had any clue if it would ever get better.

Well, it looks like history is repeating itself after all. The whole country is broke, and 99.999% of us can use some extra cash right about now. For most of us it’s not extra either – it’s all we’ve got. Prices of food and gas and everything else are rising steadily, and nobody I know is doing at least halfway decently much less kicking ass. Life is rather bleak, but there has to be a solution.

Reading about The Great Depression, there were people that made fortunes for the ages. There are people doing it today as well, but they were rich to start with. The rich truly are getting richer but I don’t see how I can get any poorer. I’m barely hanging on, and it’s not how I want to live.

It’s been a constant struggle to keep the bills paid, and the distraction that is saps my creativity for projects I want to do. I did get a couple of very generous gifts, but I used that money to erase a hefty credit card bill and stop the bleeding of that insane interest rate. Now I am right at zero.

That doesn’t mean some emergency couldn’t wipe me out again, and I am still dangling by the thinnest of threads. I don’t think a job alone will be the long term solution. I will have to earn my own fortune, as there is nobody that’s going to leave me theirs. A lot of others share this scenario and we all have choices to make. The law of the jungle is adapt or die. It’s not “like it was”, and it’s not going to be any time soon. Being an entrepreneur is in my future, so I may as well like it.

Tough times force a lot of people to become entrepreneurs against their will. I am going willingly.

Tough times force a lot of people to become entrepreneurs against their will. I am going along willingly.

My friend James Gregory in Atlanta is the standard bearer for road comic entrepreneurialism. He's the king. www.funniestman.com

My friend James Gregory in Atlanta is the gold standard bearer for road comedian entrepreneurialism. He is the KING. http://www.funniestman.com

Heywood Banks is far from a slouch. He has always had a solid grasp on the business side of things. www.heywoodbanks.com.

Another friend Heywood Banks is far from a slouch. He has always had a solid grasp on the business aspect. http://www.heywoodbanks.com.

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Marketing In Motion

March 16, 2014

Saturday March 15th, 2014 – Springfield, IL

Our worst fears came true this weekend, and the turnout has been small at Donnie B’s Comedy Club in Springfield, IL. There’s not a whole lot anyone can do, as Donnie was out there hitting it hard like he usually does. He’s always got a load of posters in his car, and we made the rounds at the local radio stations as is customary when I’m here. For whatever reason, it was a slow week.

It upsets me when promoters lose money, but especially Donnie B. There just aren’t that many club owners that hustle as hard he does to fill his club, but this just isn’t a ripe market. If he had a club in a big city – and I wish he did – I’d be sitting pretty. Still, I enjoy working for him here.

One thing I especially like is that he has his headliners do an hour rather than the customary 45 minutes. It’s a great workout for me, and I enjoy the challenge. He hosts the shows and promotes what he needs to, and then brings up an opener that does maybe twelve minutes tops. I love that.

It’s great practice for me, and the audiences are usually very friendly and receptive here for the most part. Even this weekend when the numbers weren’t big, each one of the four audiences was really into the show and I had a blast. I made up my mind to give them my very best – and I did.

One thing I need to work on is my sales pitch for merchandise. That’s a tricky procedure, but it needs to be done. It can’t be too long and ‘salesy’, but it needs to get the point across that I’ll be available after the show to meet and greet if they want to say hello. I consciously worked on my presentation all four shows, and it worked splendidly. I ended up selling something every show.

I have to credit my friend James Gregory for planting this seed, and he did it years ago. I have been dabbling in it, but I need to jump in with both feet and DO it. There’s a lot that goes into an effective sales campaign, and it all starts with the pitch from the stage. That’s what I worked on.

I also worked on including all things Uranus. I have some funny prototype t-shirts, and there is no reason I shouldn’t start selling them. I’ve had them for a while, but I never tried to push them from the stage. What a yutz I was, as they’re very well made and really funny. This week I threw them out there, and they were a big hit! It made me very excited when I saw them draw interest.

I know this gimmick is a winner. I can feel it. I sold the point that Uranus was discovered this week in 1781, and that I was starting a club called ‘The Uranus Movement’ for Earth inhabitants that were sick of the insanity here and wanted to escape. I didn’t sell the king just yet, but I will.

I have a book mark that says ‘I (heart) URANUS’, with the heart flipped upside down to look like a butt. Those went over like gangbusters, and I gave away a ton. It has my Twitter account listed which is @UranusTweets. Now that I’m giving these out I need to tweet something daily.

