by Jan Meyer
You won't work for free for very long. Some sort of compensation must be provided in order to keep your service. Have you ever done or witnessed Free demos - Free AFF jumps - Free plane rides? What was the result?
Free demos are the most common give-a-way in skydiving. Jumpers do Free demos because "It's my first demo", "There's free food and beer on the ground", "We were going to do this jump anyway", "It's something different", "It's already set-up and the crowd would be disappointed if we didn't jump in", "If I don't go, someone else will", and on and on.
You have acquired a very valuable skill with a tremendous amount of time, energy and financial sacrifice. Why would you want to give this skill away? Would you give away plumbing skills if you're a plumber? engineering skills if you're an engineer? repair skills if you're an auto mechanic? free repacks if you're a rigger? How many hot dogs and beers does fifteen dollars buy?
How do you get non-jumpers to pay you for jumping? Ask them. At worst, they'll say "no". At best, they'll say "how much?" Here's were you become a salesperson. You must present yourself and your group as professionals. Have a video presentation developed for your group. Include sights, of you and the crowds going wild, from your previous demos. Leave a brochure with a prospective customer. Explain your pricing scheme. Maybe you should have different rates for demos to benefit local teams and demos for large national corporations. Fees based on ability to pay are very common today. Explain FAA rules and liability concerns to your client. Demonstrate that you know how to plan and execute first-rate, professional, and entertaining air shows.
Once you convince your client that you possess skills and talents worth paying for, you should have no trouble asking for and receiving adequate compensation. The Golden Knights get $6000.00 per demo. You may only get $600.00 per demo from local lodges. Always get the majority of your fee up front. Once you have their money you have their attention. Your calls will go through and you probably won't be canceled.
Always explain fees associated with jumps canceled because of inclement weather. Never obligate yourself to jump in 30 knot winds or from 1500 feet, just below a cloud layer. It's just not professional, it's stupid. To jump in marginal conditions, because you haven't got paid, is just poor planning. A show-up fee at the landing site by your ground crew (who also get paid) during bad weather conditions should be enough to convince your client of your good intentions. Remember that you have no control over the weather. Many professionals consider contingency fees to be unscrupulous. (You pay your doctor whether or not he cures you.) Good demos are arranged months in advance. You have expenses regardless of the weather on the day of the demo. If you think this is crazy, find out how much your local DZ pilots get for showing up on obviously rained-out days.
Local demos, that your DZO tells you about, generally have you pay for your slot or sometimes you get the jump for free. You should get paid for these demos too. Your DZO is in business to make money. He's not flying over to the golf course to drop jumpers without getting paid. He will try and get your services for free. Don't do it. He'll use less experienced jumpers for free. The end result is a less than spectacular demo, possible injuries and no more return business for the DZO. The DZO, in this case, will lose business when someone gets hurt. He'll come around to paying you if you maintain high standards and value your skills.
Originally published in Sport Parachutist's Safety Journal V1, #6 Mar/Aug. 1989.
Dedicated to enhancing sport parachuting safety by disseminating information about equipment, environments and human factors.