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A circus is an assorted mixture of performers who put on various acts to entertain and stun a crowd. It may include anything from acrobats to trapeze artists to trained animals that perform dramatic routines and stunts. Circuses may be mobile and move from location to location, or they may choose to set up residence in one particular spot for a given period of time.
Who is this business right for?
Those in the circus should be able to handle a lot of stress in a short amount of time. It takes a lot of coordination to handle the schedule of each act and there’s a lot of pressure to hire people who are charismatic enough to put on a show without crumbling under the weight of the multiple performances. Owners also need to be inherently creative to conceive of performances that will satisfy a modern audience.
What happens during a typical day at a circus business?
Most circuses will spend a lot of time preparing their acts, spending the majority of the day practicing, honing, and perfecting their craft. There will also be people dedicated to deciding how to market the circus and where to take the show next.
What is the target market?
For many years, a circus was primarily meant for families who had enough means to spend money for a day of fun. However, endeavors like Cirque du Soleil have introduced more adult-themed content into the market. Now, clubs hire small circus troupes to perform for their patrons and parents hire acrobats to perform for their children's birthday parties. So the business model is fluid enough to alter the demographic based on who is most likely to consume the services.
How does a circus business make money?
A circus charges people per ticket or per show based on everything from employee salaries to the cost of the venue. The idea is to ensure the ticket price can account for unplanned dips in the budget or underperforming locations or time periods.
What is the growth potential for a circus business?
With the ubiquity of filmed content available for families looking to blow off steam, circuses have steadily declined in popularity. The bankruptcies of famous shows that were once money-making machines suggest that circuses are going the way of vaudeville. However, there has been a growing movement of smaller circuses with modern twists that are really starting to take off. These new types of circuses have the potential to become the standard rather than the exception due to their growing popularity.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful circus business?
Organization and instincts are two skills that will be pivotal to developing a circus. Few college courses will cover the more formal points of running a circus, so it comes down to an owner’s drive and innate talent. (However, an MBA may be useful when it comes to structuring the financial or marketing sectors of the business.)
What are the costs involved in opening a circus business?
The exact costs to get started are highly dependent on the format of the show. Without animals, huge venues or complicated equipment, owners could conceivably get started with practically nothing (especially if they rely mainly on acrobatics.) They could even offer their original employees profit-sharing rather than full salaries to defer additional costs.
What are the steps to start a circus business?
Once you're ready to start your circus business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your circus business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your circus business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
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What are some insider tips for jump starting a circus business?
Cirque du Soleil has combined burlesque with stunning and death-defying tricks to create a niche that no one knew needed to be filled. Best known to the glamorous and ritzy Las Vegas strip, the company also enjoys success by touring to different cities all around the world. New circuses can learn from this model by adapting their acts to fit their communities. For example, burlesque acts are in demand in the clubs of cities like Los Angeles.
This is such a small industry that collaboration with other professionals should be a priority for most owners. Learning from others is not only smart, it's also a way to suss out additional opportunities. It’s normally going to be better to start small before branching out so as to minimize profit loss. Look for people who are passionate about creating acts that can simultaneously stun and inspire an audience. People today are looking for a larger message besides just extravagance — they want to feel connected to the performers and the overall theme (e.g., environmental awareness, fitness, etc.) of the show too.
How to promote & market a circus business
Press is going to be a major part of promoting a circus. Big shows call for big reactions, so the press needs to feel as though they understand what the circus is doing and why. Any press packets will have to be technically perfect but also engaging and interesting enough to ensure that people understand the larger picture. Internet advertising, flyers, and newspaper ads can also attract attention from smaller clients, such as companies, families, or club owners.
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How to keep customers coming back
Clients and customers alike are looking for a big reaction. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of desensitization in the world today, so people are looking for something that is both elaborate and memorable. Acts should be organized, thematic, and original to stimulate and drive the imagination of the people.
How and when to build a team
The best way to start a circus is to immediately start looking for performers who are as passionate as they are talented. There are plenty of people who love to entertain that are having trouble finding their place. They may not have the resources or the drive to find clients on their own, despite their artistic gifts These are the people who will work for profit shares as the circus attempts to find a solid foothold.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a circus business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Certificate of Occupancy
A circus business is generally run out of a large event venue. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a circus business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your circus business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
The most popular acts in Vegas can charge up to $300 or more for a single ticket. A smaller circus will usually base their rates on the scope of the performance. For example, a circus may offer 10 different acts, but only charge a corporate event for two because that’s all the space will accommodate.
What are the ongoing expenses for a circus business?
Ongoing expenses can include anything from equipment replacement to salaries to general advertising. Each circus will have their own budgets based on who they cater to and how complicated their shows are.
How much profit can a circus business make?
Circuses can make considerable profits once they find their market. If a small circus charges $2,000 a night to perform at clubs and operates at a 15% profit margin, they’d make around $108,000 a year in pure profit if they performed every night.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Collaborating with other circus performers may be a good way to increase profits. For example, a small circus may want to loan out some of their best performers to a larger show. This type of collaboration not only strengthens long-term relationships, it can also be a good way of finding new acts or performance art that can potentially draw even bigger crowds.