Posts Tagged ‘income’

Exploring Marketing Options

April 21, 2014

Saturday April 19th, 2014 – McHenry, IL/Volo, IL

Improving my marketing skills from the ground up is my mission not only this year but every other year that I am lucky enough to experience from here on out. It’s something all businesses need to succeed, but especially entertainers. We are our own product, and marketing is a must.

I have been lucky enough to have squeaked by for decades, mostly because I was in the correct place at an opportune time. I rode the wave of the comedy club boom of the 1980s, and was able to make enough to at least survive from late 1985 on. Some years were better than others, but my primary source of income other than a few scattered years doing radio has always been comedy.

That’s good and bad, but most people can’t see the bad. “You make your LIVING standing on a stage telling JOKES. How bad can life be?” Well, in a lot of ways that’s true. I always enjoyed the performing part of it, and I was never motivated by money. If I could squeak by, that was ok.

As it turns out, I could have more than squeaked by and it was my fault for not doing it. By all accounts, I should have had at least one recording a full ten years before I did. I actually thought about it, but nobody else I knew had one and I thought it may appear egotistical. What a dummy. Ego shmego. It would have been some financial security I could have used to further my career.

It probably would have been a cassette, but the form doesn’t matter. Maybe it would have been a vinyl record album. Or both. The point is, I would have been able to sell them every week and even at low numbers I could have hauled in a nice chunk of change over a ten year time window.

I was averaging at least 45 weeks of work then, and quite a few years I worked 50-52. It wasn’t always the best work in the best clubs, but say I could have averaged ten units a week sold over a ten year period. That’s 450-500 units per year at what likely would have been a $10 retail price.

On the conservative side, say that’s $45,000 over ten years minus say $2 per unit to make. That still leaves me $36,000 had I not touched any of that money – and knowing me I would not have. I’d have saved it for some kind of stunt nobody else would have done. It may have been a flop of epic stature, but that’s me as well. I’ve never been afraid to go all in. I have tasted defeat often.

What if I had spent that $36,000 on TV commercials somewhere or a full page ad in one of the trade papers? When was the last time you saw a comedian or performer of any kind spend money on self promotion? It just doesn’t happen – at least not without management or a recording deal.

There are obviously taxes in there too, and I realize that. I would report every last penny, as it’s just not worth trying to screw the government. I’d rather have a clear conscience and just pay my fair share. Whatever was left would have still been a nice bit of cash to use on some promo stunt.

I wasn’t forced to think that way then, as work was plentiful and nobody was selling anything other than their comedy act. We were ‘artistes’, and that’s great on paper but most of us are now certified vagrant caliber broke and wish we would have had our marketing chops on the way up.

Too late now, but it’s not too late to change. One thing I have that the newbies don’t is a whole lot of experience in front of audiences coast to coast, and a backlog of polished material that I am able to use whenever I need it. That’s part of what paying dues is about, and I’ve put in my time.

Now I’m looking to sell what I’ve been able to create, but in other ways than just saying it on a stage somewhere. What else can I do to get paid? I suppose I could write columns, and I’ve been doing that for the past few months in a publication called “Scene Magazine” in Fond du Lac, WI. My friend Silk Casper asked me to do it, and he’s been making sure I get a check every month.

It’s not huge, but it’s been steady and I guess I can say I’m a published author. I think. I’m not anywhere close to being a professional, but it’s a solid start and I am grateful for the opportunity. Branching out and creating a new stream of income for being funny comes in very handy now.

But I know there’s more – a LOT more. There’s both a flea market and an antique mall within an easy drive from where I live, and I took a lap in both today just to check out that scene. I have been going to thrift stores, flea markets and rummage sales for decades, but now I’m seeing them all with fresh eyes. I used to go there looking to score treasures. Now I’m looking to be a seller.

The marketing skills of the sellers at flea markets and antique malls are all over the place. Most are very poor from my experience, and have little to no people skills. Just a friendly hello when I walk past their display should be the bare minimum, but I’d guess maybe 10% or less will do it.

