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Twister Pricing

"Theory of the Fully Inflated Balloon"
The more space a balloon occupies, the more valuable it becomes.
- Tom Myers
What Should I Charge?

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.

Make 'Em Flinch

Public Events

Private Events

Payment Issues

Norm's Summary

A very good summary of the pricing issue by Norm Carpenter (The balloonian).

MB 12/13/95
SKB 2/11/96
SKB 9/15/96
SKB 9/25/96
LM 12/?/96
LM 1/29/97
MB 4/4/97
SKB 6/16/97
WNL 12/9/97
SKB 12/20/97
MB 7/7/98
MB 7/9/99

Wait, don't go away - there's more! Additional material for this chapter has been saved from posts on the mailing lists. Rather than keeping it hidden away, it has been temporarily placed here until the guide editors get a chance to move it to its proper location in this chapter. Feel free to make use of it.


"If you want people to pay you for what you do, you might want to
reconsider the name `Charity the Clown.'"

simple rule of thumb:
When you work for someone for free, or for a big discount in price,
you will find that when they are ready to pay for the work they will hire
someone else.  It's true.

I have discovered that I get more business when I charge what I think I am
worth.  When I work for free or a greatly discounted price people perceive
the value of my services as less.  When I work for free I usually carry my
own equipment in from the car and get almost no help.  When I charge my top
fee there is usually someone there offering to help me with equipment and to
bring me a cold drink when I need one.  So do your best, charge what you know
you are worth, and there will always be someone who wants to hire you.

I'll relate advice I got from a sage. When I got my FAA Flight Instructor
rating my mentor/instructor gave me this advice. I know it isn't ballons
but the principle is the same.Preface: flying careers depend on total
flying hours and flying hours cost money unless you get paid to do it.

He said I know the temptation will be to charge less or do it for free to
help you build hours. I had a full time job already so I could build hours
after my regular job, just like doing balloons. His point was if you sell
your services for less than others you start whoring yourself; you
will do anything for money. People do make a living at this and we only
hurt ourselves collectively if we sell for much less than the going price.

Also remember that if you want to charge less you can offer a limited
discount (the discount does not really have to be limited).  It can be
seasonal, introductory or for an anniversary.  You can say you usually charge
$X but are giving a 25% or 50% discount now.  That establishes your price
and value at the higher number AND puts some pressure on that they are taking
advantage of a limited time sale.  
Safeway and a lot of other businesses have sales, why not the entertainer?
Then when the discount ends you go back to the regular price.  It avoids the
price increase.  People don't like paying $10 for something that was $5 while
they love to pay $5 for a $10 item.

If you are concerned about undercharging compared to the rest of your market, find out 
what the rest of your market is charging.

"Hello?" (This is already one clue ... if the person who answers is really
        a pro, the phone will be answered more like "Balloon Company,
        may I help you?")
"I'm planning a birthday party for my (wife/child) in a few weeks, and she'd
        love to have someone there making balloon animals for everybody ...
        how much does it cost for someone to do that?"

Figure out what length of gig you want to get quotes on, and keep it the same for everyone 
you call.

If that seems unethical, remember: grocery store A sends people into grocery store B, and 
contractor C calls contractors D, E and F to do the very same thing, and the only people 
who are really horrified that someone would engage in this common competition-checking 
practice are the old guys in the Klown Klub who would be very offended at you for not 
playing nice-nice.

You can ask others on a one-on-one basis who do comparible work (ie. YOUR FRIENDS) 
for advice on pricing.  However, if you are going to call them and pretend to be interested 
in hiring them just to find out their prices, you won't have friends for long...please don't 
do that.

As to calling others and pretending to be a potential customer in order to get a handle on 
their pricing, as opposed to telling them who you are and why you're calling ( I've never 
seen anything wrong with competitors being friends, as long as you're not price fixing).  
IMHO, it is "weasel-ish" and wasteful.  Why blow a potential friendship?  I'm certainly not 
going to go out of my way to help those folks.  If they feel it's all "dog eat dog", let them 
eat or be eaten: but if they're my friend, I'd go out of my way to help them with a potential 
sculpture or problem

One suggestion was to call your competition and pretend you want to hire them.  Not 
illegal, but a bit underhanded if you ask me.  The problem with doing this is that you still 
then have to figure out what you're worth as compared to the people you've called.  You're 
a different person.  You do differnet things.  You have different overhead.  Calling others 
will still only get you part of the picture.

