Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.
David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.
Published on March 23, 2022 Updated on November 28, 2023
$6,550 - $34,100
$120,000 - $480,000 p.a.
Time to build
1 – 3 months
$48,000 - $192,000 p.a.
Cirque Du Soleil has dramatically changed the circus landscape. Old-school Ringling Brothers-style circuses with elephants and tiger acts are nearly extinct. Even today’s smaller circuses have acrobatic and theatrical performances and regularly perform in clubs and at major events, like music festivals. If you’re a performer or an MC, or just love a life of adventure, you could start your own circus and travel the world while making good money and entertaining adults and children alike.
Before the fun starts, though, you need to understand the process of launching a business. Fortunately, this step-by-step guide will teach you all the entrepreneurial tips and skills you need to start and run a successful circus business.
Looking to register your business? A limited liability company (LLC) is the best legal structure for new businesses because it is fast and simple.
After negative coverage regarding the treatment of animals, major circuses mostly removed animals from their shows and circuses are making a comeback.
Interest in circuses is growing due to circus-inspired fashion trends, with designers such as Versace and Dior coming out with circus-inspired lines.
Challenges in the circus industry include:
For some, negative connotations around the word circus due to the treatment of animals still remain.
The rising number of small circus companies is making the industry more competitive.
How much does it cost to start a circus business?
Startup costs for a circus range from $6,500 to $35,000. The low end assumes a modern circus that has acrobatics and other shows that will perform at various venues. The higher-end is for a traveling circus that will need a bus and a circus tent.
You’ll need a handful of items to successfully launch your circus business, including:
Setting up a business name and corporation
$150 - $200
Business licenses and permits
$100 - $300
Business cards and brochures
$200 - $300
$1,000 - $3,000
Costumes and equipment
$5,000 - $10,000
Bus to transport perfomers - down payment
$0 - $5,000
$0 - $15,000
$6,550 - $34,100
How much can you earn from a circus business?
Circuses that perform at venues charge a flat fee plus an hourly fee, which varies based on the number of performers. A fee for a 2-person performance at a club would be about $400 plus $100 an hour. A large performance at a theater would command a much higher flat fee that could range from $10,000 to $40,000 or more depending on the size of the venue. Your profit margin after labor costs should be about 40%. These calculations will assume an average performance fee of $5,000.
In your first year or two, you could do two shows a month, bringing in $120,000 in annual revenue and $48,000 in profit, assuming that 40% margin. As you begin to get more gigs, you could do eight shows a month. With annual revenue of $480,000, you’d make a tidy profit of $192,000.
What barriers to entry are there?
There are a few barriers to entry for a circus business. Your biggest challenges will be:
Finding great performers to work with
The startup costs if you choose to have a traveling circus
Related Business Ideas
If you’re still not sure whether this business idea is the right choice for you, here are some related business opportunities to help you on your path to entrepreneurial success.
Now that you know what’s involved in starting a circus, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market.
Market research will give you the upper hand, even if you’re already positive that you have a perfect product or service. Conducting market research is important, because it can help you understand your customers better, who your competitors are, and your business landscape.
Why? Identify an opportunity
Research circuses to examine their services, price points, and customer reviews. You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the market is missing a circus that offers trapeze acts and jugglers.
You might consider targeting a niche market by specializing in a certain aspect of your industry, such as artistic acrobatic performances or aerial acrobatics.
This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away.
What? Determine your products or services
The performances you offer will depend on the type of circus you decide to have and the performers that you hire.
How much should you charge for circus performances?
Your prices will vary greatly depending on the number of performers and the size of the venue. You need to charge enough to pay your performers and achieve a profit margin of about 40%.
Once you know your costs, you can use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.
Who? Identify your target market
Your target market will again depend on the type of circus that you offer, but it will probably be very broad. You should spread out your marketing to include sites like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Where? Choose your circus location
Choosing the right location for your circus business is essential for attracting audiences and ensuring its success. Look for a spot in a high-traffic area with ample space and good visibility, such as a fairground, an outdoor stadium, or a popular park.
Consider accessibility and convenience, ensuring that the location has easy access to parking and public transportation. Additionally, assess the local regulations and zoning laws to ensure compliance and obtain any necessary permits. By strategically choosing the right location, you can establish a profitable and successful circus business that captivates audiences and stands out in the entertainment industry.
You may need to rent out a practice facility or a space to store your equipment. You can find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.
When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:
Central location accessible via public transport
Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
Step 3: Brainstorm a Circus Name
Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.
Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:
Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better
Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
Including keywords, such as “circus” or “circus show”, boosts SEO
Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “Dynamic Circus Arts” over “Juggling Circus Acts”
Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
Discover over 290 unique circus name ideas here. If you want your business name to include specific keywords, you can also use our circus business name generator. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.
Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these.
Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. Once you pick your company name, and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity.
Step 4: Create a Circus Business Plan
Every business needs a plan. This will function as a guidebook to take your startup through the launch process and maintain focus on your key goals. A business plan also enables potential partners and investors to better understand your company and its vision:
Executive Summary: A concise summary highlighting the key points of the circus business plan, including its goals, target audience, and unique selling propositions.
Business Overview: A brief overview of the circus business, outlining its mission, vision, and the unique entertainment experience it aims to provide.
Product and Services: Detailed descriptions of the circus acts, performances, and additional services offered, emphasizing the unique and captivating elements that set the business apart.
Market Analysis: An analysis of the target market for the circus, including demographics, psychographics, and market trends that support the viability of the business.
Competitive Analysis: An examination of competitors in the entertainment industry, highlighting the circus’s competitive advantages and strategies for gaining a competitive edge.
