The Boring Stuff of Business: Finance, Accounts and Insurance

When it comes so “Show Business”, the business element is the most important, as without getting that right there won’t be a show.

Operate as Business

It’s easy to focus on the fun aspects of being a magician. Watching magic, getting new magic tricks, performing magic, even practising magic. And it’s also easy to focus on the more artistic elements of marketing and promotion.

But ensuring you run it as a business is vitally important, and that should be done from the very beginning. You wouldn’t (or at least I sincerely hope you wouldn’t!) put all your receipts in a shoe box and wait until the week before your tax return is due before you log them onto your accounting software. Similarly, you should ensure you have insurance and issue formal contracts right from the very beginning.

I know magicians who don’t issue formal contracts or request deposits, and work on the basis of “it will be fine”. And more often than not it is, but they also have more instances of last minute cancellations, non-payers and generally get messed about.

Some clients may realise your business is new, and take advantage of your naivety. It’s not nice, but not everyone is; and some people out there will happily take advantage.

By issuing a formal contracts and requesting deposits will show to your client that you are professional, and you know what you are doing. It lessens the chances of people taking advantage of you when they have to confirm their name, address and booking details in a contract; and follow this up by making a deposit.

And should they fail to go ahead with the booking, or fail to pay once the booking is complete, you are able to follow it up; and if necessary take them to the small claims court for compensation. In the worst case scenario at least you received some money from them by way of the deposit.

Taking legal action will be difficult if you only had a verbal agreement, and an email acknowledgement isn’t much better. A common reason many magicians don’t issue contracts is because their client confirmed they wished to go ahead in an email. However, without a full name and address you have no way to take them to court; without a signed contract it’s unlikely your case will carry much weight.

Thinking “it won’t happen to me” puts you on the back foot, and if it does happen to you then you’ve an uphill battle. Plus, you won’t have the experience and confidence to be able to deal with it successfully.

The is a contract template in the Confirming the Booking Lesson (in the Marketing Section).

Insurance

It is also vitally important to have Public Liability Insurance Cover. Not just for your own protection, but some venues will not let you perform (even close-up magic) if you don’t.

Though it is unlikely that you’ll ever need to make a claim, it’s more likely that something will go wrong when you are starting out and still learning your trade.

Being able to tell your prospective clients that you have insurance also signals to them that you are professional and serious about what you do. An amateur/hobbyist magician is unlikely to have it.

Public liability insurance is available from many sources. Speak to your bank, an insurance adviser or search on the internet. If you are member of Equity (in the UK) you will automatically be covered by £10 million.

Note that most insurers (including the underwriters of the insurance provided by Equity) won’t cover you if you use tricks with fire (and that includes flash paper and other similar products) under their standard insurance. If your act has any element of flame or fire ensure to let the insurers know before starting the policy, as this can then be added for an additional surcharge.

I now have £5 million of insurance provided though Simply Business Insurance. Not only did they offer a good level of insurance for a good price, but if you use the following link you should qualify for an Amazon gift card when the policy starts: https://www.simplybusiness.co.uk/?ref_id=RAFXA_MHGB2577822XB1. (UK only, and terms may change at any time. if you do get a quote via this link please email [email protected] and let me know.)

Going Full Time

The advice given by all the sources I have come across recommend that becoming a professional magician should be a slow process. During this process you take the following steps:

  1. Research different styles of magic and learn different techniques,
  2. Slowly build a repertoire and get used to performing by showing tricks to friends and family,
  3. Perform a few tricks at parties and family events,
  4. Perform at charity events for free/low fee, giving out marketing material,
  5. Build a client base and gradually increase fees,
  6. When income from magic is enough for you to live on leave regular job to concentrate on magic full time.

The problem I personally found with this path was the time-scale, requiring a bare minimum of 6 to 8 months for a children’s entertainer (where there is a greater demand and shorter lead time), through to 2 to 3 years for close-up magic (less demand and longer lead time).

