To avoid a mad rush, I make a lot of balloons in advance and use them as decorations.
It has been quite successful for me. When clients are shopping around, I usually get the booking if I send them this book.
...starting your gig in front of a large group of people, and noticing
that somewhere between leaving your car and getting to where you are now you
opened up a cut on your finger and there's a dime-sized blood spot on your
nice white glove...
...a party host who, with the sky looking like armageddon when you're starting your entertainment, insists it's not going to storm...
...a guest of honor who is terrified of balloon twisting clowns...
...getting a star-shaped button from your vest caught in one of your twists (yes, this really happened to me)...
...small child running off with your hand pump...
Some hosts get a kick out of going to PartyMart (I hope that isn't a real name, but it probably is), walking the aisles and choosing the decorations. Some hosts *don't*. What they really want is a great party for their kid with little or no effort on their part.
Instead of billing yourself as entertainment (#2 in my list of party activities), some of you might consider offering party *packages*. This requires more preparation, but you can charge more for your services and have more control over the process.
How to go about it? First, find the *best* bakery in town (in my area there's a little place that makes fabulous cakes in the $25 range). A place that bakes the cake the same day, frosts it by melting chocolate bars over it, that sort of thing. Arrange with that bakery to get the cakes at a discount.
Find a good, reliable supplier of party goods (hats, plates, favors, etc.). The lowest prices will be through catalog/Internet suppliers, but you may be surprised at the lack of quality. Ask for samples, or try a small order and see what kind of stuff they're peddling.
Find a clean store near your home that provides quality goods. Tell them the price that you're getting from the catalog, give them an estimate of the business you'll throw their way, and see if they can match the prices. You may need to fall back on a local store in a pinch, so try to find one in advance rather than get stuck waiting for something back ordered from a catalog. (There's a marvelous store across town from me that has a lot of the stuff you see in the catalogs - carnival prizes, party favors, etc., all of which you can inspect before buying. There will probably be a store like it in any metro- politan area, and not many people will know about it unless they happen to stumble across it.)
Establish a working relationship with two or more party rentals services - you can offer tables, chairs, carnival games, etc. (you may also get referrals). Even if you don't want the headache of arranging these things for the host, knowing a good place and saying "Tell them Dennis Dawson sent you" will pay off for everybody (note that I didn't say "Tell them Asparagus the Clown sent me," because the store may get you confused with the *other* Asparagus the Clown).
Have a list of assistants available, reliable people to whom you can offer a slightly-higher-than-fair wage to help you with the logistics of setting up and breaking down the party. The helper should *not* be another entertainer, but rather someone who is tasked with keeping things going while you're being a charming clown. (Someone in a clean uniform whom you would want to invite to your own party.)
Based on the paper goods you find, build party packages around a theme. From the posts we've seen go by, it's probably best not to advertise a "Well known action figure" or "PBS Costume Show" party. So consider themes like "Hawaiian Luau," "Pirate's Plunder," "Unicorn Fantasy," whatever.
Everything you do should be *classy*. Don't skimp on the quality of the napkins or get a cake out of the grocer's freezer. Offer quality goods at a reasonable price. Be fair to everyone you work with (customers, suppliers, assistants, children).
Now, in your brochure, you can offer different pricing based on the services you provide. This not only makes it clear what you're willing to do (for a fair price), but what you're not willing to do (without just compensation).
Too much work? Not worth the hassle? Fine. Don't do it. But figure out precisely what you are going to offer to "do" a party, and spell it out, in your brochure, on your web page, verbally by phone, and in a contract when you book your engagements. Everyone will be able to make an informed choice when you and your customers book an engagement. And go in happy. the attitude you bring to a party has a lot to do with how you'll describe the party afterward.
The organizers are briefed to deal with new / late arrivals in a way that doesn't interrupt the games, and I start the organized part once about 60% have arrived. Others then join in quietly (or in fact noisily!) but without that difficult situation of everyone rushing to the door every time the bell rings.
Generally I suggest 6 or 7 designs and ask them to choose one and choose a color. The suggested designs are usually one or two balloon creations. Of course, everyone wants the special multi-balloon design, but I repeat that the special design is my gift to the birthday child and that they will get just such a special balloon at their birthday party.
