Originally posted 09-19-08 in MBD2
Bob Coleman, www.balloonbob.com ,was awarded 3rd Place in the America’s Funniest Magician Competition hosted by the Family Entertainers Workshop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “I didn’t have any idea I was going to compete until I got there,“ he said. “I went to the local dollar store, picked up my act and did it!”, he exclaimed. He said he tries to attend a couple conventions throughout the year.
Coleman, aka Big Bob, as he prefers to be called, said it was a good demonstration of being able to put something together quickly and with limited resources, noting that sometimes entertainers will ship their props to the venue only to find out their props didn’t arrive and somehow the show must go on.
Big Bob, aka Bilbo the Clown, based in Belvidere, IL, has been entertaining professionally as a livelihood since 1982. Back then he was learning from and alongside the likes of Roger Siegel, John Shirley, and Jimmy Davis. “They were all great,” he said, “In my travels I’ve been able to meet a lot of people! It‘s also a great way to break the ice.”
Beginning as the weekend hobbyist, Big Bob performed primarily magic, then added the balloon sculpting. Now he entertains with magic, balloon art and comedy-magic combined. After his two sons had grown and left home, he told his wife that his weekend hobby actually brings in more money than his salaried job brings in all week. So, he quit his position as a cell operator at Taylor Freezer where he made ice cream machines and became a full-time entertainer.
“The hardest thing to learn when I started out was saying “No”, especially when someone would call me to help them with a benefit or fundraiser,” he said. He learned he could not give his entertainment services away, so each year he has had to select a few to receive his charitable services. “I also suggest to the client that if they want me to perform, they may want to get a sponsor for me,” he added. That way a sponsor, whether an individual or corporation, can donate the entertainment service and Big Bob would mention their name throughout his act and sometimes even create signage with the donor’s name on it.
Throughout the year, he primarily performs with his stage shows and as a birthday party entertainer. “I have about 200 private parties a year,” Big Bob said, with January and February being the slowest months. He entertains for corporate events, too, especially liking the greater earning potential. “I’ve never done a corporate show where I didn’t hand out at least 50 business cards,” he said. In addition to the entertainment, he gives lectures and offers one called “Big Balloons Made Easy” on DVD. He also offers “The Best of Big Bob”, which includes three previously released video titles combined.
As for marketing, Big Bob still has a print ad, a Yellow Pages listing, and gets regular calls from it. Primarily it is the Q & A type of calls, like What’s your price? And What do you do?, he said. He finds marketing over the phone the hardest. If he were to start all over, he said he would have taken business classes. “I especially wish I would’ve taken a class on phone sales,” he said.
However, with that in mind he has created an interactive website that includes client video testimonials, a lecture clip and show footage. “It’s the best way for a potential client to hear and see the other people’s responses,” he said. He also includes a store offering shirts and accessories with his logo, a Big Bob caricature, on them. “The store has been good for birthdays,” he said, as many clients will buy various items then have him autograph them after his performance at their event.
Being in a visual business, he realized back when he started the value of demonstrating his skills in order to get the bookings. “I would hit the bars at happy hour because the business men would be there,” Big Bob said. “I’d have a deck of cards and a bag of balloons and before I’d leave I’d have booked six birthday parties and a couple company picnics.”
Twisters all have their favorite colors and various tools and accessories they may use. Big Bob doesn’t have a one-color favorite, but always has a 260-Qualatex Assortment on hand. Lately, he has started using the skin tones more, as well. As a mouth inflator, he is able to inflate up to eight balloons at one time, but not for line work. And it is the line work that can be quite the challenge since he enjoys making balloon sculptures that are good and quick.
Over the years there’ve been so many funny things that have happened or been said to Big Bob at his performances. “One of my favorites is when a little girl wanted me to go to her house and stay the night and she said I could sleep with her mom because her bed is bigger!”
To unwind he said he loves watching science fiction or he is on the internet. Staying motivated and inspired is not difficult. “I believe I still have a lot to learn,” he said. “I’ve never gone to a lecture or workshop where I didn’t learn at least one thing.” And for the beginner, new to the biz, Big Bob said, “Don’t give up!”