Want comedy success? Think like an entrepreneur

So says comic Obie

I was considering my comedy career recently; and concluded that I think too much like an employee rather than an entrepreneur.

I’ve never really been a good employee in the real world. I don’t like being told what to do and I don’t like the lack of freedom. I’ve had a million of day jobs in my life. I was never attracted to working my way up a corporate ladder and getting a slight increase in salary every year until I can retire when I’m 65. That scenario scares me.

That’s probably one of the reasons I got into comedy. I want to work for myself and do what I want to do. However I think I may have been stuck in the employee state of mind: I feel I’m the worker, and the comedy clubs and promoters are the employers.

In the employee mentality, you start off on the lower rung of the ladder doing open spots. Then you work up the ladder until you get paid, then become main support act then become a headliner. A bit like the corporate world.

If you don’t get up the ladder quickly, even though you are doing a good job, you complain about other employees getting further up than you. Who are they shagging? Why are they getting ahead and you are not? Whose arse are they licking?

There are also a million comics trying to get up this comedy ladder at the same time. A lot of them are very good at what they do but they aren’t good employees. So what should a comic do to change that? What if you are a good comic but a shit employee? For me, it’s time I thought more like an entrepreneur.

In this new state of mind, the first question to ask is: Who are my customers? My original thinking was that my customers were the comedy clubs and promoters. They still are.  

My real customer, though, is the audience. Whenever I play a comedy club there will be people who like my stuff and would, hopefully, want to see me again. However if you ask anyone who has been to a comedy club who they saw, the chances are that they can’t remember. They might say that they had a great time and really liked the wee guy, but can’t remember his name.

That person is a potential client, and yet they have no idea who I am. This became apparent to me last year at the Edinburgh festival. I wasn’t doing a solo show, just bits and pieces in other shows. Out in the street, a couple approached me and said ‘Hello Obie’. I had no idea who they were. They had seen me a few years ago enjoyed my show and  looking to see where I was on this year. There are probably other people who were looking for me. From this I realise that I do have a potential audience who like what I do. So how do I take advantage of this?

I’ve been doing my research on this. I spoke to a guy in marketing who told me that in a seminar he asked two grocery store owners how much their average customer spends. The first one said around £15; the second one said £20,000. When the second one was questioned on this figure, he said that the reason that they spend £20,000 is because they use his shop every day and keep coming back.

So I think the trick here is to find out who your customers are and make sure they keep coming back.

One of the most successful comedians today is Louis CK. He has built his career by building his audience. Apparently he has a huge mailing list. Most of his audience was built online. He recently made a few million dollars selling his show for a $5 download and cutting out the middleman.

There are a few comics who have done this on a smaller scale are doing pretty well. Janey Godley has a huge following online. The Wee Man has a few million hits on YoutTube and has become a local celebrity. Limmy built a huge following online with his daft videos and now he has his own TV show.

If you were a comedy club owner and you had two comedians that were just as funny but one had a huge fan base, who would you book? It’s a business. Of course they will book the one with the fan base.

There are different ways to get ahead in comedy. Going up the comedy club ladder is one way and a lot of comics are doing pretty well this way... or you can find out who likes your stuff, build a database and cater for them.

One of my favorite current comedians is an American called Ian Bagg. I saw him in Australia last year; where he wasn’t well known and his audiences not that big. But those who did see him loved him.

At the end of each shows he would collect the email addresses of all the audience members and offer them free tickets the next time he visits. Do you think his audience will be bigger then? You bet they will! These people with free tickets will bring their friends who will have to pay.

So what here is my new rough business plan.

1) Improve my product quality every day (ie write more and do more). There is no point in doing this if you have a shit product.

2) Find the people who like what I do.

3) Collect the contact details of the people who like me

4) Give them more and keep them interested: YouTube videos, podcasts, Twitter etc

5) Keep building the fan base.

6) Keep them informed when my shows are.

7) Repeat process.

8) When I have enough of a fan base. Tell comedy clubs I can fill their club with my show.

9) Do solo show tour.

It’s easy when you know how. :)

You could have the best product in the world, but If nobody knows about it you will make no money.

Recently I’ve heard a lot of comics complaining about getting booked for certain gigs, or not doing as well as that other guy who isn’t that funny. I’ve been guilty of both those things.

But comedians aren’t employees of this big corporate entity called the Comedy Industry. We are all individual businesses. We are all entrepreneurs. We are all responsible for our own success or lack of it.

Let me start by plugging my Twitter, my Facebook and my website.

Published: 15 Apr 2013

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