I went today just to observe, and I learned a lot. I went to the flea market first, and looked at all the displays to see which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t. Most of the stuff was thrown in an unorganized pile, and was difficult to look at. It took work to sort through all of the clutter to see if there was anything I’d want to buy. They made it hard for people to spend money. Not smart.

Even little things like business cards were missing. What if I was looking to sell something one of the dealers specialized in? Maybe I had a relative pass away that was a big collector, and I was looking for someone to help me appraise the collection. Whatever the case, 99% of these mutants didn’t even say hello and maybe strike up a conversation that could have led to a business deal.

One guy there had some old toys, and his display was a bit sloppy but still interesting. He had a pair of old Schlitz salt and pepper shakers that I bought for $10 and an old pair of Schlitz patches from the ‘60s or ‘70s that their drivers used to wear. I can use all of that for “Schlitz Happened!”

The antique mall was a little better, but not much. Most of the vendors that were there were not very talkative, and I found that appalling. They didn’t have to pester me like the stereotype of an old time used car salesman, but a friendly smile and a hello would have been nice. I didn’t get it.

I ended up buying a collection of 50 old ‘Fate’ magazines from the ‘50s through the ‘70s for $1 each, and that was a steal. They’re a great read, packed with tales of UFOs and the paranormal of all kinds. I’ll scour them for King of Uranus ideas, and keep exercising my marketing muscles to use in the future. I want to go out past Uranus, and find ways to make money when I’m sleeping.

I found some Schlitz salt and pepper shakers at a flea market today. I will use them for my one man show 'Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz From The Pabst" www.schlitzhappened.com.

I found some Schlitz salt and pepper shakers at a flea market today. I will use them for ‘Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz From The Pabst.” http://www.schlitzhappened.com.

The same guy sold me two cloth patches Schlitz drivers used to wear in the '60s and '70s.

The same guy sold me two cloth patches Schlitz drivers used to wear in the ’60s.

I also found some old FATE magazines from the '50s through '70s. The cool cover art alone was worth the $1 each I paid for them all.

I also found some old FATE magazines from the ’50s through ’70s. The cover art alone was worth the $1 each I paid for them all.

Show Biz Is A Slow Biz

March 7, 2014

Thursday March 6th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

It has only taken three solid decades of traipsing back and forth across North America, but I am finally starting to get strangers seeking me out to perform at their venue. Word is getting out – or at least it’s starting to. I have been trying to get to this point since I started, so what took so long?

Unfortunately, everything takes time. It just does. Showbiz is slow biz, but so are most others. It takes years to build loyal clientele in any business, and I’ve been around long enough that I am starting to get name recognition. It’s not with everyone – at least not yet. But regionally, I feel it.

It took years for me to put an act together, and it’s taking even longer for people to notice that I can blow a room away with the best of them, and am far undervalued for services performed. My rate is a bargain considering all the experience I have, but it will take media exposure to raise it.

If I can find a way to get regular mass media exposure somewhere, it will raise my income by a significant amount in a short time. I can easily see hauling in ten times what I make now or more for doing pretty much the same thing I’ve been doing since 1985. It has taken that long to build.

Of course there are always exceptions to everything. My friend Trevor Burke is just twelve, but he is far from the norm. And when it’s all done, I predict he’ll be known for being an actor rather than standup comedy. It seems to be a stepping stone for him, and there’s nothing wrong with it.

I started as a comedian, and just when I’m trying to evolve into being a speaker that’s when the comedy gigs start coming to me. In the last couple of days I have been approached by four places to perform in the next couple of months, and I have no idea where they might have heard of me.

They’re the kinds of places booking agents used to approach about starting a comedy night, but for the first time in my long tenure I see the places approaching individual comics on their own. I can’t say if I like it or not as I haven’t seen the venues yet, but I’m glad to see work come to me.