I don't like the practice of calling and pretending to be someone else.  I know others do it 
and I know I get those calls all the time.  I just love it when someone with a very distinctive 
voice calls me and gives me a fake name and asks me very leading questions that no one 
that didn't already know the answer would ask.  Unfortunately, I have to handle that call 
like a real business person and stay very serious, answering those questions just in case 
I'm wrong about who's on the phone.

The reason I have a problem with it is that it's not simply calling around
asking for the best price on a lawn mower, or walking the aisles in a
supermarket to see what someone is charging.  I can spend a half hour on
the phone with someone because they're pretending to be interested in
hiring me.  That's asking an awful lot of me without being truthful.  I
want to know who I'm talking to.

I get calls regularly from other companies and I regularly call them, too - it's called 
"shopping the competition" and if you don't do it for some "moral" reason, I can't imagine 
how you have the guts to be in the marketplace at all.  I just heard today that the other big 
singing telegram company in town is telling callers that they've "bought up all the other 
companies" so there's no need for customers to call around - and when my company is 
mentioned, they say we're unreliable because we're a home-based business (so is he, but 
he doesn't mention it).

Of course, I'll be the last to say there isn't room for difference of opinion in any business - 
but can you think of any field of enterprise in which you don't think Company A "shops" 
company B to see what's going on in the big wide world outside Company A's doors?  
Macy's shops Gimbels, my friends, and so should you if you want the most accurate read 
on what others in your area are charging.

If you were able to hire a marketing research firm to help you, one of
the things they would do is a market analysis.  Basically, this is just
finding out what the market is like in your area.  One of the most common
ways of doing this is by "shopping" the competition. You aren't being
deceitful. You're just asking how much they would charge for a certain
service.  No promises made. 

You will be competition for them, but that's going to happen anyway. By knowing what 
the price range is for your market, you won't be undercutting them and ruining the market. 
You'll just be getting a piece of the pie.

If the competition is priced correctly and offering a great value, you
will not hurt them too much. You may get a few of their customers, but
they're probably busier than can be anyways. 

The ethics lie in how you price. If you price lower than everyone just
because you have a day job, that's unethical.  Just my opinion. If you
price lower or work for free just 'cause you like doing balloons, it's
not unethical but it hurts the people who are doing it for a living.  

Why not just determine the right price for your skills, services you
offer, entertainment you provide, your market? Enjoy the money and make
all your customers tickled?

personally, I could care less about what the other folks charge.  I DO however like to know 
what they're doing.  If it's magic, I want to know what effect and what types of routines.  I 
don't want to do what they're doing if I can help it.  Same with balloons.

I set my prices based on what I think I'm worth, (and based some on what my
customers seem to think I'm worth), not on what my competition thinks they're worth.  
I'm not them.  I also give a discount to folks that've seen my work at the restaurant; they're 
the ones that I really want to work for; they've seen me, know what I do, and know what 
they're getting.  They called because they like what they've seen, not because they're 
looking for the "best price."  I also give the discount as a thank you to the restaurant.  I 
want these folks to keep the restaurant in mind and hopefully keep coming back there to 
eat.  To me, it's kind of a relationship building type thing.

A number of people posted some very useful information on determining what you should 
charge as a twister.  Some of the things you have to take into consideration are:

  Are you trying to make money doing this or is it just a hobby?

  Are you an entertainer, or do you just stand around making figures?

  Are you a creative sort, or are you just twisting up the same thing for
  every person?

  What are your costs?

  Are you getting something out of working cheaply besides money?

  Are you looking at balloon figures as a commodity or an art form?

  What would you be making if you were working in another field?

As for twisting for free because you have a real job and don't need the
money, well again, as long as I'm doing something different from you, I
don't care.  Someone that wants what I do will still have to hire me.  Will
I lose work because someone found out you'll do something different for
less money?  Maybe, and I don't like it when that's the reason I lost a
job. It is, however, within your right.  I just have to do a better job
marketing myself and convincing people that they'd rather hire me than
have you show up for nothing.  I have often had people call me and say that
they went with someone cheaper the last year and now they know better.
(And that's not to single out anyone.  there are people that work for
nothing that are absolutely amazing entertainers.)