Sales and Marketing: A plan outlining how the circus will attract and retain customers, including promotional strategies, advertising channels, and pricing structures.
Management Team: Introductions to key members of the circus business, emphasizing their skills and expertise in entertainment management and performance.
Operations Plan: A detailed plan outlining the day-to-day operations of the circus, including venue logistics, staffing requirements, and equipment needs.
Financial Plan: A comprehensive financial overview, including revenue projections, cost estimates, and a break-even analysis, demonstrating the financial feasibility of the circus business.
Appendix: Supplementary materials such as resumes of key team members, detailed financial spreadsheets, and any additional information supporting the business plan.
If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist to create a top-notch business plan for you.
Step 5: Register Your Business
Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.
Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business!
Choose where to register your company
Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you’re planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to circuses.
If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state.
Choose your business structure
Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your circus will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely.
Here are the main options:
Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
Limited Liability Company (LLC)– Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have.
The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN.
Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.
It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you’re completing them correctly.
Step 7: Fund your Business
Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:
Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.
Bank and SBA loans are probably the best option, other than friends and family, for funding a circus business. You might also try crowdfunding if you have an innovative concept.
Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits.
You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more.
Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your circus business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.
Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account.
Step 10: Get Business Insurance
Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.
Here are some types of insurance to consider:
General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of the above insurance types.
As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business.
Essential software and tools
Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.
If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.
Develop your website
Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism.
You can create your own website using website builders. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.
They are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. These are steps that help pages rank higher in the results of top search engines like Google.
For your circus business, the marketing strategy should focus on showcasing the excitement, wonder, and unique entertainment experience your circus offers. Emphasize the talent of your performers, the variety of acts, and the family-friendly atmosphere. The goal is to establish your circus as a magical, must-see event that offers an unforgettable experience for all ages.
Professional Branding: Ensure your branding captures the whimsy, thrill, and spectacle of the circus, from your logo to your promotional materials.
Direct Outreach: Network with local schools, community centers, and businesses to offer group discounts and special performances.
Digital Presence and Online Marketing
Professional Website and SEO: Develop an engaging website that highlights your performance schedule, act previews, and ticket information. Use SEO best practices to optimize your site for search terms related to live entertainment, family events, and local performances.
Social Media Engagement: Use platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok to post captivating behind-the-scenes content, performer highlights, and promotional videos.
Content Marketing and Engagement
Circus Life Blog: Share articles about the history of the circus, performer profiles, and the creation of your acts.
Customer Testimonials and Reviews: Feature positive reviews and stories from audience members, focusing on their experiences and favorite aspects of the show.
Engaging Video Content: Create videos that showcase acts, provide performer interviews, or offer glimpses into the setup and logistics of running a circus.
Experiential and In-Person Engagements
Community Performances and Workshops: Offer community outreach performances or circus skill workshops in local parks, schools, or community centers.
Meet-and-Greet Events: Host meet-and-greet sessions with performers before or after shows to enhance audience engagement.
Collaborations and Community
Partnerships with Local Businesses: Collaborate with local businesses for joint promotions, such as restaurants offering meal discounts with circus tickets.
Sponsorship and Local Events: Get involved in local festivals and events, either through performances or as a sponsor, to increase visibility.
Customer Relationship and Loyalty Programs
Loyalty Programs for Regular Attendees: Offer discounts or special perks to repeat attendees, such as priority seating or exclusive access to future events.
Group and Family Packages: Create special ticket packages for groups and families to encourage group attendance.
Promotions and Advertising
Local Advertising: Use local media, outdoor advertising, and community boards to promote upcoming shows and tour dates.
Email Marketing: Keep your audience informed and excited through newsletters featuring upcoming performances, behind-the-scenes content, and special offers.
Focus on USPs
Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your circus meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire.
Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your circus business could be:
Dynamic acrobatics to inspire kids and adults
Modern circus performers for your next major event
Bring the kids for family fun under the big tent
You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a circus, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in circuses for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections.
The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in circuses. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership.
Step 12: Build Your Team
Potential positions for a circus business include:
Performers – perform circus acts
General Manager – bookings, accounting
Marketing Lead – SEO strategies, social media
At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need.
Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent.
Step 13: Run a Circus Business – Start Making Money!
A performer’s life on the road and under the big tent is a constant adventure, and one that offers great opportunity. It’s possible to live your dream as a performer and entrepreneur at the same time! With a small investment you could grow it into something much bigger.
You’ve done the right thing by acquiring the necessary knowledge, now it’s time to round up some great performers and get your new circus on center stage!
Circus Business FAQs
Can a small circus business be profitable?
Sure, it can be profitable. You can charge a healthy hourly rate for performances. As long as you put on a great show you’ll attract customers.
What is the most famous circus?
Barnum and Bailey’s which used to be Ringling Brothers is the most famous circus. However, it closed in 2017.
What is the world's oldest circus?
The Royal Hanneford Circus is the oldest circus. It has origins that date back to 1690.
How a typical day in a circus looks like?
A day in the circus involves traveling and setting up tents and exhibits. Then various shows are performed.
What is the growth potential of circus business?
Circuses are generally not big money makers, so the growth potential is limited. However, the popularity of circuses is making a comeback.
How to Start a Circus Business
Decide if the Business Is Right for You
Hone Your Idea
Brainstorm a Circus Name
Create a Circus Business Plan
Register Your Business
Register for Taxes
Fund your Business
Apply for Business Licenses and Permits
Open a Business Bank Account
Get Business Insurance
Prepare to Launch
Build Your Team
Run a Circus Business - Start Making Money!
Circus Business FAQs
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