It’s not huge paying work, but it will help tide me over while I work on the corporate bookings. I haven’t forgotten about that, and marketing is still my number one priority. But that takes time as everything else does, and it’s far too slow for my tastes. Too bad. It’s not going to speed up.

One smart thing I did today was make a phone call to a comedian named Roger Radley who is based in Central Wisconsin. We’ve heard of each other for years, and I even did a holiday party he couldn’t do this past December. We’ve had some email exchanges over time, but that’s all.

I’d been meaning to call him for months – probably actually years now that I think about it. He was online today, so I instant messaged him and gave him a call. We talked for about a half hour or so, and we laughed about how long it had taken for us to finally hook up. But now we did it.

It’s smart business for both of us to know what each other does, so we can send each other gigs when we can. If a customer uses one of us, they’ll likely want another act in the future. I sent out a full length DVD in today’s mail, and Roger said he’s sending me one too. It only took this long to hook up, but today was the day. Everything takes a lot longer than people think. It just does.

Building a name in show business or any career takes time. It just does.

Building a name in show business or any career takes time. It just does.

Trevor Burke is a comedian at 12. He's a rare exception.

Trevor Burke is a comedian at 12. He’s a rare exception. http://www.trevorburke.com

After many years of talking about it, I finally picked up the phone and called comedian Roger Radley today. www.rogerradley.com.

After many years of talking about it, I finally picked up the phone and called comedian Roger Radley today. I’m glad I did. http://www.rogerradley.com.

Two Months Torched

March 1, 2014

Friday February 28th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

It’s hard to believe two months of 2014 are gone already, but they are. Wow. Now I’m starting to see how the universe can be billions of years old. The clock keeps ticking no matter what, and nothing can stop it. First it’s the big bang, and before everybody knows it stars start burning out.

If I am ever going to do anything significant with my life, this would be the time to kick things into high gear. Time isn’t promised to any of us, and that universal clock is ticking against us all. I thought I had been putting my time in wisely in 2014, but I look up and tomorrow is March 1st.

It would be March 1st even if I didn’t put my time in wisely, and that’s part of the problem. I’m doing pretty well this year, but it’s the 25 or so before this one that have left me hog tied. I didn’t have nearly the focus and direction I feel now, and I’m paying for it. Everything has a price tag.

I’m still on my marketing kick, and will be for the foreseeable future. It’s going to have to be a lot more than a kick to make a difference though, but I’m in it for the long haul. I feel I’m on the right road, but so far behind the pack I’ll have to buy rocket powered roller skates to catch up.

All I’m looking to do is establish a reliable source of income that will let me not have to worry about paying my bills each and every month to the point of exhaustion. Tomorrow starts another new month, and I still find myself scratching and clawing to come up with the rent. It gets old.

I’ve been working extra hard at learning about all things marketing, which includes subscribing to several online newsletters written by guru types I’d never heard of until recently. A lot of their information seems legit, but other parts are pie in the sky insanity that’s way too good to be true.

Multi level marketing is the same way. I’m sure someone has made a million dollars in Amway or Mary Kay, but the majority of people that get in it fail miserably. They haul out the diamonds and pink Cadillacs to sign people up, but nobody ever wants to admit there’s more to it than that.

The same is true with what I’m trying to do. I get blasted every day with emails that say things like “INCREASE YOUR MONTHLY INCOME BY $25,000”. Great! Then I’ll have $25,500. Seriously, it sounds good but it isn’t realistic. It takes baby steps to get things rolling properly.

It’s just like those weight loss claims where people say they lost 58 pounds in four days from drinking milkshakes laced with sawdust and chalk water. It’s not realistic to expect such miracles overnight, and I’m absolutely not. I just want to establish a pattern that eventually turns a buck.

Realistically, I’d like to be booked as many weeks as I can working decent venues that can pay a living wage. If it’s a comedy club or corporate function it’s not important right now. Both will work at the moment, and having back of the room merchandise to sell should be ready as well. If I can pull that off consistently – and I’m close – then I’ll be able to go after the $25,000 months.

