Even if you're not getting actual money for a show, make sure you get paid SOMETHING. Working for free is good exposure, but a man can DIE from exposure!
- the late Harry Albacker
Some of the following comments include amounts of money in the imaginary unit called "C-shells." These units are used to avoid any hint of illegal price fixing in the balloon industry.
What I'm suggesting is that if you're going to volunteer, sit down and figure out what you want out of the gig. Motivations might include:
Now, compare each item one at a time (the X's indicate where you're comparing apples to apples). Is money more important than promotion? If so, put a 1 (for money) under promotion, like so:
Are you doing it for a friend, and you're more interested in helping the friend than in turning a profit? In that case, vote 3 (for friendship) in the next column.
Continue in this way until you've filled out the chart completely. You will compare each of the items to one another two times - that's okay. You'll be surprised to find that sometimes you change your vote the second time. That indicates you could really go either way on that particular question. Let's say that I completed the chart this way:
Now, I count up the number of times I voted for each item and list them from high to low.
When I look at the list, I can see that my primary motivation for participation is to help out a friend. I'd also like to make money at the event, but I might be willing to discount my price if it will help out. I think it's a pretty good opportunity for promotion, though that's not a strong motivator. I don't really care about the event or the cause.
That's how I honestly feel about participation. Now, when I call my friend back and say I want to participate, I can say I'm happy to help him/her with the event, but I'd like to work for tips or be compensated for my participation. If there's no way I can be paid, I will probably go ahead and help only to be a sport for my friend. I'll be sure to promote myself and look for future gigs.
What if the count had come up more like this?
Now I can see that I probably don't know the person I'm working with, but it's a great cause and a good chance to get my name out in public. Money isn't as important to me as just being at a cool place for a good cause. When I call back, I may offer to donate my services but ask that I'm on for half time and have the other half to enjoy the event. I might ask to bring an "assistant" (read *date*).
When you volunteer to participate in an event, be clear on what your motivations are. If your primary interest is making money, be up front about that, and mention that if there is competition in the form of other twisters you want to be sure that you're separated from them by a good distance and that they are charging for their sculptures as you are. You want to be sure that it's a large enough event that there's plenty of opportunity for everyone to make money. You may ask for a non-refundable deposit, or say that if the situation changes you may be forced to back out of the event.
What you shouldn't do is agree to participate because it's a good cause, but then gripe because you don't make money. You shouldn't participate because you want promotion, then gripe because they would only give you one admission ticket.
Be clear on your motivation, and take steps to protect your interests. That makes for a win-win situation.
Imagine your business as a young dependant 12 year old. It depends on you for guidance and nourishment. With your help it grows an image and a bank account. At some time in the future, your mature child will reward you for the upbringing, by providing you with a healthy retirement. In this line of thinking, YOU are NOT the business. It has its own identity. Now, what happens if you now volunteer your 12 year old to donate some of its time and posessions to benefit a friend?
There are times when we need to show compassion. There are times when we should donate to charities and community efforts. I'm simply saying that as small business people, we need to think carefully about to whom and what we donate.
Donate one's OWN time. Donate cash from your business if the business can afford it and it becomes a tax deduction. Donate product that is slow moving or out dated. Offer the school committee a privileged extended payment plan to give them time to raise money to pay. Donate something they can auction off at a fund raiser, on the proviso that the normal retail price is advised before bidding begins. Donate materials (if you must) but charge FULL hourly rates for labor. Make an effort to donate (generously) to ONE worthy charity each year. Choose a different charity each year and thereby spread your generosity.
There are arguments presented that one must donate at times to gain exposure. Ask yourself in each instance if it's the right exposure. Will people at that event come only to your business when they want balloons? Or, is the exposure donated also providing exposure for your competitors? By that I mean, is it something your competitor could also provide? Could there be better ways with less risk, less cost and potential for wider exposure... for your business EXCLUSIVELY?
It might sound corny or weird, but even donating from the goodness of your heart or friendship, can become ultimately detrimental to your business. Try to avoid letting your emotions take control. It helps to actually sit down for just 10 minutes and write a business "policy" on the subject. Write down the criteria, upon which your business may consider "freebies" or discounts. Then refer every request to that checklist BEFORE you act. When you do this, you'll find that at the end of the year, you, your business and the deserving charities all benefit.
