Archive for March, 2017

Yer Money or Yer Life! How to Ask About Pay Without Sounding Crass

March 22, 2017 Comments Off on Yer Money or Yer Life! How to Ask About Pay Without Sounding Crass Working in Circus

We all have those moments – someone asks you to be in their show or event, and you’re all like, “YES! Hooray! I am totally available!” And then it dawns on you – you have no idea what they’re thinking of paying you. OMG, are they thinking of paying you at all?! It’s an important question, but how do you ask it without sounding a wee bit crass?

It’s About Relationship

We went to a conference a while back, and, weirdly, the best perspective shift I came away with was this:

All business, particularly in the arts, is about relationships.

The goal isn’t so much to book a gig or a show (although it ultimately is), but to forge new, mutually fulfilling relationships with folks who can hire you. These relationships are about a lot of things, not just financial transactions; so, when we reduce them to a paycheck, we diminish the potential richness (pardon the entendre) of the partnership.

How to Ask About Pay Rates – Best Practices

Anyone who knows me is well aware of my direct and candid nature – there’s not much I won’t say or talk about. But, I’ve learned (and turned!) a trick or two when it comes to chatting about finances.¬†When I’m talking to potential clients, we both know that the real deal breaker will likely be budget, but how will that client feel if that’s the first question out of my mouth?

Potential Client: “Hi! I’m interested in booking circus entertainment for my event in a couple of months!”

Me: Great! What’s your budget?

… Nope! While budget may be the determining factor, it’s not the most important thing. There’s a person planning an event on the other end of this phone call or email! The person – the relationship – is the most important thing. We’ll get to budget pretty quickly, but a couple of minutes listening to their needs goes a long way towards increasing the likelihood that we’ll work together – if not now, then maybe in the future.

There are a lot of ways this dynamic plays out in our business. Here, I’m going to focus on the artist/entertainment company relationship.


  • Express enthusiasm about working with the company. Even if you’ve been working with a company for years, a little pep in your step when you accept a gig goes a long way. Say thanks! Say how excited you are to be working with them! Trust me – an eager attitude with a little gratitude stands out, and helps you appear friendly, fun to work with, and gracious.
  • Think long-term. Unless the company sucks, you want to lay a strong foundation for future work. Beyond the basics (respond to communications promptly, know your performance parameters, etc), you want to invest in this relationship the way you would any other. Express interest, keep it friendly, grease the wheels.
  • Keep it professional. Unless the person booking you is your bestie, then let them set the tone for communications. Are they uber formal? Respond in kind. Are they super informal? Err on the side of caution and spare them the emoticons. When talking about money, watch your phrasing and keep it on the up and up. “What can you pay?” is a far cry from “What do you have set aside in your budget for me on this event?”

So, how do you phrase money talk with class? Here are some good examples that came across my desk recently:

  • “Hi Laura! Thank you so much for thinking of me for the 22nd – I’m so excited to work with you again! Can you give me an idea of what you have set aside budget-wise for me? I’m really looking forward to this event.”
  • “Hello Laura!¬†Thank you so much for thinking of me for the 22nd – I’m so excited to work with you! This is my first time with your company, and I’m not familiar with your pay scale. When you get a minute, could you please let me know what the rate is for this event? Thanks again – I’m really looking forward to it.”


If the pay rate is WAY below what you had in mind, you have two options:

  1. Negotiate. If it’s within a couple hundred dollars, ask if there’s some wiggle room in the budget. “Hi Belinda! Thank you so much for the info about the 22nd. My usual rate is closer to $1000 – is there any flexibility in the budget for this event? I would really love to work with you on this one!”
  2. Decline. If there’s no way that budget is going to cut it, you’ll have to bow out. Do it like a jerk, and you can be sure they won’t contact you again. Decline with class, and, when they have a budget that can work, you’ll likely be on the list! “Hi Lulabelle! Thank you so much for clarifying the rates for the 22nd. My usual rate is $1000 for this type of event – is there any wiggle room in this budget?” (No.) “Hi Lulabelle! I completely understand. I’m so sad to say that I won’t be a good fit for this event – I will not be able to make $300 work. Please do keep me in mind for future events – I would really love to work with you down the road!” Then, consider recommending a student who might be a good fit for this show. If this company is kind of jerky though, don’t pass the buck.

In closing, remember: it’s about relationship. If the company is good, nurture that relationship by using your mad people skilz! Dare to imagine, Laura