All these things take time unfortunately. I got myself in some financial trouble, but it could not be avoided. I had health issues in 2011, and I had to spend my savings on living expenses. Now I have an IRS bill to pay off and credit card debt. That slows it down even more. Welcome to life.

Actually, welcome to existence. Life would be so much more – at least in my vision of it. Life would be having the financial machine well oiled and running so smoothly I wouldn’t even think about it. I’d have my bills and living expenses handled every month, and be able to invest all my energy into making life better for others. THAT would be living to me, and I crave it every day.

I have flashes here and there, especially when I’m on stage or on the air. That’s when I feel like I’m living, and not just existing. I feel like I’m making a positive contribution to the collective of humankind, and that’s how I always thought life should be. Then I get off stage and into my ratty old car to do 23 hours of living a cockroach life until my next time on stage or air – if I’m lucky.

That’s just not acceptable, and I’m going to fight it until I win or die trying. Some people have trust funds or people that leave them something in a will. I won’t have that option, so why waste time thinking about it? Everyone that could have died and left me money has now checked out.

I’m not looking for a handout or a free ride. I’m fine with earning it, and in fact I’d rather make my own way. That’s what I’ve always wanted. I had flashes of it when I had radio jobs, but then it ended and I’d be back into cockroach mode. After all this angst, I just crave a bit of stability.

That’s why I’m so interested in marketing. Marketing makes MONEY – at least it does when it gets executed properly. The people that have amassed fortunes have had one teeny weeny thing I have lacked for so long – a solid battle plan. That’s what I’m putting together, and it’s working.

I just have to give it time to manifest itself and keep growing. I get up every day and work on it a little more, and I’m also slowly incorporating others into the mix as well. I’ve got my days full from early morning to early the next morning, and that’s making them disappear even quicker. It went from “Thanksgiving is coming soon” to “It’s March 1st already” at all time record speed.

I have more on my plate now than I ever have, and I think about how to manage it better every single day. I’m enjoying what I’m doing, but I’m still struggling with financial things. Taxes are due soon, and that’s another smoldering nightmare in waiting. I never enjoy slaying that dragon. I’m doing the best I can with the resources I have, but it never seems like it’s enough. It stinks.

At the very least, I’m proud of myself for giving the effort. I’m trying my best, and working on what one is weakest at is always the most difficult task. That’s the only way to improve, so that’s what I’m doing. Business has never been my forte, but I am throwing everything I have into it.

Marketing is a huge arena, but I’m not thinking huge right now. I want to get my newsletter out to the immediate people that can book me every month. We’ve gotten two out so far, and it was a major effort to accomplish that. Talk to me five years from now, and I’m envisioning it to be one of my strong suits. I picture my finances to be in immaculate order, and to be in excellent health.

I never had a picture like that in my head before – or any other one now that I think of it. I was too busy trying to make it to the next month to have a plan for the long term future. Now that I’m planning long term, the future is getting here faster than I expected. I was looking forward to the football games at Thanksgiving what seemed like days ago. Now it’s almost baseball season and I’m wondering where the time went. March 1st already? I can’t worry about it. I have work to do.

March 1st already? Where DOES the time go?

March 1st already? Where DOES the time go? Life’s clock never stops.

Summer Strategy

January 21, 2014

Monday January 20th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

2014 is going on three weeks old, and I really like the direction it’s going. I’m working all over the place, yet staying close to home. Bookings are lining up exactly how they’re supposed to, but smart eyes need to be looking forward to the summer months. They are always the hardest to fill.

In the North, people don’t want to be inside when the weather is nice. Period. I can’t say that I blame them, as I feel the same way. There aren’t that many friendly weather months around here, so when they’re here the last thing I want is to be missing any fun. This is of significant concern, as I don’t want to be missing any paychecks either. I can’t have it both ways so I need a solution.

The time to think about coming up with a strategy is now – not on the Sunday before Memorial Day like I usually do. By then it’s too late, and all that’s left are scraps. 2013 was beyond terrible and I don’t intend to give an encore performance. June, July and August need my attention now.

