Art of war for face painters: when the client wants to under-book you

Posted by Elizabeth Mackinney on

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Problem: A client who booked you a few weeks ago gives you a call with a party update. It turns out that instead of the 14 children which she was originally planning for, now she’s expecting 24 guests. She had booked you to face paint for one hour, which is what you recommended so that each child would receive a face paint design. You explain that in order to provide a nice design for each child, you’ll need two hours. The hostess firmly declines. She says she doesn’t want to change her party budget, and she feels extending the face painting will be awkward for her party schedule. She’s sure the kids won’t care if some of them don’t get face painted, anyway. From experience, you know that they will care, and so will their parents. Worse yet, you’ll be at ground zero for the unhappy tears and angry comments.

Solution: Attempt to explain to the client what it will be like if she doesn’t allot adequate time for all the guests to be painted. Bring your experience into play with this, because most face painters have endured parties during which the party guests exceeded the original head count of the hostess, resulting in an underbooking situation. Adults sometimes fail to understand how much children look forward to being face painted at a party, and how disappointed those who aren’t will be. Once in a great while you will encounter a party during which the children are too shy to be face painted. Since this is possible, you could offer to be flexible and leave after one hour if that happens. Those parties are a rare exception, though, and it’s better to for you and the client to be prepared for what happens 99% of the time.

If the client stands firm, you can offer to give her a set number of carnival-style wristbands for the number of guests you know you are able paint in one hour’s time. Make it clear that it will be the client, and not you, who will be responsible for handing them out, meaning she will have to choose which guests are painted and which are not. This moves most of the disgruntled parents’ focus from you to the hostess. The client may not like it, but she will be the one who has to deal directly with the results of having under-booked her entertainer.

Another option is to offer a limited selection of simplified designs. A client who “just wants each child to get something,” generally isn’t concerned about high-quality, deluxe designs. As a business person, you won’t want to sacrifice quality of your workmanship, which is what attracts more customers to you at any event, but if you’re comfortable with it, you can offer to paint a limited selection of simple, good quality designs which you’re able to do faster.

The industry standard for a variety which includes cheek to full face designs is 12 to 15 per hour. When using a limited selection board, the maximum I offer to a client who has more kids and less time is 20 to 22 per hour, because I’m reasonably sure I can provide that without becoming sloppy, and I never want to be in the position of over-promising and under-delivering. I squeeze out the extra time by sticking with two-color designs, adding no liquid bling or gems, not showing guests the mirror, and making sure they select their design before they get in the chair. It’s difficult to paint that way, but not impossible.

Your final choice is to decline to do the event. If you feel that the client is putting you in a position from which you cannot possible please her guests, it’s better to seriously consider giving her a refund and cordially parting ways. It’s possible that this may be a wake-up call for her, and that she will make a change rather than lose her scheduled performer. Or it may be she will try to find someone else who can operate with her projected guest count. As you make your decision, keep in mind that the parents whose children are at the party are more than guests. They are your prospective future clients. If you don’t make them happy, they will never hire you, and worse, may leave unfavorable comments on your site if they’re angry enough. It’s better to stick with events you’re confident you can complete successfully than to risk that.

Beth MacKinney is the owner of and primary face painter for Face Paint Pizzazz in the NW Chicago suburbs. She also writes for Examiner.com as the Chicago Face Painting Examiner.


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