This is all part of the marketing game, and I’m making tremendous strides because I’m making it my focus. My shows are already rock solid, and they were again this weekend. I knocked it out of the park, and that’s not bragging. I know what I’m doing on stage. Offstage is the challenge.

That will come in time too, and it will be sooner than later. I will eventually discover where the exact right place in the show is to include my pitch, and it will be seamless. I’ll learn what to say, and when and how to say it to bring in the most sales. I’m already up there, why not sell product?

There’s no crime if someone doesn’t want to buy anything. I’ll still talk to them and be friendly like I always am. People will see that, and it will add to my sales. I need to organize myself as far as my table display goes as well. That’s going to take some work as well, but I’ll get to that too.

I think there should always be something free available for someone to take home with them as both a souvenir and a promo piece to pass out to their friends. The Uranus book marks are great, but I need something for Mr. Lucky and also the “Schlitz Happened!” show. I’ve got work to do.

I also need to come up with a package deal that people can buy that gets the numbers up. I have a one hour DVD shot in HD with three cameras done by my friend film director Mark Gumbinger. I’ve had it for two years now, but haven’t sold it heavily. What am I, an imbecile? In a word – YES.

I’m smartening up in a hurry, mainly because I need money more now than I ever have. I never felt comfortable selling merchandise before, but those days are over by necessity. I’ve got quite a few products to offer, and they’re not junk. The DVD is better than 99% of what I’ve seen others offer, and I shouldn’t feel ashamed to proudly display it after shows. It was hard work to make it.

Dealing with t-shirts is also a learning experience. The Uranus shirts are very well done, so I’m not ashamed to sell those either. They look professional, and the shirts aren’t those super cheapos like I’ve seen that will disintegrate with a single washing. I spent extra to maintain some quality.

I have six different varieties, but I only brought out three this weekend. That was enough, and I had all I could handle with that. I learned a lot, and it was fascinating to watch people’s dynamic as they decided what they wanted to buy. I sat back and shut my mouth so I could observe it all.

Sizes are always a part of shirt sales. I had two moms buy shirts for their teenagers, and wanted mediums. I only have XL, and even though that wasn’t what they wanted they bought because of the Uranus gimmick. Another guy wanted a 2XL, and I didn’t have that either. For the future I’m going to have to figure it out, but I will. Even getting it this far was a victory. I’ll keep working.

Price is another issue that’s going to take work. I charged $15 each for the shirts and DVDs, or both for $25. That’s a lot of money in my book, and I have to get that out of my mind as quickly as possible. I would always sell my CDs for $10, but I’ve seen people sell theirs for $15 and $20.

That extra money adds up, and I forced myself to smile and say the price rather than add “ But I’ll give them to you both for $10”. I have to learn to value myself and my products, and I’m on my way to doing that. In a very short time I can see myself having a system in place that works.

This weekend was a flop attendance wise, but a raging success in the fact that I was able to put a marketing plan into action and still give those that did show up hot shows. Thumbs up Uranus!

The great James Gregory may be trying to look crazy in this picture, but he's hands down THE best comedian marketer I have ever seen.

The great James Gregory may be trying to look crazy in this picture, but he’s hands down THE best comedian marketer I have ever seen.

His fans adore him, and I can see why. He's all about them, and gives them what they want. He's the king. www.funniestman.com.

His fans adore him, and I can see why. He’s all about them, and gives them what they want. He’s the real king. http://www.funniestman.com.

Heywood Banks runs a close second. Despite the cultivated crazy look, there's a razor sharp mind in there.

Heywood Banks runs a close second. Despite the cultivated crazy look, there’s a razor sharp mind in there. He gets it.

His CDs are hilarious, and he's got other stuff too. Check him out at www.heywoodbanks.com.

His CDs are hilarious, and he’s got other stuff too. Find him at http://www.heywoodbanks.com.

I'm modeling my own marketing after the best. I'm working on my cultivated crazy look.

I’m modeling my own marketing after the best. I’m working on my cultivated crazy look, and a varied product line is to follow.

Want a free book mark? Send me a mailing address and I'll send you as many as you like.

Want a free book mark? Send me a mailing address and I’ll send you as many as you can handle. Get BEHIND The Uranus MOVEMENT!

