So you want to start a tarot reading business from scratch, huh? Well, before you do, here are some numbers you might want to confront and, after confronting them, understand why goodwill is critical to success in this profession.
Also, why should you have numbers in your head? Because once you have a solid idea of the number of tarot readings you need to do to make a certain amount, your break-even point, etc., then the more defined your goals are. When you have clearly defined goals, you are a lot more likely to succeed.
Now, granted, you’ll have to start by assuming U.S. jurisdiction only. I’ve found that Americans are a lot more conservative and even more resistant to the idea of tarot than, say, their neighboring Canadians, the Brits, Europeans, or Australians. So there’s that. However, Americans (generally here) seem to be willing to shell out more money for a tarot reading than some Asian countries. What you can realistically charge for a tarot reading in China, India, Indonesia, or the Philippines is going to be less than what you can charge in the US, and what you can charge in the US is less than the going rates in the UK. At least those were my informal findings.
Surveying 113 people (across the United States only), the average lay person will risk $10.00 for a 15 minute reading from a tarot professional who the lay person is not familiar with. However—and there is very large and bold “but” here—if you, the tarot professional, have loads of positive testimonials, good reviews, are referred by word of mouth from a friend, or have established your professional credibility, then the dollar amount risked goes up exponentially, and that is a very important point that I will get to later.
What that means for the beginner tarot professional who is hanging out that shingle for the very first time is this: if you are a complete unknown with no established credibility, then according to my findings, you can start at charging $10.00 for a 15 minute reading and make money. If you charge more than that, the chances of securing clients goes down. However, as you build credibility and develop your reputation, then your rates can go up respectively.
If you’re asking me, the following would be my thoughts (and really, I’m not the one to ask for oh so many reasons, ranging from I stink at math, have zero background in accounting or finance to I’ve never actually launched a professional tarot business before; however, for whatever little it’s worth, I am a business lawyer and have counseled numerous startup businesses with their launches).
[Warning: This is a very long post. Unless you are, like, super crazy serious about going pro and have been thinking about the numbers for going pro, I don’t really expect you read the whole thing.]
I would say your first step is to estimate how much capital you will need to invest up front to get your tarot business started. For example:
For good measure, always round up for your costs or expenses and round down for estimated sales or profits when running estimates for yourself. When doing accounting, however, you want exact numbers to the last cent.
Looking at the above estimates for Year 1, your “break-even point” is going to be about $3,270. Always, always know your break-even point. It is a very important number for any entrepreneur to know about his or her business.
Now, your actual out-of-pocket costs for many of the above-mentioned line items may be less than the estimate I’ve provided, while the cost of some may be higher, such as the tarot conference or symposium, if you need to include airfare and hotel. Chances are there is one close to where you live, so if you’re really on a budget, stay close to home in Year 1. At a ballpark estimation of $900.00, liability insurance is the biggest cost, and technically speaking, not one that is required. However, generally these policies cover liability for copyright infringement, personal injury, and complaints against your service, but excluding fraud. If you’re doing tarot full-time at full-force, um… get your ass some liability insurance, please.
Also, I didn’t include a lot of miscellany capital expenses that are otherwise tax deductible and, really, I’m not saying you need three tarot decks. It’s just that most professional readers will have about three working decks (their go-to reading deck, maybe an oracle deck, and a kid-friendly deck just in case). The above chart is just to get a general sense of numbers and not meant to be precise. (By the way, for more information on tax relating to the professional practice of tarot, read my old blog post “Professional Tarot and Tax.”)
Let’s run with the assumption of $10.00 for 15 minute readings. How many 15 minute readings will you have to do to break even?
327 readings, my dear. Just for it all to be a wash in Year 1, you have to do a bare minimum of 327 readings. And you’re not earning any money until the 328th reading (assuming each one is 15 minutes for the sake of easy calculation).
Now that you’re an entrepreneur, you’re going to want to tell yourself that, at the very least, you have to double that reading amount (if not triple) to make your efforts in Year 1 worth it (financially speaking, not spiritually).
Assuming you double the break-even point, that means your minimum set goal for Year 1 is 654 readings of 15 minutes in length, each at $10.00, giving you a gross sale of $6,540.00. That is $3,270.00 in your pocket (after deducting your $3,270.00 expenses) for Year 1 for about 164 hours of your time that year.
