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What I Learned from My Survival Job #3: Business Acumen

January 22, 2013

As it is for many actors and artists, I do not come to the business of show with a natural flair for, well, business. As a fellow artist and I were recently musing, there is so much of ourselves in our product that it can be painful to do the selling of it. But to eat, sell our product we must!

As a wedding dress salesperson, I was paid an hourly wage plus a percentage of my sales; at the intimates store, I was paid bonuses at graduated levels of sales. This meant my paycheck was closely tied to whether or not I could close the sale, how big a sale I could close, or how many sales I could close. As a member of the intimates store’s management team, I attended weekly meetings reviewing our previous week’s sales and planning for the coming week’s successes. Though I can’t say I enjoyed working retail, I appreciate that I have a more business-minded approach to my acting career as a result of these experiences.

First, let’s look at the commission aspect of sales and acting. When paid on commission, one does not get paid until one makes a sale. Likewise, in acting, one does not get paid until one is hired onto a project. How can I make the next sale/get hired onto the next project? Maybe this sale/project does not come through, or if the rate is lower than I would like, how many other sales/projects do I need to get on the books to make my budgeted goal? You can’t make someone hire you anymore than I could make someone come in and buy a dress at the price I needed to make my sales goals. But there were things I could do to help myself meet that goal, just as there are things we can do to improve our chances of being offered the role. To which contacts can you reach out in search of a paid project? What can you do on your next project to ingratiate yourself to the theatre/production company/director, improving your chances of being hired again later? Is there something you can do to generate work and income for yourself?

Secondly, consider sales goals. At the intimates store, we had promotions, seasons, new inventory, old inventory – all manner of things from the corporate office to push onto the customers. January was a big push on the fitness clothing; February brought lots of lace and push-up bras; you get the idea. With each new promotion, we moved everything in the store around to make it look fresh and new. With each new promotion, we were given a sales goal in total dollar amount, as well as a sales goal for number of items within the promotion (e.g. $10,000 weekly sales goal, within which we should sell at least 100 pieces of fitness clothing). I spent the first few months on management railing against these goals – how am I supposed to make someone who is coming in to buy a bra get interested in buying yoga pants? I mean, come on, this is why the general populace hates sales people, always pushing things on them that we don’t want or need.

Here’s what I learned, though: some people do want or need the item in question. Maybe they didn’t realize we sold yoga pants. Maybe they are happy not to have to stop at another store for the yoga pants they were also looking to buy. Maybe they just have money to burn. Why not burn that money with me, help me meet my sales goal and earn my bonus for the month? No, I cannot make someone who needs a bra and has budgeted to buy a bra, and only a bra, try on yoga pants. But I won’t know if a customer is receptive to trying on yoga pants unless I make the suggestion. Making a suggestion to someone does not obligate them to accept it.

The tie-in to my acting business is this: if I don’t ask for the role, or if I don’t reach out to new, and maybe non-traditional, clients, I won’t know if that is an income stream that will help me meet my sales goals. Further, by making weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals for my acting business – just like those sales goals our management team was given – I give myself and my business a structure. Then I have something to check in with weekly, monthly, etc – just like those weekly management team meetings. Celebrate the past week’s success, look for the weak spots, make a plan (with accountability) to build up the weaker bits and tackle the coming week’s projections.

The people who are making casting decisions are often making more of a sales decision about whom to hire than an artistic one: Will this person connect with our target demographic? Can we afford to hire this actor out-of-town, or do we have this type in town? It behooves us as actors to practice our art, but conduct our business like a salesperson.


One Comment leave one →
  1. January 22, 2013 10:17 am

    this is another awesome post in this series! Darn you could write a book on this!

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