>If my competitor in another area close to mine is getting more money than I
>get, why shouldn't I get the same (or more for that matter since I have to
>drive farther to provide the same service.)  If I'm not cost comparing out
>there I don't think I'm doing my job very well.

Is your competitor as skilled and talented as you are?  If so, your prices 
should be comparable.  If they're show isn't as good as yours, it should not 
cost as much.  If your show isn't as good as theirs, yours should cost less 
than theirs.  See what I'm getting at?  Just because "everyone else around 
here charges that" just doesn't cut it.  What matters is the quality of the 
show.  Its morally wrong to charge someone a high fee just because its the 
going rate and then give them a show that isn't comparable in value.  How 
would you feel if you were the customer?  Think about it.

When I began clowning in April of 1992, I charged a much lower price than I 
do now.  My shows were pretty terrible, and my makeup sucked.  (Remember 
Stephen King's "IT"?  I was that bad.  And my abilites were pretty limited 
too.)  A couple other "clowns" in my area took it upon themselves to contact 
me and tell me that I wasn't charging enough.  At the same time, they made 
it a point to tell me how much more experience and skill they had.  In effect, 
they were telling me how bad I was (and I deserved it).  This made me wonder 
though... were they suggesting that I charge as much for my horrible shows 
as they charged for their high quality ones?  I suggest that that would have 
been a bigger crime than my shows were.  At least my customers couldn't 
accuse me of charging too much, which is what I would have been doing if I 
charged what the better, more experienced entertainers were.  A low priced, 
low skilled newbie doesn't hurt anyone.  On the other hand, a high priced 
yokel who sucks hurts us all.

Luckily, I've improved quite a bit since then.  A couple of veteran 
entertainers took me aside and mentored me.  I've gotten out of the 
price war game; it's dominated mostly by poor quality clowns who are 
interested in money, not quality.  I charge a premium price, and I always 
make sure I deliver.  My repeat business is running consistently around 60-
70%.  I haven't compared that with anyone else, but I think its probably 
pretty acceptable.

My biggest wish for our art and industry is that the people who are good at 
it would continue to grow and thrive, while the weenies who gives us a bad 
name would either get real or get out and stop messing it up for the rest of 
us.  When pride and professionalism are your focus, the rest will fall into 

If you feel you are good at what you do, then by all means charge more.
Think of it this way:
20.00 an hour gross,
subtract 15% for social security...that leaves about 17.00
subtract about 30% for various taxes...that leaves about 11.00
then your overhead i.e. balloons, costume, promotion thru the year, office
(I'm lucky if I can keep it to 30%) lets say 25% to be generous.
that leaves about 8.00 an hour

I know the figures aren't totally accurate, but you can work at McDonald's
now for 7.00 an hour.   WHAT IS YOUR TIME WORTH?

I have been doing the balloons only since 1984.  I also started by charging
too little, 30 C-shells an hour.  However I knew I would increase the value, after
I got the customers.  I am now at 75 C-shells, 50 for the second hour.  I also do
only balloons, but remember you are as good as they are willing to pay.
Many of the customers I have were the 30 C-shell customers I had a few years ago.
The main idea is to have fun.  I just finished a carnival, and made 457 C-shells 
for three days, now by some of the standards, that is too little, however I
looked at it as a chance to practice, and get paid for it.

Where are you located? That has a lot to do with what you charge.  But as I
see it even in the Midwest where the cost of living is generally lower as
well as the amount we can ask for our services you are way low in your
fees.  In the St. Louis area we get anywhere from  40 to 60 C-shells per hour in
plain clothes as a balloon entertainer with no deduction for additional
hours.  The only time I give that deduction is when I'm in clown costume
and I have a multi (3 or 4 ) hour gig.  I have 5 years experience and that
is a selling point as well but you should still be getting more than 20 C-shells 
per hour. 

Look into your neighborhood establishments which offer children's Birthday
entertainment or parties.  In my area they are charging upwards of 80 C-shells or
more.  I don't have to blink an eye to charge 50-75 C-shells per hour for balloon
sculpting.  If someone is whining about your prices, it is only their own
private circumstances.  Next time they need entertainment, they will be aware
of the rising cost of birthday entertainment.  Let them make a few more phone
calls.  If you are good at what you do, they will most likely call you back.