To earn out net at about U.S. poverty level, or $12,000.00, assuming 15 minute readings only for ease of calculation, you need to do 1,527 readings (at $10 per 15 minute reading, gross income $15,270 to account for your initial capitalization) in Year 1. To earn the U.S. poverty level in Year 1, you need to clock about 382 hours in tarot readings, which is about 32 billable reading hours per month (in all these instances I’m rounding up).
In other words, $10.00 per 15 minute reading is not sustainable, unless you are ready to get out there and peddle your services day in and day out and aren’t rejecting any reading requests. And as every tarot professional knows, there’s always a small lot of reading requests you end up rejecting for various ethical reasons.
To sustain your tarot business, $10.00 for 15 minute readings cannot be your business model. You get me? For starters, it helps to not have to earn your keep 15 minutes at a time, and to try harder to score 1 hour reading sessions. Thus, one marketing tactic is you’ll want to try to convince your prospective clientele to reserve longer sessions with you.
Long-term, you are going to have to charge more for your service and you are going to have to think of creative (but ethical) supplements to your tarot business. And yet you have to face the reality that, based on the survey I did (which, admittedly, is flawed in many ways, not the least of which is it was not randomized, and was an informal survey of only those in my arm’s length social circle), your average joe doesn’t want to pay more than $10.00 for 15 minutes of your time (assuming this joe doesn’t know you and doesn’t know what you’re capable of). Remember: the dollar amount does go way up if you can establish credibility in the eyes of joe.
So. What does that mean? It means you must invest a ton of effort into establishing your credibility and your reputation as a tarot reader. If every client who comes up to you knows nothing about you and can’t find any testimonials, reviews, or information about you, then that client isn’t going to risk any more than $10.00 for 15 minutes of your time (at least according to my informal and deeply-flawed arm’s-length-social-circle survey).
In business and accounting speak, for a profession like tarot, goodwill is everything. Goodwill is an intangible business asset that essentially measures your branding and how valuable your brand name is. You will assume that for Year 1, you don’t have any goodwill because you’re a newbie. However, in that year, you had better be proactively and diligently working on creating goodwill. Without goodwill, a tarot business is simply not tenable.
Okay, given the above data, what kind of business goals should the Year 1 tarot reader expect to set? Consider this:
Again, these figures assume that you have zero goodwill, are a newbie, and this is Year 1 of business as a newly-minted tarot professional. You will increase your rates by Year 2, and increase again in Year 3, not only adjusting for costs and inflation, but also adjusting for the experience you’re gaining and—here’s the word again—your increasing goodwill valuation.
Also remember you have to deduct your estimated $3,270.00 in expenses from that $13,000.00. You’re looking at about $9,730.00 in earnings as a first year tarot entrepreneur.
The numbers here are based on time valuations, though that doesn’t mean your actual posted fee schedule will be by time. Most tarot professionals give their rates by the number of cards drawn, questions asked, or tarot card spreads used.
Those approaches are great, but in your head and in your internal, confidential business notebook, you better be calculating to yourself how long these types of readings will take you and compare it to the time valuations given here.
So, if you’re charging $10.00 for a 3 card reading, it better take you 15 minutes or less, start to finish, to do that reading, or you’re doing something wrong. No, really, business-wise, you are. We’re not talking spiritual theory and woo-woo the depths and profundity of tarot card imagery here. Business-wise, you’re wrong. You gotta get that 3 card reading, start to finish, under 15 minutes or you’re f****d.
On the other hand, if you can read a Celtic Cross spread in under 15 minutes, then by all means do it. The spread is impressive looking to clients and will give them the sense that they’re really getting their money’s worth. All this is to show you why for internal calculation purposes, always go by time valuations, not number of cards or questions (although your publicly posted fee schedule can certainly go by cards, spreads, or questions).
Your primary goal for Year 1 is not income. It’s building goodwill and it has to be a bit of a numbers game. If you focus on income in Year 1, then you are not likely to be devoting enough nurture to goodwill, resulting in an unsustainable business. Focus instead on goodwill so that you can sustain a long-term practice.
Charge the crappy $10.00 per 15 minute reading that the average joe is willing to risk and attract more clients. Your public posting of fees can look discounted, such as
$20.00 $10.00 for 15 minutes to give your patrons that feel-good vibe of “I’m getting a great deal today.”
