I’ve been a DJ most of this decade, I have a Friday night karaoke residency and work 2-3 other gigs (mainly weddings) per week. I’m nearly 50 so don’t need a huge income, and my wife works as a nurse so her income covers the bills just nicely on an average month.
Two years back I decided to fill my spare time and plan for the future by studying for my degree in photography. I had to make some adjustments to my work and life balance to fit in the course but saw it as a great way to stay in the industry but lighten the load.
The first two years have been a struggle. I class myself as a full-time DJ as I work in the office just about each and every day alongside the gigs I do. I do everything myself, admin, advertising, bookkeeping, contact etc. My Uni course is also full time with an expectation of 16hrs classroom and 16 hours self-negotiated study. Financially I get a little bit of support but it generally goes on the costs of the course, equipment and travel. When I started the course, I decided to reduce the number of gigs I was doing each year to a suitable amount where there was a balance between time to study and enough work to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. It was working well till COVID-19 struck…
In 2020 I’ve not worked a single day of the tax year. January was very quiet and February was under-average.
My 2019-20 timetable required me in class on Friday afternoons which meant I couldn’t take booking that wasn’t local and 7 pm starts. I offset this with a weekly Karaoke gig but it was not wedding night pay for sure.
So, I’m gonna drop a rewind in here… 10 years back I had a breakdown mentally and started to really struggle to go to work in my managerial role with the council. After counselling and anti-depressants to manage my ongoing depression it was suggested I leave my role and try something else. This I did and I set up as a DJ. In the first few year’s mistakes were made and I started to see the larger picture and what I really wanted from the job so I rebranded and made some large changes to the way I operated. Since then things have been great and I’ve gone from strength to strength building a good name and strong brand.
So how have I managed?
Anyone who knows the industry knows its highly seasonal. May to September and December are when the money is made. Midweek weddings in the summer and working a few Christmas residencies and of course the big one New Years Eve. Without talking figures, I rely on a good Christmas period to carry me through January which is mainly a holiday month as bookings are few and far between. November can be similar with people saving for the festive period.
I haven’t earned a penny this Financial year and even March was halved.
I’ve had about 18 cancellations and over 40 bookings have been moved, some of these multiple times. I’ve still spent a lot of office hours dealing with clients, helping them rearrange dates, find alternative suppliers, even just reassuring people.
In the first few months, I was really busy with the admin but also my Uni work had to be completely changed due to the lockdown. This kept me busy till May and thankfully I passed the year with the reworked projects. Being a student meant I couldn’t apply for the extra Universal Credit some people were entitled to. Irrespective of how much support you get! In may I received the first SEISS payment and if the employed are getting furlough and the unemployed were getting full benefits its only fair that the self-employed received something, especially though who were being forced to cease trading.
I was constantly being told to go out and get a job to see me over but there are two issues here; firstly, I have one that I was still doing, despite not performing or getting paid. As stated, before I needed to be in the office, dealing with clients and seeking new ones for next year. Secondly, there are thousands of people being laid off either by agencies or redundancy so it’s not just as easy as picking which job you fancy. As anyone can imagine someone who has only been free from taking anti-depressants for 18months and having to deal with huge concerns about their financial future, I was starting to struggle somewhat. This was made hugely worse by having social media open in the office. Sadly, I need it for contact and bookings but it was crushing my spirit more than anything else. I really did strongly consider coming off and shutting it all down.
I managed to get through the first few months with a combination of a mortgage holiday, the SEISS payment and a few thousand I had in savings (for my holiday etc).
It’s now August however and the savings are gone, just a couple of hundred left, I’ve had to resume paying the mortgage, and the second SEISS payment is due to be less than the previous. Outlook wise, I have no work in August now and just 2 bookings in September who are desperately hanging on.
Due to the lack of confidence I’ve just 10 bookings remaining after September as people are unsure as to what is happening and when normality will resume. I already know January will be poor again. The full year is ruined for me.
On paper, I have still had to pay about 75% of my business running costs. I did cancel a few subscriptions to save some money. I invested a lot of money in the business at the start of the year as part of my final phase.
To give you some idea of my earning this year, I’ve started 4k down on new equipment, have about £5k in work in the diary till March 2021 and 75% of my running costs are about 4k. The good news is I’ll not have a tax bill in 2020. I might not have a house, however.
I’ve struggled with my depression, struggled to pay the bills, have nothing to look forward to after cancelling my holiday, the future is bleak and its entirely possible I might have to fold the business, get a full-time job and postpone my final year of education. In my story, I’ll stay clear of my personal beliefs and my thoughts on the politics and media and simply say that being self-employed as a sole trade feels like I am a bottom class citizen.
I’ve worked my entire life, paid my taxes and been an upstanding citizen. I feel the help provided is less than fair and my unique circumstances have been ignored.
So much for trying to better yourself in this country.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve decided to call time on my time as an entertainer and will be retraining in the coming months once I finish my degree. I feel for the sector, my fellow DJs, and all the couples affected. A faster lockdown, shutting borders and enforcing PPE from the start could have had us all back-working weeks ago. Its incompetence that will cost our livelihood.