Yes they do. In the old days (pre-multiballoon stuff) I would get between 
0.25 and 1 C-shell for a balloon. Multi-balloon stuff gives me at least 3-5 C-shells per
piece on the average. A lot of the balloons on my video get me between 5
and 10 C-shells per character.

It's all in the way you sell it. On my menu, I don't suggest prices but I
divide the balloons by difficulty and put headings on the top like " Worth a
Little More," "Worth A Lot More," and "Worth the Most."  People get the idea.

We've sold balloon sculptures at Arts & Crafts shows
and my basic rule of thumb (going back to my days in retail...) is not
how much the balloons cost me, or how many are used (altho' this can be
a factor in bigger creations and any "negotiations" that may come up ), but
how much would I pay for this if I was on the customer side of the booth.
how much is it worth to me... how good does it look... how "novel" is it?

We might get 2 C-shells for a simple ( and quick ) 5 balloon hat, but using the
same 5 balloons to do the Mouses' Dog, can net 10 C-shells.  There's little 
more work and time involved in the dog, but it's still 5 balloons.  it's how it looks,
and how it strikes the buyer's fancy.

balloons cost less than a nickle each, but what you're really
charging for is your time. Compare what you're
pulling in per hour vs. all of your costs (gas, balloons, printing, "office"
tasks, etc.). Balloons are the cheapest part of the equation, almost a
non-issue. The ultimate value of a balloon creation isn't reflected by a
10-inch piece of latex but in the art and showmanship you express in its
use.  When Hollywood makes a feature film on 35mm stock, they're using the same
35mm film that you would use in your camera, but it comes on larger rolls.
It costs the same or more as the film you buy, and they use 24 exposures per
*second*. A huge proportion of it is thrown
out at the end of production. Still, when all is said and done, the
*cheapest* thing about making a movie is the cost of the film.

I am a professional family entertainer - yes I charge money but what
makes me a professional is that I focus on safety, appropriateness, and
providing a service with the client's needs uppermost.

I don't busk - I always set the price for what I deliver and very
frequently people tip me on top of my asking price.

As a face painting and balloon twisting clown, I set up a booth at
various street fairs, farmers' market and special events. I always work
with the manager or event organizer. My booth setup is compact (except
for the long lines sometimes) with an umbrella for shade instead of a
canopy or tent so I can set up anywhere and frequently do in the middle
of the path so everyone sees me and has to walk around me.

I set a price for my services. Currently I'm charging 1.25, 1.50, 2,
3 or 4 C-shells for both face painting and balloon creations.
I charge based not only on the number of balloons and pieces of balloons
I use but on the time, talent and creativity to create the design. I've
created my own large scale versions of Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit,
Elmo, and a modified version of Adrienne Vincent's Michael Jordan slam
dunking. I display these creations on my balloon display stick and
people walk by talking excitedly about Michael or Tigger or Elmo and
usually come back with a friend or a family member raving about my

The customers have no problem spending 3 or 4 C-shells with me for these
special creations and I sell them as fast as I can make them. Of course
I also sell lots of simpler creations but my minimum price for a one
balloon creation is more than the other person charges for several

I managed to get most local entertainers to double their prices in 
the last six years, and I still go out at least 20% higher.  When asked, 
it's good to say 'Yeah, I can give you the names of some cheaper ones!'

We all have a service to sell. We value it at different levels depending on
what our experience is and what value we place on our own time and talent.
In all of my years of experience, I believe that all of us tend to error on
the side that sells our own value short. This is especially true when we
are just starting out or when we are trying to establish ourselves as a
valued entertainer. 
In general, the whole twisting profession benefits when one of us has the
courage to not accept a job the is below ones own established minimum.
Sometimes this is a very difficult decision. Human nature is a very strange
thing. I always seem to go back to something that my Dad told me about
life. "Your better than you think that you are." No matter what level you
think you are at, your better. In our case, this translates into "Your
worth the money you want to make." Don't settle for less.

Establish a price and stick to it. If you have to turn down a be it.
You obviously thought that your show was worth that much for certain reasons.
Price of a show has many factors including Cost of supplies, number of people,
conditions, travel time, etc. 

If you feel that you overcharged, call the guy back and suggest that for
another price you can do a diffenet show. In other words offer something
slightly different to justify the change in price. 