Weigh up the real (hidden) cost against perceived benefits of doing balloon decor for "next to nothing". Lord knows I've been guilty of giving away what I should have sold.
I also donate two gigs to the local public television station's annual auction. I have received generous tips from the successful high-bidders for every show I have done, so those pay for themselves, as well as provide excellent word- of-mouth advertising.
But when he's asked to do an art project, he charges the church his normal rates with a 10 percent discount. Why ten percent? Because he tithes 10 percent of his earnings to the church anyway. Why does he charge them? Because it's his business. It's the way he earns his living. He'll volunteer to do anything that doesn't take away from his livelihood. Why? Several reasons:
I think it's great to donate your time to the community, and twisting is a great way to do it if it isn't your primary source of income. If it's your job, though, it makes sense to be paid for your efforts, or to receive promotional consideration.
Should an old client from several years ago look your records up again, you have your original non-discounted price right in front of her. If she asks why you're not giving the same discount it can be explained that you choose a different charity to donate to each year. You would be happy to help her this year at your regular fee and put her on a waiting list for future charitable discounts. This maintains your professionalism and full value as a "real entertainer." This actually happened to me this year with a large charity. I took care of them last year with a 100% complimentary visit... they tried to have me back again this year after they had not followed thru on their end of the bargain last year. I told them not unless they paid my full value which was already shown in my invoice to them for last year. They claimed they couldn't afford me this year if they had to pay. I told them they had two choices... one, to simply not have me, as this is my full time living and I spread my time around to charitable functions, or two, to find a sponsor to pay my fees. Two days later I received a call that they had a sponsor. I will now being doing this event at my full rate. If all goes well and I am treated with complete professionalism at this year's event I will more than likely allow them a charitable discount again next year.
The other problem that I can see with this system is that when you look at your income from year to year, you may not be getting a really accurate picture of where you really are. It would seem to inflate your income and also cause you to have miscalculations as to growth. Good records are necessary in order to gathering knowledge about what direction you need to make adjustments in order to have good growth.
A. As a balloon twister and an accountant, I would be careful of doing this. First, you cannot deduct as a charitable contribution the value of your time. So if you give your services free, this cannot be deducted. I have also heard many people say they will do an "exchange of checks", you give me my fee and I will donate "X" amount back to you. Nothing is accomplished by this, except maybe increasing your tax bill. Money you receive for your "show" is subject to self employment taxes but your contribution does not reduce the self employment tax. Thus your Taxable Income stays the same but your taxes increase. I know we are supposed to be getting a kinder more gentle IRS, but I would not want a paper trail as described above. It could be construed the same as the exchange of checks situation.
For those organizations that meet my criteria, I send a proposal. In the proposal I request:
I also make inquires about any performance requirements, and specify exactly what I will do and when. You might also ask for a letter of reference as part of your conditions. The letter can be countersigned as a contract.
I should point out that I am negotiable on these conditions. Sometimes the event is such that they cannot comply with some of the conditions. My point here is to create a comfortable situation for both me and charity, so that we know what is expected. Most charities read my letter and say, "Well, we were looking for someone less professional... someone looking for exposure."
PLEASE, if you are starting out, think carefully about the advice I've given. When I started out, I was burned by some charities who did not do what they promised and/or treated me shabbily in other ways... Even as a beginner you have a value, you are doing the charity a service. You owe it to them, and you, to do the best you can by treating the show as a professional booking. Look at what was said and modify my comments to do suit your style.
As a result of my policies I do a very small number of very special charities, but I look forward to them.
With family and friends, it's just the first two requests; with other groups it's sometimes even more - like if there's a banner of donation amounts - we usually get into the top 10 lines - about as far as anyone will actually read.
So, exposure to influential decision makers and that mailing list are my carrots. I usually do two non-family events a year - about 50-60 tables each. And yes, they do bring in new business at full price.
Yes, we fell for all the lines for the first couple of years. We needed exposure! We wanted to be the name on everyone's lips when someone said, "balloons?" The reality is, it doesn't happen that way ! Do your balloon work for the right commercial price - always. Project an image of "professionalism" from day one. Professionals charge professional's rates. Will your dentist give you a discount just because you promise to mention how good he is at the next PTA meeting? Actually.... I would expect to pay MORE to have a better than average smile! Wouldn't you? You don't have to charge as much as a dentist, but you do have to charge enough to make a PROFIT.
