Updated: Aug 24, 2020
My van insurance recently came up for renewal. Like most people one of the first things I did was go on one of those price comparison websites (I won't say which one) and compare lots of quotes from different suppliers. It took me a whole 5 minutes to find out that my current insurers were still cheapest and I got on with my life. Wouldn't it be useful if there was one of these services for say, getting entertainment for your event? Put in the event details and you can get quotes sent to you from different entertainers and you pick the right one! Believe it or not, I'm not the first person to think of this and if you search for "Children's Entertainers" the first page is taken up with websites such as Bark, AddtoEvent and Poptop all saying that they have "x amount of entertainers in *your area*."
These websites offer you the ability to compare lots of different entertainers in your area, allow them to quote for your event and you pick the best one - all for free! Or at least that is what they would have you believe. I've been added to these websites, sometimes without even knowing and I've really researched the ins and outs of them and I came to a realisation.
Booking directly with your entertainer will give you a lot more value for money - and better experience than a price comparison/quote site - and this is why...
These websites have a great idea in principle. For you as a client you get professionals who are available contacting you with quotes, saving you a lot of time and best of all it's free! Or is it? Every business has to make their money somewhere and these comparison websites are no different. Nothing is truly ever free and in this case the money comes from the performer. For an entertainer to respond to your request on one of these sites it often costs them "credits", a purchasable currency just for the specific site. Each website charges slightly differently, but on average to respond to an event it costs around £4.50 to £15 per inquiry. On the face of it, it isn't too bad. If I have to spend £5 to get a £100 booking I would happily cover the cost myself and I'd be singing the praises of these websites. The issue is that these websites charge the performer per response - whether they are successful or not. That means that it costs me £5 to just send you my quote whether you book me or not. If you are just curious and wondering about prices for entertainers - and not even sure if you want someone, it still costs me that £5 to give you an estimate.
I'm sure you're wondering what that means for you as the hirer. It all comes down to "success rates". I've spoken with a few entertainers about these websites and most have a success rate (i.e. actual bookings in relation to quotes sent out) of between 1 in 6 and 1 in 10 responses. Combining successes and losses, to get a successful booking it would theoretically cost the entertainer anywhere between £27 - £150. Going back to my £100 gig - that means for me to get that booking I would be spending at least £27 which wouldn't be sustainable for an entertainer to do for long. And for you as a hirer, this means either the price goes up - or costs are cut so that the entertainer can make enough to live on and still quote at the same price.
This is why it is often best to message the entertainer directly. There are no extra hidden costs and no need for them to cut corners to give you a good quote. If you book with me over the phone or drop me a message through my website it means that I will be able to give you the best price possible for a show perfect for your needs. As a parent myself, I know how expensive organising a children's party can be. Messaging me directly will always guarantee you the best price for your event and high-quality service.
It's not just about the money though. One of the supposed benefits of these websites is that entertainers will contact you with their quotes. So all you do is fill out one form and theoretically, you'll get a couple of decent entertainers message you and you pick one. Yet the reality of this is a lot further then you think. Some of the categories on these things can be very vague. If you select children's entertainers, for example, this could be sent out to magicians, bubble artists, science shows, princess appearances, party hosts, DJs... I could go on and on! And each one of them may bring a couple of entertainers out to respond to your event. You may only want a magician, but could get replies from lots of unsuitable businesses, trying to "land that sale". Don't forget, with low success rates it means that entertainers have to get a lot of bookings to break even. This could mean you face high-pressure sales tactics and lots of messages to respond to them.
Hypothetically to have a dozen entertainers all emailing you trying hard to sell you a package could be very stressful. Combine this with the fact that these websites give the entertainer your phone number too, most often these emails would be combined with text messages too. Now an entertainer may think it's nice to say "Hi, I've sent you a quote, have a read and let me know what you think" (and in reality, it is nice too), but having a dozen people do this, followed by messages for the next few days asking if you've read their quote - well that would put anyone off the whole experience!
This is one of the reasons why it's better to do your own research and contact entertainers yourself. When booking with me, you as the hirer are in full control. It's your event. I try and make the whole booking experience as easy as possible - no high-pressure sales tactics, no follow up calls or random text messages. You are fully in control and my goal is to make it as stress-free as possible to book.
I've also looked at a lot of profiles on these websites and one of the things I've noticed is that all the profiles all look very generic. It's really hard to see personalities in the profiles, barring the small selection of pictures on the profile. When there is only space for a single paragraph of "About Us" it really limits the information you can convey. This is why it's often good to look at people's websites to get an idea of what they are like. You can see their character, recommendations, other projects, etc - but when it comes to these comparison sites unless the performer actively pays for your quote, the site will never send over the website address so you can see what they are like. It really limits your choice of entertainers and you may miss out on booking someone amazing.
Doing a simple google search of an artist's name will often bring up their website pretty much immediately. If you find someone you like or have had recommendations (or even just found someone on one of these websites) - it will save you a lot of time and effort seeing what the person does - before even thinking about asking for a quote and wasting your time on someone who wouldn't be suitable for your event.
Now I'm sure you have thought "But Dave, these websites help create competition, which in the end drives down prices. Surely this is a good thing?" Hypothetically I would agree with you, but in reality, it instead creates a "race to the bottom" where costs are cut to get the cheapest price. These websites end up focusing on one key thing - the price. And it's not like car insurance or electricity, where each company is pretty much offering the exact same thing, just at a different price. No entertainer is like another. Each person has their own style, quality, experience, and professionalism. Some are high-end professionals and others have no experience and offer very basic parties. But these websites like to push the focus onto the price alone, creating a push to be the cheapest - but not necessarily the best for your event.
I have spoken with people who have booked with these events sites, and the majority of bookings end up going to either a huge "national entertainer" or someone who severly undercuts the competition. To make it profitable for these bookings to work, the "entertainer" acts as an agent, often booking the gig then finding some student who is willing to work for very little and giving them a cheap set act to do with very little training. When you focus on the price it becomes less about quality and more about money. And for entertainment, it really makes a big difference.