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.
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Learn how to start your own Circus Business and whether it is the right fit for you.
Start a circus business by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Circus Business
- Form your Circus Business into a Legal Entity
- Register your Circus Business for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Circus Business
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Circus Business
- Get Circus Business Insurance
- Define your Circus Business Brand
- Create your Circus Business Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your circus business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
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STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
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 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.
Who 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.
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.
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.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Circus Business Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your circus business is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
- LLC Taxes
- Sole Proprietorship vs LLC
- LLC vs Corporation
- LLC vs S Corp
- How to Start an S Corp
- S Corp vs C Corp
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Open net 30 accounts
Net 30 accounts are used to establish and build business credit as well as increase business cash flow. With a net 30 account, businesses buy goods and repay the full balance within a 30-day term.
NetMany net 30 credit vendors report to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.
Recommended: Read our best net 30 vendors, guide and start building business credit.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from Divvy and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: 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.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: 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.
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, read our article, 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.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: 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.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
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.
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.
Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2022 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
Start a Circus Business in your State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
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- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
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Is this Business Right For You?
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.
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Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
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 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 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.
Take the Next Step
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.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
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 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.