One key thing that I always ask when someone calls for a show is : WHAT'S YOUR
BUDGET?  They will usually tell you what they have to spend. When they tell
you, you can say "Well for that price, I can do a show where....."   If it's
really low, you can say "Well my minimum price is X and for that I can

You may be the greatest twister in the world but if you want to get your
price, you have to know how to handle the BUSINESS end of SHOW BUSINESS.
Performers who have a hard time handling the business end, have agents or
business managers.

STICK TO YOUR PRICE!  I'd rather do half the work at a higher price then work
twice as hard for half of the money (and be degraded for taking work for less
than I feel that my entertainment is worth)  Let those jobs go to the guy that
makes the one balloon animals with irregular bubbles.

business expense list:
 Mileage to town
 costume and costume upkeep
 business cards
 promotional materials like posters announcing the days I'll be at that 
 a balloon menu

When you first start out sometimes one of the only ways to get a gig is by
undercutting. New businesses usually open with a great big grand opening sale!
I hope this does not irritate the "old timers" but often it is the only way
to get started.  However once your skills and your performance are "up there" 
you should stick to real prices.

Instead of "undercutting" others in our profession and then ending up
with possible repeat customers getting angry with a drastic increase in your
fees you can always give a "New Business" discount.  Doing this enables you to
show what you would charge... and then just tell them that you are giving a
new business discount to bring your rate to what it is that you feel will give
you the job and still maintain your worth.  People LOVE a sale, but absolutely
hate price increases.

Experience has taught me never to reduce my fee, because that particular 
reduced fee amount will somehow disseminate throughout the community and 
you'll find yourself in a dilemma when clients phoned you and say something 
like "Oh but Mr Pizza Hut says he pays you $X."
I worked a festival once (never again) as a busker to make some money.  
Five years later I get this phone call from the festival organizer
who left a message on my answering machine saying he wanted nobody 
but me for a big event - an aussie barney was going to be there, the
works!  I phoned him back gave her my usually spiel, then my price. 
Don't get me wrong busking can be a lot of fun and a great way to get
started, but I told them that after five years, I'm an accomplished 
performer now and that I don't busk any more unless I get an 
appearance fee of $$$. Basically if you want me you have to pay me.
Oh but the budget!
Well you're paying for aussie barney to be there aren't you?
Oh yes but they're entertainers!!!!!!
I hung up the phone...

I think that is necessary for each twister to evaluate his or her own worth
when making a decision on how to price any twisting job. I have always
believed that most of us (99.9%) tend to unvalue what our time and takent
is worth.  I can give you some ideas of the things that I would consider 
in your position. 	

   1. Where is target for you future business? If you want a large portion to
come from resturant type work then you must act a different way then if
your target is kids parties. Twisting at a family resturant can provide you
a good number of contacts for future parties. You might make the decision
to accept a reduced fee from normal to get the contacts for future parties.
This does not mean that you should accept a reduced fee. Just that you
might consider it.

   2. Will the resturant allow you to accept tips from its customers? This
can have a large impact on your decision. Some twisters will take resturant
work for free to twist for the tips. The down side of this is with the
servers in the resturant. I have had some servers who think that the tips
for the servers are reduced when twisters are accepting tips. I have worked
some resturants where I got my full fee and tips too. Don't be afraid to
start high and negotiate to where you wanted to be in the first place. On
more that a few ocasions I got the higher fee that I started with.

   3. What is the minimum amount of compensation that you will accept for
your time and talent? Don't sell yourself short. Most of your customers
will have a higher opinion of what your talent and time is worth then you
do. You need to live UP to their expectations not DOWN to your own. If the
proposed job is below your minimum then negotiate or have the courage to
turn work down.

   4. Prepare to be flexible in your approach to the manager of the
resturant. Instead of naming a specific day of the week that you would like
to work, tell him that you can increase his traffic on his slowest night.
This is likely to be Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Sometimes this can
work into a two or three night deal. Always try to get a commitment from
the mangers for a 30 or 60 day period. It will take them that long to see
an increase in the traffic. 

Remember, you are worth more than you think you are!!!

it won't be hard for them to find some cheapie who is so
desperate to get hired that he'll agree to work for practically nothing.  
What you should do is AFTER the show, wait a day or two,
then call and nicely and courteously offer that if he wants to
avoid getting a performer NEXT year who is as lame as the cheapie they
hired instead of you, you would be happy offer your services...

