What the Carnies Can Teach You About Freelancing

Fairground CansThe taste of dust in my mouth. The smell of cows in the air. The sound of buzzers, bells and staccato gunfire ringing in my ears. Loud screams…

Yes, folks, the local fair has been in town.

For a few days each year, the empty lot behind the skating rink transforms into a razzle-dazzle low-scale and dirty festival of noise, cotton candy and empty wallets. Teens dress baggy or skimpily, hooking up all over the place. Children run to and fro, joyfully skipping out of reach of poor parents shouting, “This is the last ride!”


Mid-afternoon, the demolition derby roars to life while firefighter air horns pierce through the gunning of engines and bangs of loud backfires. Farmers scowl at the noise, calming wild-eyed and carefully groomed cows or chattering chickens. The beer tent thrives with inebriated high-schoolers – those still in class and those reminiscing the decades since the good old days.

Ah, the local fair is a fantastic tradition – and a true education in marketing for freelancers. Come one, come all… the show is about to begin.

You’d Better Know How to Hustle

Hustling is the name of the game for both fair carnies and freelancers. Booth and ride carnies have to sell to people walking by – and that’s not easy. They need to attract the attention of people focused on something else, get them to look twice, draw them in, sell them on the fun or the prize, and get them to hand over their money.

The carnies hawk rigged dart tosses, squirt machines, speeding rides, swirling cages, and off-center bowling balls. They need to keep the place bustling and alive. Sound like the freelancing life? You betcha. Replace the games and rides with your services and products – and start hustling.

You’d Better Be Wise to People

Carnies are street-smart. They know just how to get people interested. Two men? Encourage competition and rivalry for the prize. Two women? It’s time to compliment a shirt or some earrings. Parents? The carnies go right for the kill: they market to the kids. Win the kids, win the parents.

They know exactly who they’re talking to, what rings the bell in that person’s mind and what gets the guy or girl to slow down and come over. They know their target market like the back of their hand, honing right in to make the sale – and you should to.

You’d Better Be Willing to Give and Take

Carnies wheel and deal. Anything to lure people in and keep them spending. Three darts for $5. Try a free round. Three tickets for a ride instead of four. Trade in two prizes for a bigger, better one. The discounts and deals are no skin off anyone’s back – a small tradeoff keeps customers happy and hooks them in.

Not only does it hook, them in, but if the carnie plays it right, the people spend more in the end. That’s a trick right there: the longer they stay, the longer they play. That’s key – for the fair and for your freelancing. The carnies made sure people were happy, too. The happier they were, the more chances they’d come back later on.

You’d Better Be Able To Sell

Game carnies sell like crazy. They don’t care about patting someone’s back and making them feel good or empowered. Hell, they have a job to do! They have money to make! They aren’t going to hurt anyone’s feelings, but they also aren’t afraid to pitch their game or ride and influence people over to pay the ticket.

Think about this one: Imagine a fair operated by polite, considerate, gentle and submissively quiet people who never pushed, called or even did anything but smile nicely. Now take a look at how you sell on your site or blog. Yeah. I thought so.

Freelancers don’t need to bark and shout to sell. Carnies don’t either. In fact, during my visit to the fair, I noticed that they’d only call out to people during particularly quiet moments. They were generally pretty polite about selling their games. They watched people for clues, picked up on the subtle triggers and body language, and then they went to work.

You’d Better Be Okay with Persuasion

The carnies aren’t ashamed of themselves or what they sell. They’re there to help people have a good time. That’s their job. Yes, the end result is more money, but the carnies made sure that every customer for every game left smiling, happy and satisfied that the over-priced prize was money well spent.

That, my friends, is persuasion and good customer experience at its purest. It’s amazing to watch the carnies do it, too. They can sell anything to all sorts of different people from all sorts of different lifestyles. They’re good, really good.

Now carnies may not have learned influence, persuasion and manipulation from a course, but they sure do understand that if you can’t persuade someone that what you sell is really great, then you definitely aren’t going to make money.

And they make money. The place thrives. Buzzers go off and lights flash and happy (but broke) people walk away hugging some prize. And the carnies sit call out scores and ‘awws’ and cheer for the people as they collect the coins. They’re real ringmasters at their own show. Everyone wins. No one loses.

The magic? People leave broke, tired, and dirty – but they leave with smiles. And they’ll come back again to do it next year all over again.

Your customers will too – if you play the game right.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.