If you struggle to meet the demands of a ‘day’ job, fulfil all your DJ bookings, and have time for friends and family, I am living proof that there is an alternative. Going full-time in this industry is daunting – but I know quite a few full-time DJs who earn a decent living, and a few inspirational characters who go beyond that and have fantastic careers, doing the same job many consider can’t be anything more than a part-time ‘extra’. Personally, I made DJing my full-time career four years ago. While it hasn’t all been plain sailing, I’ve never regretted this decision, and I hope that some of what I have learnt in my transition from part-time to full-time can help other DJs make that same step.
My first Christmas as a part-time DJ taught me that I couldn’t continue to work a full-time job, be a DJ, AND support my family. I still remember finishing work on one particular Friday, rushing to a Christmas party, getting up the next morning and going off to a kids’ disco, followed by another Christmas party and then on Sunday, just for good measure, doing yet another kids’ disco. I was totally wiped out by Monday morning, and going in to work to coordinate all the communications and fundraising activities for a homeless charity (my last employed job) at Christmas was no rest either!
Just one year after standing behind decks for the first time, I took the plunge and went full-time in 2013. I spent a further year treading water, worried that I may have committed too soon, but then lots of little breakthroughs started happening and it became obvious that not only had it been the right step, at the right time, but that I also had an exciting and flourishing business with a healthy order book and a very bright future. Yes we work hard (my wife now also works in the business full-time), and any small business owner will tell you that being totally self-employed has its challenges, but the upsides are enormous.
Quitting your day job and taking the plunge to become a full-time DJ is a big step, that needs careful consideration and good planning, but it’s one that can be completely life-changing. From my experience of going through the process, here are 10 things to consider before you go for it:
1] You’ve already started your business! And we are so very lucky in this industry to have customers who want to book us up ages in advance. The best way to start any business is part time – when you don’t have to rely on it for your living, it’s easier to establish. The pressure to bring in money from the start of any business can break it before it even gets going – you have a head start.
2] Now it’s all about timing. Giving up your main job on the 1st of January might make a great New Year’s Resolution, but it will also be very stressful. The first three months of the year are the quietest – so think about starting your new job when you have a good few months of income to negate the quieter times. I started my new job as a full-time DJ on the 1st of April, with an established diary of work in place.
3] Network with local DJs. You’ll learn from them, no one can do more than one event at a time, so you’ll be able to hand on business as well as get some yourself. Lots and lots of brilliant DJs work formally, or informally, with others of similar standing (and standards). Us DJs have a huge amount in common so it’s easy to make friends. And, who knows, one day you might have a family emergency and need cover, the more DJs you know, the more options you have when stuck.
4] Go to as many DJ events as possible. The annual BPM | PRO show is utterly amazing and incredible value for money. Book a local hotel and attend every single minute, including the seminars. When the Pro Mobile Conference is announced for 2018, book immediately – you will be inspired! Attend local NADJ (or similar) gatherings – even if you’re not a member, most will let you attend for a small charge – and keep an eye out for specialist workshops. The key here is to continually develop yourself, in much the same way as you do in any career.
5] When you establish a good contact at a venue, be there for whatever they need, never say no (you can always get someone else to do the work if you are at capacity) and become part of their team. Every person who works in every venue is a potential source of customers, so treat them accordingly. We get loads of referrals from venue staff – not just because we are great at our job, but because we look after them. Lines like “sorry folks, I have to stop playing because the venue say so” are not going to win them over!
6] Don’t undersell yourself! Draw a line in the sand and don’t step over it. How many times have you gone out cheap only to turn other work away? What you charge is between you and your customers, and it should stay that way, but don’t keep going out cheap when you could easily be charging more. On this subject, be consistent: have a set pricing structure and always follow it. A venue will not appreciate finding out that you are working elsewhere for a lower fee.
7] Consider what other services you could offer, but also how you will deliver them to the same standard as your DJ offering. Actually doing the work is a lot harder than selling it, so make sure you can handle it! Adding a Photobooth service isn’t as simple as it sounds, so do your research on any new offering and work out how you will take it to market. Those five feet tall LOVE letters will definitely add sales – but how will you get them to and from a venue? A simple add on is up-lighting – it’s where we, and most others I know, started.
8] You are running a business, so manage it like a business person. Set goals, develop yourself, and work towards your vision. Measure what you are doing – information is king! Once you know what you are doing right and wrong, you can work out what you need to do to improve.
9] Build great relationships with suppliers. Yes they want to sell to you, but I’ve lost count of the favours I’ve had because I’m a loyal customer who isn’t a pain in the neck with unrealistic expectations.
10] Surround yourself with positive people and get to know the very best in the industry – wherever they are in the world. Don’t get sucked into all those silly Facebook arguments about pricing, equipment, and the ‘Sync’ button. Unfollow the cynical Facebook groups and join the constructive ones. Pro Mobile and Randy Bartlett’s 1% Solution stand out for me.
Finally – just take the plunge. Once you are full-time, you will be able to answer the phone – how many more nights could you have worked in the past had you been able to take and focus on calls during the day? Customers love great communication (especially Brides!) and now you will have time to do the job properly.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 83, Pages 32 - 34.