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Business Savvy: Applying Common Sense

Planning is the only shortcut to success in live sound

I often get questions like “That planning stuff all sounds good, but where are the shortcuts? How can I get rich and retire young without having to do all that stuff?”

My answer is that there are no gimmicks or secrets in the world of business. Planning is the best “shortcut” and it’s a lot less costly than the trial and error alternatives.

Still, there are what I call “common sense lessons” from the big world of business that can be applied to the uncommon world of live sound. These lessons often represent the simple solution to a complex problem, or the secrets to success in our industry.

Lesson 1: When in doubt, quantify

This is probably the one you’ll use the most frequently. Ever wonder if your business goals or objectives are realistic? Have a knotty problem to solve?

Wonder where the money is going to come from? You may have questions ranging from “How many gigs do I need to do to make my gear payments?” to “When should I buy the building that our offices are in?”

We’ve all felt uneasy about things like this. The first thing to do when you get those anxious feelings is to pinch yourself, remember this lesson, and take a look at the numbers. Here are examples of numbers-related danger signals that lead to business problems.

No budget or financial tracking. You’ll never know how you’re doing if you don’t keep track. For some live sound people this is obvious, for others a revelation.

Lack of understanding of how long things take or how much things cost. How many hours do you spend doing equipment maintenance or traveling to gigs? What’s your hourly rate when you factor everything in?

Decisions based on gut feel, intuition, or how others have done things. Intuition is very important, but it is helpful to apply reason to decisions involving money and time commitments.

Most audio problems are logical, systematic, and mathematical. It’s less of a stretch for an audio person to “do the numbers” than for other types of creative people. Use this to your advantage.

Start with a basic revenue and expense forecast for any project before going to work. Think of your budget like a system design or stage plot: something that you create and have control over. When thinking through your goals and objectives, see what expenses are feasible in the next year, regardless of where you want to be long-term. Do the math and let the numbers be the guide.

Some audio people –­ especially engineers ­– may say “I’m the creative force in my business. I have someone else to deal with the money.” While that may be true, there will be times when you are called upon to make decisions that involve time and money. In anticipation of that, remember this lesson. When in doubt, quantify.

Lesson 2: The chain is only as strong as the weakest link.

Remember this age-old expression? We hear it all the time. If something is out of balance in your business, the chain can break, leaving you in trouble, or somewhere short of your potential.

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Here are examples.

Thinking that audio is all that matters or that a hot system can make up for weakness in other areas of your business.

For example, a sound company can have the best rig in the world, but if no one knows about the company or if it’s being priced out of the market, nothing matters from a business perspective.

Each link needs to be strong.

Thinking that marketing equals advertising. The marketing chain has seven links of its own:

1) Product strategy
2) Pricing strategy
3) Promotion strategy (this is where advertising fits in),
4) Workplace and trade area strategy
5) Sales force strategy
6) Target customer profiles
7) Competitive analysis

Likewise, each link depends on the others to create a strong, integrated business plan.

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