One satisfactory solution would be another run on cruise ships. I shudder to think of doing that longer than three months, but I could stand twelve weeks if I had to – especially if I could have it booked soon. Knowing I had my summer nut covered would add confidence to everything else.

Another satisfactory solution would be – gasp – a radio job. I haven’t thought about doing that for a while, but the timing would be perfect. I swore I’d never bark up that tree again, but to say never just isn’t realistic. My needs are changing, and this might be the perfect time to rethink it.

I did manage to book a speaking engagement for the end of the month that will allow me to get some video that I can hopefully use to get more. I will at least have more avenues to scour to line up future work, and that brings hope for the summer as well. Depending on comedy alone for the summer months is a major mistake – at least in these times. I’d feel much better with a backup.

One thing that is going to eventually help immensely is a consistently sent monthly newsletter. Even though I’ve yet to send out the first one, it will get my name in front of as many bookers of paying work as I can find, and by sheer volume alone I’m sure some work will end up my way.

I should have been doing that all along, but I haven’t. There are reasons, but none qualify as an acceptable excuse. I was ‘busy’. Really? Busy doing what – not working? Again, I’m focused on marketing this year and this is one of the first things that need fixing. I’ve been bad far too long.

Having a newsletter start out now will give me at least a couple of chances to grab the attention of somebody who can hire me for the summer months. It will take at least six months before I am able to establish any consistency, and I know that going in. I’m expecting a payoff in December.

I’m looking to cultivate names of bookers, fans and media, and get them to hopefully think of me when an opportunity arises. That doesn’t happen overnight, so I’m starting to work on it now. My pit crew chief Eric had to switch carriers, as he didn’t like the software system of the first.

We knew there would be glitches getting started, and this was a big one. It’s a week after we’d hoped to get it sent, but nobody but us cares so we’re golden. We’ll keep plugging until it’s out.

It may be in the single digits outside, but I'm thinking about summer in my head.

It may be in the single digits outside, but I’m thinking about summer inside my head.

Another run on cruise ships may be a way to survive this summer.

Another extensive run on cruise ships may be a way to successfully survive the summer slow season.

A radio job wouldn't be bad either.

A radio job wouldn’t be bad either.

This doesn't appeal to me, even though the sign is pretty funny.

This option doesn’t appeal to me in the least, even though the guy’s sign is pretty funny.

Fred Sanford Revisited

February 12, 2013

Sunday February 10th, 2013 – Lake County, IL

   I’ve been dipping my toe in the water with the antiques picking game, and I think I’m going to do pretty well for several reasons. I’ve been looking for another source of income that’s flexible, and I think this is it. It won’t be easy, but if I play my cards right I’ll be able to turn a fair profit.

Right now I’m mainly practicing my ability to pick items out of thrift stores. That’s not a huge source of guaranteed income, as all those items have to pass in front of a lot of eyes before even making it to the store shelves. Still, there are often trinkets that do and that’s what I want to find.

It becomes a poker game of deciding what I can get at a lower price and spin for more than my initial investment. There will be expenses of time and money if I choose to sell on Ebay or set up at a flea market, so I have to decide what I can do well enough with to make it worth purchasing.

I’ve scored quite a few smaller items already, and that gives me hope there’s a lot more to pick – especially when rummage sales start in the spring. I’m learning what to look for, and it’s a total switch from what I’ve been buying for the past twenty five years when scouring the thrift stores.

It used to be all I’d look for would be books, CDs, DVDs and maybe cassettes depending upon if I had a cassette player in the particular car I happened to be driving at the time. I’d often score great stuff for a very low price, but I discovered the turnover market wasn’t there. I never bought to turn it over, but after moving several times and having to drag it all with me I’ve restructured.

I have enough books to read for the next forty years, should I be lucky enough to live that long. I am now focusing on baubles and trinkets that can be spun for a profit, and that can include a lot of things from jewelry to glassware to furniture to vinyl records just to name a few. There are all kinds of possibilities, and I have a whole lot to learn about all of them. Right now I’m guessing.

