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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Scott's Thoughts - by Scott Wells » » For free or not for free…that is the question (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Scott Wells
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How often are you asked to perform for a charity group or to donate your magic? You could get lots of exposure, but you can die of exposure. So what do you tell them? Remember that free shows beget more free shows so how do you stop the cycle? How you respond says a lot about you and about your level of professionalism. I have a few ideas for you to consider.

Most charitable groups are hosted by volunteers who say they have little or no budget. So the first question is to determine how much, if any of it is being allocated toward the entertainment. There are negotiating strategies to get the most out of this is discussed elsewhere and is outside the scope of this little monograph so let me see how you can get something closer to your professional fee. Ask if they are holding the event in a banquet hall, country club, hotel or other venue that normally charges for using the space. If so then ask if they are getting the space free or at a reduced rate. Next ask if they are having food and drinks and wait staff provided at the venue and whether or not that is being donated or paid for at full price or at a reduced rate. Finally ask if there will be any other entertainment (i.e. a band or DJ or other entertainment) and whether they are volunteering their services or giving a reduced rate.

The thing you are trying to emphasize, perhaps in a not so subtle way, is that there is value in other people’s goods and services so why shouldn’t there be a value for yours?

If they are paying anything for anything (and they most probably are), then you should be getting something for your services, too. If they are paying a reduced rate for the venue, food, beverages and/or other entertainment, then find out what kind of discount they are getting. Here is where you can have a lot of leeway. Since they don’t know your fee to begin with and magicians’ fees widely vary, you can quote a higher fee but say you will reduce it to what amounts to your regular fee. There is nothing they can compare it with except for them to “shop around” and talk with other magicians in the area to see if they will do a free show. You really don’t want them to make that next call. You need to keep them on the phone and lock the deal while you have them on the line and have their interest. So here are some tips for making it a win/win situation.

Some organizations have underwriters who will sponsor something such as paying for all or a portion of the food, the hall, etc. Here is where you can ask if there might be a patron who could underwrite your fee. You might be able to receive your entire professional fee from a generous benefactor. Explain that their donation should be tax deductible (if the organization has a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status) so the more they pay you, the more they might be able to deduct. Much better for you Smile

If they cannot pay your full professional fee but insist that important and influential people will be in attendance who might book you, then you strike a deal with the organizer to assure you are noticed. Ask the person if they are willing to write a reference letter on your behalf and send it to at least six of those “influential” people with a blind copy sent for your files (so you know it was done). You might even give them some publicity material to “help” them come up with the right language. But the important thing is that their letters be personal and work as promotional pieces for you and get you into places where you might not have otherwise gained entrance. You can then follow-up with those new clients to see if they have any upcoming events where they might use your services at your full professional fee, of course. That is the way to assure you are getting the right exposure.

Another idea came to me from Terry Seabrooke many years ago. If your fee is too high, then you can tell them that a portion (or all...your choice) of your fee will be donated back to the organization. You can explain that you don’t want to lower your fee because you don’t want it let out that you work for a discounted fee. And if you do it for one organization then the next group will want you to work for them at the same reduced rate. So, you agree to a donation you will make back to the organization. You will give them your check when you receive yours from them (usually following the show). The advantages of this are numerous.

One I mentioned already (you keep the appearance that you received your full fee when talking with other groups who see you there and want to book you for their charity event), but also you have a tax-deduction for charitable giving (again if this is a recognized charitable group). Because you are donating back to the group, you may get even more publicity by having your name listed under “Patrons” and not just as the entertainment. Furthermore, at the end of the year when the organization is looking over those who made donations, they will see your generous giving and be reminded what an entertaining and nice guy you were and someone might want to book you for their private or corporate event at your full fee. This ploy would work perfectly in conjunction with the underwriter strategy above. If you can get someone to underwrite you and you donate a portion (or all) of your fee back to the organization, then everyone wins from a taxable standpoint. Plus ultimately you should feel good about giving something back to society through your generosity.

Of course there is nothing wrong with donating your time for charity and in fact I know several extremely competent magicians who take no compensation for their performances and regularly perform for free for hospitals and charities. I applaud these individuals and even direct business their way if I cannot successfully negotiate with the organizer using one of my strategies above.

I do feel that we have remarkable gifts as magicians and we should share these with others by entertaining as often as we can. Certainly these charitable events allow us opportunities to perform for groups whom we wouldn’t ordinarily perform for and opportunities to practice new material in front of real people, too. And finally, if you have no other conflicting engagement booked and you want to support that charity, then why not go for it? And as I’ve always said, “a magician who isn’t working is only fooling himself.”
"A magician who isn't working is only fooling himself." - Scott Wells, M.I.M.C. with Gold Star

The Magic Word podcast: http://themagicwordpodcast.com Listen to convention coverage, interviews with magicians, pictures, videos and more.

Magic Inspirations website for all things Banachek: www.magicinspirations.net
Scott Wells
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Houston, TX
993 Posts

Profile of Scott Wells
A friend of mine told me he recently performed at Barnes & Noble Bookstore for the release of the new Harry Potter book. He worked from 8:00 p.m. until midnight. His compensation?

A “free” copy of the book. Basically $28.00 (retail) for four hours of magic.

The bookstore said they didn’t have a budget for the magician though they were completely packed the whole night. There was a long, long line all night long. Some people had been in the store since 9:00 a.m. People were being counted at the door so only the same number who left the building could enter. Don’t you suppose they made at least a little money that night and could have given something to the magician?

My point is that he should have negotiated with the bookstore for a better deal. If they insisted that there was no budget but were willing to give him a book out of the “goodness of their hearts” then why not kick it up a notch? Why not negotiate for gift certificates from the store? At least he should have asked for leather-bound, collector’s editions of the whole series of Potter books or something. I would think that they could have provided the equivalent of the magician’s fee in gift certificates. It would not have cost the owner of this major bookstore chain that much out of pocket money. I know that others were paid by other bookstores for their participation in making that night special.

I worked at an upscale restaurant last New Year’s Eve. I quoted my full performance fee for strolling which they couldn’t afford. I told them that by taking the engagement, I would be forfeiting the potential of that much money being earned at another engagement…if one came along. We ended up working out a barter deal where we made a mutually acceptable deal.

The owner believed that because he had “upper class” customers, I should be able to make up the difference in tips between my usual professional fee and the negotiated hourly fee for working the restaurant. If there was a shortfall, then he promised to make up the difference between the two in gift certificates. As it happened, I didn’t receive my full fee with the make-up from the tips. I told him how much I received. True to his word, I was given gift certificates at the restaurant. I have used these for myself and family. Plus I have also given them to some of my better corporate clients as “thank-yous” for their business.

Don’t overlook this last sentence.
"A magician who isn't working is only fooling himself." - Scott Wells, M.I.M.C. with Gold Star

The Magic Word podcast: http://themagicwordpodcast.com Listen to convention coverage, interviews with magicians, pictures, videos and more.

Magic Inspirations website for all things Banachek: www.magicinspirations.net
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