“Work Smarter Not Harder. Still?”

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By Stu Chisholm, “The Complete Disc Jockey”

One of the most enjoyable DJ expos I’ve ever attended was the Mobile Beat show in Cleveland, Ohio in 1999. It was a first for me in many ways. For one, it was the first large-scale DJ expo I’d ever attended! Secondly, it was, I believe, only the 2nd time that Mark Ferrell was presenting his controversial seminar about “getting what you’re worth,” and it seemed like everyone was buzzing about it. At the time, that topic was a natural progression from the other trending meme: “Work Smarter, Not Harder.”

RETRO (AND I AIN’T TALKIN’ ABOUT A MUSIC STYLE)

Those were heady days when business was booming and DJs began looking at their businesses as true, full-time pursuits rather than a fun “side job.” Having gone from lugging around heavy, bulky vinyl to the much smaller, lighter weight CDs, the huge, heavy “DJ coffins” were disappearing, replaced by the familiar dual CD player. DJs began finding other ways to lighten their load, cut their set-up/strike time and run their businesses more efficiently. Most had made the move to online promotion and planning, and it looked like DJs were finally going to be able to fill up their calendars, cut the amount of gear they brought to events and maximize their earnings. And that’s exactly what happened… for a while.

Shortly after the attacks of 9/11/01, it became obvious that things were about to change, at least for me. Fully six of my regular Christmas Party accounts had people or offices in the World Trade Center, and none felt much like throwing a party that year. Some never did again. Two went out of business. I never did manage to replace all of those clients. At the same time, the beginnings of the recession were starting to take hold and the jobs and business exodus got serious. Michigan retail powerhouse, K-Mart, closed most of its stores and traded their castle-like headquarters for rented office space. Two of the closed locations were also my clients. In 2008, Mervyn’s closed its doors. (Yes, also my clients.) In DJ forums, many DJs from across the country had similar tales.

FROM BAD TO WORSE

With the recession came unemployment, and nowhere was the impact felt harder than in my state. I began to notice that some of my full-time colleagues had taken side jobs, or changed careers entirely, once again putting their DJ work on a back-burner, as the extra income job. A whole bunch disappeared completely. I started looking for ways to avoid that fate, yet maintain my bottom line. Those thoughts led directly to my book, “The Complete Disc Jockey.” Rather than change careers, why not just move into another DJ arena? Radio, ice and roller skating rinks, bowling alleys, nightclubs and several other venues might offer a struggling wedding DJ safe haven. Why not bring in other revenue streams to maintain the bottom line? Things like photo booths, uplighting and monograms easily sprang to mind, along with several other ideas. In 2009, I combined these elements into a seminar, “Supplement Your DJ Income… WITH DJ INCOME!” It was presented at MBLV at the Riviera in Las Vegas — my first engagement as a presenter at a major expo – and shortly afterward on the DJ Cruise.

I’ve been gratified to see these ideas taking root. Struggling DJs implemented them and, despite the weak recovery and continued unemployment, some have not only maintained their bottom line, but even flourished! Many DJs new to the business, who didn’t experience the boom of the ‘80s and ‘90s, began to report record numbers of gigs and income. But it seems like something was lost in the process…

BACK TO THE FUTURE

“Work smarter, not harder” was forgotten when the industry went into survival mode. The time we save by doing most contracts and planning online is eaten up by all of the new services we need to sell, set up and maintain. (Or “futzed with,” as my grand dad used to say.) Our lightweight MP3 systems and LED lights are balanced by the huge cases of uplights, photo booth modules and video screens. Most of us have never worked harder in our lives.

Yet once again I hear people talking about “recovery” and have seen the reports of both the number of weddings and the amount spent having increased, so it’s logical to consider: is it time to once again discuss “work smarter, not harder?” As I mentioned in last month’s column, I’ll be doing a complete overhaul of my company over the summer. I’ve been rethinking my goals and business plan, and have made some hard decisions on what goes and what stays. The three main considerations are: simplify, simplify and simplify! Most of us have taken on things we never thought we would when times got tight. It’s time now to assess whether or not we keep them or get back to the basics; what we do best. What is your answer? Please send me your answers to DJStuCrew@gmail.com and the discussion will continue next time. Until then, safe spinnin’.

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