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Author Topic: Ideas for Finding Work in Regional Town  (Read 1295 times)

Lee Wright

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Ideas for Finding Work in Regional Town
« on: May 30, 2020, 07:40:26 am »

I've been running an audio hire/production business in a major city for about 10 years & that's been enough to make a living from. 4 years ago I moved to a regional town (about 4 hrs drive away) with a population of 40K.    I started up another business the same up here but it's been tough going.   I've only been able to get revenue up to about $15K a year (pre pandemic).   I've found that quite strange because it's quite a prosperous town & I really have no competition for the type of events I do.    There's 2 other sound guys who have been in business probably 30+ years.  They're highly respected & they seem to get lots of work but they tend to do larger events (line arrays, multi-person crew etc) & are relatively expensive.  My specialty is smaller events such as bands up to 200 pax, weddings, corporate & dry hires.  Other businesses seem to be doing well.   In fact it eats me up that the pet funeral guy seems to be powering along.   He has 4 staff, commercial premises & just bought a brand new van whist I get maybe 2 days a week work, operate from my garage & drive a 20 year old van.  I would have thought that pet funerals were a far more niche service than audio hire.     Anyway I've been trying to work out what the problem might be.
-I know what I'm doing & get great reviews
-I dominate Google.
-People tell me I'm very reasonably priced.

I guess the big question is whether there's just not that much demand in a town this size or whether there is but I haven't tapped into it properly.     If there's other sound guys here from similar sized towns maybe they could give some feedback.  Prior to the COVID were you getting enough work to keep you going?

Thanks in advance.

brian maddox

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Re: Ideas for Finding Work in Regional Town
« Reply #1 on: May 30, 2020, 12:45:53 pm »

I've been running an audio hire/production business in a major city for about 10 years & that's been enough to make a living from. 4 years ago I moved to a regional town (about 4 hrs drive away) with a population of 40K.    I started up another business the same up here but it's been tough going.   I've only been able to get revenue up to about $15K a year (pre pandemic).   I've found that quite strange because it's quite a prosperous town & I really have no competition for the type of events I do.    There's 2 other sound guys who have been in business probably 30+ years.  They're highly respected & they seem to get lots of work but they tend to do larger events (line arrays, multi-person crew etc) & are relatively expensive.  My specialty is smaller events such as bands up to 200 pax, weddings, corporate & dry hires.  Other businesses seem to be doing well.   In fact it eats me up that the pet funeral guy seems to be powering along.   He has 4 staff, commercial premises & just bought a brand new van whist I get maybe 2 days a week work, operate from my garage & drive a 20 year old van.  I would have thought that pet funerals were a far more niche service than audio hire.     Anyway I've been trying to work out what the problem might be.
-I know what I'm doing & get great reviews
-I dominate Google.
-People tell me I'm very reasonably priced.

I guess the big question is whether there's just not that much demand in a town this size or whether there is but I haven't tapped into it properly.     If there's other sound guys here from similar sized towns maybe they could give some feedback.  Prior to the COVID were you getting enough work to keep you going?

Thanks in advance.

I am VERY much not an expert at running a business, but of course I've still got an opinion.  :)

The thing just jumps out at me in what you've written is that you say you have basically no competition. Unless you're mistaken and the larger companies are also playing in the small event world, it would seem to me that your business is currently an answer to a question not enough people are asking.

I'm not sure what the answer to that problem is in your case. But perhaps looking at ways to expand your business into other related areas [P&D, Table rentals, Staging, Lighting, Other Things You Likely Don't Really Want To Do] may be an option. Or perhaps finding ways to widen your operating area [which I'm well aware is NOT an easy thing to do].

Last observation, FWIW.  That "successful business" you're comparing yourself to may be leveraged up to their eyeballs, or pardon the pun, could be no more than a rich person's pet project.  It's always a mistake to compare other's outsides to our own insides, in business or otherwise.

