Business Savvy: Managing Risk in the Business of Pro Audio

Everything you should consider if you don’t own your own professional audio company but want to.

John Stiernberg

Many of you have dealt with the ups and downs of the pro audio industry for many years and understand the constant ebb and flow of risks and opportunities.

Others may be new to the business, working part time, or on someone else’s payroll. Still others may be planning to go out on their own or quit their day jobs. Whatever the case, you are managing risk in some way.

What’s at risk in business? How do you feel about risk? Are you ready to pursue live sound full time on your own from a business standpoint?

Ask Yourself This…

It’s a fact: any business involves risk. Risk is the possibility of loss or some other negative consequence. In any business, whether you work for yourself or someone else your time, money, reputation and self-esteem are at risk. Let’s look at each of these briefly. 

  • Time: You may spend a lot of time learning new skills (technical chops, business chops), establishing relationships and working at the audio business before you achieve your financial or creative goals. How much time do you have? Can you afford to take time away from other things? Are you patient or impatient by nature?
  • Money: Starting and operating any audio business requires working capital cash. Do you have enough? Are you willing to put your own money at risk? If yes, how much? If no, where are you going to get the money?
  • Reputation: Your reputation is what others say about you, your character, and your accomplishments. When you operate a business, whatever you do both in your business and in your personal life is subject to public scrutiny. How do you feel about that? Are you open to praise and criticism on a regular basis, or are you more private?
  • Self-esteem: Your confidence is an asset that needs to be protected. I’m not referring to vanity, arrogance, or exaggerated self-importance. I am referring to the need to have a positive feeling about yourself and what you do. In any business, especially a subjective and creative field like audio, your self-esteem is always at risk. Some people have thicker skins than others. Some people are very comfortable taking risks. Others are riskaverse; they consciously avoid risk and are willing to accept lower returns (like less money or notoriety) as a result. Where do you fall on the risk spectrum? Take a minute to fill out the chart below to get a better idea of how comfortable you are with risk.

Deriving Answers

As you analyze risk and develop your business plan, there are additional considerations to address before you quit your day job. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Is anyone buying what I’m selling?
  • Is the market for what I want to do big enough to support my career in live sound?
  • Can I get enough facts about the size of the market to satisfy my risk tolerance?
  • Is there anyone else who is doing what I want to do successfully?
  • Can I learn from them?
  • Where will the money come from to live on and/or invest in my business until I’m getting paid enough to do sound full time?
  • Who will handle the business aspects of my audio career: marketing, sales, accounting and business management?

Many live sound people try to do it all on their own. Some are content and successful, others end up getting frustrated. Do they do everything themselves?

Here’s the point: Someone needs to take care of each of the essential elements of your audio business. That takes time, and if you are working multiple jobs, you are unlikely to have enough time to become good at everything and also keep your sanity.