A Marketing Mark

December 12, 2013

Wednesday December 11th, 2013 – Island Lake, IL

I tried to come up with a rough estimate of the total number of people I’ve performed for in my entire lifetime, but it’s almost impossible to be anywhere close to accurate. If I had to guess on a round number it would have to be right around a cool million. It gets confusing, but let’s explore.

I began performing standup comedy in November of 1983, but that was once a week for maybe 40-50 if I was lucky. It took a while to get going, but by 1985 I was working steadily in comedy clubs six or even seven nights a week. That’s how most clubs ran then, and stage time was easy.

I worked year in and year out, even when I had my various radio jobs around the country. I was always diligent about getting on stage, and even though it was often a five to ten minute guest set I still count that as performing. That steady unfaltering consistency lasted roughly through 2010.

The last three years have been much slower, but it’s been that way for everyone. Few clubs are open six or seven nights a week as was commonplace in the ‘80s, and all too often my work now boils down to a weekend. Sometimes it’s only one night of that weekend. It’s just not like it was.

Some shows I’d perform for 30 and others 300 – sometimes on the same night. If I had to pick a number to average it out, I wouldn’t have a clue. Let’s just throw out 100 as a round number to start with, and multiply that by roughly 250 shows a year. Sometimes it was even higher, but for the most part that’s probably pretty close to how many it was the years between 1985 and 2010.

That’s 25 years of averaging around 250 shows a year for roughly 100 people each show. That adds up to 625,000 people, but who knows if it’s accurate? What if the average was 150? It may or may not be closer to reality, and that would bump it up to 937,500. That doesn’t count the two years it took to get up and rolling or the last three years where I did still work as much as I could.

And I’m not including any of the radio or TV I’ve done. I’m just counting live standup comedy performances, and to the best of my backwoods figuring capabilities I’m somewhere close to the one million mark of those who have seen me perform live. Out of six billion, I’d say that’s low.

Not only is it low, it took a lifetime to achieve it. Granted, I was told that the audience on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” reached about two million viewers. I don’t remember who told me that or even if it’s accurate, but that’s what I heard. I also was told our weekly number of listeners when I was on the morning show on 97.9 ‘The Loop’ in Chicago was around 250,000.

I’ve been on the Bob and Tom radio show six or seven times, and they allegedly have several million listeners in roughly 200 US markets. All these numbers don’t mean much, and I have no way of getting a realistic head count so I won’t even try. I’ll just say I’ve been around the block.

The point I’m trying to make is that my goal is to get $20 from all of these people. That could be a ticket to a live show, a CD, DVD or all three. Maybe it’s a t-shirt, baseball cap, fishing lure, codpiece or any other bauble or trinket in any conceivable combination. Live shows are fine, but merchandise is what shoots income over the top. All the great marketers are documented masters of “back of the room” sales, and I intend to be right up there with the best that have ever lived.

It’s not just a matter of hauling around a bunch of random doo dads though. I think there needs to be some thought put into it, and the products have to have something that sells them. I guess it could be called a gimmick, but I don’t want to rip anyone off. I want to find what sells a product and do just that. I have no idea what that is right now, but I intend to find out sooner than later.

Say my first estimate of 625,000 people was accurate for argument’s sake. What if I had begun selling a lot earlier than I did, and gotten $20 from only 10% of those people? That’s still the tidy sum of $1,250,000. Even after taxes, that would be a nice little chunk of change to have handy.

I started selling CDs in 2003, only because people were asking me for one. I did sell some, but also gave away a whole lot too. I thought it would get my name out there, and it has. I get people sending me emails saying they had a friend loan them my CD and now they’re a fan. That’s nice.

‘Nice’ doesn’t cut it however. Would it be that difficult to get their email address and put them on a mailing list? Not at all. Then they could find out where I’m performing, and maybe it would even be in their area where they’d come out and see me live. If I had other products, they may be so inclined to buy some or all of those as well. I have missed out on literally millions of dollars.

I remember having the idea to record an album back in the late ‘80s. NOBODY back then was selling anything once again with the exception of James Gregory and I have always respected his vision. Comedians used to poke fun at him for doing it, because they were ‘purists’. Right. Those ‘purists’ were too busy guzzling booze, snorting cocaine and chasing waitresses to be marketers.

I was never a partier, but I also never focused on my business either. I had more than my share of other problems to worry about, but had I been smart I would have done that album when I had the idea. Nobody was doing anything like that then, and even though it likely wouldn’t have been very good I bet I could have sold some just because I had it. It would have been worth the effort.

