The material in this chapter is taken from posts to the balloon
mailing lists. In response to some of the negative comments about
BalloonAbilities which appear here, the owner of the company, Wendy
Adler, has asked for an opportunity to respond to the largest of the
- Balloonabilities is not an agency, but
a talent broker that helps balloon twisters and restaurants by
placing twisters who are looking for work in jobs at restaurants.
- If anyone has questions, concerns, or objections
to the practices of Balloonabilities contact Wendy directly at either
800-350-8947 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Their phone niumber is 1-800-350-TWIST.
When you call, you'll be given the name of the coordinator
for your area. They are a San Jose, CA based company with
agent/coordinators in many states. They recruit twisters
as individual contractors from local college campuses and
through newspaper ads. Unskilled
twisters are taught 10-15 sculptures, and sent on their own.
They do not pay an hourly rate, twisters work solely for
tips. Assignments vary from really good, upscale family
restaurants to really poor locations. The company also sends
twisters to corporate functions. In those cases, the twister
is paid a flat rate. The person I spoke with says that he
averages $20.00/hour in tips, but that he considers his
assignment to be a 'good' one.
- BalloonAbilities is an interesting organization. They did
give me my start in twisting, but do not get on the area
coordinator's bad side!
- BalloonAbilities sends twisters out to work only for tips and
they expect you to suck-up and give them every spare moment
of your life so that you'll get to work the locations where
the tips are good.
- I work with BalloonAbilities. They've treated me well.
They got me started and taught me a lot of what I know.
Scheduling is not always consistent. Sometimes you get the
great venues, sometimes you don't. They are a good place to
start. On the flip side I could see where some of the old
masters would not appreciate them. They hire people off the
street, and SOME of the twisters are not very professional
and also not particularly quality-minded.
- The following story is one I heard several times in
Missouri about a company named BalloonAbilities... There
was a restaurant chain that various balloon companies had
contracted to work with, doing balloons from table to table
at various locations. The restaurant chain used the other
companies temporarily, knowing that BalloonAbilities was
coming to our state. Months later, BalloonAbilities arrived
and took over, with mostly new inexperienced twisters found
from the want ads. Unfortunately many of the original
twisters were not hired to work with BalloonAbilities and
therefore were no longer working with that restaurant chain.
- Balloonabilities is an agency that goes to restaurants and
convinces them that balloon sculpting would be a great asset to their
store. They then recruit people to work these gigs. If you don't
know any thing about twisting, no problem, they will teach you.
They collect a fee from the restaurant. What do they pay these
recruited twisters? NOT A DIME! While they get paid by the
restaurant to send the recruits in, the recruits get to buy their
own balloons and work for tips. WOW, what a deal. When you deal
with an agency, you are NOT working for them, they are working
for you (a concept that agencies don't like to admit). If you wish to
say you are working for Balloonabilities, then where is the pay from
them? THEY are being compensated for YOUR work, yet you have
to hope that you get enough tips from the customers to get anything
out of it. Then you blame the customers if THEY stiff you? If you
say Balloonabilities is working for you (which they ARE), then you
are paying them 100% of your commission...
BALLOONABILITIES is stiffing you. If you work with them,
you are doing nothing to improve the situation.
If BALLOONABILITIES wishes to call itself an agency, then they
would create a pool of trusted twisters, pound the streets looking for
a market for these twisters, then handle the business end in primarily
one of two ways:
- split the total take between all the twisters working the job,
then take a FAIR percentage back from each of them.
- explain to Fridays (or who ever) that each twister will cost
$X/hr PLUS Fridays will pay $Y/hr/performer back to the agency.
- A third way that I've seen is, the agency will take a flat fee for
each performer, but the performer is STILL paid a fair price for their
- I'm actually very surprised that they can even do things the way
they do. My children used to be professional models, I know for a
fact that at least here in NY the state law said that agencies
could collect NO MORE than 10 percent of fees for minors. Since
they were quite young at the time, I did not get too involved in the
legalities for adults, but I do recall that there was a cap mentioned
for them as well.
Maybe, just maybe if you were being paid a fair fee for twisting that
night, you could act a little more professional.
- I have been working for BalloonAbilities for 2 years and I
can tell you, there is a high turnover rate for agency
twisters. We are mostly students and we don't have much money.
- All the Friday's restaurants in San Diego FIRED
BalloonAbilities about 3 or 4 years ago because their
twisters were substandard. They (Friday's) require their
twisters to audition. If you even mention BalloonAbilities
it's an automatic strike against you. Friday's in San Diego
hates them with a vengeance.
- Markets and businesses change. Change can be threatening.
Balloonabilities is a business that works in the market. This is not a
legal or ethical issue. No one is forced to do something they have
not agreed to do, and if they are not happy they can work on their
own. This company is competition. That's life. Deal with it.