For example, I stopped in Goodwill on my way to a gig a few weeks ago and they had a sale on vinyl records. Albums were a quarter and 45s were three for a quarter. It’d been years since I had any records and I don’t own a turntable on which to play them, but I gambled five bucks on some older stuff from the early ‘60s that was in very nice shape. It was a calculated but affordable risk.

One of the albums was a ‘Bat Masterson’ TV show piece that was dated 1960. It’s in excellent shape, and I saw on Ebay that one had sold for $100. Bingo! I’m not saying I’ll get $100, but if it brings even $40-$50 I’ll be ecstatic. Now I have to find someone who is willing to pay me for it.

There were some other albums in the stack that were listed between $25 and $60, but again that in no way means I’ll get that. Still, I think I made a fantastic buy for my $5 and now I’m going to experiment with ways to turn it all for a profit. It’s all a risk, but I’m into the whole pile for a fin.

This kind of stuff is everywhere and always has been, but I wasn’t looking for it until now. It’s certainly not my goal to become a modern day Fred Sanford, and the last thing I want is to waste my time thinking I’m going to get rich quick. I’m not delusional going into this. It’s a transition.

Hopefully it can help me make a few bucks to keep me off the lower end gigs on the road, and when I am on the road it’s something I can do to productively use my time to make contacts that hopefully I can use to move some of the inventory I do get. I’m learning quickly that winning in this game is about knowing where to sell things BEFORE they’re bought. That takes a network.

I’ve got a few comedy contacts that do this kind of thing either for side income or to earn their actual living. Greg Willet is in Appleton, WI and he’s a full time dealer. Greg has been generous with his time in helping me get started, and he informed me of a pick where an old baseball card that was found in a scrap book brought $92,000 at auction. Big ticket scores are still out there.

Someone wins the lottery every week as well, and I’m totally aware this is a long shot. I don’t expect to make a million dollars tomorrow, but with a little effort and smarts applied to what I’m already doing I think I can use it to make a few extra bucks. I’m not looking to cheat anyone and I am going to report every penny of profit to the IRS – but I will take all my legal deductions too.

Today I ventured out to test the waters at a couple of small flea markets that happen to be near where I live. I just wanted to get a feel for what’s out there these days and see if setting up at one might be in my near future. I wasn’t impressed with either one as a whole, but there were dealers at each one that stood out so I’m glad I went. I ended up learning from them all – good and bad.

One ingredient that was painfully missing from the mix was showmanship. Way more than not, most of those who set up just threw everything in a pile and let it sit. A few of the dealers would say hello as I walked into their domain, but most did not. They sat there knitting or reading their book or whatever they were doing, and it was interesting to monitor how each person behaved.

Signage was another thing that caught my eye. A few of the sellers had eye catching signs that let me know how much their merchandise was, but most others had sloppy hand written stuff that was very unappealing to the eye. If I would set up at a show like this I would handle it differently and I bet I’d do well. My entertainment background would set me light years ahead of the pack.

I could see myself dressed up as The King of Uranus at some big flea market, and attract a long line of people to my booth to buy things. I could do some kind of humorous presentation and sell funny items like joke books or farting dolls or something I can pick up cheap and spin for profit.

All of this is all about the show, and I know it going in. It’s not my goal to spend the rest of my life looking for rare Edsel hubcaps or ‘I Like Ike’ buttons. I want to use those things to help turn a buck, but that’s about it. I enjoy the treasure hunt aspect, but the real buzz comes from a show.

I want it all to tie in together, and I think it can. If comedy fans know I wheel and deal antiques they might sell to me before approaching a stranger – especially if I develop an honest reputation as I intend to. If antique customers know I do comedy, they might become fans. It ties together. I am not taking this lightly, and I know there is work involved in addition to a need to get educated in a lot of areas of expertise so I can make smart choices when buying things. I have work to do.