I now yield the floor for others whose advice will likely be more sage and useful...
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Steve-White

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Re: Ideas for Finding Work in Regional Town
« Reply #2 on: May 30, 2020, 01:39:00 pm »

^^^

Yep, either the market doesn't exist or somebody else is doing the work.  If the latter is the case, you may need a creative strategy to get into the activity flow without starting a war you don't want and may not be able to win.

"Heavily Leveraged" or "Pet Project" are very much possible conditions for the other's doing larger events.  I've seen it many times and had to compete with a few.  The heavily leveraged are fine and dandy if they can pull it into the black.  Pet projects are the one's that really annoy me as most of the time they undercut the market as they don't have any kind of business plan. 
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Dave Garoutte

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Re: Ideas for Finding Work in Regional Town
« Reply #3 on: May 30, 2020, 02:09:56 pm »

If you have or can make a relationship with anyone in the larger companies, maybe you can get them to recommend you for the smaller jobs they aren't interested in.
Promote yourself to local schools.  I find that often they have some parent doing a half-assed job at their events, and are sometimes open to help.
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Bill Hornibrook

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Re: Ideas for Finding Work in Regional Town
« Reply #4 on: May 30, 2020, 02:56:15 pm »


Promote yourself to local schools.

Taking this a step further - promote yourself everywhere. Getting started in a new area involves getting out - identifying events where you might have a competitive advantage, tracking down organizers, talking to bands, talking to clubs, spending time in places you might not normally be, handing out cards to everyone - even if they don't have an immediate use for you.

In a post-Covid world this would make more sense than now. Nothing makes much sense right now.
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Tim McCulloch

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Re: Ideas for Finding Work in Regional Town
« Reply #5 on: May 30, 2020, 03:09:22 pm »

I've been running an audio hire/production business in a major city for about 10 years & that's been enough to make a living from. 4 years ago I moved to a regional town (about 4 hrs drive away) with a population of 40K.    I started up another business the same up here but it's been tough going.   I've only been able to get revenue up to about $15K a year (pre pandemic).   I've found that quite strange because it's quite a prosperous town & I really have no competition for the type of events I do.    There's 2 other sound guys who have been in business probably 30+ years.  They're highly respected & they seem to get lots of work but they tend to do larger events (line arrays, multi-person crew etc) & are relatively expensive.  My specialty is smaller events such as bands up to 200 pax, weddings, corporate & dry hires.  Other businesses seem to be doing well.   In fact it eats me up that the pet funeral guy seems to be powering along.   He has 4 staff, commercial premises & just bought a brand new van whist I get maybe 2 days a week work, operate from my garage & drive a 20 year old van.  I would have thought that pet funerals were a far more niche service than audio hire.     Anyway I've been trying to work out what the problem might be.
-I know what I'm doing & get great reviews
-I dominate Google.
-People tell me I'm very reasonably priced.

I guess the big question is whether there's just not that much demand in a town this size or whether there is but I haven't tapped into it properly.     If there's other sound guys here from similar sized towns maybe they could give some feedback.  Prior to the COVID were you getting enough work to keep you going?

Thanks in advance.

It could be worse, you could be playing banjo in Adelaide.   8)

What I know after 35 years in audio is that *the business* of audio is far harder than the art, craft, and science of audio.

The thing just jumps out at me in what you've written is that you say you have basically no competition. Unless you're mistaken and the larger companies are also playing in the small event world, it would seem to me that your business is currently an answer to a question not enough people are asking.

I'm not sure what the answer to that problem is in your case. But perhaps looking at ways to expand your business into other related areas [P&D, Table rentals, Staging, Lighting, Other Things You Likely Don't Really Want To Do] may be an option. Or perhaps finding ways to widen your operating area [which I'm well aware is NOT an easy thing to do].

Yep, either the market doesn't exist or somebody else is doing the work.  If the latter is the case, you may need a creative strategy to get into the activity flow without starting a war you don't want and may not be able to win.

If you have or can make a relationship with anyone in the larger companies, maybe you can get them to recommend you for the smaller jobs they aren't interested in.
Promote yourself to local schools.  I find that often they have some parent doing a half-assed job at their events, and are sometimes open to help.

