These posts are related to building and improving your dance business. We talk about how to analyse your situation and how to build a sustainable income with your specific skill set. No silver bullets, but methods that work to find your spot in the dance industry.
Today we will answer two more questions before we move into the nitty-gritty and details of our dance business. Question #1 is: “Are you an artisan or an originator”? Question #2 is: “Are you a maker or a supporter”? Most people tend to answer these questions with Originator and Maker. That is what we want to be, and that is fine. But for most of us, it is also dishonest with ourselves and therefore unfair to ourselves.
To be sure, we are talking about the same things; I will briefly explain what I mean when I use the four terms.
An originator is someone who paves the way for something new. He is the pioneer — someone who either creates a new game or changes the rules in an existing one. In our scene, an originator would be, i.e. someone who created a dance style or at least a proper amount of new moves. Maybe it is a choreographer who developed a new way to create pieces or a coach who has a revolutionary method to train and motivate his students. It’s also the dancer who we can’t classify into a specific style because he does not stick to the rules of someone else.
An artisan is someone who learns as much as possible about his craft. She can also create new things from there, but the impact is not as significant as from an originator. Often the artisan has a broader knowledge than the originator, but it does not reach as deep. In our scene, this would be everyone who learns the roots of a style and how it works. We can classify their dance as a specific style that someone else created.
The supporter is someone who helps other people to reach their goals and rock their projects. In our scene, these would be all the guys who help to organise events, dance in the pieces that others produce and try to be helpful wherever they can.
Makers act on themselves and usually, they rely on supporters to help them. Makers are the ones who start projects when they think something is missing or needs to be changed. They are the motors that keep the scene alive.
Of course, the reality is not black and white, and one can be a little bit of both in both cases. Once again being honest with yourself is the key. If you never started nor finished a project because you thought it needs to be done, you are probably not a maker. When you learn all the details of a given dance style and insist that it has to look a certain way, you are an artisan – no question.
It is imperative to understand that these terms are not judging about the value of someone. Originators and Artisans, Makers or Supporters. There is no one better than the other.
The reason why we ask the question of what we are is that it helps us to understand and create our business. As mentioned in Your Bigger Picture, we use the insights from those questions to be authentic and consistent.
If we are an artisan, we want our message to be about honing our craft and taking it to the next level. As an originator we don’t want to talk about playing by the rules because we don’t – we make them. The maker’s promise is about making things happen (that’s why we call them maker) and the supporter helps the makers succeed. There is a place and a need for every role.
The thing you want to avoid is to build your promise or your message in the wrong way. Don’t pretend you are someone you are not, because people sense and avoid fake people. Believe that you are needed the way you are.
Answer those two questions! We will create our business and marketing strategies on the answers.
This week we will look into two important questions that help us to make our dance business a thriving one, instead of an exhausting but unsatisfying hustle.
Today it is about “The Bigger Picture”. Usually, the bigger picture comes up when somebody tells us to think again, think about the future or don’t think so egocentric. The Bigger Picture focusses on a greater good. And exactly there is the issue with The Bigger Picture.
The Bigger Picture is a subjective vision of how the world (or anything if we talk about a specific topic) should be. So everybody has a different bigger picture. Knowing your better vision of a future is essential, and it is a shame why so many people don’t even think about it. So take a moment to go deep inside yourself an think about how you would design a better future for everyone.
In my Bigger Picture, people would spend their lives doing work they loved, expressing themselves honestly and appreciate time over money. That is oversimplified, but it covers the key points.
So why do we need to know that? How does it help our business? FraGue, stop preaching, start talking business.
When you understand how your own bigger picture looks like, you can use it to kickstart everything you do. The reason is that your subconsciousness knows your bigger picture very well. It knows what you wish and hope. And it is honest and direct. It will cheer for you and help you work when you move towards your bigger picture. But if you don’t, that bitch will sabotage you at every step along the road. It will do so by presenting a million possibilities to do something else, to procrastinate and it will pull you down into a swamp of distraction or unhappiness. You don’t want to mess with your subconsciousness. It runs the show a lot more than we are willing to see.