Once a price is quoted I do not change if they cannot pay it, unless I
can give a reason for that change, such as saying well for the two hundred I
would have made multi balloon figures but for a hundred I would only be able
to do one balloon animals, ect. This lets me offer different rates without
making me look too easy.  And I only do this if I really want or need the
date. If I feel they are trying to play me I do not offer any thing less
that the quote.

I usually quote prices according to the number of hours I'm booking,
with one hour being higher than 2(120 C-shells for 1, 100 for 2, 90 for 3 and
up) and I have a minimum of 2 hrs. for special times such as Halloween.
My price is usually higher at that time too. You could pay a twisting
teen(say that 5 times)to pump up your balloons to an average size for
quicky balloons.It wouldn't cost much for an hour. Just an idea.

I also will give a reduced rate if it is a longer term
contract and I feel I can receive other benefits such as advertising etc.  I
have worked for the local movie theatre and cut deals with them.  I can try
out new stuff and have a great time and give out my cards. 

In the entertainment business, you're selling your skills and your personality.
Those aren't commodities.  Everyone will determine a value differently.
There is no simple rule for how much entertainment is worth.  It might be
that you're charging exactly the right amount for what you offer and the
area in which you offer it.  The people that you've heard charge more,
might be offering additional services.  If you can make enough money to
survive on what you charge and you're happy doing it, you're charging the
right amount.  Someone that charges 4 times as much as you has to do a lot
more work to convince people they're worth the higher amount (they may be)
and they'll probably book fewer jobs.  On the other hand, they may live
someplace where the cost of living requires that they charge that much
more.  But one thing I can suggest is that you shouldn't be surprised when
someone complains that whatever you charge is too expensive.  No matter
what your price, if you doubled your price, some people would pay it.  If
you cut it in half, some people would complain that it was too high.  You
see people all the time complaining that $5 is too much for something in a
supermarket.  If people will complain about something in that price range,
expect them to complain about what really are costly services.

Charge what you will, but keep this in mind.  Later you may want to raise
your price.  What is  your strategy for that?  Best to work it out now, or
for sure it will come back to haunt you.
Also, I find that the people that hire me for 95 apples give me much more
respect than the bargain hunters that are used to paying 35 apples.  People
generaly expect to get what they pay for, and if they know that you charge
so much less than average, this helps form their opinion of you from the

believe me, the LAST impression I want anyone to have is that I work for
free.  The impression I hoped to have made is that when you're
a beginner, you shouldn't expect top dollar.  At a beginning level, exposure
becomes a much stronger emphasis.  If someone is a beginner, they should
expect a low salary to start and over time, raise the rates as they move from
restaurant to restaurant.  Not just because their knowledge of balloon
creations is increasing, but because their speed is increasing, their abbility
to handle a crowd, and their ability to bring people into the restaurant.  ALL
of these skills will give them the leverage to raise their prices over time.
A professional shouldn't sell him/herself short, but at the
same time, it's also wrong for a beginner to expect the same kind of money
that a pro gets?   We put our sweat and time into it, paid our
dues, we should be reaping the top dollar, not a 16 year old beginner.  My
only point to him was to start somewhere.  Better to crawl before trying to run. 

discounted rates
In this world there is Wal-mart, there is Nordstrom.
Generally, items cost less at Wal-mart, but are of poorer quality. They are
made quickly and cheaply, and sold in a supermarket-like venue.
Generally, items cost more at Nordstrom, but they are of better quality and
are sold to you by sales professionals highly motivated to give you a
thoroughly enjoyable shopping experience.

Sometimes, though, you can get the same item in either store. Sometimes you
run into a bright, cheerful and helpful sales person at Wal-mart who just
makes your day, does an excellent job at a discounted price. If that sales
person is really good (and smart), s/he will probably move into management
or go work at Nordstrom.

The trick for the consumer is to catch those up-and-comers when they're in
their Wal-mart phase and get more bang for their buck before that
professional has moved into Nordstrom phase.

People on a budget will sacrifice some of the polish in order to get what
they want. To other people, having only the best is what matters, and cost
is no object.