^^^ This is good stuff.  Lee, there's a substantial market for low cost audio and that is often filled by "weekend warriors" and hobbyists.  Many have low fees because their day job pays their bills so if they bring in enough money to make the equipment payments, they're happy.  They're impossible to compete with if clients are shopping mostly on price.  But the work is there - use your imagination and think of the situations were sound is needed and there is no existing system to support those uses.  Either people are talking really, REALLY LOUD or there is a sound system in use. ;)

Another thought - DJs.  In many situations the DJ has a couple more wireless mics so wedding receptions, lawn parties, etc don't utilize additional audio services.  Are you comfortable playing DJ or hiring one when needed?

Brian's comment about "doing things you really don't want to do" is good.  Pipe and drape, stanchions and velvet rope, 'bike rack barricade', lighting (both stage and atmospherics, like uplighting walls and drape)... think about the places these are used.  We bought 100m of bike rack barricade several years ago.  It paid for itself on the second rental/use, and makes money every time after.  I have no love for the stuff but it pays bills.  Ditto for pipe & drape; even if it's only to make your part of a show look nicer, if you can add it to the invoice, it's income.

Finally what Dave said about taking pass-on work.  In our shop we get calls for work we can't do on the budget the prospect has available, and we refer them to some 1 man shops like yours.  See if you can build a relationship with the larger shops in your area.  We get referrals from larger shops, too, so establishing friendly relations is recommended.  Don't leave out the more traditional A/V companies, some may be able to use you to fill out their capacity when they need more audio or can refer clients.

Executive summary (at the end, I'm clever like that) - audio is certainly being used in your market and at the level you operate.  Figure out where that is happening & why, and how that need is currently being met.  What do you need to do to break into that market - more or new gear, better company image, better connections with potential customers?  Networking with the higher and lower levels of audio in your area (and beyond) will eventually be helpful.

Good luck and let us know how things work out.

Edit ps - Bill's comment about the post-Covid world kind of centered my thoughts - what we all do is facilitate people gathering in groups.  My state governor lost the pissing contest with the state legislature and pitched the responsibility of setting re-opening criteria to the county governments.   My county commissioners basically just opened the doors and the criteria are mostly "suggestions" at this point.  The clubs, bars and restaurants that have immediately reopened are not clients - they have installed systems.  Most of the concert venues cannot get talent booked (many artists on hiatus) and are worried about the safety and health of their employees and contract workers.  The need for portable sound at most any scale is still unpredictable for the next few months, I think.
« Last Edit: May 30, 2020, 03:14:56 pm by Tim McCulloch »
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Tim Weaver

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Re: Ideas for Finding Work in Regional Town
« Reply #6 on: May 30, 2020, 03:49:32 pm »

Right now you should be hitting up Churches as they will, by necessity, have to have events outdoors. Many smaller churches don't have the inventory or knowhow to set up even simple systems for outdoors stuff.

I know a buddy of mine just landed a Wednesday night gig last week at a Church that is reopening wed nights in their parking lot. They are still streaming on Sunday, but this is something new they are attempting.


Small towns may not even know how to use your services. They me be stumbling along with the ceiling speakers in their meeting rooms and it's fine because it worked for Daddy and his Daddy before that. You may have to create the market that you are looking to fill.

Bands in small towns are typically more DIY. Since they are often playing outdoors on a hay trailer somewhere they already have a set of Yamaha Club 215's and an awesome peavey 8 channel head.

Do you have live venues to approach? Does the city do a summer concert series? Is there a Chamber of Commerce?

Can you talk to the local big-boy soundcos and offer to do any grunt work, side stages, kiddy events that they don't want to handle yet are a part of most big festivals? Doing this can really generate some summer work if they are friendly and not uber-competitive.
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Luke Geis

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Re: Ideas for Finding Work in Regional Town
« Reply #7 on: May 30, 2020, 03:55:13 pm »

The name of the game is expansion. You can drive 45 min to another town and there is no foul in trying to broaden your area of business. Weddings are tough. They eat weekends up and are one-off events, usually seasonal and often don't acquire new clientele. You want to find events that pay the same but are not limited to weekends. This is where doing company parties, town hall meetings, depositions, smaller city events like a news briefing about a special matter come into play. They are not limited to a venue or certain days, the business can/will repeat, and often the margin is higher ( more $$ ).

