Car vs Train

I used to drive nearly everywhere. Two years ago my annual mileage was, according to my MOT certificates, 25,000 miles.  I have now halved that.

The reason is that I have decided not to use my car unless I really have to. 

If I am performing family shows then I need to take the car because of the number of props involved. However, for pretty much everything else I have started to use public transport wherever possible.

I live in Oxford. On average, I travel to London a couple of times per week for meetings at The Magic Circle or for the charity that I work for, ZANE. A few years ago I would always drive in, park in Westfield and then get the tube. I also have local meetings and errands to run. Again, my default position was always to take the car.

However, I have now switched to using public transport – buses and trains – wherever possible.

Apart from the green benefits, I also worked out two hourly rates. First was the hourly rate for my time (see my previous blog post) which worked out at £28/ hour. The next was the hourly rate for my car. 

Car Pay Day, um…

My car computer helpfully provides an average speed (about 35 mph) and an average miles per gallon (about 40 mpg). Using these, plus estimates for depreciation, servicing, etc I worked out the hourly rate for driving my car. It came out at £15 per hour, which was quite a shock! It actually tallies with the Inland Revenue business mileage rate of 45p/mile (35mph x 45p/mile = £15.75 per hour). 

That meant that the 3 hours driving to London and back was costing me £45. And that didn’t include my time. Time driving is time you can’t be working so the calculation became:

My time on the journey: 3 hours, £28 x 3 = £84
Car driving cost: £15 x 3 = £45
Parking = £15
Total = £84 + £45 + £15 = £144

So I looked at the train. 

The Train Gain

With a Network Railcard (£30/ year – bargain, it gives 1/3 off off-peak fares after 10am) an off-peak day return Oxford to London is currently about £18. And you can work on the train – I can probably get a total of 2 hour’s work done during the journey, plus have a nap. So, doing the calculation for the train:

My time on the journey: 4 hours, £28 x 4 = £112
Work time on journey, so redeeming time: 2 hours, £28 x 2 = -£56
Cost of ticket = £18
Total = £112 – £56 + £18 = £74

Do the Math

So that’s £74 by train versus £144 by car. That’s £70 difference, plus it’s less tiring and better for the environment. 

Obviously your situation will be different, but it’s worth doing the sums for your situation.

It’s a no-brainer – become a trainer!

What is Your True Hourly Rate?

Watch Your Hourly Rate

An incredibly useful concept that I picked up some time ago from a Michael Hyatt podcast is that of an effective hourly rate. Basically, identify a realistic target annual turnover, ie, your salary plus business expenses. Then divide by the number of hours you can/ want to work in a year. 

Some Sums

My target turnover was £45K p.a. As a magician, my expenses are fairly low, mainly travel, advertising and a few packs of cards.

I don’t want to work more than 35 hours each week and I reckon on 45 working weeks each year – a fairly generous holiday allowance plus a built-in safety factor – I am fully self-employed so can’t guarantee work every week. That gives a total of 1575 working hours in the year. £45K divided by 1575 results in £28/ hour. 

At first I was shocked at how high it was. But it did serve to focus my mind on how I was using my time. In particular it made me more intentional in the following areas: my charging structure, my travel choices and my choice of leisure time. I will cover travel choices in a later post.

Charging Structure

If you are freelance then you will probably be charging an hourly, per-job or day rate to your clients. Lawyers are famous for their “billable” hours, but you can’t really do this if you are a magician! 

However, you do have to recoup the cost of your time spent on promotion, processing bookings and admin. Using your hourly rate and a realistic assessment of how long each job will take, including preparation, travel and follow-up, you can then work out how much it is really costing you.

This will give you a minimum that you need to make from from that job. 

However, I should note that is not necessarily what you should charge the client – you may well need to charge more. 

You have to factor in the going rate for your industry. Magicians hate it when other magicians undercut the market and start a race to the bottom in terms of fees. It devalues everyone’s offering and does no-one any favours in the long-term. You need to maintain both the public’s perceived value of what you offer as well as good relations with others in your industry.

