Man LaughingDoing stand-up comedy is most people’s worst nightmare, but for me it’s been a lifelong dream. So a few months ago, after booking a venue, promoting and producing the show and selling tickets, I did my first stand-up comedy show.

What could have easily been a disaster instead turned out to be one of the best nights of my life. There were almost 150 people in the audience, standing room only. I performed for over an hour. I don’t mean to brag, but it went better than I could have possibly imagined. I’d been thinking about doing comedy for a long time, and I finally fulfilled the dream in front of a full house of people who were laughing really hard.

Encouraged by this initial success, I’ve launched a side business as a comedian and started doing more comedy shows. I’ve traveled to other cities around the Midwest and also participated in a comedy showcase in New York City. I’m still very new to the world of stand-up comedy, but here are a few lessons I’ve learned from marketing myself and performing as a stand-up comedian:

  • Start with your closest friends and biggest fans: When I decided to do a stand-up comedy show, I started promoting the show by inviting my closest friends first. These were the people who I knew would be supportive and who would show up and buy tickets and tell their friends. I figured that if I could find an inner circle of 10 people who would each bring 5 other people to the show, then there would be 50 people in the audience. Not a bad crowd for a first timer. (Of course, we ended up doing a lot better than that…) One of the marketing lessons from Steve Jobs is that it pays to market to your most passionate fans first, and then encourage them to spread the word. Instead of trying to reach a big audience, first you should focus on reaching a smaller, passionate audience and let these people be your “evangelists.” Who are your business’s biggest fans? Do you know who they are? Are you doing enough to reward them and encourage them to spread the word about what you do?
  • Social media is amazing: Everything I’ve done to promote my fledgling career as a comedian has been through social media. I invited people to the show via Facebook, did promotional blog posts and videos, and asked people to share the content and spread the word to their friends. I was able to take an unknown comedian’s stand-up comedy debut and turn it into a must-attend event, all by spreading the word on Facebook. In the same way, social media is a great way for small businesses to level the playing field. You don’t need a big budget or lots of time and resources to use social media for your small business marketing, you just need a compelling authentic voice, and a willingness to be honest and transparent and engaging with your customers.
  • It’s not about you, it’s about the audience: Comedy is so mysterious. Sometimes you never know whether a joke is going to work. Sometimes the audience responds really well to a line that you didn’t even think was funny. Comedians have to constantly read the audience and adapt as they go along. Certain audiences are in the mood for certain kinds of jokes; some audiences are more timid or more rowdy or more sophisticated (or not). As a comedian you have to constantly think on your feet and go with the flow of what the audience is ready for – and sometimes you have to lead the audience where you want them to go. In the same way, small business marketing is often about anticipating what people want before they know they want it. You can focus on giving people what they want, but sometimes you have to introduce something new that they might not know they want, and you have to build up enough empathy and establish trust with your customers (or your audience) so that they will feel comfortable following your lead.

Doing stand-up comedy is a huge rush, unlike anything else I’ve experienced. I love the complex interplay with the audience, the thought process of writing jokes, the energy of cultivating a stage presence and delivering lines, and the sound of a room full of laughter. In the same way, I hope your business can succeed in a way that leaves you feeling fulfilled. Whether you’re a stand-up comedian or not, every entrepreneur is in the business of pleasing an audience and making your dreams come true.