The time for close-up magic could be reduced by planning and targeting, such as using your resources to get a restaurant residency. In this case you’ll be getting an income quicker (whereas a wedding booking may be taken over a year in advance, which also means it’s over a year until you get paid); and not only that you are also marketing yourself directly in front of potential clients who may wish to book you for an event. The flip side is a regular restaurant residency will not pay anywhere near how much a private function would.

And remember, whilst you are building your magic business on the side, you are still having to dedicate the majority of your time to your regular job.

Before I became a professional magician I was a mortgage adviser and would have to work long hours to enable me to see clients at time convenient to them. I would need to be in the office by 8:30am every weekday morning, normally finishing around 6:00pm – though on occasion with may be later if I had to meet a client who could not get to the office within normal working hours. Not only that, but also had to work every other Saturday, though it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to pop in for a quick hour on my Saturdays off to meet a client.

I tried to work a residency on a Friday evening and that was exhausting. Then if you have a booking or two on a Saturday the fun really wears off quickly. And you don’t get Sundays off either, as that’s also a popular day for children’s parties and family functions. And if you’re not doing that then you may be spending your day at a wedding fair instead.

Oh, and of course there’s the admin that needs to be done as well. Instead of getting home in the evening and relaxing over dinner and watching TV you need to reply to enquiries, chase leads, type up contracts, do your accounts and all the other chores required to successfully run a business.

That’s seven days of solid work, including your weekends and evenings. Friends and family? Social events? Going out and enjoying yourself? Forget it!

So something has to give, and I very quickly realised that with my particular job there was no way I could continue it full time and follow my dream of becoming a professional magician. I took drastic action (and I DON’T recommend you follow this advice!) by quitting my job completely.

At the time I handed in my letter of resignation I had not made a single penny from magic. Because I had put together and implemented my business plan I had got the ball rolling, though very slowly. My marketing campaign had started, enquiries were slowly coming through and I had a few bookings already confirmed in my diary. By the time I had completed my four week notice period and received my final pay-cheque I had done just three paid bookings.

There were a few other factors in my decision, and trust me, these were weighed up before I resigned from my steady employment:

  • I no longer enjoyed my job, I had zero job satisfaction and it was getting to the point I physically loathed the people I had to work with,
  • As an experienced and qualified mortgage and financial adviser I could get employment with another company should the magic career fall flat,
  • I had some money saved that I could use to launch my business, and some more left over to ensure I could meet my financial commitments whilst income from magic to increased to the necessary level for me to live,
  • I had a firm business and financial plans to ensure I knew which direction I needed to go in,
  • I handed my notice in at the end of September and left towards the end of October. This meant I was able to promote myself in the months leading up to Christmas – the busiest time of the year for a magician.

Hopefully you can see that though my decision appeared reckless, there was reasoning and planning behind it. It wasn’t a spur of the moment action.

Having gone through this roller-coaster I strongly advise against following my actions. There were times in the first year or two when things were closer to the edge that I’d have liked them to be. I was driving a old VW Golf, sometimes I needed to rely too heavily on credit cards (I’d always prided myself on being debt free and credit cards were always paid off in full when I was working a proper job) and one month the only money I earned came from painting someone’s flat!

Therefore, I recommend the best course of action to be a full-time professional magician is to put the ground work in whilst you are in full-time employment. This is parts 1 to 4 in the preceding list. Essentially you are finding your style and really seeing if being a magician is something you really want to do – entertaining a group of drunks at a Christmas party with a disco pounding away is completely different to showing your latest trick to friends, family and colleagues.

Once you are at the stage when people are happy to pay you (not just a token couple of pound) you need to seriously consider if this is something you want to continue. If not then continue it as a hobby. So often amateur magicians think that doing paid bookings is part of the hobby – it isn’t! If you enjoy learning a new trick and showing your friends then perhaps staying in the comfortable day job is the best path for you.

If you’re still convinced magic is the career for you then you need to take action. Instead of giving your boss a letter of resignation, speak to them and explain the situation; and ask them if you can work flexible hours, or even better, part time.