Brad Tassell is from my comedy generation, and he wrote a book called “Hell Gig” about what it was like to live on the road and do comedy. Nobody else had a book then, and I always thought Brad was brilliant for writing it. He sold them after shows, and I bought one out of respect for his effort. He was far ahead of his time, and it’s still available today. Find it at http://www.streetjoke.com.

Heywood Banks is another terrific marketer from the standup world. At last count there were 6 t-shirts, 9 CDs and a book available on his site at http://www.heywoodbanks.com. Actually, he’s from the music world but crossed over into standup many years ago. Most comedians are poor at sales.

James Gregory is a self admitted ‘salesman who tells jokes’. He’s another all star marketer that used standup comedy as his sales base. His site is http://www.funniestman.com, where you can buy his products 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The internet has only made the great marketers greater.

Larry Winget is a master marketer in the speaking world. He’s got a ton of books, and I always see his emails announcing a new one. His site is http://www.larrywinget.com. Dale Irvin is another one who has released a collection of books. I believe his total is 8. Count them at http://www.daleirvin.com and sign up for his ‘Friday Funnies’ email and/or video. That’s another brilliant hook he’s known for. I have plenty of stellar examples to follow – now I need to make my own mark as a marketer.

It wasn't at first sight, but I'm growing to love marketing - or the 'business' side of my 'show'.

It was far from “at first sight”, but I’m growing to love marketing – aka the ‘business’ side of my ‘show’.

Hopefully, this will be the response I get.

Hopefully, this will be the response I get – figuratively and literally.

A Whole New Game

December 10, 2013

Monday December 9th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

My pursuit of marketing excellence begins. This is going to be the majority of my focus for the rest of my life, and I want to put it out there so people call me on it. My natural instincts are to be a performer first and focus all my creative energies there, but that route proved to be a dead end.

It takes plenty of creativity to be a marketer too, it’s just focused in a different direction. I need to consciously divide my waking energy between my actual product(s) and getting word to those I need to have be aware of who I am and what I can do so they can hire me . It’s a balancing act.

Before, all I would focus on was the ‘show’. I loved it and still do, but there was far too little of an effort put into the ‘business’. There was enough work for enough time that I didn’t need to put much effort into chasing it, and in fact it found me. I was competent enough to have bookers line up for my services. What I didn’t realize was, they weren’t ever going to get me to the next level.

Now I know much better, and I need to approach those who can help me advance. They would include network television show talent bookers, national and international media outlets, meeting planners for corporate events and venues I have wanted to work but haven’t for whatever reason.

I can even improve dramatically with places I already work. It would take minimal effort to put together a monthly or even quarterly newsletter of what I’m doing so I can get my name in front of them even more. They already hire me, but even one more booking would be worth my while.

This is just simple business maintenance, but I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t done it. There are zero excuses, and I’m going to change my ways immediately. What needs to get drilled deep into my rock hard skull is that these are sales accounts, and they bring in money. They’re cash cows.

It would be easy to beat myself up now, but that won’t do one bit of good. What will do plenty of good is to look ahead and make dramatic changes for 2014. On the good side, I can’t think of anybody who has paid more dues than I have getting a show together. I’m completely fresh meat to a whole new market, and I have to believe I’ll be able to get hired and establish a stellar name.

I’ll also continue to work the places I already do, but market myself a whole lot better. I’ll stay in much better contact, and I’ll put time and effort into a mailing list to keep my name fresh with booking agents, media and fans. Those are all areas that need to have steady contact maintained.

Another cage I’ve thought for a while about rattling is the National Speakers Association. I’ve heard mixed reviews on whether to join or not, and it’s a significant financial investment that has no guarantee of bringing in speaking work. I have had people I respect tell me to join, and others I respect tell me to avoid it. I’m still on the fence, but I’m going to look into it a lot more closely.

The main reason I am considering it at all is that speakers as a rule are light years ahead of any comedian in the marketing department. James Gregory and Heywood Banks are a pair of shining stars at comedy marketing, while there are too many speakers to count. Todd Hunt is outstanding as is Larry Winget – but so are Dale Irvin, Greg Schwem, Mikki Williams and Steve Olsher. I’ve met all of these people personally and will model their methods. I’m playing a whole new game.

I'm thinking about joining the National Speakers Association. I have heard pro and con, but I'm still deciding.

I’m thinking about joining the National Speakers Association. I have heard pro and con, but I’m still deciding.