And to finally get to the points: 1) Choosing your business components: Your work will prosper more when you have your subconsciousness cheering. So don’t take jobs that influence the world in the other direction or compose your portfolio from activities you despise. 2) Promotion & Marketing: When you start to promote your work, you want to reach the right people. You don’t want to reach everyone. Because not everyone is interested in what you do. Reread the last two lines. The good thing about this is that you can focus on talking to the right people. The ones that want what you can offer. When you start to promote your work, you make a deal with people. You make an offer of what they can expect when they follow your work. People might join you or not. Those who do, follow you because they liked the original offer. If you change your offer, they might go somewhere else. So you should not change your offer without a good reason. The best way to stay consistent with what you do is to work on a future you believe in. Work on making your bigger picture a reality.
In the last weeks, we took an in-depth look at our own skillset and calculated the numbers that we need to survive while following our passion, either as a full-time job or side-hustle. Side-hustle makes the whole thing sound more doable, which is great, but it will still be a major hustle.
To set us up for success in this endurance game, we will also take our emotional state into consideration. If there are multiple options on the table on how we can compose our own dance menu, then we should also include the following questions into the decision-making process.
Do I enjoy the work I will be doing?
Can or will I be proud of the work?
How much of it can I actually handle?
These three questions and the money questions from the last week will help us identify what composition is most likely to work for us in the long run.
When you followed the last weeks, you already know that I consider teaching as the most stable form of income. Once in my dance career, it was in the years from 2012 to 2014, I taught 10 classes a week – a total of 12,5 hours of teaching plus 6 hours of way, as not all studios were in my town. For some months this was fine, but I tired fast, and soon I was not happy anymore with the amount of giving classes. I was and am still proud of teaching as I can give back to the culture that is with me for almost twenty years now and seeing my own students progress is simply amazing. But I had to reduce the number of courses as otherwise, I would have burnt-out. I reduced to only 3 classes a week and was able to keep going.
When the questions above don’t raise any concerns about your plan: perfect, stop thinking, start doing. But if they do, consider taking the work field only as a small part overall and not as your primary source of income. If this is the case with more or all of the work fields in your set-up, it might be wise to ease into it slowly and increase the amount of time spent. Keeping your day job while testing out the waters might seem unambitious to some hot shots, but for most of us, it is a smart thing to do.
Here is to work we can be proud of, that keeps us sane and well-fed.
Mike, the CEO of Rookies at Work, gave me the feedback that I might consider some things in the process to be self-explanatory when in reality they are not. I reread the post and have to say he is right.
Especially when I say “calculate your fixed costs”. For some people, this is obvious stuff, but for someone who never did it before that is clearly not enough to get it. So here is everything you need to know:
Your fixed costs are the expenses you have every month. It is the amount of money you need every month for sure. The math is simple. Just add everything that you spend. Here is a list of positions that can be part of your fixed costs, but there might be more.
Heating might be on top.
Insurance for the flat.
Insurance for your freelance job.
Payments for a car, if you have one. Also the costs for fuel and the insurance you need for the car.
Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify or any other subscriptions you use
Costs for your website
Services that make your business easier (ie Dropbox, Grammarly, any social media scheduling tools, …)
Costs for your internet connection
Your phone bill
Your daily coffee or snacks that you shop in between
Private doctors if your insurance does not cover them
Medication if you need it
Practise room rent or training fees
non-fiction books you read to improve what you do
postal sendings if you utilise them
fees of people that work for you, when you outsource stuff
Just think about everything you spend. If you are not into researching it, track your expenses for a month, and you should be good to go. In fact, I recommend tracking your expenses constantly. This raw data will come in handy later in our business running process.
