Last week, I taught a private lesson that was very different than usual. My student, who has been taking both weekly and private lessons consistently for over 3 1/2 years now, is on the cusp of performing professionally. An opportunity popped up, so the week’s lesson became how to handle a call from a client looking to book a performance rather than our usual technique and improvisation lesson. When you are seriously invested in the comprehensive training of a bellydance student that is looking to “go pro”, there is so much more than moves to learn – including the business end of bellydance!
I thought I’d share a few of the tips I went over with her in hopes that they will be useful for my blog readers here and on the “Bellydance Quickies”.
- Open it up. Start the conversation about booking by asking a simple, open-ended question like “Tell me about the party you are planning.” The key to making a good booking at a good price is getting good information. You don’t want every gig you get an inquiry for – trust me. Bachelor party? No, thank you. This is where you initially screen the booking to see if it’s a good fit for you.
- Now shut up. Listen more than you talk. Your client will most likely tell you more than you thought to ask about the nature of the occasion if you get them started and give them a chance. Clarify specifics briefly as needed, but let them tell you all about their big plans. It is just as important to understand the size and formality of an event and the vibe they want to create as it is to know how long the show will be and at what time.
- Take notes. Take notes while you are listening to the client describe their vision for the party, wedding or corporate event they are planning. You will, of course, need to get more specifics like the exact address later to write up the contract, but you can gather much of what you need from being a good listener and asking a few well chosen questions. I keep a small notebook in my purse just for this in case I get a call while I’m out and about. I use the same notebook for calls I take at home, that way I can keep all potential client information in one place. I put the date I received the call on the page too, so if I haven’t heard back from a client in a week, I call to see if they are still looking to book. You’d be surprise how many say, “I’ve been meaning to call you this week – thanks for checking back!”.
- Don’t jump the gun! Clients are sometimes (always!) in a hurry to get a price out of you. Make sure you have all, and I mean ALL the information you need before you give a price. Usually the first time I get a “premature ask” I deftly redirect with a question about other specifics I need to set an accurate price. What is the address? If I’m at my computer, I run it on Google Maps while I have them on the phone. There may be a travel fee. For example, here in the Phoenix area, if someone is in north Chandler, it’s a 20 minute drive from my house. If it’s south Chandler it could be over 45 minutes. During rush hour it could be 90 minutes! Is this a wedding? Toasts, speeches, receiving lines… wedding receptions almost always run behind schedule. Figure extra time into the cost. And those are just two examples of the many things that could affect your quote.
- Paint the picture. Even if your potential client isn’t pushing you for a price, it is in your best interest to delay pitching your price. The more you can help the client build a mental picture of the lovely and exciting show you will plan for them, discuss the logistics of music hookup and how to get in and keep it a surprise for the guest of honor, the closer you are to sealing the deal.
- Keep your mystique. This is one paradox of the bellydance biz . Remember that what the client is seeking is exciting, glamorous entertainment for their event. They saw your gorgeous, elegant photo on your website and thought, “I want HER to dance for our wedding!” Yes, you need to be thorough and professional in your business dealings, but if you are “all business” and too cold in discussing the details, you can blow the magic your photo created. It may not work in your favor for getting booked. It takes lots of practice to finesse the client call with just the right balance of business and charm so they stay excited to have YOU grace their event.
Keeping all this in mind as you guide the client through a booking call takes practice, just like your choreography! The more you do it, the more situations you have to navigate and different types of events you have to organize, the better you’ll get at it. Honesty, I didn’t fully realize how much I’d learned over 16 years of taking bookings until I spontaneously had to give a “booking call lesson” last week and it all came spilling out!
If you are also starting to book professional work and would like more comprehensive coaching on how to handle client calls, I do offer lessons on Skype or Google Hangouts. I can take you step-by-step through an initial client call, booking and follow-up, including role-playing exercises (where I can play the indecisive client, the “price shopper”, and a total pain!) so you can learn to close the deal like a pro! Email me for more information.