Instead of focusing on how much money you’re earning, focus on how many of these clients you can secure as repeats year after year. Also focus on getting your name out, spreading the word far and wide about your business, building credibility, accruing positive testimonials and reviews, and becoming a “known” tarot reader in your community. Those are the focal points for Year 1, and part of achieving that may very well be sucking it up and accepting lower fees.
If you want tarot to be your career, then Year 2 is when you start thinking about income. Your fees will go up significantly in Year 2, and you can triple your rates as these tables show if you’ve been nurturing goodwill in Year 1. Year 2 needs to start looking like this:
Charge more for the 15 minute reading but try to keep at a target of 300 per year. The 15 minute readings are typically targeted at new customers, those who don’t know you. You can do less longer readings and charge more for those and earn more overall than Year 1, but only if you’ve secured repeat clients during Year 1. Also, your net earnings will be higher because many of the upfront expenses in Year 1 won’t apply to Year 2.
Per the numbers given, you’re devoting about 225 hours per year to tarot reading, not including any of the hours you need to devote for upkeep of the business (or generating that goodwill). That’s really nothing, if you think about it, because 225 hours per year averages out to about 19 hours per month.
So basically, you only need to spend about 5 hours per week doing paid tarot readings. Add an additional, say, 5 hours per week for generating goodwill (I’ll talk about that in the subsequent paragraphs), and you’re working 10 hours per week on your tarot business for a gross annual income of $27,000.00. That’s not bad. At all.
The purpose of these figures isn’t to be accurate, since that’s impossible, but rather they should offer some baseline math for your consideration.
For example, if doing 1,527 tarot readings (albeit 15 minutes each) in your first year sounds insane to you, then you must charge more than $10.00 for 15 minutes. Or you have to drastically reduce your overhead costs (the first table above). If you charge more than $10.00 for 15 minutes, which is the established dollar amount that the typical American joe is willing to risk on a tarot reading by an unknown, then you’re going to get less first-time clients in Year 1 because you haven’t established your goodwill yet. Quality over quantity sounds like a nice idea… until you have to pay rent or buy groceries. So these are all factors to consider as you draw up your business plan for your tarot business. If your tarot business is going to be a secondary or supplemental income to a day job, then you can be a lot more selective about your work and do less readings.
Another point I want to make: if you are serious about securing thousands of readings per year, then you can’t be an introvert and rely on online reading requests only. You are going to have to thicken your skin and get out there for all-day events. That means working out a deal with a coffeehouse and planting your ass down at that coffeehouse with a sign up from 9 to 5. That means working out a deal with a bar and doing readings at a bar. If not bar, then bookstore, and if not bookstore, then booking a weekly booth at your local farmer’s market and sitting your ass there under the hot sun with a big ole happy smile on your face from 8 to 4. It means printing out flyers and posting them all over bulletin boards in your town. It means–whether you think you have the skin for it or not–spamming all your friends and relatives to let them know you’ve launched a tarot business and that they can get sweet discounts if they refer you to the people they know or if they book you as the entertainment for the night at their next party. It means cold-calling local corporations, chambers of commerce, and other professional associations (like the local bar association) to try to land gigs at corporate events (this one is really good money so do it). If you’re not ready to do all that, then it’s better to know that now about yourself and reconsider going pro than to start your business, twiddle your thumbs at home in front of your computer, and wonder why you aren’t making anywhere near the average figures.
Truly, the secret to success for a tarot professional is goodwill. For the tarot professional, goodwill is your reputation. When you’re a business, you kind of have to care what people think of you. That doesn’t mean pandering to the masses; in fact that could potentially harm goodwill. People are smart. Don’t forget that. They can see right through you. Instead, you have to care about your integrity. You have to be good for your word. It means showing up to that corporate event you’ve landed early and maintaining your professionalism throughout, no matter how weird or assholey people get. You also have to be a sincere tarot reader. You have to be compassionate and empathetic. You also have to know your shit, because you are bound to encounter somebody who tries to hide the ball, who actually knows a thing or two about tarot, and will try to test you. In sum, if every little thing you do as a tarot reader, no matter how minor it may seem, goes to support one of these points, then you are building goodwill.
Goodwill is sending out your written e-mail readings on professional looking letterhead that reflects your personal style and your approach to tarot. It’s the professionalism of your signage. It’s how you’re dressed, how you present yourself, your smile, and your handshake. Goodwill is how your website looks, the testimonials you’ve accrued, and how willing one of your clients is to recommend you to his or her friends and family. You can incentivize referrals by offering discounts, gift certificates, or bonuses (such as drawing extra cards for a paid reading; a free charm, talisman, gemstone; a free spell to try if such work is part of your practice) to those who bring in new clients for you.
