I almost titled this post “The Client Comes First, You Idiot!” But for those of us who are doing our jobs right, that would be overstating the obvious ;)
It’s been a little under a year since the economy went from bad to worse. The bad news? Consumer confidence still stinks. The good news? People are still partying, getting married, hosting corporate events, and offering live entertainment at their restaurants to set their venues apart from the “pack.” Gigs may be harder to come by, but they haven’t dried up for good.
Our key marketing challenge? Today’s clients and prospects will inevitably shop around for the cheapest dancer. It’s natural and the first step to recession-proofing your dance business is to admit that consumer habits have changed. (And, naturally, undercutters must be having their hey day). The next step? Give all these discriminating prospects a thousand and one reasons to select you over Cindy Sparkletush. You and I both know that you have so much more to offer them than a low price tag. So let’s show ’em!
Now for Carrara’s Fundamental Axiom of Belly Dance Marketing: Some marketing practices make price comparisons a non-issue. Others make it irresistable. You can put your clients’ needs first, or you can put your wonderful ahhhhrrrrtttt (or your low prices) first. Which do you think will go over better when Jane Doe is throwing a party?
If you said the clients’ needs, then bingo! You get the gig. (No, seriously. You probably will). Let’s face it: today’s clients want to make sure their hard-earned money is going toward something spectacular, an experience that their guests will remember for a lifetime. Have you gone that extra mile lately? Do you manage expectations in every conversation with clients so they know exactly what they’re getting? Do you put in the effort to get to know your clients and tailor each show to exceed their expectations? Or do you offer up a vague claim of “entertainment” and perform the same exact set at every gig whether or not it fits the vibe of the event?
- It’s hard to get “attached” when you get a gig inquiry, these days. You never know who’s going to cancel on you, or hire somebody cheaper, or whatever. Still, treat even the most casual inquiry as a “sure thing.” Show legitimate interest in the type of event they’re hosting, the Guest of Honor, the theme or vibe they’re going for. Ask tons of questions – and ask them if they have any questions. A professional, client-focused dancer engages her prospects from the first point of contact, giving them something to think about and look forward to. Even after they’ve ‘fessed up to “shopping around,” clients will often come back to me. Why? Because I took an interest in making their event successful. The cheaper dancers did not. Plain and simple.
- It’s equally important to give clients a clear picture of what they can expect from your shows. Tell them a little bit about the general structure of your shows; the props you use, the type of music you might dance to, when and where you’ll include audience participation. After all, anybody can “wing it,” but you’re a true professional. Make this crystal clear, again, from the first contact. I can’t think of a better way to put your prospects at ease than assuring them that they’ll get a complete, structured show rather than 30 minutes of wiggling.
- Another thing to think about is “extras.” No need to throw in a souvenir Snuggie or ShamWow. But some dancers will give the bride-to-be a hip scarf, or hand out small “swag bags” for bachelorette parties (with bindis, henna kits and other small items). Make it fun, cute, and memorable. Lately, I’ve been bringing my boyfriend Stacy along to gigs to take professional pictures of the event. Clients love the added perk of getting some beautiful pictures of me dancing with their friends, family and loved ones!
- Whatever you do, do not lower your price. History has proven that once a community drops its rates, it can take years to get them back where they should be. So what might seem like a smart idea in a down economy could become problematic when times are good. Plus, there’s a little thing called brand equity: would you buy a Tiffany & Co. bracelet from Wal-Mart? Do you want people to view you as a low-cost alternative to a stripper or a singing telegram guy in a gorilla suit?
Yes, some of us will still lose gigs to the Dollar-a-Holler crowd, even if we offer the most impeccable customer service and bring world-class talent to the table. But there’s no better time than now to tweak your customer service skills, communicate what you have to offer, and show your best customers that their event is your business. Low prices are merely a tactic to get a foot in the door. Adding value, on the other hand, is an art, a science, and a strategy that pays off in spades for the span of your dance career.