The Art of War for Face Painters: The Day of the Doctor and Sustainability

I don't know how many of you are Dr. Who fans, but the other day I was considering the Dr. Who episode "The Day of the Doctor" and business sustainability. No, I'm not crazy, and yes, these two subjects are related. I'll explain.

In the episode "The Day of the Doctor," later versions of the doctor regret his earlier decision to destroy not only the Daliks (the enemy) but Gallifrey (his planet) in order to end the Time War and prevent the Daliks from taking over and ultimately destroying the universe. At the beginning of the episode, the weapon the doctor uses to end the Time War, which is called the Moment, opens up time fissures which allow him to interact with his futures selves and discover the person he will become if he ends the Time War in this way. 

You're probably still wondering what this has to do with business sustainability and face painting. Quite a bit, actually. While you may believe that you're an autonomous entity, every decision you make, big or small, good or bad, will affect not only you, but the face painting industry as a whole. 

The most obvious example is price. When new face painters enter the market but don't understand the reasons veterans are priced as they are, it can make it difficult for the everyone inside the industry to make a living as a face painter. This was one of my biggest personal errors when I started face painting. I didn't think about any of those factors at all. I didn't know anything about the business part of face painting. Imagine my dismay at the end of my first six months when I evaluated my business spreadsheet and discovered I had been working for cost. My hourly rate had seemed pretty high, but I hadn't taken into account the cost of running the business, 30% self-employment taxes, or the cost of paying myself for my non-painting hours (which were the large majority of the hours I spent working). I made about 10 cents an hour or less those first months. It would have been so much better if I had researched the market in the first place and set up my pricing accordingly. 

Once in awhile you run into an artist who declares she doesn't care how her decisions affect anyone else. As far as she is concerned, her choices are her own business and no one else's, and she doesn't appreciate your advice if you offer it. This is not a good stance. I can understand an artist feeling a little defensive, but I was thankful for the established artists who encouraged me to consider my business sustainability. And this is where Dr. Who comes in. 

We left the doctor dealing with himself times three. One doctor is horrified at the choice he feels he must make to use the Moment to end the war, one doctor is filled with regret over that very decision which is now in his distant past, and one doctor has tried to forget that he ever made such a horrific choice. 

So finally we have arrived at the point of this whole post. If you happen to be the artist who believes that your business decisions do not affect the artists around you, you need to realize that there is one artist you care very much about who will regret any poor business decisions you make now. It is the future artist you will become, because like Dr. Who, the decisions you make in the here and now cannot help but affect you in the future. 

Whether your decisions are concerning pricing, hygiene policies, professional materials, or how to handle clients when more lucrative opportunities come up, the future you will regret bad choices made now.

Fortunately for Dr. Who, he's the doctor. He always finds a way out of whatever dilemma he's in and saves the earth or whatever planet he's on in the process. In "The Day of the Doctor," he gets a second chance and with the help of his future selves saves the universe without destroying the planet of Galifrey. 

Unlike Dr. Who, unfortunately, face painters don't have opportunities to go back in time and make better choices. This is why it is so important that we think through decisions carefully in the first place to try to avoid problems later on.

How can you make good business decisions in so many different areas? Ask yourself some questions before you make any business decision.

1. Does this decision allow my business to grow in a healthy manner?

For example, you may be priced unusually low for your market because the rates other face painters charge look incredibly high to you, but is there a reason for those rates? Generally, the answer is yes. Veterans use good quality face paints, which are expensive. They invest in advertising, websites, and training. If you're new, you may not have run into some of those costs yet, but they are in your future if you continue in business. Research the regular rate for your area, and if you feel you're not up to the level of other artists, use the normal area rate, but run seasonal sales for limited times to attract new customers until your skill level increases.

2. Does this decision allow me to pay myself a livable hourly wage? In other words, what am I actually making as an hourly wage (not my face painting rate)? 

To figure your hourly wage (not your hourly face painting rate), subtract expenses and taxes from your gross income and divide the remainder by the total number of office and face painting hours you put in each week. If you're making pennies on the hour, you need to re-evaluate your pricing. If you don't have one, set up a spreadsheet with all your income and expenses, and don't forget to provide a column for mileage and travel. It will help tremendously.

3. Will this decision hurt my reputation with my clients?

You can bet on it that throwing away a scheduled, lower-paying event in favor of a longer, more lucrative one will damage your reputation. So will showing up late, or not at all. So will using acrylic paints rather than professional makeup. So will bad workmanship or poor kit hygiene. If you're going to charge for what you do, make sure you're worth it. Train yourself constantly for your clients, and be reliable and true to your word. 

4. Will this decision hurt my reputation with my peers?

In this industry, we all work for each other and rely on each other. If you severely undercut the market in your area, more established face painters will not refer extra events to you. If you use your own business cards when you are working at event for an agent or another face painter (and thus representing their company and interests), they will not trust you. If you walk into a public event and try to lure the organizer to hire you next year instead, the artist at the event will most definitely not trust or like you.

The best rule is to treat other people the way you would like to be treated. The face painting community is a fairly close one. Your reputation is your business and your business is your reputation. Develop good relationships and treat others honestly. 

5. Will this decision be one I might regret in a year/two years/five years?

Always think to the future when making your decisions, big or small. You may argue with yourself that the decision you're about to make will save you a little money or time as you cut a corner. But if that poor decision could in some way harm your client or your business relationships, it's never worth it. Instead, become an informed business person and make good decisions when you have the opportunity. You won't regret it. 

Beth MacKinney is the owner of and primary face painter for Face Paint Pizzazz in Elgin, Illinois, and her artwork has appeared in The Colored Palette and SkinMarkz magazines. She services the western and northwestern Chicago suburbs, Chicago’s north side, and the eastern and southeastern suburbs of Rockford. Stop by to enjoy more of Beth’s face painting tutorials.