Put yourself in the shoes of a typical guest at that wedding. When was the last time you enjoyed the food, or the flowers, or the venue to the point where you just went ahead and booked that company to service your next family function? And if you do follow up on businesses that have impressed you, don't you also phone two others just to check that you are not paying too much? Particularly if it's a wedding! The real bummer comes when you discount a job on speculation... and two months later one of the bridesmaids says," Jennifer said you gave her the balloon decor at 30% off. Why is the price for my decor much the same (or higher) than your competitor's prices? How can you justify such prices for balloons?" All of a sudden you are on the defensive! Worse still, she is going to tell Jennifer and everyone else that Ajax balloons tried to rip her off! Tiffany has found a balloon decorator cheaper and fairer than Jennifer's! Unfortunately, you have set a bad precident for your business.
Seriously, spend your promotional time, effort and dollars where it will generate business enquiries for jobs charged at THE RIGHT PRICE. Send a complimentary arrangement to the wedding venues for their office, increase the size of your Yellow Pages ad, window displays that stop traffic, create the BEST portfolio in the business by paying a photographer, join the local Chamber of Commerce and the QBN. Get the idea?
I just wish there had been someone around to tell us when we were giving away far too much of our product at discounted prices... always on a "promise" of more business - after the event. Well, nowadays Dolly is thinking of introducing her own "promises". She could promise to provide extra balloon decor at the wedding (at no extra charge) as a reward for all the business the bride's family bring us BEFORE her wedding day. Hmmmm?
If you are concerned about your lack of hands-on experience, practice by making those complimentary delivery arrangements for the local hairdressers, the hotels, the medical centre etc. Be confident.... you can do it! Establish your full commercial selling price and stick to it! You will survive. You will build a professional reputation. You will have a successful balloon business - SOONER.
For the requests that we feel are worthwhile (we're suckers for anything involving children), or that we have learned will, in fact, give our business good exposure, we make the decision as to what and how much of a discount/donation we want to give and we have a set budget for that type of donation.
For ALL other requests, we have a stock answer for them that goes something like this: "Your event/project sounds very worthwhile. We'd be happy to donate a dozen balloons to help you out. Of course, you'd have your choice of all our wonderful colors. Just let us know the date and time and the name of the person from your organization who will come to our shop to pick them up."
Although we've not said "No" to them, we have found that 9 times out of 10, they will turn US down because they don't feel it's worth their while to come all the way to our shop to pick up only 12 balloons. However, the few that DO take us up on our offer are always very grateful for the donation and we feel good that we never have to say "No".
just yesterday a group of students (from one of the most expensive universities in the country ) came to my office asking for a donation of balloons in trade for publicity. I asked them what they wanted, and when I showed them some pics from Images magazine, they were very enthusiastic. I wrote "necessary list" on one paper and "wish list" on another, then I told them that if they wanted any donation from the first list, I would give them up to 30% off of the cost of the items, according to the percent of their purchase from the second list. Now they have a problem, they can obtain some free balloons from my competitors but if they want a great decoration with an excellent job from a professional they will have to pay for it.
I want to make an invitation to DON'T DONATE YOUR BUSINESS, I know it's great when you help to other people, but try to help to people without any economic resourses (orphans, houses of older people, etc.). Never help the people that can pay for it.
For donations you can't expect any return. However, when asked to sponsor, you should expect something in return for your "investment". Many small businesses often fall into the trap of giving product or labor as "sponsorship" when the ultimate return is almost nil. Therefore, it should have been considered in the context of being a "donation."
Now, when you get the person on the phone or at the counter asking for your "kind support," it is so much easier to close their pitch with; "We have already committed our total budget for charitable / sponsorship contributions for this year. We will note your charity / cause for consideration in next year's budget." Or "No, I'm sorry, company policy does not allow me to donate money that we simply do not have in this years budget! You know what it's like - we can't give what we just don't have!"
So my advice would be to respect the wishes of the hospital and try to brighten the kids' day with other activities instead of trying to "pull a fast one" by using surgical gloves. You could try simple origami, plastic ducks, sing-alongs, Mad Libs, Yahtzee, coloring books, tissue flowers, paper bag puppets, paper plate masks, tongue-depressor houses, lots of things that aren't latex.