Don’t say that you are planning on quitting completely in the future though, otherwise it’s likely that they’ll deny your request and put you in the position of either staying there full time (and effectively dashing your hopes of becoming a full-time pro) or forcing you to hand your notice in (and going pro without a safety net of guaranteed income whilst you build your business.)

This will free up your biggest commodity – time – to invest it working on your business. Ensure you spend this time wisely and not just learning new magic tricks for the sake of it, or even worse, staying in bed late and then watching daytime TV or playing video games.

Spend your time learning about business, marketing and finance. Allocate a fixed period of time to work on new material for your professional repertoire, write scripts and rehearse it. This is different to watching DVDs or downloads of the latest new trick, or practising a fancy card move to impress your fellow magicians; once your business is running you’ll have plenty of time for that then.

One of the biggest lessons as to why you need to reduce the hours you are dedicating to your day job is because you will get more bookings if you offer prompt customer service. This was illustrated to me one day when I was in my last few weeks of employment, but was at home as I’d used a day of annual leave to work on my magic business.

My telephone rang and when I answer it the first words I heard were, “Great! Finally, a real person!” The caller had been working their way through the Yellow Pages in their lunch hour to find a magician for an upcoming birthday party and every time she encountered an answer-machine she hung up and went to the next advert on the page. If I hadn’t have been home that day I wouldn’t have known I’d have even had a call.

She asked for my availability for a date and when I said she was free she immediately booked me and gave me all booking details. It wasn’t until the call was almost over she said, “by the way, what’s the fee?”

The moral there is some people aren’t too worried about the cost or even if you are the best magician, they just want to get it booked so they can cross it off their to-do list.

I realise that nowadays most enquiries come through email, and using mobile technology the process can be simplified by cutting and pasting in reply templates – but the fact remains that some people will contact a bunch of magicians and book the first acceptable one that replies.

Of course, don’t just sit by the phone and computer waiting for enquiries. Use the time by pro-actively seeking work and generally improving yourself and the service you offer.

Work your way through the rest of this course and implement the lessons. Hopefully this will fast-track you, and with luck you’ll be having another conversation with your employer in 6 to 8 months, only this time you’ll be handing in your notice so being a full-time magician is your sole source of income.

Creating Your Business Plan

It is vital for you to create a business plan if you wish to succeed in becoming a professional magician. A plan will be the difference between building a sustainable business verses getting occasional bookings from friends and family.

However, creating a business plan is daunting. The good news is that by completing the preceding lessons you have got the bulk of the hard work done.

Many people assume that a business plan is simply a case of estimating income and expenditure, and projecting that forwards for three years. This is a major part of the business plan, but there is more to it than simple numbers.

A business plan is important because it is your guide to creating your business. In it you’ll set out what you want to achieve, and how you will get there. It’s an opportunity to work out potential problems you may face along the way, and how you will overcome them. Think of it as your route-map to the destination you want to get to, and like any long journey on unknown roads it’s wise to plan before you start.

Download the Business Plan Template from the Materials tab. This is an Excel spreadsheet and has two tabs. The first is the template you will complete. The sections in yellow require input, and most of the answers will be based on the exercises in the preceding Lessons. Once complete remove the yellow background and red writing, and you have a business plan ready to print. The second tab is a sample business plan that may help to inspire you.

Goals and Objectives

It’s important to set your goals and objectives before starting your business, and ensuring that these goals not only inspire you, but are realistic and achievable.

Goals and objectives also need to have a timescale, if you don’t have a deadline they it’s unlikely you’ll get round to achieving them as something more important will keep getting in the way.

A popular acronym when setting goals is to make them SMART:

Specific – Target a specific area
Measurable – Quantify in a way that can be directly measured
Achievable – The goal should be possible and realistic
Relevant – It should move you closer to you overall objectives
Time – Set a deadline the goal will achieved in

You want to set a range of goals and objectives over various timescales. I recommend starting with the large goals first and work backwards, setting goals to help move you towards the larger objective.

Think of it as planning a journey, firstly you need to state your final destination, then plan you route of how you’ll get there.