The next step in being successful with our dance career is having a game plan. It is about knowing what to do to reach our goals money-wise and also from a satisfaction perspective. Today it is about the numbers. You need to evaluate your situation with brutal honesty and set a goal. From there we reverse engineer all the steps that are needed to make it happen. I will take you through this process step by step. This process is there to define your personal goals. They are ultimately what defines where you are going. Let’s call it the B-Boy/B-Girl or Hip Hop Dance Business Blueprint.
The following calculation uses numbers after tax. Meaning you calculate with the amount that stays with you after paying your taxes. How much you have to pay depends on the country you live in and the amount of money you earn. In most states, there is a certain threshold of earnings before you have to pay any taxes, and from there you have a progression of percentages you have to pay.
For the exact amount you have to put aside, you must inform yourself about your local tax laws as I can not cover that in detail. The best thing you can do is to talk to an accountant.
Many people think it is smart to start under the radar without invoices and illicit work. I don’t. If you have the fiscal authorities after you, your life is hell. So do this right.
Grab a notebook and a pen. If you want you can use something digital too, but I prefer the oldschool way for work like this because it keeps me away from distractions. Think about the following points and take down notes.
How much do you want? Be honest. This number can be as high or low as you desire.
How much do you earn at the moment from dance-related sources?
How much do you earn at the moment from other sources?
How much spare time do you have?
How much savings do you have?
You see that all of those questions started with how much. The thing is: the planning we are doing is a numbers game, like every business. We are all here for the love of the dance but making a business work is knowing your numbers. Don’t forget that and don’t wing it.
You now know:
Your short term (what we need to survive) and long term (what we want) goals of income.
Your current situation. This gives us the difference we have to take care of aka the mileage we have to run before we win.
Your resources (savings, current income, spare time).
Calculating time again. You take the difference between your next goal (either fixed cost or desired income) and your current situation. Now you check what it would need to fill the gap with dance-related work. Sketch out multiple options, taking all the primary and secondary work fields that you found in the prior tasks into consideration. Draw one scenario for creating all the needed income with one primary work field only and one scenario for splitting it up over multiple work fields. Develop as many different but possible scenarios as you can. Write them down. Then walk away for a day or more.
Come back and check your developed options. Throw the ones that feel wrong away, burn them or get rid of them however you prefer. Take the remaining scenarios and think them through. Do you have one that works with your current resources? For example, you need to teach 2 more classes to reach your break-even point (where you earn what you need to survive). Do you have spare time for two classes? If the answer is yes: great. You found one way that is working without having to change a lot. Check all of your remaining options, just to check if there are more of the viable.
If there is only one option working, congratulations. Stop calculating, start executing.
If there are multiple options that might work, choose one. Roll a dice or flip a coin if you are indecisive. Making that decision is progress. Then start executing.
If you have no options that seem to work, you must free some time. This can be done by either stopping or reducing the time you spend in front of the TV, video games or social media or by reducing the hours you work in your regular job. If you work in a steady job that covers your fixed cost, you can take your time because you are not losing any money. Start by finding those additional hours that you can turn into dance related income. If you work 9 to 5 you can teach, practise, rehearse or choreograph in the evening and perform, compete or teach at the weekends.
As soon as you have a small income built, you gradually shift hours from your regular job to the dance. This transition can be as fast or slow as you are comfortable with. In order for this to happen with as little extra stress as possible, I recommend taking your time.
Here you find an example on how to do the whole calculation. My tool of choice for doing anything math is either Google Sheets or Excel. In case you need a short introduction into this; let me know either in the comments or on social media. If enough people are asking, I will cover that in a post.
short term goal: fixed cost of 1.300 long term goal: desired income of 3.500 income from a regular 20h job: 800 you don’t watch tv at night because you are busy practising with your crew no savings
Primary work fields you consider valuable for yourself: performing & teaching, you love to battle but are not good enough to win major comps. You and crew are doing regional small jams.
We need to close the gap from your income to your fixed cost first: this is 500 bucks.
You want to do all shows but are uncertain if you can land 2 gigs a month in the beginning. Therefore you decide to start 1 dance class and go for as many shows as possible with the crew. The one class takes away from your practise time but brings in some money.