Yes, they could get paper cuts or gag on a crayon or eat paste, but those items probably aren't specifically restricted. With a little creativity, I think you can come up with dozens of activities that will make the kids happy without breaking the rules or interfering with the duties of the nurses and doctors.
KAISER PERMANENTE MEDICAL CARE PROGRAM
Valley Service Area
6600 Bruceville Road
Sacramento, California 95823-4691
July 12, 1999
2901 Rubicon Way
Sacramento, CA 95821
Dear Sir/ Madam:
Kaiser Permanente enjoys a relationship with area florists which provides encouragement and happiness to our members that are hospitalized or work in our system. We want to continue this encouragement while providing a safe and healthful environment for all those who visit our facilities. This letter is to inform you that Kaiser Permanente has implemented a new program to reduce the potential for latex allergic reactions in patients, visitors, volunteers and employees who frequent our facilities in the Sacramento Valley. The elimination of latex containing products from the items that you deliver to our facilities will assist us in controlling latex sensitivity reactions and increase safety for all those who visit Kaiser Permanente facilities.
Individuals who are sensitive to latex may have a reaction when exposed through touching latex, coming in contact with airborne latex or inhaling latex particles. The reaction may range from minor to life threatening. The key to preventing the reaction in sensitive persons is to eliminate or reduce as much as practical the potential for contact with latex. In order to do this, we are asking that you eliminate all latex containing products from deliveries to our facilities. Latex balloons are of particular concern but other items which contain elastic are suspect for containing latex and should be eliminated unless it can be clearly demonstrated that they do not contain latex.
We will be informing each deliverer of our new policy by providing an information sheet which describes the policy and how it will be implemented. Effective immediately, we will refuse acceptance of products and articles such as latex balloons and other items suspected of containing latex. Your cooperation in informing your customers of this new restriction as they order items for delivery to Kaiser Permanente will prevent the likelihood of any misunderstanding from occurring upon delivery.
If you have any questions, please contact Kaiser Permanente, Environmental Health and Safety Office at (916) 688-6912.
Steven P. Gerigk
Environmental Health Safety Manager
If you're working with the elderly make sure you have a small bottle of rose scent to spray on the balloons. The ladies simply love it. I used working with the elderly as a door to get into the hospitals. Once they get to know you the doors will open up. I am able to go about any where I want and do balloons. I get to go Ped. ICU. This is the hardest place to twist in the world, because of the very sick kids.
What should you make? Money. What should you do? Ask the nursing home staff why they need charity. For them to charge old, sick people thousands of dollars a month to get ignored by nurses and eat bland cafeteria food, and then have the audacity to ask you to come in for free burns my butt. Do the food service people "donate" charity food to the residents? How about the doctors? Do they treat the patients for free? Do the nurses change the bedpans out of the goodness of their hearts?
Sorry, but I'm in several nursing homes every season (always paid), and I see the conditions. Yes, some are better than others, but I wouldn't let any relative of mine stay in even the one here that is considered the "best" in the two state region. So when I get calls from nursing homes that I haven't been at before, telling me that "they don't have a budget for entertainment", I respectfully tell them I am in business for the same reason that they are. What gives them the right to ask me to give charity to their residents when they are charging them an outrageous amount of money?
When you agree to do a charity job like that, keep in mind that you may be taking work away from a professional who depends on such work to feed their family.
There is need for caring and sharing. There is need for love and attention. If you want to show them you care, go to a nursing home sometime and sit down and talk to the residents. Hold their hands, hug them, listen to them. But there is no need for free entertainment. These places charge an "arm and a leg" for each person there. There is NO need to be begging for entertainers to donate their time. If an entertainer wishes to do charity work, there are many other places he/she can go, places that don't have lots of money available. If an entertainer is just looking for a "practice audience," there are others also available.
If you believe it every time an organization says "it's not in our budget," you are very gullible. (If it truly is NOT in the budget of a particular nursing home, something is very wrong there.) Entertainment should be a major factor at these places, and in the good ones, it is. It's true, we need to "give back." I've written articles on this very subject. I do a ton of charity work every year, but at places that really need it. If you, or anyone else, do freebies at nursing homes, odds are you're taking away work from a professional. And that isn't very nice.