- I imagine the first guy that twisted balloons in a crowd made
really good tip money for the simplest figures. It is hard to beat getting
$1 for a 3 twist dog that can be made in 20 seconds. That's about
$180 an hour, it may be ditch digging work and there is danger from
of loss of sanity, but it's a good living. When someone else starts
making fancier figures, that affects the first guy's income. How far
down the line are you, and what is your response to the complaints
of the first guy?
There's plenty of work out there for anybody who wants to hustle a
bit. If you know that you offer something better than what
Balloonabilities delivers, then sell, sell, sell! If not, then
don't compete head-to-head.
If you look at your local market and say: "Balloonabilities has
sewn up all the TGIFs and Chevys in the area; there's no
work..." then you need to use your imagination for more than
just coming up with new twists! Why not approach an upscale
restaurant? Knock on the door of every fast food place and deli in
the area (many of these are franchises, and each will have its own
policies about in-store entertainment). Coffee houses are springing
up all over. Work with the local cineplex to entertain the people in
line. Make sure every department store in town knows that you're
available for their event-of-the-week (can you twist white flowers?
call Macy's). You don't have to set up a regular thing every Friday
night, either - arrange 4 different places once a month, and you're all set.
- Well, if nobody else will defend the sanity of working for
Balloonabilities, I will. I work for them, and enjoy it, and have no
plans on changing. Many of you are in very different boats,
however, and would have no use for them.
I have a "regular" job, and twist because I enjoy it. I
usually twist one night a week, and I don't want to twist much more
than that. I learned to twist about 12 years ago, and for many years
just twisted balloons between juggling shows at festivals. I really
don't want to go to the trouble of lining up venues, keeping my
schedule free at regular times every week, finding a sub if I have to
cancel (work requires me to travel sometimes, sometimes on short
notice), etc., etc..
If my situation were to change, and I became concerned about
making money (e.g., supporting myself on balloons), this would
certainly change. I'm fairly certain I could support myself twisting
balloons working three nights a week or so, but if I was going to
do that, I would dump Balloonabilities and line up my own clients.
As it is, I'm happy to let them schedule for me, worry about subs,
and take the up-front money. From my point of view, it's money
- Most of the other twisters here who work for Balloonabilities
are moms with kids to take care of, who get sick (both them and
their kids), who have husbands with jobs, etc., I think they consider
themselves to be in the same boat as me. We all know that
Balloonabilities gets money for our work, but they do us a service
by looking out for us when we can't make a gig, for whatever
reason, and they do the homework of lining up venues, scheduling,
etc., that I enjoy a lot less than twisting.
If you twist for a living, you can hate me for this. But I won't
apologize for it. I will concede that if there was a stable, reliable
co-op version of Balloonabilities I'd probably switch, but there isn't.
- Not all twisters are alike, but Balloonabilities treats us that
way. And in that way, they cheat both themselves and the twisters.
I know that some of the venues I work prefer some twisters over
others. Whether they feel this way to the point of being willing to
pay differently, I have no idea. Either way, however, I don't think
Balloonabilities takes advantage of this. And because of it, I'm sure
they lose a lot of twisters - the better twisters don't feel appreciated
and strike out on their own, and if Balloonabilities clients don't feel
they're getting the best twisters, they may be less happy than they
would if they had more choice over which twisters they get.
Balloonabilities does not provide entertainer's liability insurance.
As to why they don't offer or provide insurance. I can't speak for
them, but I know that our contract states that we are NOT employees
of Balloonabilities. We are independent contractors. Which, by the
way, is one of the reasons why we purchase our own balloons. The
Federal Government has developed a three prong test to determine if
a person is an employee or a contractor. One of the 'prongs' is
based on whether the company provides any tools or materials to the
person. If they gave us our balloons, they would fail that test, and
potentially have to claim us as employees. I know that my insurance
policy does not cover independent contractors, nor does the
worker's comp system in California. In order to be covered under
their insurance, I think we would have to be classified as employees.
Another thing that you all might not realize. I am not prohibited from
booking my own parties and events. When I am on a
Balloonabilities assignment, I am contractually obligated to hand out
their business cards. I don't think that this varies at all from ANY
agency policy. I have affixed my name to each of these cards. When
they get a call from a client interested in booking ME for a party,
they are contractually obligated to give me first refusal rights to that
job. However, when I am twisting at my own events, I can book
anything I want. I can also work for other competing agencies. I do
a number of private parties each year, and get referrals from them.
AND, I don't have to share the fee from these jobs with an agent, as
many of you do.
- The Balloonablilities contract you sign prohibits you from
approaching a current Balloonablilities client and asking for work,
within one year after you quit.
- There are two major agencies in my area.
One of them has primarily followed a specific restaurant chain.
We also work private parties (but not often).