Make sure you set a big overall objective, but ensure it fulfils all the SMART criteria. Although in theory you could be the next David Copperfield, it is more realistic to set a goal such as generating £50,000 of income per year, or perform at 100 parties.

Your long term objective should be what you really want to achieve, and those smaller goals go are relevant to making that bigger one happen. For example, when I turned professional I knew I needed to incorporate children’s magic into the packages I initially offered in order to build a financially sound business.

My overall goal though was to develop my career in close-up magic and weddings and parties, and expand into the corporate sector with my stand-up mind-reading show. This did not fit well with being a children’s entertainer, not only because of the contrasting styles, but working at children’s events prevented me from marketing myself at wedding fairs.

Therefore, one of my five year goals was to cease performing at children’s event, yet my one and three year goals all involved expanding this side of the business.

Downloading the Goals and Objectives sheet from the Materials tab of the course and complete the goals for one, three and five years. Do this for each of the three pillars.

From the exercises in the last few Lessons we now have a range of services you can offer to a range of clients, a price-list, an idea of start-up costs, monthly overheads and now what your long-term aims are, and goals you will achieve on your journey.

Please make sure you have taken the time to do the exercises over the last few Lessons. Once you have all this information we can bring all these elements together to create your unique business plan.

Thoughts of Expenditure

It’s very easy for an amateur to venture into the world of the professional; but rarely will this lead to much more than a couple of occasional bookings, usually for a small fee (if anything) and for friends and family.

It’s very cheap to get a small batch of business cards, set up a basic website and perhaps do some simple marketing. It is for this reason many magicians term themselves as “semi-pro”.

If you are wanting to take the step to full professional, and generate an income to go with it, you need to treat the business as business; and this required certain expenditures. Being a magician is still a very cheap career to enter into when compared to many other businesses that require stock, premises and expensive specialist equipment and training.

Download the “How Much Will My Business Cost?” Excel spreadsheet from the ‘Materials’ tab, and complete it as you work your way through (there are tabs at the bottom of the Excel Spreadsheet, and completing these will automatically complete front Summary page).

Don’t rush this stage as we’ll be using figures when we create your formal business plan later.

Please note that throughout this Lesson I’ve used some average costs in the UK, and a rough conversion into US dollars (at £1 = $1.25) for illustration purposes. Please adjust into your currency and check for updated prices.

Expenditure in your business can be broadly allocated into two categories:

1. Start Up Costs
2. Ongoing Costs

Thoughts on Pricing

As this chapter says, this is an initial guide to pricing. We return to a deeper discussion on pricing later, but for now we want to set some rough “ball-park” figures to start working on.

I had grossly under-estimated how much a magician would get paid when I first put together business plan. I also grossly over-estimated how many bookings a magician would do per week. Fortunately my mistakes cancelled out, but the more accurate information you have, the more accurate your business plan will be.

We’ll create a business plan in a later Lesson, and once you are professional and settled into your market place you’ll adapt to market forces (supply and demand), plus introduce special offers (which will reduce your average fee, but bring in business you may have otherwise lost), and start offering up-sells (which will increase your average fee).

For our purposes of creating an initial business plan we’ll use the following as a guide in British £’s, and a rough exchange in US $.

Of course, this is very subjective. Prices will vary massively depending on location, experience and a whole host of other factors. If you are friends with other magicians ask them, or do research. Find a balanced figure, don’t expect to earn ‘top-dollar’ immediately, but don’t just aim to be the cheapest.

Children’s 30/45 minute show: £100 / $125

Children’s 2 hour party: £200 / $250

Close-up magic 2 hours: £400 / $500

Corporate stage act: £800 / $1000

Print out “My Initial Product Range” from the Materials tab and complete based on your three business pillars you created in the last Lesson, and sub-dividing into packages if required.

Remember you can add and remove packages as your business expands and you develop into niche markets, these are the generic packages that will make up the bulk of your enquiries when your business is starting.

Adjust to your own currency. If you have an idea of how much the current prices of these packages are in your area then substitute your more accurate figures in.