Intentional Recreation

Your time is a zero-sum game. There are only 24 hours in a day, only 168 hours in a week.  Saying yes to one thing always means saying no to something else, even if it is rest, recreation or time with friends or family.

You need a healthy balance between working, recreation and time with those you love. 
Working out your hourly rate will give you an appreciation of what your time is worth in financial terms. But this in no way means that you should seek to max out your working hours in order to maximise your income. That is not sustainable and is not good for you or for those around you. 

However, it should make us think about what we choose to do with our recreation time. Sometimes we just need to slob out in front of junk TV  or our Facebook feed, but put strict boundaries on those. I would encourage you to seek leisure activities that feed your mind, body and creativity. Think theatre, reading, cooking, exercise, sleep(!)…

It’s time to value your time.

Credibility Part 3 – with Yourself

I’m starting with the man in the mirror…

The first post in this trilogy was about being credible online, the next in person. This post is about having credibility in your own eyes. Do you believe in yourself and value yourself?

Respect Yourself

Are you building up your own self-belief or eroding it? This can be done in the way that we choose to dress, the hobbies that we allow ourselves, our choice of food how much trouble we take over ourselves. L’Oreal’s “Because I’m worth it” campaign might be slightly clichéd now but it makes an important point. 

As the Kane Gang sang (a cover version, I believe) in the ‘80s, “If you don’t respect yourself ain’t no-one gonna respect you…” 

Finding Your Threads

I knew exactly what I wanted to wear when  I was at university and it reflected who I was. It was slightly ridiculous but, hey, who cares? 

Then I lost that fashion (or anti-fashion) self-confidence for about 20 years! It was not until my mid-40’s that I discovered a new style that I felt reflected my character, both who I am now and who I am aiming to be. As they say, “Dress for the success that you wish to see.” It took me far too long to get to that point but I have been making much better progress in life and work since I did.

Environmental Change

Think about your work environment – is it working for you or against you?

I work from home so I have ultimate control over this. Make sure that you have pictures, ornaments, music that encourage and feed your creativity and productivity. 

As a magician I find that I have to props strategically placed around my office, my house and my car so that I am reminded to do a few minutes practice throughout each day. I have set up the environment to make this easy for me. Do the same with your working environment. 

If you are in any way creative – writing, presenting, giving speeches, performing – then you need to feed your mind and spirit in order to have the resources you need. Stuff in equals stuff out.

Make a Date

I read “The Artist’s Way” years ago. There are several great concepts in that book, but the one that springs to mind here is the Artist’s Date. Give yourself a date with yourself regularly when you go out an do something that you love, that feeds your soul. The more that you do it, the more that you will realise that you are worth it, the more it will build your credibility with yourself.

Believe in yourself. Nurture yourself.

Because you’re worth it.

Credibility Part 2 – In Person

First Impressions

Part 1 was about establishing credibility online. How about establishing and maintaining credibility in person?

It starts as soon as someone sees you. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Unless you are wearing a very convincing disguise! 

Do you immediately appear highly competent, suitable to their needs and approachable?

Always On

You never know when or where these contacts are going to happen so, in a sense, you are always in “advertising” mode. I know, as a magician, that before during and after a show people in the audience may be assessing whether I might be suitable for their own party or event.

90% is Just Showing Up

It starts when you arrive. At a children’s party I turn up 30 minutes before my start time. I am in my smart costume, such that I could be none other than a magician. I have had a cup of tea and nap in the car so I am refreshed, relaxed and in control. As a result the client visibly relaxes because they no longer have to worry about me not turning up. 

I think it was Woody Allen who once said, “90% is just showing up.” So true.

Within seconds of arriving, I do a trick for the birthday child. It’s a quick, impactful trick which makes the child feel like they are magic. The child gives a huge smile and the parent further relaxes, again thinking that they have made an excellent choice of magician. 

I also establish credibility with the guests. I do the same magic trick for all the kids as they arrive. They then believe that magic happens when I am with them. 

Arriving early gives me plenty of time to discuss where the hosts would like the show, to make any suggestions about room layout and to work out in my own head what will and won’t work in the space. I go back to my car and bring in only what is necessary for that particular show. The client sees me setting up very calmly with the minimum of fuss and no clutter. It sounds simple, but it has actually taken years to hone this process and I am still refining it.