Employees are mostly college-age students who
have never twisted balloons before, but there are a few
experienced balloon twisters at the agency I'm with. When I
suit up and put my balloon apron on, I go to these places
with no idea of what kind of money I am going to make. I
follow the rules of an agent. I do wear a 'tips' button that
says "Tips, No really I couldn't, well if you insist!".
The rules of the agency I am with state that I can't expose a
dollar bill. If I am asked how much the balloons are I must
say they are free. I can't ask for money. The only thing I
can do is hope they see the badge.
- A couple times in the last month or so, I've run into people
working at restaurants on evenings tying balloons. I've
talked with them, and traded a couple animals; they both
mentioned talking to them about maybe working part-time. I
found out that they operate in about 8 states, including
Colorado and Arizona. They hire contractors, and the
contractors work for tips. It sounds pretty decent, since
they worry about scheduling and management, and the
contractors aren't committed to schedules long in advance and
others can fill in easily.
- How do I find an honest, competent agent?
Well the easy answer is ask other magicians and clowns in your
area. But, they might not be truthful since they want the business. I
have found that it is best to be your own agent. If you do find a
good agent, they should charge you no more then 15 to 25 percent.
I had one agent who just doubled my rate when he billed
customers... no wonder he didn't find me much work.
- I work both through an agency and on my own. As long as I
have the date and time open, why not work through the agency. As
a rule my agent takes about $10-20 per job depending on how
much he gets and what type of job it is. No skin off my teeth as
most of the time he charges more than I would. (He also advertises
more than I do, thus the higher charges.) Most of the time I end up
with just about what I would have charged anyway. Even if I didn't,
it's still more money in my pocket than I would have had anyway.
And you can't beat 75-100 C-shells per hour in a 'regular' job
(although I know we aren't out there working 8 hours every day
doing this, either.)
If a check bounces, I don't have to worry about it. I usually have
my payment in about a week, even if my agent doesn't. My agency
has never asked me to work for tips only. He did ask me to take a
reduced rate a couple of times, to which I requested to take tips to
make up the difference. He said, 'OK' and I did.
- I've been clowning for over 10 years, but with a full-time job, I
prefer to leave the booking to the agency! Personally, I enjoy
working with an agency. They deal with the hassles of bookings,
long-distance phone calls, the endless-questions-customers, the
cancellations, getting directions to the show and getting paid. All I
have to do is show up. The agency sends out a contract to the client
and to me that spells it all out; we each sign and send them a copy
back. When the agency gets paid, they send me a check - generally
no more than a couple of weeks.
I really don't care what they make for the booking. They ask if I
will travel to such-and-such a place on such-and-such a date for this
price, and I have the option of saying yes or no.
- Working with a good agency is a great place for a beginner to
get established. If you do a good show and are willing to work for
a little less (and as a beginner in ANY job, you should), they will
put you to work as often as possible. And you can focus on
perfecting your act without worrying about many of the little
nuances of business - getting cards printed, the ins and outs of
contracts, and in particular, liability.
There's also the little matter of insurance. I don't carry insurance
as a performer - don't do enough shows to justify it - but I am insured
through the agency when I do performances through them.
Reassuring, to say the least!
- When you work for an agency, they generally want all referrals
from that performance to go through them as well. The agency I
work with furnishes me with some of their business cards, with a
line where I can pen in my name as the 'entertainer.'
- My agency has always been fair with me, and I enjoy working with them.
- Agents are fine as long as they don't over-price you and take
you out of the market. I know of some unfair agents who hire you
for let's say 100 C-shells then charge the client 250 C-shells for you.
That's crazy. Agents should make no more than 25 percent and the
usual charge is 15 or 20 percent. Agencies NEED you. Here's a way
to work with an agency:
Let's say that the restaurant is paying 20 C-shells/hour for a balloon twister.
Let the agency keep the 20 C-shells and you will work for tips. The
restaurant treats you with respect because they are paying for you.
The agency is making money from you. You have the potential of
making good money. Agency and entertainer work together and
each makes money. To the agency, YOU are taking the risk. If your
skills are good, you won't have to worry.
- To find an agent, look up 'entertainment' in the yellow pages.
Call the ones that look like they are children's entertainers (clowns,
magicians, overall entertainment). Tell them what you do, then ask if
they ever need balloon twisters. Most will probably tell you they'll
put you on their list. (For the most part, any twister will do if they
don't have to turn down a job and lose their commission.) They
may ask for references, etc.
Make sure that _you_ check _them_ out, too. Ask THEM for
references (other people that work for them), then call the people.
Make sure they are fair with both their commissions and with the
people that book the parties, they pay on time, etc. (I once knew an
agent that would take over 50 percent. I told her not to waste her time
calling me, I wasn't interested.)
- In response to the agent question - I've had good and bad experiences.
