Create an actNext time you are at a child's birthday party with an entertainer, watch what they do. Are they holding the children's attention? If so, how? Usually there is a mix of pure entertainment, education, and a section devoted to hands-on, interactive activity. Note that humor is key to gaining and holding the attention of children. What is the age group you are targeting? Create a basic plan for your act whether it be a mobile petting zoo, a magic show, or singing and playing guitar. Make it a reasonable length, about 45 minutes to an hour, and be sure include an interactive portion. Kids like hands-on activities. If you're playing an instrument, they will want to touch it and try playing it. Once you have a basic template you will need variations of it to fit the different parameters of each event; number of children, ages of children including mixed ages, space limitations, weather etc.
Check out websites for children’s entertainers for ideas of services you can offer and how to charge for them. Create an adaptable template to accommodate various age ranges and practice your act in front of your own kids or your friends’ kids. Children are great teachers. They will tell your right away what is working and what isn’t, so getting some experience at the outset will be invaluable. Working with kids requires flexibility and spontaneity. You will have to think on your feet and adapt to unpredictable situations. The more prepared you are going in, the better. I once led a drumming circle at a day camp and thought I had brought enough instruments with me; shakers, bells, drums of various types and sizes. Chaos erupted when all of the twenty-five kids wanted one particular kind of drum of which there were only six. Narrowly averting disaster, I adapted on the spot, inventing a game in which the kids switched instruments passing them around the circle. Parents want to see that you are able to contain a group of children and hold their attention. They want to hear laughter and see that the children are being drawn in and are participating, singing along, making hats, asking questions about the pet iguana. One of the qualities of a good children’s entertainer is confidence and experience so the more you do it the better at it you will be.
Assess the financial viability of your planThe main overhead costs in running this type of business are materials, marketing and transportation. What materials do you need and what is the cost? Are the materials a renewable, one-time expense such as drums, or are they handouts and give aways such as balloons and art supplies that will need to be replenished at each event? If a one-time cost, how much of an investment is it and how long will it take to recoup? If you are working with animals, what is the cost of caring for them and transporting them? If materials are non-renewable, you will probably charge according to the number of children attending. If not, you will charge by the hour. A music ensemble, for example, will charge per hour and for each musician, so that a group of three will cost less than a group of five. Lastly, consider driving distances and whether it is reasonable to charge more for longer drive times and gasoline usage.
Create a spreadsheet using Excel or other spreadsheet software. Factor in materials, marketing and transportation, and allow a cushion for unexpected expenses. Try to foresee best and worst case scenarios and consider whether your plan is a financially viable one. How marketable is your act? Ask parents what they think. Is there already an extremely popular wild animal expert in your area or are you opening up a lucrative niche for yourself? Is your type of music kid-friendly and at the same time unique? Again, keep the parents in mind. I once saw a magician at a kid’s party who inserted some sophisticated and slightly demented humor into his act. Clearly some of his material went over the heads of the children but it kept the adults in stitches and made us all want to see him perform again.
Market your actTo reach the parents of small children start with your own children if you have them, or the children of your friends. Most parents hire someone they know to entertain their kids and word of mouth tends to travel fast in these communities. Offer to work for free for an event or a party, or set up shop at a local community event and be prepared to hand out cards. Write up a short blurb about your act and include testimonials if possible. Print up flyers and hand them out to friends with children and at children's events. Be sure to make your flyer eye-catching, colorful and fun. If possible, set up a website.
- Be prepared for all kinds of kids (shy, rude, loud, smart, kids with special needs) and know how to handle them. While it is not your job to discipline the children at a party, you are expected to keep them happy. All it takes is one smart alleck to turn an audience against you, so have a bag of tricks up your sleeve in the event of an unpredictable personality. Keep in mind also that you are providing a service and will have to deal with the parents as well.
- Be flexible and adaptable. Every event will have its own challenges based on space, the kind of children involved, the attitude of the adults present, the weather, etc. At the same time set boundaries and know when it's OK to say no. If little Timmy's mom asks if he can play with your expensive oboe, be comfortable saying no, but direct him to the instruments he can play with.
- While parties are a main source of revenue, look into local after school programs and day camps. These are good options particularly for acts with an educational element.
- If you are having a good time, chances are your audience is too. Keep it fun and fresh by modifying your act and adding new material.