Next I put on my head mic, even with small audiences. This allows greater dramatic vocal  range, but also makes me look more in charge and professional.

I then deliver a stunning children’s party, the like of which they have never seen before because it is all my own and has, again, taken years to hone. By this time the host is swelling with pride at having made such a good choice. The other parents  are now having my credibility established in their minds. If there is opportunity I will also perform some close-up magic for the grown-ups during the tea break, allowing me to cross-promote my close-up magic for adults. 

Tweak to Succeed

As with magic, as with all work and life. Face-to-face contact is important wherever it happens.

Strive to create a good impression of both yourself and your business with everyone you meet.

Think about all the stages of your face-to-face interactions with people. Can you tweak them to build your credibility?

Credibility Part 1 – Online

Online Saint or Sinner?

One thing that I have learned over the years as a magician is the importance of establishing credibility. 

It applies through the whole process from initial contact within potential client through the booking process to the arrival at the gig and then the actual performance. At each stage they need to to have a growing sense that you are genuine, that you know exactly what you are doing and that they are making an excellent choice.

From the Word Go

It starts with first contact. For me this will probably be via my website.  

They will have done a Google search, they will have had a recommendation from someone or I will have met them somewhere. However they get to my site, they need to get the first impression of a magician who is highly competent, suitable to their needs and approachable. 

As with magic, as with all work and life. You will be more successful if you think about how you establish your credibility online.

My online presence takes three forms: my website, my email communications and my social media.

Scratch Where they Itch

Does your website truly reflect who you are and/ or the product you are selling? Are the colours right for you/ your product? Are there the right amount of words compared to pictures for the type of audience you are trying to reach? Is it really helpful in enabling someone to make a decision about whether to buy or enquire further? Is the style of language right for your target customers? Are there appropriate reviews and testimonials that will build your credibility in their eyes?

Don’t be an Email Snail

Do you answer you emails promptly? I used to work for a church and my supervisor once commented that good pastoral care was very often 90% efficient administration. Getting back to people in a timely fashion shows that you care about them.  

Signature Effect

What is your email style like?

Is it more appropriate for your audience to open with “Hi…” or “Dear…”? Do you make a habit of thanking people for their email and hoping they are well? Getting these elements right builds your brand.

Do you use plain text or html in your emails? I have decided on plain text and as short and as few emails as possible whilst maintaining politeness. This means that my emails can be read easily across all devices. 

What about your email signature? What does it say about you? I use email  packages on my devices that allow me to use different signatures for different situations, which is really useful.

Don’t be Social Medium, be Social Outstanding

Think about how people view you on social media. What does your profile look like? What does it say about you? 

And not just your business page, if you have one. Your friends and family know what you do and they will talk to their friends. What pictures and videos are there? What do choose to post, and just as importantly, not to post? Everything you put up will do something to shape your followers’ and friends’ perception of you, to build or erode your credibility in their eyes.

Mr/ Mrs/ Ms Incredible

Remember, you are in-credible. You can do the in-credible. 

Make sure your online life builds your credibility.

Love Your Reflection

Reflection Direction

Reflects Action

A couple of years ago I asked myself why I was still a performer. It’s not an easy life: no steady income, no sick pay, lots of driving, constantly having to appear as if everything is showbiz.

But I love it. I got into it decades ago because I liked showing off the skills. But I have come to realise that entertainment is an essential part of human life. When someone is truly entertained something profound happens, they experience some sort of freedom for a few moments. That is why I carry on.

Find Your Why

What is your “Why?”

Simon Sinek talks about the importance of “Finding Your Why.”  Stephen Covey exhorts us to “Begin with the end in mind.”

What is motivating you? What do you want to achieve? How will you know when you have got there? Once you have these things sorted out in your head then it will be much easier to motivate yourself day-to-day because you will know what you are aiming for and what you are on the way to achieving.

Reflection should be hard-baked into our lives, we should make it a habit so that we don’t forget to do it. I recommend reflecting in the moment, daily and periodically.