As previous mentioned, we’ll discuss pricing in greater detail later in the Course, but this should do for our needs for the times being.

Styles of Magic and Their Respective Markets

Before setting up your business it is important to understand the market place, and what is already on offer. Although you may have a preferred style of magic to perform, it is important to keep an open mind through-out the process.

Being able to adjust and adapt to the market forces will enable you to adapt when setting up your business and growing it in the early stages. The priority here is to explore what you could offer in order to become a professional magician, and you can start specialising in your areas of preference once you are able to maintain a sufficient income.

What is a Professional Magician?

By definition a professional magician is someone makes their living performing magic. However, there’s more to it than that, a magician must also act professional, and be perceived as professional.

If you have tooth-ache you want to see a professional dentist; someone who has training, experience, the right tools for the job, and a clean and hygienic room to operate in. You wouldn’t trust a dentist that doesn’t fulfil all these criteria.

Say you drive a nice car and the clutch goes on it, you could spend a weekend with a friend who has some tools attempting to jack up the car on your driveway; but it’s more likely you’ll take it to a qualified mechanic who can lift it up, take off the gearbox, replace the clutch, re-fit the gearbox and give the car a service whilst there, all within a couple of hours.

The lesson: people are willing to pay for a professional service.

From the first instant the potential client comes into contact with you, either via an advert, website, or seeing you at an event directly you must have an air of professionalism about you that gives people the confidence to book you; and more importantly, the confidence to give you financial remuneration for it.

The professionalism comes across as the tricks you perform, the props you use, the patter you have, the website that is clean and easy to navigate, the pictures, videos and testimonial you have, the clothes you wear, the business cards you give to people, the emails you send and the way you answer your phone.

This course aims to cover all of this, and more.

But being a full-time professional magician gives you tremendous freedom too. You are your own boss, and you control your destiny.

I often joke that the working week of a professional magician is Saturday and Sunday, with Monday to Friday being my weekend. It’s not strictly true, bookings do crop up during the week, often during school holidays for children’s entertainers, and corporate events can occur on any day of the week

However, Monday to Friday is not spent commuting to work in rush hour, or 8 hours in an office. A professional magician with a mobile phone and laptop can operate wherever he likes. I have successfully operated the “business end” of my business whilst on a cruise-ship for ten days, only using the 3G on my mobile for brief internet access when in port.

It does take hard work to set some of these systems up and create a professional act, but once done you are only limited to the times and places you book into your diary.

If you want to book a holiday you can. If you want to spend an afternoon at the golf course you can. If your diary is looking a little too empty one month and you now want to spend the day in the office sending out emails and reaching out to your clients – you can!

You have direct control of your income too. Once you get established and your marketing is bringing in a constant flow of enquiries you can book as many, or as few as you wish.

You can set your price. You may want to be doing more bookings (but at a slightly lower price) to get a grip on the market, which will generate more repeat bookings and referrals in the future; or you may wish to increase your price but do less work for the same income.

Essentially being a professional magician is a lifestyle career. Granted, you have to turn up and provide the shows to get paid; but you decide which ones you take, how much you charge, where they are and when you do them.

Does this sound better than spending 40 hours a week in an office, directly trading your time for money, and ultimately using your skills, talents and resources (time is a resource, and you only have so much of it) to make money for someone else?

If you are going to make some changes to your life, or embark on a big project – and becoming a professional magician is a big one – then you are going to be going outside your comfort zone. It won’t be easy.

No matter what you wish to achieve in life, if you have a good idea (which preferably has been researched to back it up), you have enthusiasm to see it through, a good financial potential and your intuition tells to to do it, then do it! Whether it’s in your comfort zone or not should have nothing to do with it.

Being successful has requirements, often taking you outside of your comfort zone

So now you know the advantages to being a professional magician, and why you need to act like a professional magician.

Let’s start looking at how you can make this a reality. What styles of magic are there, and how do they fit into the marketplace, and how you can use this knowledge to start generating an income.