The good ones - I got paid for the job the day of the job and sent the agent
his 10%. Other times I got partial payment the day of the job and
the remainder was sent in the mail a few days later. The bad experience
- I took a job from an agent and didn't get paid for 3 months! He kept
telling me he didn't get paid for the job yet and then he said the check
was in the mail, one excuse after another. Finally my husband called him
and told him he was going to come down to his office and pick the check up -
the very next day I had the check in my mailbox and guess what - even
though there was a stamp on it, it didn't go through the post office -
no stamp across the postage or anything. So he must have come by my
house that night and stuck it in the mailbox. I'll never do anything for
- Agents are fine... but remember two main points:
- Dont sweat over what they make as long as you get what you want
- YOU dont work for them... THEY work for you.
- Beware of the old "I can get you so much work" line. Don't rely on
agents but they ARE worth it. Usually an agent asks you what you want
for a show and then tacks on his commison to the price for the client.
- A good agent will tack on 10 to 20 percent. An unscrupulous agent will add
100 percent or more to your price, overcharging the client and thus making you a
very expensive act that doesn't get many bookings.
- Ask around and see what other performers think of the agent. Does he pay on
time. Is he thorough when he gives you info about the show? Can you trust him?
- I don't do birthday parties! What I do is
hand out cards for the agents that have booked me on that particular gig
with my (clown) name on them. If they phone to book a birthday party, the
agent says that I am unfortunately not available on that date but could they
send someone else. If it is for a bigger show or corporate event I get the
booking. If I am not working through an agent and someone asks whether I do
birthday parties, I just give them my busiest agent's card. But, if they
ask for walkaround, corporate functions, etc., I give them my own card.
This has a double benefit because it generates a lot of inquiries at the
agents for Jay Jay the Clown, and they will generally reward me with lots of
the bookings that I really want (enough to never have to do a birthday
- I work with 4 agents. Two have paid retainers in advance. I require half of
the amount up front. One agent pays in full as early as 2 months in advance,
the other pays half shortly after we confirm the date. The other two agents
have not paid in advance. One of them says they NEVER pay in advance and they
rarely have cancellations (seems true so far - been with them 2 years now and
they have never reneged). The other one we just worked with for the first
time last month, and we are still awaiting payment. They seem to only pay
after the client has paid them.
- I haven't had a need for agent deposits yet. Because my contract states
that if I get a cancellation less than 7 (or up to 30) days prior to the
event, I recieve 50% of the total costs anyway. This has stopped any
problems with cancellations from agents. Besides... the agents that
cancel on you for no (i.e. they found someone cheaper) reason are the ones
that you don't want to work with in the first place! Keep tabs on those
who work right, and work wrong.
- I have worked with agents for years. As of now, I have my own
business up enough to be able to pick and choose.
I have only one recommendation and that is to make sure that the people
whom you work for are the people you want your name associated with.
One agent that I used to work for, I even worked in her office
scheduling entertainers. For years she had a great reputation. But
then she slowly started to slide into the "Dark Side" of the job. She
began sending out "cheap" lousy entertainers instead of the ones that
had always been professional, well liked and good. Her rep started to
falter, and now she is someone that I WILL NOT work for. The best bet
is to make sure you are comfortable with all that is concerned about the
agent. If in doubt... stay out!
- I work with an "agent" at restaurant gigs while having my own company
as well. I figure that's marketing I don't have
to pay for and I give out my "agent's" card when I'm working for her at a
restaurant. I still make great money when I do a gig for her and have no
hassles, collection difficulties, etc.
- The advantage to agency work is: they do all the advertising to get
the jobs. Don't let that stop you from taking agency jobs if needed, but
do freelance also. The pay usually is better. If your agency demands
exclusivity, either get paid VERY well, or drop them like a hot rock.
- A good agent is incredibly valuable. The operative word is "good".
Many agencies exist that do nothing more than answer the phone and give a
job to someone that's convenient for them, or someone that they can make a
lot of money from. Others take the time to get to know who they have on
their entertainer list, promote their entertainers, and get regular work
- I carry my own insurance, use all my own product, write my own shows, etc.
But when it comes to filling the calendar, the bulk of my performance work
is booked through an agency. I will book my own shows if the phone rings,
but I don't do mailings or other forms of promotion most of the time.
Sure, the fee you make per show is higher if you don't have to split it
with an agent, but I'd rather spend my time performing or writing than
doing promotion. I'm glad I have agents willing to take a fee to book me.
It's one less hassle for me to deal with. As long as I get what I feel I'm
worth, the agents can make as much as they like. I can then take my "free"
time to do the work I enjoy.
- The job of an agency is to get you work. You need to provide the things
they need in order to sell your act. If they gave you their equipment to
use and had insurance for you, and offered all the other things you need as
a performer, they wouldn't be an agency booking a job for you, they'd be an
employer giving you an assignment. (There's nothing wrong with that
arrangement either. It's just different.)