I've been using this formula for several years, and it works very well. I always discuss the situation with the person who hires me - a special multi-balloon creation for the birthday child and simpler designs for everyone else. If the person hiring me wants me to make detailed multi-balloon designs for everyone, then I offer a party with one less activity to allow for enough time.
I just see it as providing information a customer can use to determine with some certainty that you are worth your fee. But, I really think that number of balloons per hour is only one part of the equation for value. . . entertaining is the other, and if a client is just interested in handing out balloons, then they really don't need you anyway.
If the consultation is in person then they can easily gage your speed and competency when you "audition" for them. If you twist on a regular basis somewhere or if you are working another event, invite the potential client to come to where you are working so they can see you in action. Having a potential client watch you work in real life or private audition speaks volumes as to your ability and erases any doubts they may have about hiring balloon entertainment.
Two balloon hats take up *much* more visible space then one balloon ones, because most of the first balloon has to go around their head. And the Star Trek saying -- IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) -- applies here, because there are so many combinations you can make with just two balloons. Definately worth the extra time. Two balloon hats also give you an extra moment or two with the customer. And if you think you have the time to do three (or more) balloon ones, then hey, go wild!
If you get to focus on smaller groups, and can get more creative, keep in mind that you'll get more requests for that kind of thing. And don't forget a Multi-Person Balloon Connector hat, connecting the VIPs of the affair and/or a bunch of kids.
"Here comes the bulletin this is the most important thing I'm going to say today I hope everyone is listening because I'm not going to say it twice and then you'll be sorry whoooo-boy will you be sorry because everyone else will have heard this wonderful thing and you'll sit in a corner and gnash your teeth and beat your chest because you didn't hear me say it" etc. I do this in a nasal, high-pitched monotone that sounds sort of like a television test pattern. When they settle down to hear what I'm saying, I launch into whatever it was I was going to say. Keep in mind that this technique will work a maximum of one time. Once they're on to you, you'll have to try something else.
There is to be no balloons at the table while eating cake, etc. We have found that this procedure works best for parties in the home.
I find that if I nicely explain to the prospective customer what will happen when the kids see the balloons, MOST of them will engage their brain long enough to remember what happened with their child the last time they were in a similar situation. . . As soon as they realize what I just reminded them of, they see that it makes sense, and I usually get the booking. It sounds something like this:
"Ma'am, there are many situations where twisting balloon animals for children can be a very fun and appropriate activity. Unfortunately, birthday parties aren't one of them, and I'd like you to bear with me as I explain why. I'm not trying to sound mean or to deprive them of any fun or anything like that. . . But I'm sure you know as well as I do, perhaps even BETTER than I do, that out of a group of a dozen or so children, it only takes one or two rambunctious ones to start fighting over who's going to be next, or worse yet, making their balloon animal "attack" someone else, popping them in the process, and then you have a group of children who are upset over who-broke-whose balloon, and its just a complete nightmare for the birthday mom and dad who are trying to keep things cheerful. I don't want that to happen to you, Mrs. Birthday Mom. . . I'd much rather come over and give your child a fun, enjoyable show, that he and ALL his friends will enjoy, where NO ONE gets upset or hurt, and that Mom and Dad can send the kids home happy and unscathed from.
"Now, Mrs. Birthday Mom, I realize that I'm probably the only person who has said anything like this to you. Many people would rather sell you a "package" clown deal with anything you want, and not be concerned with the after-effects. But I'm not a salesman, and my desire isn't to "sell" you a "deal". I am a clown, and my goal is to do everything I can to make sure that your child's birthday party is as fun as possible."
There is usually a little more peripheral discussion afterwards, but if I patiently take the time to explain it, more often than not, a customer will schedule me. If they insist on balloon twisting, I refer them to a couple other people, along with an invitation to call me for future parties, which I promise to deliver (here's the kicker) "with no headaches!"
Now, while I have yet to have one of these people call me at a later date and admit to me how right I was about the balloons causing fights and headaches, I HAVE had many of these people call and have me out to other events and not even ASK about balloons.