Sunday, July 8, 2007

A Quick Buck

Money is remarkably easy to come by—IF that’s all you want. Trouble is, most people only THINK they want money, when really they value their choice of endeavors and/or their egos far more (as well as a strong tendency to focus on short term planning at the expense—sometimes nearly complete expense—of their long term interests).

I once took a position as Executive Director of a community center. The income had little to do with it, as this was a part time position paying far less than I already earned. I just wanted to get more involved in my community, and I had lots of ideas for pulling together all the talented artists and musicians living in the area who, like me, consistently plied our trades out of town. The Board loved my ideas, and they were particularly interested in using my talents to bring in much needed funding. In particular, they were looking forward to the prospect of winning grants and more donors.

Those funding sources take time, however, and I quickly realized that if we were going to accomplish anything, we needed cash. Now.

I had once managed a nearby New Age book store, and I remembered all the psychics, astrologers, palm readers and such constantly searching for clients. Customers were always asking about where they could get readings—we had bulletin boards filled with reader’s cards/brochures/flyers for this purpose. Roughly once a year, some large promoter would fly through town, rent a hotel ballroom and put on a large psychic fair, giving people a chance to see several readers in one space. Everyone complained about these promoters—but everyone went.

So I put together a brochure/information/application form, and mailed it to all those card addresses. I asked for $50 in booth fees (far less than they usually paid) for a weekend fair. We completely filled the center. I wrote a series of columns for the local paper on who was coming, designed a flyer, and sent press releases to all the papers in an hour’s radius. (The Board warned me that the press always ignored the center, but when I looked through their log, I could see why—their releases were dreadful. I’ve written hundreds of press releases—and every one ran, often exactly as I wrote it). Additionally, we decided to charge $2 admission (again, a fraction of what people usually pay).

We cleared $3,000 that weekend—about four times the amount of their most successful fund raisers before. But if you think the Board members were happy, guess again. “We’re a non-profit—we can’t make too much money, or we’ll be in trouble.” I unsuccessfully pointed out that some non-profits are worth billions of dollars (they just have to spend it again). “How does this make us look?” another asked. Actually, this was the real problem—they felt my success made them look like a bunch of hicks. They decided to redefine my position to a strictly advisory role. I resigned. The staff—one secretary—walked out behind me. The center went back to line dancing.

A restaurant/bar owner in a neighboring town complained to me about her lagging business one day. I again decided to put people’s needs together to create a market, only this time I’d be working for myself. She loved the idea of a psychic fair, and I went to work. Space was more limited, so the booth fees were more--$150, but then many psychics had taken home several hundred dollars at the last fair. Still, some of them baulked, so I hunted down new people to take their place—a tea leaf reader, for example, an aura photographer, and even Penny Parish, a psychic featured on one of the hour long news magazines (I forget which—one of the 20/20 copycats) for her work with the FBI. I had the space for free in exchange for my promotional services. We agreed to a modest admission charge ($3, I think), just to discourage people from entering just to cause trouble.

I pulled out all my promotion experience for this one. I did radio interviews, and set up guest readers for the DJs—always careful to stress that this was purely for entertainment purposes. We mentioned the restaurant and its location a lot. The papers published the features I wrote on Penny Parish. I gave the owner a heads up to be sure she had enough staff on hand to handle much larger crowds than usual, as this was her chance to gain new customers. She agreed to suspend smoking for the weekend.

Not all went well. The owner ignored my advice about staffing; people waited up to an hour for their food, so the overall impression was harmed (and she lost a lot of business as people went elsewhere in town to grab a meal). Some people from a local church decided we were a threat to the morality of the town. I was tipped off by a nice gentleman among the bunch, and offered them space too to keep the peace, but the more militant members rejected the idea. I gave the State People down the street a heads up, just in case. In the end, we just had a lot of annoying people praying right and left—but they paid to come in, so what the hell. I cleared around $2,000.

I could see the market was rapidly declining (and other people noticed what I was doing and figured they could do it too—since spawning a host of very small and very frequent “fairs”), but I gave it one more try in a small city about an hour away. I had to rent a hotel banquet room for this, found one reasonably priced (after a bit of a search), and adjusted booth fees accordingly. Again, this discouraged some psychics—even though some of them had brought home $1200 from the previous fair. Still, we put together a nice if smallish fair. The main problem this time was psychics fighting with each other, accusing one very successful woman of “hooking” customers, while an astrologer argued with me at length because he wanted a hand-written sign added to the lobby to direct people to the fair. Seems their hundreds weren’t enough anymore. I cleared $1,500—and decided enough was enough. Let them go back to complaining they can’t find customers.

This is just one example of creating money—just find people with needs (or perceived needs), find a way to put these people together in some compatible way that rewards them as well, and collect a fee for your services. But short term windfalls like this wouldn’t add up to much of a living. For that, I’d much rather do what I did—build a long term career doing work I love for a healthy if not stellar salary. Not to mention health care and retirement benefits.



Two Write Hands said...

There's a joke here somewhere--about "seeing it coming."

Rob Kistner said...

You ended your "Welcome to my blog" post by writing -- 'A newly freed Writer'.

Problem is, despite all the hoopla that post boasts about freeing your writing voice -- you still remain anonymous... disconnected from any responsibility for your words.

Just another nameless, faceless, internet rambler. There are way, way too many of these already.

Have the courage to identify yourself! Otherwise, your words are only curiosities -- interesting to read, but all in all, only curiosities.

If you want them to have real depth and impact, back them with the conviction of your 'self'. It is very liberating, and it makes what you write -- weighty and credible.

Just my humble opinion... ;)

Writer said...

Thanks Rob---

I wrestled with that.

However, I can't have frank conversations that my students or administration could attach to me in many cases. That's the problem.

At least this gets it written.


I Sort Glass said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
I Sort Glass said...

Felt your post was just fine. Gave me an idea of something I can put together where I am.