For some month you are landing the shows as planned but then, you don’t book any shows for some month. You decide to go for another two classes because you don’t want to fall below you fixed cost again. With the 3 classes you earn about 200 (not all of them are full enough to pay 70) per week which adds up to 800. Together with 800 from your day job you have a stable 1.600 with fixed costs of 1.300. You did it.
Before we take this new situation as our starting point and work our way up to the desired goal, let’s take a break and check what happened.
In the example above we did not drop our day job. If we wanted to get rid of this one we would need to carry 500 more. If you keep that additional job it is highly recommended to swap it for a job that favours your dance stuff.
One of our decisions did not work: we wanted to cover our difference with teaching and performing. Performances did not work, so we shifted towards teaching. It could have gone the other way around.
Let’s keep going.
Our new difference is 1.900 as we need to work out way from 1.600 up to 3.500. We still work 20 hours regular, teach 4,5 hours and have travel time to the studios of another 2 hours per week. We still have plenty of time to practise.
For the sake of simplicity, we calculate classes with 200 a month and shows with 250 (you should make better deals if you can). You can either teach 10 additional classes, do 8 shows a month or try a combination of both. When you live in a big city it might be possible to teach 13 classes a week but in the bigger cities, there are often a lot of teachers too. Booking two shows a week isn’t exactly easy either. Any combination might be hard because if you book shows outside town you will miss classes.
So what can you do?
If you favour teaching: Try teaching classes in the suburbs outside of town or cities nearby. If you have teaching days “abroad” with 3 or more classes this will add up fast. Just don’t forget to calculate with travel cost and your loss of time.
If you favour performing: Create a show with a few people and get an agency that takes care of your booking. If you have nobody to perform with, find an agency that sends you to auditions that might book you bigger jobs.
If you want to do both: Get a friend from your crew or somebody else who has the same or a better level as you to do your classes while you are performing. If you have to cancel your classes for performances, they will be gone soon.
Switch your day job when you have the possibility to get one of the secondaries that help your dance career. For example, start working at that artist agency when they hire.
You know the goal and you can take your steps. I could calculate the example to the end but there is no difference to the first half of the trip. There are no shortcuts, just taking one step after the other.
Today I want to explore how to set up your activities for a balanced way of working. I hope you made a list of the things you consider possible for yourself, as suggested in my last post. It will make the following step much more accessible. If you did not, consider going back to this post and take a few minutes to compile your list.
What you are looking for is a combination of activities that a) provide a steady flow of income, b) you love to do, c) that synergise well and d) can support you even when you are not able to dance for a while. The most common combination within the people that I know is the Performing, Teaching combo with an added secondary work field that has benefits for the other two.
Examples are Performing, Teaching and Event Management or Performing, Teaching and DJing/Music Production. I ran with Performing, Teaching and theatre and movie production for many years before the birth of my daughter.
This combination is prevalent because performing is one thing that most dancers love, and teaching is the most reliable source of income. When you pair them with event-management, you are doing community building, which pushes your reputation and makes more people come to your performances and classes. When paired with DJing/music production you can book a gig at dance events or sell your music to dancers. We are searching for these synergies.
Look at your list of things you can do. Define one primary activity that sounds like reliable, steady income (making the obvious choice of teaching here is not a bad thing). Now pick the one that you really want to do. If you think that this combo can provide enough money for you, you are already good to go, when you have big balls. I recommend incorporating a secondary work field that plays into your primary ones or simply helps you build your name. You can also work with two secondaries, but you should have a reason to do so.
I will use my current situation as an example: After the birth of our daughter, I stopped travelling for dancing because I wanted to be around. This immediately stopped my income stream from performing. I also was not able to teach on a regular schedule anymore. (We had a hard start due to medical conditions). What I did was starting to write, as I had the opportunity to do so for Rookies at Work, the agency I was with from the beginning. Here I had my secondary work field covering all the expenses from my family and me. As I write exclusively about dance topics, this work is definitely based on my dance knowledge. Now, as the child starts to go into daycare and my wife and I get used to our new parent-lifestyle, I develop some in-depth workshops so I can start to teach again. I also plan to publish some literature about dance topics. Finally, when the time comes, I will start a new movie project. In that case, I would have one primary field and two secondaries. The reason for that is that I value the time with my family more than being away for rehearsals and performances all the time.