Bands don't really have money, so acquiring great pay from them is difficult. I am a rather small business and I can generate what you make in a year in 1 month!!! And a lot of that is from Freelancing. Which is another possibility for you? If you can't beat them, join them. If you can't fill your days with your own work, freelance for the other companies to fill those free days. Then you'll be like me ( pre-pandemic ) working 20+ days a month and having to tell people sorry, but you're too busy. This then brings us to the next possibility; employees or a trusted business partner. If you are not busy enough to keep yourself busy full time, then having a trusted employee or partner can help keep your real money making stuff going, while you still make money elsewhere.

It is bad juju to balk on gigs, so if you're already dedicated, there is little harm in taking another gig that you can make money on and have a trusted partner execute. As long as you can manage your time and your gear well enough, you should be able to stay busy at least 2-3 days a week. As you grow you will get bigger and bigger gigs that last a week-long and you can make a very good income for that time. Some people only do a few shows a year that are so big that they make their entire years wages doing them. It is all about how hard you want to hit. You have to follow the money though. Who will pay you for your time? Bands will not. Weddings do pay well, but not nearly enough fo the limited # you can potentially do. You need repeat business or shows that pay you gross amounts of money for longer lengths of time.
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Lee Wright

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Re: Ideas for Finding Work in Regional Town
« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2020, 07:31:16 pm »

^^^

Yep, either the market doesn't exist or somebody else is doing the work.  If the latter is the case, you may need a creative strategy to get into the activity flow without starting a war you don't want and may not be able to win.

"Heavily Leveraged" or "Pet Project" are very much possible conditions for the other's doing larger events.  I've seen it many times and had to compete with a few.  The heavily leveraged are fine and dandy if they can pull it into the black.  Pet projects are the one's that really annoy me as most of the time they undercut the market as they don't have any kind of business plan.
Thanks.  Yes good point.  On the bright side I have very little debt & no rent so the lockdown isn't stressing me too much.   The others have warehouse rent & probably own $200K worth of gear.  Whether they own it outright I don't know.
« Last Edit: May 30, 2020, 07:33:22 pm by Lee Wright »
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Lee Wright

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Re: Ideas for Finding Work in Regional Town
« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2020, 07:41:54 pm »

I am VERY much not an expert at running a business, but of course I've still got an opinion.  :)

The thing just jumps out at me in what you've written is that you say you have basically no competition. Unless you're mistaken and the larger companies are also playing in the small event world, it would seem to me that your business is currently an answer to a question not enough people are asking.

I'm not sure what the answer to that problem is in your case. But perhaps looking at ways to expand your business into other related areas [P&D, Table rentals, Staging, Lighting, Other Things You Likely Don't Really Want To Do] may be an option. Or perhaps finding ways to widen your operating area [which I'm well aware is NOT an easy thing to do].

Last observation, FWIW.  That "successful business" you're comparing yourself to may be leveraged up to their eyeballs, or pardon the pun, could be no more than a rich person's pet project.  It's always a mistake to compare other's outsides to our own insides, in business or otherwise.

I now yield the floor for others whose advice will likely be more sage and useful...
Thanks.  Yes funny you should mention about diversifying.   The last year or so I've expanded into party hire gear mainly tables & chairs.   It's actually been good.  The gear has very fast payback & is super simple - you just deliver it & pick it up.  No tech support or special skills needed.   I've also been doing small staging.   Unfortunately the $15K included that so it's still not a large volume.  I've been toying with the idea of starting up a separate party hire brand even though it's really the same business.

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Re: Ideas for Finding Work in Regional Town
« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2020, 07:41:54 pm »


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