Over the last decade, there has been a proliferation in entertaining TV shows that pit amateurs against professionals in a wide variety of activities. Occasionally an amateur is sufficiently skilled to give the professionals a run for their money, but most of the time, the professionals come out tops. While we all enjoy sitting on our couch and rooting for the underdog, if you’re trying to decide between hiring an amateur or professional entertainer for your event, you’re likely to switch your allegiance to the professional.
There are certainly times when it may be appropriate to book an amateur or semi-professional entertainer, especially if your event is informal and your budget is limited.
But if you want to work with a reliable entertainer who consistently delivers an excellent performance, communicates promptly and provides good customer service, it stands to reason that you want to work with a professional. However, unless you’ve had experience in the professional entertainment industry, you probably don’t know just how much work and investment it requires to be a professional entertainer – and consequently, you may be surprised by the performance fees when you request a proposal or quotation.
Whether an entertainer is skilled in sleight of hand, comedy, dance, music or any other of the many performance arts, it requires years and years of dedicated practice, rehearsal and live performance experience before they can even consider becoming a professional. Skills development also requires courses, classes, training, and workshops, which all cost money. For the entertainer, this can mean thousands of hours of investment which generate no net income (often requiring them to simultaneously have another career) before they are able to ethically ‘sell’ their performance skills for corporate events and functions. The more impressive and unique the performance is, the more time and money the entertainer has likely invested, and the more valuable their performance becomes.
Props, Instruments & Costumes
Appropriate performance attire and costumes need to be specially purchased and tailored to suit the performance style and dress code requirements for the event. A costume that is not suitable for the event can be extremely detracting from the performance, so entertainers are required to make substantial investments into their costumes and outfits. The props & instruments your entertainer needs are also often very expensive, particularly if the performance style is unique or rare. Consider that these ‘tools of the trade’ must regularly be imported from specialist dealers, which adds to their expense.
Business Administration Costs
To meet clients’ expectations of effective and efficient service, entertainers need to retain the services of a number of different business professionals such as accountants, tax advisors, marketing professionals, lawyers and business coaches. Even a simple invoicing and expense recording application requires monthly subscriptions and retaining a lawyer to create contracts is costly. Whether the entertainer manages the business themselves or retains a personal assistant or business manager to handle the administration, the expense of running a small business is considerable.
Agencies and production companies are an important part of the entertainment industry, offering both performers and their clients’ services that neither party may be able to manage independently. Commissions to agents and producers routinely account for an average of 20% of quoted performance fees – a cost which can only be recouped when the performer is paid.
While you do not have to work through an agency – clients can negotiate with performers directly – working through an agency does significantly increase your assurity of a professional and satisfying experience and, more importantly, offers guarantees and protection to both the client and the performer.
Like all good citizens, professional entertainers who are paid an appropriate fee for their work are also required to pay taxes and VAT. Non-professional or semi-professionals can avoid this by receiving payment in cash, but companies rarely pay cash for event services and most companies require a Tax Clearance Certificate to process payment, which only a tax-compliant performer can offer.
Insurance & Financial Services
Entertainers are always at risk of losing their livelihood through injury, theft of their props or other unforeseen emergencies, and an astute entertainment professional understands that he or she needs to plan and make provision for the cost of unfortunate events. Since full-time professional entertainers are not employees of a large company, they need to secure their own short-term insurance, medical aid, pension plans and other financial services products without an employer’s contribution.
There are no formal industry associations in South Africa for professional entertainers, although individuals may wish to join organisations such as SAACI (South African Association for the Conference Industry), PSASA (Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa), SAGA (South African Guild of Actors) or the Musicians Association of South Africa. Associations such as these provide opportunities for further skills development, networking and support, and professional entertainers understand the value of joining and subscribing to one or more such organisations.
Marketing & Publicity
As in every industry, if no one knows about you, no one can hire you. For the entertainer to be able to consistently confirm enough bookings for a sustainable career, considerable amounts of money need to be invested in marketing and publicity costs. Services such as photography, video recording, editing, graphic design, website design and hosting, social media management, and online advertising often require the support of skilled professionals – the costs of which the performer must carry alone.
Pricing to Value
Truly great professional entertainers are not just highly skilled performers, but as entertainers, they realize that their fees are relative to the value that they create at an event or function. Often the entertainer will request a full briefing session with you, so they can establish an understanding of the purpose, goals and style of the event and, importantly, who their audience will be. This is where a professional entertainer’s years of experience, knowledge, and creativity can be extremely valuable to you as an event planner or conference organiser.
A professional entertainer normally has a deep understanding of how audiences experience their performance and can, therefore, provide insight into how to enhance audience experience, or how to incorporate key messages, people and products into their presentation, that contribute to your event’s goals and purpose.
Another benefit of hiring a professional is that they have the experience to deal with problems when things go wrong.
So, although professional entertainers cost significantly more than amateurs and semi-professionals, their performance fees appropriately reflect the level of skill, experience, the investment they have made into their business, and consequently the value and satisfaction they can provide for your event.
How to Recognise a Reliable and Valuable Professional Entertainer
Unfortunately, there is no single way to determine whether a performer has the level of professionalism you expect. However, there are some key factors you should take into account when making a choice for entertainment for your event or function:
- Does the entertainer provide you with a quoted fee that is similar to other professionals in his or her field? If the quoted fee is lower (or considerably lower) than other performers in the same field, this is a key indicator that the performer might not as professional as their marketing material indicates.
- Does the entertainer have a track-record of notable performances, reviews and testimonials from clients who have hosted events similar to yours?
- Has the performer made suitable investments into their marketing collateral, such as websites, videos and publicity? In other words, does it ‘look professional’?
- Did you receive prompt, efficient and friendly service when you made your enquiry?
- Does the proposal you receive look like it was prepared by a professional?
- Does the entertainer belong to any professional organisations and show a keen interest in their industry?
- Can the entertainer promptly provide the necessary documentation you require for your payment?
If you’ve already had the pleasure of working with a great professional entertainer, and haven’t yet written them a reference letter, consider doing so now. Entertainers really appreciate hearing that their work was valued, and referrals from clients are an important way to support professionalism across the industry and assist others in making their best choice for their event.