Most readers of this site have probably heard by now of the sudden demise of one of the Washington, DC area's biggest and most tenured DJ companies. (I'm not particularly interested in naming them or linking to the news reports about them, because I think the story's been reported enough.) Readers of this site also know I love few things more than to get on my soapbox, and believe me - when my own DJ company's phone and email started blowing up with inquiries from wedding and corporate clients who'd been left in the lurch, and from DJs now desperate for work, I was tempted.
But then, I started paying attention to the reactions of other DJs as the news unfolded. My understanding is that the now-defunct company's letter to its clients blamed the economy; I've seen lots of speculation about the owner's health and the company's legal status amidst rumors of past skirmishes with the law. Lots of shots taken at the company's marketing (which, I'll be the first to acknowledge, is the furthest thing possible from my cup of tea) and lots of lively discussion about their pricing and business model. And of course, lots of plugs for other DJ companies thrown into the mix, because of course what happened to this particular business, after operating for 40 years, could never happen to them.
And you know what? I hope it doesn't. I care about this industry, and I care about helping people run successful businesses, or I wouldn't run this blog. It's my sincere wish that everyone who starts a legitimate business makes a profit, serves their clients well, finds joy in doing it.and retires rich at a young age. Seriously.
Thing is, this particular company tanking made a big splash because they were so ubiquitous, but they're far from the only one. I can think of several other examples right off the top of my head. I know of several photographers who've cut and run when they got too backed up with post-production and album creation. I know of at least one venue that shut down unexpectedly because they lacked the legal documentation to operate their business. There's another business in this same market, one that's operated at the top of its game for a very long time, that seems to be circling the drain as we speak, and few people seem to have any idea why.
So it happens, and as much as we might think we're exempt from business failure, or doing wrong by our clients if we did have to close our doors, I think it's been proven: it can happen to you. To anyone. I sincerely doubt any of the people at the helm of these shamed businesses started out thinking they would stiff their clients and betray their employees. Still, those good intentions didn't save them, or anyone, in the end.
When something bad happens to someone else, even when we're not judging them, we're still emotionally steeling ourselves against the idea that it could very well be us. And when there is a little judgment involved - which sometimes happens even in spite of genuine empathy - we put up walls that are even stronger. I experienced this firsthand when I separated from my now ex-husband: many people I told seemed suddenly to cling a little more tightly to their spouse ("that could never be us") and a few had silent responses that could be read all over their face ("some people just don't believe in commitment; marriage is forever"). I experienced it when my now 8-year-old son was diagnosed with autism: many people, perhaps with a desire to be helpful, were suddenly very concerned about his intake of sugar, gluten or artificial colors, or what vaccinations he'd had, or what complications I experienced in my pregnancy. "Where did you go wrong?" was the implication. Somehow I, and my ex-husband, and our son, needed to be"othered" so that people could feel safer about their own marriages, their own kids and their own uncertain futures.
And that's the message that I'm getting from some of the speculation about this shuttered DJ company. Some of it is pure concern for the clients, of course - but if we're all being honest, I think we could agree there's a certain amount of smugness about someone else's failure, and a certain pride in believing it could never be us in that situation. Because it's terrifying to think that it could.
I'll close with this thought: assuming you're in the camp who feels confident that no economic, medical or legal crisis could ever befall them, or that you'd never willingly make the decision to walk away from your contracts, your clients and your team, what's your exit strategy?
- If crisis struck and you literally could not do another day's worth of work yourself, is there someone else on your team who could make sense of your systems and keep your business running until all your events were completed?
- If not, do you have enough money sitting in the bank to issue immediate refunds to every single client currently on the books, and to pay any money owed to employees, contractors and vendors, and to pay your business' final bills and settle your debts?
- Do you have established arrangements with colleagues and competitors who can service all of your events, at a similar price point, even at the last minute, if you couldn't fulfill your obligations?
- Are you currently recommending to all your clients that they purchase wedding insurance to protect them in the event this kind of thing happens with any of their vendors?
If not, then I think those things are a good start for preparing for the end. Certainly more productive, anyway, than speculating about others' failures and believing we're immune.