Another point to keep in mind is that your decision is not final. You can always adapt along the road and change your activities, when new circumstances demand a different treat. But as long as you go with a set-up, you should be commited to make it work.
TL;DR: Pick a combination of 2 to 4 activity from your list from my last post and choose which combination works well by considering the following criteria:
what provides a steady income (you need one)
what do you love to do (to keep you hungry)
what can you do to add people to your active activities or build your reputation
Be courageous and share your setup in the comments.
Most people who are into dance, flirt with the idea of becoming a professional dancer from time to time. While this is not the right thing for everybody, it is not too hard to pull off for someone who really wants it. With discipline, dedication and honesty about what oneself can do, it is doable, even without any talent. (Talking about myself here, not you :-p)
Being successful in your dance business is no matter of luck. There are four key components you have to take care to create a sustainable income. Only one of them is directly related to dancing. Invest time in all of them and you will see results in a matter of months.
Honing your craft.
Finding your audience.
Building your network.
If you have it all, you will be successful. Let me explain in a little bit more detail.
Honing your Craft
You need to be good at what you do. This is an essential rule in every business. You deliver bad quality, you are out – even when you have everything else down.
Put in the hours into your dance skills, your understanding of the music, your knowledge on how to create shows and how to present yourself. You want to create the illusion that everything you do is super easy and comes naturally to you. Every great dancer delivers this illusion and it is imperative that you can do it too.
This also goes for secondary dance workfields like organising events, judging, or anything where your knowledge and experience as a dancer is the key. But those are a topic for another post.
Giving the people something they crave is the key to success. If you think about it, it is obvious. Nonetheless, it often happens that people try to “sell” things that nobody really needs. Don’t fall into this trap.
The best methods of providing value to peoples lives (from a business point of view) are:
teach them If someone wants that move but does not get it for years and you help him finally get it, you can be sure you added some value to his life. This goes for everything you can teach dance wise: steps and moves, musical understanding, groves, concepts, choreography, …
enlighten them If you spark insights that give them an understanding of how they can improve by themselves. This is very similar to teaching but deserves its own place. You can introduce are a certain kind of thought process or sources of inspiration that may help their development. It is more like telling them where to look instead of what to do.
entertain them Entertainment is one of the biggest industries right now and dance can do it very well. People want to be distracted, they want to be amazed and see things they have never seen before. If you create that show that can take them out of their regular lives for even the shortest amount of time, you will earn your place in the hearts of the people and that is where you ultimately need to be.
touch them emotionally Connecting to people in a way that you can take them on a journey through more emotions than just enthusiasm is even better. You know the feeling when a movie or music takes you on an emotional rollercoaster, right? That is where your audience needs to be. To be honest: it is not easy and takes a lot of work and/or talent. There are very few dancers and choreographers out there that can do that. If you find out you can do it, look no further for what you should do.
Find your Audience
Jeff Goins writes in his bestseller Real Artists don’t Starve: “in order for art to have an impact, it must first have an audience”. This is another no-brainer if you hear it from somebody else. Building or finding your own audience is still one of the things that a lot of dancers neglect. Dance is art and art is a matter of taste (as soon as a certain level is reached of course). So the people that enjoy your dance might not be the same that enjoy the dance of some of your colleagues and vice versa.
You should take the time and research the people who love to watch your work. Create a place to present what you make and make it easy to find. Luckily today that is not as hard as it used to be. The internet is your best friend. These are some of the tools you can and should use:
Your Website There is really no excuse to wing this. On your website, you can introduce yourself, show your work, post events or shows you are attending and give people all the info about you. If you have things to sell, you can put it up there too.