For tarot practitioners, goodwill is also how established you are within the profession, so oftentimes things like certification, membership in a tarot association or organization, teaching tarot, holding master classes on tarot, participating in tarot conferences, or publications are going to help.
Volunteering your time as a tarot professional for fundraisers or to non-profit organizations also increases your goodwill. Even though you’re doing free readings at these events for a charitable cause, you can certainly have your business cards on hand and make sure each person you read for leaves with your card in his or her wallet.
An active website that generates high traffic is incredible goodwill for the tarot professional. Thus, writing a regular blog with informative and personable content is going to generate goodwill and convince prospective clients to pay professional rates for your services.
Let’s say you’ve been doing all of the above at full vigor for Years 1 and 2. Then perhaps Year 3 might look like this:
The target number of 15-minute readings from Year 2 to Year 3 goes down by half, which means as you establish your goodwill, you can be choosier about who you read for. The number of 30-minute readings remains the same between the two years, because the presumption is you have the goodwill to keep last year’s clientele. The target number of 1-hour readings also remains the same.
Let’s say you hold master classes or webinars that the public can sign up for and learn tarot basics or certain tarot techniques from you and each class runs for about 1-2 hours at $40.00 per person. If you can get 10 to sign up per class, you would need to hold only 12 such classes per year (once a month) for an additional income of $4,800.00 that year. For a master class that will leave me knowing the nuts and bolts of reading that tarot deck I just bought and haven’t known what to do with, I believe most people will pay $40.00.
And consider publishing your own inspirational and spiritual guidebooks. These guidebooks do not have to be long or comprehensive, only empowering to the reader. They’re popular now and can help you generate additional income year to year. It also helps to establish your goodwill if you have publications behind your name. These books can be about tarot, but they don’t have to be. Remember: in fact, if your book is about tarot, your target audience is pretty much the tarot community. If it’s a general inspirational book about improving quality of life (perhaps through tarot or what not), then your target audience is much wider.
Typically in business, and I’m talking general startup business, it is assumed that you will not earn a net profit during the first 3-5 years. That’s right. Most startup businesses sustain net losses for the first 3-5 years. In light of that, the numbers for a startup tarot business aren’t bad, mostly due to its lower overhead and upfront capitalization. If you’re passionate about tarot and you are ready to roll up your sleeves to really put in the time, the effort, and experience the initial frustrations necessary for a tarot business to launch, then it’s not a bad gig at all. Many use it as a supplemental income, though if that’s what you’re doing, be prepared to be exhausted every night.
What might a sample fee schedule look like? Here’s my take on it, for Year 3 and onward:
After Year 3 and on, if you’re booked up the wazoo with reading requests, then your rates are way too low and you have to raise them. If you’re experiencing bouts of quiet periods in the year with no reading requests, then either of two things: (1) this is your supplemental income so it’s no big deal, in which case keep your rates as they are, or (2) you are paying rent with this income, which means more aggressive marketing and promotion efforts and keep your publicly posted rates as-is but offer sweet discounts and deals to attract more clientele.
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Everything mentioned here needs to be accepted with the understanding that it’s wildly inaccurate. When it comes to startup figures, the “average” means nothing because very few actually fall squarely on the “average.” Instead, you have many earning below the above figures because they’re not going at this full-force and so have fewer clients and then you have those Type-A personalities who end up in the tarot profession who go nuts and so they make ridiculous good money doing this off the bat.
Then there’s the fact that realistically, most of your first clients will be people you know, in your arm’s length network, and so they’re likely to pay more for your reading (again, it essentially goes to goodwill). The $10.00 for 15 minute number is for complete strangers who know nothing about you.
Also, if you want to maintain a strong emphasis on the spirituality of tarot, you’re not likely to make as much money doing this as a profession because you’re not putting on your business hat. The difference between tarot as a profession and tarot as a practice is business. To be a tarot professional, you are going to have to temper spirituality and business, and how one does that, well, that’s beyond the scope of this blog post.
Your Takeaway Practice Tip: Know your break-even point and do the math to calculate how many readings (i.e., how many hours per week you need to secure doing paid tarot readings) you need to earn out your income goals. You need to know these numbers and track them daily like any other entrepreneur because that’s how you stay focused on business success.