Last time we talked about how to negotiate for higher fees. This time we’ll talk about handling tentative bookings in a way that is fair to you, to your prospective client, and to other clients looking to book the same schedule.
Last December, I finished a show at a convention centre where an assortment of different companies held their Christmas parties. As I was packing up, I was approached by a fellow entertainer, a guitar player who had just finished with his set prior to my arrival. He greeted me and told me he had read Highway to Success and had enjoyed it very much. He was hoping I could give him a bit of advice.
His question was simple: What do you do when prospective clients don’t get back to you to confirm bookings? I immediately identified with his problem. We have all had situations where a prospect says they are interested in getting booking information and wants to reserve a tentative date, only to never be heard from again. His problem was costly to him as he would lose out on potential shows because he was holding a tentative booking for a phantom client.
I asked him a few questions about the way he normally deals with prospective clients over the phone. I quickly identified three common mistakes he made:
- He didn’t set limitations to a tentative booking.
- He didn’t schedule a call back with the prospect.
- He didn’t follow up with the prospect.
Let’s break it down here and address each mistake properly.
Setting Limitations on a Tentative Booking
I have found that many entertainers, eager to close a sale, will make tentative bookings with prospective clients without setting limitations on those bookings. What I mean by not setting limitations is that they allow clients to hold tentative bookings indefinitely. This is bad for business as you may lose out on paying clients who want to hire you for the same time slot but are unable to because of a tentative booking. On the other hand, if you’ve made a promise to hold a date for someone until they can confirm it, it is also bad business to abandon them for another client who wants the same time slot.
By setting limitations on a tentative booking, you can deal with both prospective clients and future clients who want the same time slot in a fair manner. I know some fellow entertainers who do this by holding a tentative booking date for a prospect for a limited time period—say a week. After that week, if the prospect still hasn’t confirmed the booking, the time slot becomes available again.
While somewhat effective, this method still puts a strain on client relations as it might put too much pressure on someone who is unable to confirm a booking so quickly. It might also force a second client to wait too long before finding out if their desired date is available. What I suggest instead is the 24 hour-first right of refusal method.
When dealing with prospects who wish to hold a tentative booking date, I inform them that the time slot is reserved for them with the condition that should another client wish to book the same time, I offer a 24-hour period to commit to their tentative booking. If they still do not commit after that 24-hour period, the time slot then becomes available to the second client. This way there is less immediate pressure on the first client and less waiting time for the second client. Everyone is dealt with in a fair manner.
Scheduling a Call Back with the Prospective Client
Here’s the second mistake my musical friend made: when dealing with prospects, he would always give them his booking information, hold a tentative date, then sit around and wait for the client to call him back, not knowing when that would be.
Here is a little insight into the typical prospect’s state of mind. Most believe that, as an entertainer, you are not a real business person with business deadlines. You don’t deal in the “regular” world, so “regular” rules don’t apply. You are simply a person who plays around and have fun at parties. Don’t be insulted by this statement. It’s simply a lack of understanding on the side of “regular” people.
Since many prospects don’t see you in business terms, they don’t think to deal with you in business terms. That means they see no real reason to get back to you anytime soon. It is up to you to educate them. Of course, you can’t start lecturing your prospects on business etiquette—that’s a sure way to lose their business. What you have to do is steer your prospective client in the right frame of mind by your actions and words.
Upon booking a tentative date with a prospect, I always explain to them my 24-hour notice policy (as discussed above). This lets them know I am a busy professional with a busy schedule.
Next, I always ask the prospect when they think they will get back to me. This lets them know that I do expect an answer from them within a reasonable period of time. It also serves to emphasize to them that the onus is now on them to call me back. This is what I mean by scheduling a call back.
Unfortunately, even when people understand and appreciate the fact that you are a professional and should be dealt with in a business manner, they will still often fail to call you back after having made a tentative booking and promising to call you back by a certain date. It’s simply human nature. It’s frustrating but that’s the way it often is. This leads us to the third and biggest mistake our guitarist made: he failed to follow-up with the prospect.
Following Up with the Client
Say this out loud: FOLLOWING UP IS MY RESPONSIBILITY. Say it again. Louder!
No matter what is said during the initial phone call between you and a prospect, no matter what promises were made by the prospect to call you back, it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to follow up with them. That’s the only way you can be sure to talk to your prospect again.
Let us say I am on the phone with a prospect who made a tentative booking. I have just explained my 24-hour notice policy. I have also asked them when they will be getting back to me. I make sure to follow up with this statement: “If I don’t hear from you by (call back date), may I call you back the following day?” Then if they fail to call back, I call them.
Right now, some of you are probably thinking, “Wait a minute! If you ask if you can call them back, then the onus is not on them anymore. What gives?” The onus is still on them because they still committed to call you back, but if they fail to, at least your call back is not a surprise. Prospects won’t be able to say things like “Oh geez, I don’t have an answer for you yet. I wasn’t expecting to hear from you so soon.”
To sum it up for all entertainers out there, here are your three basic rules when waiting for prospects to call you back:
- Always put time restrictions on tentative bookings to avoid tying up your schedule needlessly. I suggest the 24-hour rule.
- Always ask a prospect when they will get back to you.
- Always, ALWAYS, follow up with the prospect the day after if they don’t call you back.
With these three rules, you should never be left waiting by the phone again.
And remember, don’t ever let anyone steal your dream.
Are you looking to do a big production and don’t have the money to do it? Stay tuned next month to learn more about Corporate Sponsorship.
Want more useful tips on how to grow your kids entertaining business? Check out my other posts in this series.