Moment Proponent

Reflecting in the moment is so easy to miss out and yet doing it can completely transform your life experience. 

Richard Rohr  cites recent neuroscience which tells us that when we experience something negative it gets lodged into our memory immediately.  This is so that we learn to avoid hazards when we see them coming, ie, a hangover from trying to avoid tigers stalking us in the long grass! And this is still useful for us in the modern world.

However, when we have a positive experience it doesn’t lodge in our memory unless we dwell on it for a little while. Apparently we need to focus on a positive thing for 15 seconds for it to last in our memory. So, next time you see a beautiful sunset, a child smiling or an amusing poster, focus on it for at least 15 seconds so that you have a positive memory stored away.

Get a Habit like a Monk

Reflecting daily is hugely valuable. Ignatius of Loyola, a Jesuit monk, recommended a daily examen . The idea is that, each day, you go through the previous day’s events in your mind and note how each one makes you feel. In his terms, did they bring you “consolation” or “desolation”?  Journallling is a popular was of fitting this into a busy routine. Even a bullet-point journal can help you to reflect on what is and isn important in life and help you to identify whether you are putting your energy where you really want to.

Retreat to Advance

Reflecting periodically is the one that is easiest to miss out, but also the one that can be the most valuable. My wife is an Anglican priest and she finds it essential to go away on retreat by herself a couple of times a year. This enables her to get her priorities straight and discern what she should be doing for the next few months.

Put aside time a couple of times a year to ask yourself the big questions about your “Why” and to work out what you should and should not be doing. It is immensely valuable and can change the course of your life.

Get into the habit of reflection.

Why not?

Margin 2 – Money & Stuff

Don’t run out…

Allowing for Inflation

I have a big bag of balloons. When it gets down to a quarter full I order another one. I need two balloons for my show but I carry six in my pocket so if one bursts, no problem.

I also carry a bulk pack of playing cards in my car and two spare packs in my performance case. If an audience member drops the cards in his beer, no worries, I am covered.

Have you got margin built in to your resources? And into your finances?

Oh ****!

It is so annoying when someone uses up the toilet roll and doesn’t replace it, especially when you only realise too late! I try to overcome this problem by always aiming to have three spare toilet rolls by the toilet. They have to be raised up on a shelf these days because we have a puppy who like to play with them, but you get my point. We never run short at the critical moment. 

The lesson of the toilet rolls applies across the board to your resources management, both at home and at work.

What happens if you run out of something? Do you have enough on hand to continue seamlessly or do you have to stop and wait to re-order?

Maintain a healthy and realistic margin so that life can continue smoothly and without resulting stress.  Obviously, the frequency of re-ordering and the required size of your back-up store will depend on the ease of re-ordering and the speed of delivery. You have to do a risk-assessment in each case – “how likely and how quickly are we likely to run out” and “how soon can we get more”, balanced against, “how much can we store?”

Seizing Credit Control

Having financial margin seemed beyond my grasp for a very long time. Granted, I was on a low income and was in debt so it was not straightforward, but I also came to realise that it there was a mindset element to it all. To some extent I had control over the amount I paid back on the debts each month and I certainly had control over some items of monthly expenditure. 

Obviously everyone’s situation is different and it will much harder for some than for others, but check your mindset and your intentions. Impose a discipline on yourself and it can only get better than it is now. Recognise your progress periodically and pat yourself on the back.

I now have a discipline of saving a bit every time I get paid. I also have a credit card that I rarely use. So I have an emergency fund when things are tight and the credit limit for real emergencies. 

Scouting for Joys

I was once in the Scouts, “Be prepared!” was the motto. 

It is a magic motto. 

Margin 1 – Time Lords

Nightmare on Magic Street

You arrive late for a gig because the traffic is terrible (not your fault!), you blow up your balloon for your amazing balloon trick and the balloon bursts (again, not your fault – badly made balloon!) and then you run out of petrol on the way home and can’t fill up because you are up to the limit on your card…

A nightmare scenario for any magician.  But it doesn’t have to be this way. It really doesn’t. The concept of margin is the key. In time, money and resources.