Social Media Social networks help you connect with the people that like what you do. You go there and direct the traffic to your website, where they can learn everything about you. Don’t make the mistake to promote all the time. Spamming people will not bring you sympathy. On social media, the goal is to engage with your audience and build a relationship. When people are comfortable around you, they will care about your promotions as well.
Word of Mouth Still the strongest form of an ad! If you are recommended to someone by a friend of theirs, your chances are really good that they consider checking your stuff out.
Meeting in real life If you can meet people and make a real world impression, that is the way to go. The only disadvantage is that you can only be at one place at a time. This means it does not scale well.
Building your Network
This is the same work as building your audience but for a different group of people. Your professional network are the people that you collaborate with or that help you do what you do. It is imperative to have healthy relationships with them and to never let them down as long as they treat you right. Here are some examples of people you should have in your network (depending on your work fields not all may apply):
other dancers of course
producers & directors
an accountant (if you are not into accounting yourself, this one is crucial)
You might not need all of them and depending on your personal niche there might be many more.
Here we have them: the four crucial elements to running your dance business. When you are planning to start your dance business, or you are already earning money with it, I encourage you to grab a notebook and think about all four elements in detail. List your strengths and weaknesses. What value can you offer to people? What do you know about your audience and in which ways do you connect with them? Make a list of your collaborators and see if you miss anyone. There is power in the clarity that you gain from seeing this base-line study in front of you.
In my early days of blogging I was known for sarcastic rants about every topic I disliked. I stopped this because I did not do any good. Today I have a relapse because I need to get something out.
There is one thing that gets more and more uncommon in our society which leads to more and more stupid things being said and later to even more stupid actions happening. This rare thing is called fact-checking.
It means that you don’t run off to tell everybody everything you heard without checking if it is true. I am guilty of this as well sometimes, but at least I try. When the BC One Cypher UK went down, I heard that B-Boy Sunni lost in the first round and I told it to other people. Later I heard that he won the first round but pulled out of the competition due to being sick. So the guy who lost against him could continue and win the whole competition. This second version of the story is the truth. Approximately a dozen people heard that he lost in the first round and this info was out. But it was wrong. Luckily, in that case, no real damage was done. But I was responsible for that false information being around.
Dance teachers, battle dancers, promoters, everyone who might be a role model in our scene: there are people who look up to us and treat everything we say as the truth. It is our responsibility to check that the stuff we spread is true.
Everyone has a right to his own opinion, but nobody shoud abuse this to spread lies or fake news. So when we have something we want to rant about: breath in and check
if you have the news from somebody who was acutally involved
if there is maybe the same info from different independent sources (me and my cat saying the same thing are not different sources as my cat gets the info from me)
if you are not entrapped to believe something because it plays well into a story that you want to believe
if you want to get this out because it fits well into your agenda
More often than not a shitstorm on social media happens because someone says something wrong and then the mob jumps onto it without checking or reflecting. If it’s wrong on purpose – means a lie – or just because this someone doesn’t know, does not make a big difference in the end. Don’t tell/post stuff that’s not true. If you don’t know, don’t post it. Don’t jump on a hate-train and demand to stone someone without checking if the claim is valid.
Shit like this happens enough in politics and the economy. Hip-Hop can do better than that. We can do better.
A lot of artists that are building their reputation are used to do a lot of stuff themselves, even stuff that is not really their core competency. We get so comfortable with doint it all, that there is a risk of thinking we can do everything that is related to our work better than others.
Most of the time this happens due to us not having the money to hire experts for some parts of the production. Later when we might have the money or we find people that can do the job, we think it is needless. We overlook that there is a big difference between a job done because we can do it and a job done by an expert who is really good at it.
I just saw this in the festival distribution of our movie Elsewhere. I have sent the movie to festivals myself and we got some screenings. Now a festival agency is taking care of that and within the first month of the cooperation we had new screening and won an award.
As a reminder to myself and everyone who finds himself in the situation from time to time: if you let people do the work they are good at, it pays off.
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