The economic concept is "What the Market will Bear." You should charge as
much as the public will be willing to pay for your services. Higher prices
mean fewer jobs, less exposure (though it's likely to be exposure to others
who can afford your prices). Lower prices mean more jobs, greater exposure
(to people who are willing to pay the discounted rate).

If you're really good and charge a lot, you'd best live in an area where
there are plenty of wealthy people willing to pay for the enhanced quality.
Otherwise, you'll need to lower your prices to get enough jobs to cover your
expenses, or move your business to a different venue. The dollar amount
changes from city to city, street to street, door to door. There's no
formula, and none of us has the perfect answer. The best people can say is
that they have found the price and performance that works best for them.

So please don't jump on our valued contributors about "discounts" or "price
gouging" or "stealing business" or "hurting the industry." History shows
that what people want is a quality product at a fair price. In the balloon
business, that's a clean uniform, a pleasant patter, reasonable speed, and
an attractive twist at a price the *customer* is willing to pay. You can
provide those features and get work, or you won't be around long and your
competition will look better by comparison.

> Charge what you will, but keep this in mind.  Later you may 
> want to raise your price.  What is your strategy for that?

"Thank you for your interest in having me appear at your function. I have
greatly expanded my entertainment options and now offer a variety of
different performance packages. Can I send you an updated brochure with my
current selection and price information?"

It's also perfectly reasonable to raise prices for the same services to keep
up with inflation. But it always goes over better if you say something like
"Now offering 30 new twists for 1999" or "now guaranteeing 100 twists per
hour." It isn't reasonable, though, to raise your rates just because
everyone else charges that much, unless you provide the same level of
service as others in your industry (quality, quantity and variety). Newbies
charge less, and people who hire them do so because they want to pay less.

> Best to work it out now, or for sure it will come back to haunt you.

Possibly, but it's not likely that the same people will expect to pay the
same amount to have you do the same performance for the same function from
year to year. Inflation makes everything costs more, be it napkins, hall
rental, soda pop or entertainment.

It's not that common for customers to discuss with their guests how much
they paid for the entertainment, either, so as your skill level grows you
can charge more to your new customers. If you are pricing fairly for your
services, you should keep your rates in line with the services you provide.

One of the reasons to discount prices is to stimulate growth in the industry
where there is little or no market. If a restaurant doesn't have live
entertainment and isn't sure they want it, it's entirely reasonable for a
twister to offer to work for tips. When several restaurants offer live
entertainment and management realizes they are stimulating business,
twisters can raise their rates. Usually, they have to change venues to get a
raise (that's true in any profession). They shouldn't expect to just walk in
one day and say to the manager, "starting tomorrow, I cost double" and
expect the manager to go along with that.

Keep in mind, too, that if your skills grow and you're able to charge more,
you may price yourself out of your current market. That's okay, as long as
you can then go out and build a clientele at your higher rate. If not,
you're pricing yourself out of work, and you'll have to adjust your prices
or offerings.

We just hired a magician for our daughter's birthday party. We went to the
local magic shop and got some recommendations, checked the yellow pages and
called around. We heard prices ranging from X apples to 2X apples. The 2X
guy was quick to point out that he offered a levitation trick and other
illusions that were clearly a cut above the other magicians we talked to. 
The X guy was a 17 year old kid just getting into the business. Being frugal
but indulgent parents, we went with a 1.5x magician, who threw in some extra
tricks for free. We were happy with the performance, and he got the price he

If you continually find that you're missing out on jobs because someone is
willing to work for fewer apples, and you notice fewer and fewer apples in
your cupboard, you may need to look at your marketing skills (one of the
guys we phoned sounded like he was either drunk or awakened from a sound
sleep at 4:00 in the afternoon - we didn't hire him). Are you advertising in
places frequented by people who can afford you? Are your negotiating tactics
up to par? Are you making a clear distinction between the services you offer
and those that are offered at a lower rate? As someone has said, "There's
plenty of room at the top, but no place to sit down." 

> Also, I find that the people that hire me for 95 apples give me
> much more respect than the bargain hunters that are used to paying
> 35 apples.  People generally expect to get what they pay for, and
> if they know that you charge so much less than average, this helps
> form their opinion of you from the start.

This is true. But that respect will fall way quickly if you give a 35 apple
performance but charge 95. Reference my original post.