And it doesn’t just apply to magicians, it applies to us all.

Part one of this blog will focus on margin in time, part two will focus on margin in resources and finances.

Get a Plan, Stan

How to avoid the nightmare scenario: Check the journey time on Google maps,  then add 30 minutes to allow for a break. Fill up the car on the way there. Plan to arrive at least one hour before the start time of the gig. If even earlier, great! Use the time to have a nap, do some admin and get ready for the show. Knock on the door of the venue 30 minutes before the start time, fresh, relaxed and ready to go. 

Once I had a blow-out on the motorway and had to wait for the breakdown service. A couple of times I got stuck in a snowdrift and had to dig my way out. Still, in all cases, I arrived 30 minutes early and the client was none the wiser. The magic of margin.

Always Something in the Tank

Audience reactions are unpredictable. Reaction times will be longer or shorter, laughs will last ages or not come at all at certain points. But you still need to start and finish bang on time. Thus you need to be able to cut and/ or add material on the fly.  This is easy if you have a resource bank of tricks in your mind and in your case – you have built-in margin. The audience will think that this is your standard running order.

Against the Tide Pride

Building in time margin feels like swimming against the tide in today’s rapid-paced culture. But it really can be your secret weapon.  

Not leaving enough time for travel really has no excuse and the only thing it will achieve is stress for you and your clients. You can work anywhere thanks to mobile internet, so there is no reason to leave late. If you arrive early you can wait round the corner and work in your car or in a coffee shop. 

Build time margin into your daily routine. Are there gaps to allow the unusual to happen? Medical emergencies, kids needing a lift, but also chance conversations to deepen relationships. If you are scheduled up to your eyeballs then you are missing essential elements for a productive, creative and healthy life.  

Dozy Debt Threat

Have you allowed enough time for sleep? By “enough” I mean over-budgeted. If, for some reason, your sleep on one night is cut short, will you have enough energy the next day, will you have enough time to catch up on extra sleep later, or will it just add to an ever-growing sleep debt and the resulting dip in health and performance?

Happy Gaps

Margin allows us to flex when the unexpected happens and this makes us resilient. It makes us less stressed. It makes us more effective because we will have more energy, focus and resources at our beck and call just when we need them.

Build your magic margin.

Living in Tomorrow’s World

The future is now

One of my favourite childhood TV programmes was Tomorrow’s World. Michael Rodd & co. demonstrated the latest seemingly crazy ideas to a fascinated world. I remember a very early mobile phone with a suitcase to hold the battery!

I saw it coming

When I was 10 years old I had a book about computers and technology. It showed someone shopping through their television. Apparently the goods would then be delivered to their house. I thought, “That’s ridiculous, it would require all the computers in the world to be joined together somehow.” Wish I’d patented the idea, seems Tim Berners-Lee got there first!

I remember when email first gained traction in the early nineties. We all had Compuserve email addresses, a-long-number@compuserve.com. Even though the dial-up  Internet connection was unimaginably slow by today’s standards, it enabled us to stay one step ahead of the boss, who could never quite work out how we were all so well informed. 

Smarter not Harder

“Work smarter not harder” is an established mantra. The dream of Tomorrow’s World was that technology would enable us to have life easier, not busier. Unfortunately that is not always true. 

However, if you have any kind of control over your working practice then you can be intentional about your technology usage to get more reach, more efficiency and more leisure.

Local Everywhere

As a magician doing kids parties I need to appear to be local to my potential clients. For some reason they are quite happy to commute a couple of hours to work but they like to feel that their entertainer is just round the corner. Years ago I remember pondering how I could maybe advertise in hundreds of parish magazines. I couldn’t work out a way of doing it.

Then the Internet showed up. Everything changed. I learned how to stick a database behind my website and with basic SEO I suddenly had a local website for every town and city within 80 miles of my house. Magic! Sleight of Web, if you will…

Fifteen years ago I used to spend hundreds of pounds each week on magazine advertising and employ two people to handle bookings and enquiries. I now spend nothing on advertising and handle all the bookings and enquiries myself, largely through automation. And I am doing more bookings than I used to. All thanks to the power of technology.

