Recently I’ve been asked about how to charge for gigs. Great question! I’m happy to share what I’ve learned about this, to not only save you from ever getting burned but also in the knowledge that sticking by high standards is good for all of us!
I typically do 3-7 gigs a week here in Toronto. I dance regularly at 4 different restaurants, two of which are Arabic nightclubs. In addition I appear at many parties & weddings. I’ve had the honor to have many wonderful clients and to be a part of so many wonderful memories. These clients make up most of my business. My article is a bit tongue & cheek and certainly not intended to be a reflection of all the clients that contact me.
How to charge for gigs:
Lets start by breaking down the clients perspective of what they are paying for. They see you for the duration of your show, and that’s usually it unless there has been a meeting in advance. From their perspective they are paying you for the 15-30mins that you are there for. Fair enough.
What most experienced bellydancers will know is that the 15-30mins that you are doing the actual performance is the least amount of work in the whole process.
Lets keep in mind what it took to get to the point where a client may make initial contact. You have hopefully spent many years and $$$ learning how to bellydance and have taken a professional course, have acquired some professional costumes ($300 – +$1000 each), have all the additional props (silk veils, isis wings, canes, shamadan, sword) and have invested in some marketing & business materials (website + SEO, business cards, terminal to accept debit & credit card payment, etc).
Here are your set up costs to begin your business and these efforts have brought the client to you.
From here, the gig booking process begins with the initial contact by a prospective client. This is time spent via emails or on the phone to listen and answer questions from the client. Here you will ask your set of questions and explain your booking process.
1. You require a deposit to secure the booking.
I take a 25% deposit on all bookings. This tells you the client knows they want you there and will not change their mind at the last minute. You can confidently book this into your schedule so that when someone else phones, you’re booked and won’t be upset knowing you could have done the other gig if the first one bails. You are valuable and so is your time.
2. You will provide a Contract/Terms of Agreement
This document should outline the details of the gig (Client name, contact info, event type, address, etc) and your terms. You can view a copy of my standard contract here:www.mahabellydance.com/BLANKContract.pdf
*I actually don’t require a signature unless meeting in person. An email acknowldgeing that they have read it is sufficient for me.
If someone is not willing to give a deposit or agree to your contract, great. You know that they are wasting your time and you have successfully weeded them out. If you are professional with a great website, photos, costumes, & contract people will take you seriously and will feel confident giving you a deposit. This also assures the client that you will show up!
The next part of the process is preparation for the gig. This includes: choosing an appropriate set of music, getting ready, and getting yourself to the event. For me this is a two hour + process. My image when I arrive is very important to my branding as a bellydancer. I’m ready from head to toe: my nails are always done, hair, outfit, everything. You have to be making efforts to be the best most glamorous version of yourself. This means hair, nails, lashes, buffing, pro makeup – the works. Decide what your budget can allow and remember this all takes time & $$ going to your appointments.
Getting there. You have to be on time and consider your mode of transport; are you hiring a driver or do you have your own car?
All these things considered, once you are there and doing your show, 90% of the effort is done.
I hope this all gives you a perspective on what exactly you are charging for your gigs.
How to price yourself:
There are a few considerations at this point:
1. What are other professionals charging in your area.
This will give you your base. Don’t undercut – you will be shooting yourself in the foot and bringing everyone else down with you.
2. Is this an event or weekly/monthly restaurant gig.
You can see my breakdown of prices here:mahabellydance.com/hire.php#prices
Events include weddings and parties. They are a one time event though you may have clients who will hire you a few times a year in this category.
Weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly restaurant shows allow the dancers constant exposure to potential clients and will produce more gigs. Also, for clients who wish to see you perform in advance, this is where they can come watch you. For this reason, a reduced rate is appropriate.
Don’t ever audition for free. Unless it is 3pm in the afternoon and the only people there are the owners and some staff. You should have video available on your website. I’ve had clients come to the studio to watch a demo when I was dancing in a duet. This is rare and they paid for the rental and an additional fee for our time.
3. The location of the event.
You should charge more for travel time. Firstly because of the additional expense of getting there, but also the extra travel time will mean you may not be able to book a second or third gig in an evening.
4. Charging for a second show
For me, I will charge half for a second show IF there is no more than 30mins wait in between shows.
For restaurants, the price is NOT reduced for a second show. You are already giving a reduced rate. Don’t do a discount on top of a discount.
If the contract is for a Zaffa only, it is the price of a regular show. Zaffa and a show is treated similar to two shows. I charge my regular rate for the show and $150 for the zaffa. I’m more flexible about the wait time in between shows. What often ends up happening is I will do the Zaffa, go to anther gig, and return to the wedding for the second show.
People will always try to negotiate. Be patient and firm. Negotiation is embedded as a norm in many cultures so expect it. If you let yourself be pressured to taking a lower price, you have devalued yourself and wont feel good about it.
Common negotiation tactics:
1. “If you dance at my event you will get a lot of exposure and you can leave your business cards all over on all the tables.”
This could be worth it if you are provided with the name, address, telephone, and email address of ALL attending guests so you can send your marketing materials to harass them to hire you for parties or sign up for you classes. Yeah right.
Unless this is for a charity that you would like to volunteer for, they are just looking for a free or discounted show.
How about you get paid your rate and still get to leave your cards all over like at any other gig?
2. “We are just a small group can you give us a discount?”
Consider all I wrote above about the gig process. Does it really matter how many people are there? It’s same amount of effort from start to finish if it is for a dinner party of 5 or a wedding of 500.
3. “What if we only want 15mins instead of 20, 25, or 30mins?”
Again, consider all I wrote above about the gig process. It’s same amount of effort from start to finish if it is for 5mins, 10mins, 20mins, or 30mins. You still spend the same amount of time in consultation, getting ready, and getting yourself there. The whole concept of “the bellygram” for less is rediculous. The price is the price is the price if you are there for 5mins, 5000 people, or 30mins for 5 people.
4. Common one for restaurants: “You charge $150 for a weekly show? Come this week and I’ll pay you $100 then we’ll talk about it.”
Ugh. No. Here’s what may happen. They may have no intention of having you weekly. There is a special event and they want a bellydancer for that week. Chances are after the show they will say: “We are going to think about the weekly thing. We’ll call you.” They may call you months later for a single show for $100. Ugh.
You are better off to charge your gig rate the first show. Discounts apply after that based on if the show is weekly or monthly.
This one I’ve learned the hard way with a newly opened restaurant. I didn’t lower my weekly restaurant rate, but I still accepted my weekly restaurant rate on the first show as they said they wanted a weekly show. Though everything went well, they decided it wasn’t in the budget for weekly entertainment….and said they would like to start this in a month or so when things pick up.
So they knew in advance that they could not afford weekly entertainment, but they said they wanted it when they called me.
You will either be contacted by restaurants having bellydancers for the first time, or ones that have established bellydance show.
The later will likely have a set rate they pay the dancers. You can take it or leave it, or ask for what you would expect to be paid.
5. “It’s a weeknight and not prime gig time can you give me a discount?”
Ok, I’m sure you’re catching onto why not, right?
6. “We want you to come to our party. We have LOTS of family weddings coming up this summer, can you give us a deal.”
Same above as the restaurant scene…
If you conduct your business in a professional way you will be treated that way. Don’t devalue your skills or your time, ever. If you’re good at what you do, you will always have work so no need to ever feel pressure to compromise your prices.