From the February 1996 issue of Startups

When John Dudley turned his weekend magic into a full-time business more than a decade ago, he had to contend with an ego-deflating question: "What do you really do for a living?"

"No one believed magic was my job," laments Dudley, who lives in Grand Junction, Michigan. That misperception hurt more than just his ego, he says.

Like any entrepreneur building a client base, Dudley depended on referrals to bring in business. And in order to land the children's parties or adult functions that are staples of a magician's livelihood, Dudley had to be thought of as the guy who does magic for a living, the guy to call when you need an entertainer for your gathering.

Thousands of magic tricks later, Dudley has no trouble getting potential clients to take him seriously. He now makes, on average, $1,000 a day for corporate functions or trade shows, and he still does plenty of child and adult parties. His business, John Dudley Magic Shows, has tripled in the past 10 years. He also lectures frequently for area magic clubs on how amateur magicians can become professionals.

"Look and act like one," he tells his audiences. He draws these five tips from his own experiences to illustrate the point:

1. Invest in business cards. Lawyers, doctors and other professionals have them; so should magicians. They're also an effective selling tool. Dudley leaves them everywhere kids are apt to find them and route them back to their parents. "I've gotten shows from cards I've left on bubble gum machines," he says.

2. Create a brochure to hand out along with your card. It doesn't have to be fancy, Dudley says. Just make sure it has a picture of you performing and a list of the kinds of functions for which you are available. Dudley shies away from listing prices on his brochures. "You don't want to scare anyone away," he says, "especially when you're just starting your career."

3. Put your name on everything you use in the show. This includes your tablecloths, your clothing and any gifts you may give away while performing. "I've watched a lot of wonderful magic tricks in my career, but I can't always remember the magician's name afterwards," Dudley says. Having your name printed on your performing table and hat ensures that more than your magic trick will end up in a parent's photo or video; your name and identity will be captured along with it.

4. Save every press clipping that involves you. With enough of them you'll be able to fashion a press kit to accompany your card and brochure. It'll also be useful when other reporters call wanting to do stories.

5. Always be ready to demonstrate your skills. Ultimately, an entertainer is his or her own calling card, Dudley says. "You never want to have to tell someone, `I can't do magic now, I don't have my stuff with me.' Pick up a coin, a card or whatever happens to be lying on the coffee table. I can do magic with almost anything," he says. It's a quality that sets a professional apart from a guy with a weekend hobby. --Mary Wilds