When Putting Out Fires Really IS Your Job: 10 Things I Learned From My First Business
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By Carole Bennett
We talk about “putting out fires” in our day-to-day business; but what about when your job description really does include “fire suppression techniques and practical application”? Here are ten things I learned from my first business endeavor, as co-owner (with my late husband) of a fire performance troupe.
To be clear; I had no performance background before this, so everything was learn-as-you-go. I actually became co-owner after my husband decided to spin off on his own, after spending time with another troupe; good people, but my darling diva-boy didn’t exactly do well with sharing the spotlight. Suddenly, I found myself responsible for making a success out of the endeavor; rehearsals, bookings, safety training and coordination with local authorities, insurance and permits.
Five to seven performers, three to five support staff; two truckloads of equipment, including fire suppression equipment, sound system, and lights. This was my life every other Friday night for three years; prior to an event, it increased to every Friday night. We had to be hyper-vigilant about safety as well as skill, so that a flaming ball didn’t fly into the crowd like a satanic pop-fly during a live performance.
Here’s a list of things I learned as an owner/member of a fire performance troupe.
1. Things will go wrong:
Hours of rehearsal and practice, carefully-laid plans; no matter how much you prepare, you can be at the mercy of wind, weather, performers’ family emergencies, or forgotten equipment. Always stay flexible, and have a backup plan (or two), and be ready to change your routine at a moment’s notice.
2. Talent without discipline is useless:
I can’t even remember how many really talented performers we auditioned. However, even if they’re brilliant soloists, if they couldn’t work with the rest of the troupe, couldn’t make it to practice, or didn’t take our safety rules seriously, they weren’t invited back. It takes discipline to get (and keep) a good business reputation.
3. Hair grows back:
There are times that in order to pull off something really spectacular, you have to take risks. Take every reasonable precaution possible, but at the end of the day, you may have to push the limits. Just make sure you don’t risk more than you’re prepared to lose.
4. Leather is cheaper than skin grafts:
The right tools are critical to your success. We had many people question the requirement for leather clothing, due to cost or ethical reasons; the simple fact was that it was the least flammable, least likely to show singes, and the best way we could keep our performers safe, and let them put on an amazing show.
5. Insurance is a wonderful thing:
It’s not easy to find an insurance company that will cover a fire performance, especially in a building considered to be of historical interest. Being able to present insurance to cover the venue puts the venue management at ease, and shows your professionalism.
6. A good reputation opens doors:
We worked hard to build a solid reputation within our community, with our clients, and with local law enforcement. Having a proven track record for performance and safety allowed us to work in venues that didn’t initially feel comfortable with open flame, and minimized red tape with local fire safety officials.
7. Not every “rock star” is seen by the audience:
Amazing technicians and people who are able to keep their cool in a crisis are worth every bit as much as a flashy performer, and will save you a ton of money in the long run.
8. Delegation is the key to not losing your mind:
with so many moving parts, and so much going on at any given time, if I hadn’t learned to delegate responsibility to others, we would never have been able to have a single live performance.
9. Leverage technology, but be prepared for the human factor:
I have a very vivid memory of burning our playlist to CD the day of a performance, because the primary copy was lost after rehearsal the night before. I will be forever grateful to those who kept me sane, and learned to make duplicate backups.
10. Keep your sense of humor:
Equipment failures, no-shows, inadvertent “halos”, near-concussions, diva personality clashes – at the end of the day, sometimes all you can do is take a deep breath, laugh, and move on, and appreciate the success that follows. I still look back at those days fondly, and with some amazement that I survived them. I will always appreciate the lessons I learned from the experience.
Carole Bennett is the founder and primary voice of IndigoTea. As a professional IT consultant, Carole has provided solutions for companies as diverse as Verizon, Frito-Lay, Capital One Auto Finance, and Zales Jewelers, parlaying a unique talent for acting as a translator between the worlds of business challenges and technology solutions. After nearly two decades of experience in providing business and technology solutions in the corporate space, Carole chose to dedicate her wealth of experience towards creating outstanding results for her small business clientele. She considers her skills gained from simultaneously managing a fire performance troupe, raising a family, and working as a full-time IT consultant excellent preparation for her current career incarnation as the driving force behind IndigoTea Small Business Solutions. “Fire-breathing redhead on a mission” is not just a metaphorical description!