Turning Professional – Introduction

Experience Not Required

Many professional magicians’ website proudly proclaim they have been performing since they got a magic set for Christmas when they were six years old. Whilst a childhood spent practicing sleight of hand techniques may be an advantage for award winning manipulation acts, it isn’t a requirement for being a successful working magician.

Think of it this way: Imagine you want to play guitar; you don’t need to be a lead guitarist with fingers moving in a blur, just learning basic chords will give you all you need to play many songs and get you started. (Of course, actively improving your skill will open more doors.)

That’s not to say it will be easy. I don’t suggest you learn some tricks (or buy some self-working gimmicks) , set up a website and call yourself professional. You will need to practise, and rehearse. You’ll need to create the patter and presentation. You’ll need experience with interaction with spectators, and know what do to if things go wrong.

There are many different styles of magic performance, from entertaining at a children’s show, close-up magic at weddings and parties through to corporate mind-reading acts. You may already have a goal to achieve success in a certain area, but this course recommends you open yourself up to other areas, especially in the early years when you are growing your business, before niching down as your career develops.

For this reason this course has Sections on putting together magic shows for children, private parties and events, and finally branching into the corporate market and other specialist sectors.

On this note, I’d like to acknowledge that magic is perceived differently in different countries. For example, I am based in the UK and much of my business is generated from working at weddings. Though not a huge industry in the UK, magic at a wedding is pretty much non-existent in the USA.

DON’T ignore these lessons or say “it won’t work here” – it will. When I turned professional in 2006 it was a fledgling industry, and working in that area meant I was one of only a couple of voices. That is a great position to be in.

I know of some UK based magicians who are considering re-locating to the States just to cash in on this, knowing that they have the marketing know-how to start mining an upcoming market-place with no competition. This course gives YOU that know-how.

This course also contains a section on the theory and presentation of magic; so you can understand what sort of material you should at to your act, what material you shouldn’t , and how to perform it.

Having an act is only half the battle. To become professional you need to master the business side of magic, after all, it is called “show business”.

This first section of the course builds up to making your business plan, putting together packages, prices, setting goals and putting you in the position to quit your day-job and become a full time professional magician and entertainer. It contains spreadsheet templates so you can work through the financials before making the leap, and create a business plan that you can take to the bank should you need investment in your company to get started.

Welcome to the Course

Welcome to the How To Be A Professional Magician Course, guiding you from turning a hobby into an income.

The course is split into:

SECTIONS – Large chunks focusing on particular general area.

LESSONS – Each Section is made up from Lessons, these are more focused.

TOPICS – Many (but not all) Lessons are further divided into Topics. This is to help break larger Lessons into more manageable chunks to help with you your learning.

Although the layout of the course allows you to jump into various Sections, Lessons and Topics; it really is designed to be worked through from the very beginning. It is also recommended that you read all of the Sections, not cherry pick.

For example, if you skip ahead to the marketing section you’ll miss important information about creating a business plan – which encompasses a marketing budget.

Also keep at eye out for MATERIALS. These can be part of both Lessons and Topics, and can be downloaded and used alongside the the Lesson. Some of these are worksheets to assist you in your planning, or they could be templates.

Regarding the templates; you should adapt, edit and adjust the downloads to your needs. They are given to aid you in building your business, but one of things you’ll learn is how important it is to stand out against other magicians.

When I first started writing the course it was to be a downloadable file of pdf documents. Now this course is hosted in a secure area of the website it means I can make changes and add material. It also means that the course you have access to will evolve.

If you spot any errors, require further clarification of have requests for Lessons not currently included in the Course please let me know ([email protected]). Depending on the request can hopefully make the changes swiftly; this way the course will adapt to changes and trends not just within the business of magic, but also as new technology promotes innovations in marketing.

The course isn’t a “quick fix”. If you are serious about earning money from magic then set aside an hour or two a day to work through the course and take the necessary actions. You’ll soon find that you’ll be creating a solid foundation to build a business on, and what may start as small side income from a hobby could soon be your primary source of employment.

Thanks again, work hard and good luck!

Robert Bone
[email protected]ssionalmagician.com