How to start up an entertainer business

Entertainers may perform in pubs and clubs, at weddings, private parties or business functions. Get the essentials for starting up and running your own business as an entertainer in our practical guide.

Research your target market

Assessing your local area

As a first step, it's a very good idea to find out how likely it is that your type of act will be booked by venues in your local area. You could spend some time visiting pubs and clubs when there are live performances and make notes about the types of act you see, the professionalism of the performer, audience size, how well the act was received and so on. In this way you will be able to pick up ideas for your own act as well as judging the standard of the competition and finding out what types of act go down well in your area. Bear in mind that if you are planning on performing mostly at private functions rather than at venues that are open to the public, it may be more difficult for you to estimate the level of demand for your act in this way but there may be other things that you can do. For example, if you're planning to work as a children's entertainer you could chat to parents at your local primary school to find out about the entertainers they currently use and what they like and don't like about their performances.

Talk to venue owners or managers

Try to talk to the owners or managers of the venues that you visit so that you can get an idea of how much performers are paid, how many nights they could expect to be booked and, more importantly, whether you have a chance of being booked. It is always worth carrying some publicity material with you so that you can leave it at venues. Also, try to take a contact name and number so that you can make follow up calls.

Use your first bookings as experience

You may have to accept that you won't get paid a great deal for your first few bookings. However, you will gain valuable experience of performing in front of audiences and will also be able to tell which parts of your act work (hopefully all of it!) and which don't. You could try to get some feedback by chatting to audience members and the venue manager or owner after the show. Ask them what they thought and what they liked or disliked about your act and try to use the feedback to improve your act for the future.

Why will venue owners and managers choose you?

You don't necessarily have to be completely different to other local acts to ensure that promoters book you. If you publicise yourself energetically and present a professional image, as long as your act is generally well received by the audience you should receive bookings. These will probably be a trickle at the start of your career and will then build momentum as you become better known. Remember that word of mouth can play an important part in getting you bookings.

Research current trends, plus legal and tax issues

Type of business

Some of the more typical acts are:

  • singer or musician
  • comedian
  • magician
  • ventriloquist
  • strippergram or kissogram
  • lookalike
  • children's entertainer

Your act may be one of the above (or a combination!) or may be something completely different like a balloon animal creator or a clown. The key to choosing your act is to ensure that it suits your talents and that you are comfortable performing it.

You may find that it is more convenient for you to buy your own equipment, such as sound and PA systems, rather than rely on ones provided by the venue. In time you will perfect your setting-up routine so that you don't have to spend hours in each venue before performing.

Seasonality

The busiest time for entertainers is often the summer. Holiday camps, camp sites and cross-Channel ferry companies are generally at their most busy during the summer and many of these book performers to entertain their customers during those months.

If you are planning to work in pubs and clubs you may find that there is a similar rise in bookings during holiday periods as venue owners try to capitalise on the increased numbers of potential customers.

If you are intending to play at weddings, the main 'wedding season' falls during the summer months and peaks during July and August. Christmas may also be a busy time and strong demand for your services may make it possible to increase the performance fee.

It is possible that during large sporting events, such as the football and rugby World Cups, pubs will choose to show games on big screens rather than book entertainers such as yourself so you may need to find alternative venues.

Establish your customer profiles

Who will book you?

Depending on the nature of your act you may be booked by the following:

  • pubs and clubs
  • theatres
  • members of the public (for parties, weddings and so on at a variety of different venues)
  • holiday camps and camp sites
  • cross-Channel (and Irish Sea) ferries and cruise ships
  • television and film production companies
  • circuses

You may find it helpful to use agents who will try to get you bookings from as wide a range of customers as possible. The Agents Association website includes a database of entertainment agents across the UK which you can search by type of performer covered (for example circus, lookalikes and so on).

Pricing policy

The fee you charge to perform may be beyond your control to start with - to build your reputation and experience you may need to accept some bookings for not very much money, or even for free. It may be worth discussing with other performers how much they get paid and also asking agents how much they think your act is worth. If your act is unique or particularly well-received you may find that you are able to charge fees that are above the average for your area. The key factor in setting your prices is that they are sufficient to cover your overheads and make it worth your while fulfilling the booking.

Depending on the nature of your act, your overheads may include things like:

  • equipment
  • travelling expenses to and from bookings
  • costumes
  • make-up
  • instrument consumables, such as strings
  • backing music

As your reputation grows and you become more established, you should be able to raise your fees. Similarly, if you play in a pub, club or theatre and have obviously increased the number of people there, you may be justified in asking the owner or manager to pay you more or to receive a cut of any increased takings.

Agents

You may decide that you will use the services of an agent to promote yourself to potential employers and clients. The benefits of using agents include:

  • they are likely to have more experience than you in the entertainment world
  • they will have extensive contacts throughout your local area and beyond and will know which venues suit your act best and are most likely to book you
  • it's in their interest to work hard to make you as successful as possible

The main downside of working through agents is the fact that you will lose 10%-15% of your fee for every booking arranged by an agent.

Choosing an agent

Most professional agents are honest and hard working, but a few are best avoided. In particular, look out for agents who want to charge a large up-front fee - which is illegal - and those whose promises of work seem unrealistic. Ideally, try to get a recommendation from someone you trust who actually uses the agent they are recommending. The Agents Association (GB) has a strict code of conduct and professional ethics for its members and includes a searchable directory on its website. The union Equity also has a code of conduct for agents and publishes a 'Special Attention' list on its website to warn members about agencies and businesses that performers have had difficulties with, such as not receiving money that is owed to them.

Contacting agents

If you want an agent to work for you then it's usual for you to send them some details about yourself, such as:

  • a photo of yourself
  • a brief biography, giving details of your act and any relevant experience
  • details of when you will be available
  • a demo of your act

Some agents will put you on their books straight away whereas some may want to see your act before representing you.

Paying your agent

There are different ways of paying your agent their commission. Two of the most usual are:

  • you receive the total fee for the booking from the venue and then pass your agent the commission due at the end of the month
  • your agent receives the total fee for the booking, deducts the commission and passes you the balance, usually within 10 days

The exact nature of your financial arrangement and contract will depend on your own and your agent's preferences but your contract will usually include an exclusivity clause preventing you from being represented by another agency at the same time.

Equity

The entertainment sector is represented by a number of different professional associations and unions but probably the best known of them all is Equity. Equity represents many different types of performer, entertainer and technician, including actors, singers, choreographers, presenters (television and radio), magicians, variety artistes and stage managers.

Equity acts as a mouthpiece for workers in the entertainment industry, campaigning on their behalf over such issues as taxation, rights and copyright, as well as pay and conditions.

To successfully join Equity you must prove that you are obtaining work and working in a professional capacity. The annual membership gets you an Equity Card and many benefits, such as:

  • free insurance
  • a job information service
  • help and advice on a range of subjects including legal issues, taxation, benefits and so on
  • registration of stage names
  • a personal pension scheme

Equity subscription rates vary and are based on your professional earnings from the previous tax year. For more information visit the Equity website.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.