Network Benefits

Although it can never replace face-to-face for quality, the web is a great place for building business networks and maintaining long-term friendships. Make a habit of always saying “Happy birthday!” to your Facebook friends. It will give them a warm feeling about you and keep you in their mind, and them in yours.

Synchronicity Two

Tech can also bring much greater efficiency in both life and work.

My wife and I have synchronised diaries (via Google calendar) and shopping list (Wunderlist) which both make life so much easier.

Time Bandit

Tech also helps us to redeem downtime. I love my MacBook Pro. Since I have got it I have been able to use the odd five minutes here and there to deal with the odd email or two. Pairing it with the hotspot on my phone means that I can use it in the car (not while driving!) on the way to gigs and on the train on the way to meetings.

Training and learning have become so much easier. Again, face-to-face is the ultimate, but it is time consuming and expensive. Podcasts, audiobooks and online video mean that learning as and when you can has never been easier. Car journeys become a rolling university thanks to podcasts. Magic trick training videos can be downloaded and studied instantly.

Live the Dream

All this should mean that we have more leisure time. After all, that was the “Tomorrow’s World” dream. 

I would encourage you to pursue this a much as possible. The world of work will conspire against you, there is always something apparently urgent to attend too. However, quality downtime is essential for “sharpening the saw,” as Stephen Covey puts it. You have to be intentional about it. Create exercise habits, put things in the diary that you can’t move, take yourself on “artist dates” (The Artist’s Way). 

It can be done, but it won’t happen automatically.

You are living in Tomorrow’s World. Make sure you enjoy it!

This is Me

Our self-image is not set in stone

Before getting on stage, any performer – magicians included – has to believe that they have a right to be there, that they are both competent and entertaining. The challenge is often being able to carry this positivity over into the rest of life.

A healthy self-image can provide huge benefits.

I suggest that we can improve our self-image if we analyse:

  • From where we ultimately derive our self-worth and
  • How we describe ourselves to ourselves 

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

Where do you ultimately get your self-worth from? For most people this will be a mixture of things: 

  • Our occupation can make us feel good or terrible about ourselves, depending on how it is going. 
  • Our family and/ or friends can make us feel valued and important, or not good enough, depending on our relationships and the culture in which they exist. 
  • Money and possessions can affect how we judge ourselves. 
  • Popularity online – social media “likes” – blog post reading stats – YouTube video viewing figures – can all affect how we feel about ourselves. 
  • Religion can play a part, either in a positive or negative sense: you may feel that God loves you whatever happens or that God fundamentally disapproves of you. 

It is worth analysing which of these things are at play in you. Maybe all of them? Some of them a notoriously fickle and transitory, some last longer and go deeper, some are eternal. You can change your perceptions and feelings about some of them, eg, God’s view of you, through examining your theology and self-reflection. 

Rock and Sand

Even if you are not religious, Jesus’ parable of the house builders is apposite here. One built their house on the sand, which was easier and quicker, but when the storms came it was washed away. The other built his house on the rock, which was more difficult, but it endured when the storms came. What is your self-worth foundation? How durable is it?

Talking to Myself

How do you describe yourself to yourself? What is your self-talk? How do you define your identity to yourself? 

If you are constantly telling yourself, “I am loved and have my own unique place in the universe,” then you will feel much better about yourself than if you are constantly telling yourself, “I am not not good enough and don’t really deserve to be here.” You have to work out your own mantra. But you can’t ignore it, you will be telling yourself something, whether consciously or unconsciously. Better to be intentional about it.

I recently realised that I should probably start writing. I had never had a writing habit. I didn’t think that I was the kind of person who wrote. My self-talk was, “I am not the kind of person who writes. That is for other people who are different to me.” I have recently change this self-talk to, “I am the kind of person who writes books.” I haven’t written a book yet, but that change in self-talk has given me permission to see that is is possible and has got me on to the road.

Because You’re Worth It

You are a unique person with a unique contribution to make to the world. Find a way to believe that.