Working With an Agent
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.
Note: Some of the following comments include amounts of money in the imaginary unit called “C-shells.” These units are used to avoid any hint of illegal price fixing in the balloon industry.
References: In addition to the Guide, the following books provide information about twisting balloons for money:
- Balloon Biz, by Norm Barnhart
- Balloon Busking, by Bob Brown and John Morrissy
- Inflation Information, by Frank Thurston
- Making Inflation Work For You, by T. Myers
- Professional Portfolio for Balloon Artists by Bruce Kalver
- Insider’s Secrets to Working Restaurants by Mark Nilsen
- Out Of The Part Time Frying Pan And Into The Full-time Fire by Marvin Hardy
You’ll find reviews in the Books, Magazines, Videos, and Other Resources chapter.
- 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 misconceptions:
- 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 email@example.com
- 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 service.
- 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 well spent.
- 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.
If you are interested in twisting for Balloon Attractions, you can e-mail David Craner at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-295- 7751 and leave a message.
- Balloon Attractions is looking to expand into other cities. Areas of particular interest are Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Memphis, Orlando, Little Rock, Houston and southern California. This is not a solicitation for work, just an opportunity that I came across and want to share with others.
- I am currently training new twisters for Balloon Attractions they are set up like Balloon Abilities but I make more from them. The organization is always looking for experienced twisters in different markets to train and work in good restaurants.
- 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 him again.
- 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 party… whoopee!).
- 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 for them.
- 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.)
Becoming An Agent Yourself
- Are you too busy, getting too much work? Why give business away, especially after you paid for advertising that generated the call? A yellow page ad and business lines cost real money! When I was overbooked, I booked other clowns. I charged at least an extra 10 C-shells for me booking them, as an agent does. It’s all legit. The customers wrote a check to my company and I wrote a check to the clown.