Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Please don't take advantage of small businesses

The chances are that you wouldn’t even think about taking advantage of a big business like Ticketmaster or Odeon (however much you may want to)… so why do some people insist on trying it on with what is obviously a very small, independent, non-profit-making business? One that’s run as a labour of love?

I run What The Frock! Comedy, which is a tiny, one-person enterprise that promotes women comedians. My business currently relies on a great deal of generosity and people volunteering their time and skills in order to exist. And one of the most amazing things in the 18 months or so since I started What The Frock! has been seeing how willing people are to donate their time and talent. They tell me they do it because they firmly believe that What The Frock! is a strong proposition, and one day it will be a big success. And I love them for it!

But I’ve noticed a baffling trend, especially in recent months, of ill-natured people wanting to take advantage of a tiny business. In ways that you wouldn’t even bother to try with an established business. For instance…

One woman arrived to buy a ticket on the door. The door price was £12, which was widely advertised. She expressed horror and said she couldn’t possibly afford it as she was on all kind of benefits… Although she’d already let slip that she’d driven over from her home in posh Clifton, and that she was going to the Tobacco Factory Theatre later. She wheedled and wheedled, and in the end I offered her a ticket for £6… only to be told that she had nothing smaller than a £10 note, meaning I let her in for £5 (as I was short of change). 

Seriously – would you try that in The Hippodrome? No. You would just accept that theatre is a luxury and if you can’t afford it, you can’t go.

Two women once demanded a refund after an open mic act because they didn’t find her funny. (Comedy, of course, is a matter of personal taste.) I politely explained that, along with every other events business in existence, we don’t offer refunds or exchanges, and suggested they stay a bit longer to see the main acts, who have more experience. They declined. I explained that What The Frock! exists to help nurture up and coming female comedians, who are denied a platform by most other clubs. And I also explained that our ticket prices are among the lowest in the city. They became rude. So I paid them off to be shot of them, which is of course why they became rude. 

But would you ask for your money back from the cinema if you didn’t like the first 20 minutes of a film? No. You’d just shrug your shoulders and accept you tried something and didn’t like it.

One woman arrived at the door with two tickets that she had bought in advance. She said that her friend wasn’t feeling well, so could they both have a refund as she didn’t want to come in anymore. 

No. You wouldn’t buy tickets to the Hippodrome and then ask for a refund because you didn’t feel well on the day of the show. You’d just accept that this happens sometimes.

"£8 for a ticket! Daylight robbery! You must be raking it in, you greedy cow!" This has actually been said to me. And words to that effect. Several times. And clearly by people who have never put an event on, or realise the expense that goes into it. 

That £8 ticket price goes towards: paying the acts (between four and six per show), sometimes putting acts up in (cheap) hotels, public liability insurance, venue hire, designing posters and flyers, printing posters and flyers, marketing, printing tickets, distributing tickets, website hosting, business telephone costs, petrol costs to get to gigs... and a million other boring things.

Am I raking it in? Err, not at £8 a ticket I'm not, no. Which is why tickets are going up to £10 in June. Sorry about that. But we'll still be cheaper than pretty much every other comedy night in Bristol.

On two occasions, I’ve had tickets bought in advance from people who I’ve noticed live around the corner from me. So I’ve hand delivered their tickets within 30 minutes of them being ordered. Only to come home to an email asking for their 50p postage fee back. Which I returned, although I also sent polite emails explaining that the 50p postage fee doesn’t even come close to covering the combined costs of PayPal, ticket printing, admin etc.

Would you haggle with Ticketmaster over their booking fee (which is close to £5)? No, because they're so big you can't get hold of them. And they'd never hand deliver your tickets within 30 minutes of you booking them anyway!

Someone filled in our recent feedback survey and, when asked if they thought the current ticket price of £8 was reasonable, they said: “I don’t have to pay as I’m a club member, so I get in for free. Wahey!” That’s true, Square Club members do get in for free – but I don’t get any money from them being a club member, and by coming in for free they mean I’m unable to sell a ticket to someone who would pay, meaning that I'm automatically £10 down. 

On the other hand, there are one or two Square Club members who have chosen to pay because they recognise I’m a small business, they like what I'm doing and want it to succeed. Those people are fab (and they know who they are) because, without anything being said, they recognise that I can't afford to let people in for free.

And so it goes on. These are just a handful of recent examples of the way a small minority of people try to rip off a new business. I could give you more.


What The Frock! ticket prices are among the lowest for comedy in Bristol, especially for a line-up of between four and six comedians a night. While the more established comedians get paid (as they should do), they are the only ones who do. 

My friend who works on the door doesn’t get paid; my friend who takes the photos doesn’t get paid; my graphic designer didn’t get paid for a year and now works for peanuts; my website designer doesn’t get paid; my accountant doesn’t get paid; and many more people who happily offer their time don't get paid…

I also don’t get paid and I work seven days a week, often way past midnight, to make What The Frock! happen. And I do that because I have no other job to pay my bills (having lost my job in November), and because I fervently believe in the importance of what I’m doing. But I’m well aware that I’m only afforded the luxury of TRYING to make What The Frock! work because my husband has a job.

That said, I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe that one day What The Frock! has the potential to be a strong independent business. And when that day comes, the first thing I will do is find some way to repay the fabulous people who have donated time and talent to help me get there. The people like Gaby, Emily, Kellie-Jay, Hannah, Paul, Paul (another one)… and a whole chorus of other superstars.

NB: I should stress that it’s only a very tiny percentage of audience members who’ve taken advantage (or tried to) of my small business. The vast majority of my audience members are lovely, loyal, friendly and supportive people – many of whom come to almost every show, many of whom send me appreciative messages afterwards, many of whom realise how much hard work goes into doing what I do and even thank me for doing it. And if it wasn’t for brilliant people like them, I wouldn’t keep doing this. To those people, I take my hat off.


  1. Completely agree with all the points here. I've put on maybe ten shows, and at every single one I've encountered these problems. The biggest one is that a lot of people - sometimes the acts themselves - don't realise the cost of putting on a show and the fact that a lot of the time promoters have to stump up their own money to pay the bills.

    Out of interest though (only trying to save you money) do you really need public liability? I would have thought the venues would take care of that...

  2. Thank you. It's rarely been performers causing problems, more a very small handful of audience members (who I always treat with respect, even when they don't treat me with respect). But I think most people don't realise the expense of putting on a show - and I suppose why should they if they've never done it?

    (Unfortunately, I do need the insurance. I've triple checked. Which is a pity, as it's fucking expensive!!)

  3. Argh! It sucks so much when people take the... Michael.

    Sounds to me like you could use an "events policy" of sorts... And then you could make it super clear that "this is the price, and these are the conditions and sorry, there's nothing I can do, it's in our policy".

    It might help. And at the very least you'll be able to point to all this stuff somewhere, instead of arguing with each person.