Going Pro: My Top Tips for Negotiating with Clients

In my time as an entertainer, I have had experiences where I have felt unsafe, disrespected or misled about performance expectations which put me in a position of dis-empowerment and vulnerability. This to me occurred because I did not set any clear boundaries of what I was prepared to do and what was expected of me by the client.

When you’re negotiating a gig for yourself, it’s often a challenge to ensure you are in the driver’s seat in terms of payment and expectations. Too many times in my earlier years was I found myself in certain situations which had led me there because I did not have the confidence or know-how to communicate my expectations to a client.
As a result of some of these unfortunate events I crafted my own guidelines on how to engage or respond to certain types of clients, ensuring a favourable, respectful outcome for both parties as is the right of the client and the entertainer. I’ve distilled them into 6 pointers but if you have any more please feel free to comment below.

1. ALWAYS receive payment in full prior to the performance, preferably a day in advance, with a non-refundable deposit of 30% for an initial booking enquiry. This is a non-negotiable term for me for a number of reasons:

  1. In paying the deposit, the client reserves the date & time, confirms the venue, performance rate and expectations for length of performance. If for some reason I am unable to fulfill the booking this is refundable if I cannot find a replacement.
  2. In paying a deposit this commits the client to avoid a last minute cancellation.
  3. By paying my complete fee in full prior to the performance I become responsible for honoring my end of the deal to deliver a performance as agreed.
  4. MOST IMPORTANTLY – If my booking has been paid for in full and for whatever reason I feel unsafe, disrespected, misled or otherwise vulnerable or disempowered, I HAVE THE RIGHT TO TERMINATE THE PERFORMANCE AT ANY TIME and leave with my dignity intact, not continuing a performance because I haven’t been paid yet. This is a specific term I put into my quote, and by paying the deposit amount the client agrees to my terms & rights in engaging my services.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask more than the ‘going rate’, especially if you are a soloist. If you have certain skills others don’t have in your local community, use that to your advantage! An expensive item has more perceived value than a cheaper one, so you might not win every single gig but the ones that you do perform at will respect you more if you give yourself the value you deserve.

3. Don’t be afraid to say no. If you think a gig is not really your thing, or has a super low budget (or none) more suited to students or amateur performers, make it clear what your expectations are if they are negotiable in order to make it the right gig for you. If you pick and choose which events you perform at, you will find the kind of crowds who will appreciate your skills.

4. Give yourself a ‘Charity Quota’. If you get approached to perform for free or at a very low rate, unless you really believe in the cause or dance with a student troupe, limit your charity (that is, free) performances to perhaps 2 or 3 a year tops. If you politely inform the charity or organiser that you only perform pro bono gigs for certain causes or events, you can perhaps instead let them know you are available for paid or corporate bookings, but that your students would love the opportunity for some extra exposure and experience. The exception to the rule is local dance community participation.

5. Be sure that you are clear in your photo/video policy that is agreed upon payment in full. If you do not want your footage on youtube/facebook/anywhere else make sure you let the organisers know that permission needs to be given before any footage from a private booking goes online.

6. Have a set transport fee that is extra on top of your performance fee, depending on the distance travelled. For example, a 1hr drive to and from a location might incur an extra charge of $80 including toll costs. This ensures that your time & transport costs are taken care of without impacting the base performance rate.

Have you ever had a bad performance experience or have been taken advantage of by a client? Do you have any tips or advice on how to approach this for next time?


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