>> The economic concept is "What the Market will Bear." You
>> should charge as much as the public will be willing to pay
>> for your services. Higher prices mean fewer jobs, less
>> exposure (though it's likely to be exposure to others who
>> can afford your prices). Lower prices mean more jobs,
>> greater exposure (to people who are willing to pay the
>> discounted rate).

Let's say that you charge 50 barrels of apples to perform for Jonny
Appleseed, Inc.'s Company picnic, and you're worth every Pippin. You get
lots of exposure to hundreds of people, but that isn't going to get you a
lot of 50 barrel jobs doing birthday parties. With luck, a spouse of one of
the attendees will enjoy you so much that they'll offer you 50 barrels to
appear at Apple Butter Corporation picnic. But more likely, you'll have to
send promotional materials, make cold calls, and listen to a lot of "no's"
in order to find someone willing to hire you at that higher rate. You need
to be in the yellow pages, you need to advertise on the 'net, you need to do
direct mailing, to reach that 1-2% of the market that is willing to listen
to your spiel and then pay the amount you ask. You also need to make those
barrels last between gigs, which will be less frequent than lower paying
gigs in smaller arenas.

What doesn't work, and will never work, is to sit in the living room
watching t.v., waiting for the phone to ring and complaining about how other
people are ruining the business by getting more jobs at a lower rate.

If my skill level is 35 apples and there are people who want to pay 35
apples for a 35 apple job, that's a match. If I charge 95 apples and nobody
wants to pick that many for my bushel basket, I should either settle for
fewer apples or look for jobs closer to the orchard where people have more
apples to trade. If I charge 50 apples for a 100 apple show, and everyone is
willing to give me 100 apples, I'm not asking what the market will bear.

* Your customers will always be able to hire somebody at half your price.
They may well be able to hire somebody at twice your skill. They may prefer
someone else's patter because it's more family friendly. They may prefer
someone else's patter because it's more adult oriented. They may prefer
someone who makes simple things fast. They may prefer someone who makes
elaborate sculptures for the entertainment value. It's a big pie out there,
and there's plenty of room for everybody. There's enough work for anyone
who's willing to hustle a bit. The success of others in no way takes away
from your ability to succeed: in fact, if there's one successful twister in
your area, it opens the door for others to succeed as well.

I have bartered my services for all kinds of things including groceries, dinners
out and car repair among a few.  He taught me to let what I can imagine be the
limit for how far where I want to go.  He taught me to think, " What do I need
and where do I want to work for it."  So when I was working for the movie
theatre I got part cash and part tickets.  It was great.  I go to the movies
alot plus I used them for gifts and my teenage daughter was THRILLED!  Go for

  I take the what I would ususally earn and barter that value.  If it is fifty
peanuts an hour then I get that much in groceries, or dinners or a combination
of cash and product.  I approach them with the deal I want.  Sometimes I
specifically approach with a barter deal, (as in car repair).   Barter can be
better than cash for both sides sometimes. I need to buy a new car soon and I
am wondering if I can make a deal for a car.  You never know till you try.
Large dealerships are always having hot dog promotions and stuff for kids.
They do it on a regular basis.  Frankly, I sat down and made a list of my
needs and wants and then started looking at businesses and their needs. I
looked for places where we both would be helped by a barter deal.  My friend
has bartered for gym memberships for his family, theatre tickets, dinners and
all sorts of things.  I have lately been thinking I would like a vacation.
There are some nice hotels around here on the beaches. They have times when
they like extras for their occupants, I am going to give it a whirl.  The sky
is the limit. 

   4. The work in exchange for credit idea can be great for working in a resturant
because there is no cash outlay and nothing to show on the books. You need
to ask yourself if resturant credit is really what you want. If you are
twisting for a living, it is difficult to send resturant credit in to pay
your rent.  PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE be very careful here.  According to the IRS
Balloon Barter is the same as CASH!  It should be entered in your log the
SAME AS CASH.  We had a special column that we used.  It was marked c for
cash / ck for check/  mo for money order/  mc-v for credit cards and T FOR
TRADE.  You need to use it on your taxes and it is taxed at the same rate
as other moneys on your Schedule C.  Now, if the guy says "Let me buy
your dinner when you're done, that may change the situation.  I do now
that Barter was one of the top ten in recent years for the IRS when looking
for under or non-reported income.

Competition in the balloon business

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