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Starting and growing a small business alone is a unique challenge, which Trickery owner Aaron Rabkin knows all too well. At Trickery, a magic and comedy show in Chicago, Aaron does it all: hosts the show, writes the scripts, manages the finances, and even cleans the entire venue.

Aaron opened Trickery six years ago, and it’s still going strong, with the show consistently sold out weeks in advance. As a one-man production, Aaron had to learn how to balance the demand for his shows with his capacity to perform. Trickery is a small space, with room for roughly 35 people per performance.

“It’s like somebody who trains for a marathon, you just have to get in shape for it, and I find the energy,” Aaron said. “I’m the producer, the writer, the performer, the director, so I’m wearing a lot of hats. That’s why I always say the art has to thrive so the business can succeed, but the business also has to succeed so the art can thrive.”

When Aaron first opened Trickery, he wasn’t able to charge customers until he had an official performance license. While waiting for approval, he used his street performance roots to his advantage and put on free shows from his storefront window.

The free show strategy built immense excitement for Trickery in the four months before opening, so much so that Aaron still predominantly relies on word-of-mouth marketing to bring in new customers.

Yelp reviewer Jackie M. found out about Trickery through a friend who invited her to a birthday outing at the show. Jackie didn’t expect to love the show as much as she did and was even more surprised when she found out it was a one-person operation.

“He was able to entertain little kids, and adults too, with his sense of humor and his character and pizazz,” Jackie said. “I was very impressed with the level of performance that he gave. You can go see a super pricey show in Vegas and here’s this one-man-show guy who’s in [Chicago], and he’s able to pull off that level of caliber.”

Jackie gave the show a gleaming 5-star review on Yelp, upholding Trickery’s perfect 5-star average from more than 150 reviews. While Aaron takes this as a huge compliment, he also feels pressure to meet people’s high expectations at every performance.

“Part of the stress for me is running this thing and making sure everything goes swimmingly and hits all these marks,” Aaron said. “I have to be consistent.”

While Aaron feels the pressure to impress, he knows he can turn to his Yelp reviews to learn what his audience loves and what aspects he could change. Many of his customers come from seeing his business on Yelp, so staying on top of feedback is imperative to his business.

“Before starting Trickery, I maybe would look up reviews for businesses here and there, but I never really thought much of them. But since starting this, it is clearly what drives business,” Aaron said. “I could not do this without all of the really positive feedback and pages like Yelp for people to go and look [my business] up and have it be pre-vetted. It goes a long way.”

Small businesses in any industry can learn from Aaron’s tricks to running a successful business, such as:

  • Less is more. By running a small show that can only seat around 35 people, Aaron is able to connect more with his audience on a personal level. This intimate environment has generated word-of-mouth referrals that keep business booming.
  • Take time for your mental health. It can be hard to keep your product fresh when you’re the sole creator behind the scenes. To avoid burnout, Aaron times vacations and days off so he can re-energize himself for his shows and come up with unique ideas.
  • Prioritize the core product. Because he has limited time and is a solo venture, Aaron can’t devote his time to traditional marketing. Instead, he relies on a strong core product to generate positive reviews and bring in new customers.
  • Quality is more important than quantity. While Aaron could add more shows to his weekly schedule, he keeps his calendar manageable and focuses on upholding the quality of his shows from Thursday to Sunday.

Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Aaron and Jackie, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.

Available on: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and Soundcloud.

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