Sub-Contracting Doesn’t Have to be a Nightmare

by Rick Hansen – Guest Blogger

Call me crazy, but I cannot figure out why anyone would want to be a multi-op DJ company.

Oh, I understand the need to grow beyond a one system, one show per night company. It is a natural desire to want to grow beyond yourself.

What I don’t understand is how buying more equipment and hiring employees makes any sense.

The Cost of Gear

The cost of equipment is huge: First you have to invest in the sound and lights (which depreciates the minute you buy it), then maintain the equipment, store the equipment, transport the equipment, insure the equipment, and ultimately replace the equipment with the latest gear. Add to that the cost of buying and licensing music for each system. Crazy.

The Cost of Employees

How about the cost of “employees.” To get good talent you have to pay a decent wage, plus cover their unemployment and L&I insurances, and other related taxes. Then of course you have to hire and train them, take chances with your clients as they learn and make their rookie mistakes. Then, ultimately, they become great performers and decide to buy some gear and go on their own, only to leave you to start all over again.

The answer seems so simple to me: Find already existing great talent, with great equipment and a good work ethic, and pay them to do what they have proven to do so well. Entertain. Yes, I am talking about the “S” word. Subcontract.

The Value of Sub-Contractors

Shutter the thought. We’ve all heard the horror stories or have experienced them. Subs are unreliable, uncontrollable, untrustworthy. They are not loyal to your company and will steal clients if they can. They are difficult to direct and don’t adequately represent your “brand.” I submit that subs are not the issue, screening and managing them is where the problem lies.

The Radio Parties Model

My company has done literally thousands of DJ entertainment events since 1992 when I started Radio Parties. I was not a mobile DJ, had no equipment and no DJ employees. Now almost 20 years later Radio Parties operates in 19 states working with 23 very picky radio station clients doing hundreds of events each year, I still am not a mobile DJ, own no equipment and have no DJ employees.

I do have an absolute stellar network of sub-contracted DJ talent that represent us. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this group of guys and gals. Week after week we get great reviews and a minimal number of problems along the way. But it is no accident.

The Magic Ingredients for Success

Here are the magical five ingredients to finding and working successfully with mobile DJ sub-contractors:

1. Spend time and effort in recruiting. The vetting process is critical. We have developed a five step process to finding the right people.

a. Specifically identify what kind of DJ you are looking for and publicize it where ever you can. www.craigslist or sending out e mails to DJs listed in DJ directories is usually where we start.

b. If they are interested, have them fill out a profile that includes all the things you want to know about them in capsule form. Get a picture, as well.

c. If we are interested based on the profile, we call and spend some time talking on the phone getting to know their personalities and what makes them tick.

d. If all goes well on the phone, we meet in-person to discuss in detail who we are and what we are looking for, and more importantly who they are and what they are looking for. Nothing beats a face-to-face interview.

e. Finally, we send them out on their first event trusting that we have properly screened DJs and therefore minimized our risk. Then we very closely monitor how well they follow our company guidelines. We do instant follow-up with the client to make sure all went well. If they pass the performance test, we continue our relationship.

2. Treat your subs with respect. If you respect them, they will respect you. Always be upfront and honest. When offering someone a job, have clear terms of the agreement in writing, including the exact times, place and pay. Leave no gray areas or loose ends. Surprises breed mistrust.

3. Pay on time, every time. Subs have likely been burned in the past. It is absolutely critical that if you say they will be paid at a certain time, the agreed amount, that it happens without fail. If you are operating on thin cash flow and are strapped for cash, subcontracting will not work for you. You will need to pay, whether or not you have been paid by the client. Period.

4. Give clear (written) direction and expectations. Most sub-contractor relationships fail because there were too many gray areas. Make it black and white. Clear and consistent.

5. Make it known upfront, that the DJs that perform well and get great reviews, and the ones who follow our systems and are easy to work with, will always get the first call for upcoming opportunities. No hiring or firing because their are no employees. It’s the free market system at its best. Simply, the best guys or gals surface and get the best and most job offers. Lack of performance, stealing customers or sloppy follow-through will result in NO calls.

You MUST Know the Legal Guidelines

It is absolutely critical that you know and understand the legal guidelines for sub-contracting. The government is very clear about what it takes to qualify as a sub-contractor relationship.

You need to make sure you get a copy of those guidelines and follow them. Among other things, your sub contractor must use his own gear, work other events independent of your company, be able to accept or reject any job offer you present, and work without hands on control. It is preferred that your sub has their own business license as well.

Create a Clear Business Model

Creating a company built on sub-contracting is very different then simply calling a buddy to see if he can cover a show for you when you are busy. If you approach it with a clear business model, understand its advantages and potential failings it can be both rewarding and lucrative.

I do some limited career coaching for serious DJs interested in this model. I charge an hourly fee to help mobiles set-up and grow their business using sub-contractors. I can assist in building the systems that allow you to find and manage your DJ (sub) team.

Over the 20 years of doing this, I have learned a lot through trial and error and am willing to help others avoid the pitfalls along the way. Call me if you think I could help grow your company. Ric Hansen (800) 954-3535 or e mail at


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