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If you want a fun night of socialising without leaving your couch, then Dolly Adamson is your woman. After 20 years of entertaining in bars, clubs and at private parties, she’s perhaps now best known for her music trivia and disco bingo nights. Her business goes by the name Dolly’s Disco Bingo.
But since COVID-19 restrictions have changed the way we socialise, Dolly has had to completely change the way she operates her business. It seemed pretty bleak at first: all her upcoming events were cancelled and she lost about $50,000 in revenue in two days. But thanks to support from her clients, she was encouraged to continue hosting parties, just in a different way.
For the last few weeks, Dolly has been hosting music trivia and disco bingo nights over Zoom and her customers have been absolutely loving it. It turns out that boozy lounge room 40th and 50th birthday parties, complete with karaoke and disco lights, are possibly even better than a night down at the pub.
It’s taken a bit of technical savvy to set up, but Dolly’s found that in some ways she prefers digital events to the in-person ones she normally hosts. We had a chat about how she’s navigating the challenges of being an entertainer in the time of social distancing, and how she’s making it all work.
TheLatch— Hi Dolly! It would be great to hear a little bit more about your business and what Dolly’s Disco Bingo is all about.
Dolly Adamson: I’ve had my business for 20 years. I started off doing kids’ karaoke parties, then went into adult karaoke parties, then DJing, followed by wedding DJing. That evolved into trivia and hosting trivia nights.
Working on the Spirit of Tassie was probably the big change in my business. They wanted normal bingo on the ferry, and I said, “Oh God, that’s boring,” so I came up with the music, the disco bingo, and I did that for seven years on the Spirit of Tassie.
I have been doing disco bingo ever since! It’s been quite steady for 20 years. And then the coronavirus hit…
TL: So take me through that. How have you been impacted, and how have you had to pivot your business?
DA: Well, for two days I was answering the phone with, “Cancellation hotline, can I help you?” It eliminated gigs for the whole year because I had regular venues for the trivia, regular venues for the music bingo, plus heaps of fundraising nights for schools and sporting clubs. I wiped about $50,000 off in revenue in two days.
“I wiped about $50,000 off in revenue in two days.”
But I got over that, and thought no, I have to adapt. Because there were still a lot of beautiful clients that wanted me to keep going, which was great, because otherwise I think I’d just be lying on the couch watching Netflix and hoping for Centrelink payments.
The drive to adapt came from my clients saying, “You can still do this,” and supporting me.
TL: That’s a really nice story to hear, that there was such strong support from your client base.
DA: Yeah, beautiful actually. I mean they really, really do care, and I’ve got some customers who are friends that I’ve been entertaining for the last two or three years. The trivia night that I did once a week at a pub, they’ve all banded together — they become kind of like family when you see them once a week at trivia.
I host a regular Tuesday night Zoom trivia just for them, which is great, because they can all see each other too. I usually do music bingo at Daylesford [in Victoria] once a month at the bowling club, and that was packed every time. Over a hundred people would turn up. The Daylesford community have all been very supportive.
I’ve been doing a little disco bingo on Zoom as well for different groups, and that’s gaining popularity through word of mouth.
I’ve been doing 40th’s and 50th’s, which often turn into a whole different thing, because basically it’s just people getting pissed in their lounge room. We also have people doing karaoke with an old hair brush and lip syncing. So it’s just hilarious, it’s a lot of fun.
TL: Are you using Zoom for everything? Do you find you are doing more trivia, or karaoke?
DA: It’s an even mix of the two so far. Lots of birthday parties, where I do the music bingo, because I can still set up my mixer and play music via Spotify and have the microphone on. I have it like I’m an external DJ. But it’s turning into a ‘Big Brother’ kind of a format, with those parties. The more people drink, the more they don’t realise that someone can see them on screen. So they really are dancing like idiots in their lounge rooms, and if I see anything remotely hilarious then I call it out for everyone. It’s just hilarious.
TL: How have you advised your clients that you’ve adjusted the way you’re working?
DA: I updated my website through GoDaddy. Contacting GoDaddy was one of the first things I did. They always offer 24/7 support, which I find amazing and really, really helpful, you know? If you’ve got any problems you can just give them a call. It’s great. I updated my website to advise how things were changing.
And then it was really as easy as setting up Zoom, buying a webcam, and buying a little soundbar. It didn’t really take much to adapt the business online because I had everything else. I can still send people my music bingo tickets and the answer sheets for the trivia, and so really nothing’s changed except I’m not getting in my car and travelling miles all over Melbourne.
I’m not earning the money I used to, but it’s enough to pay for my food and pay for my bills at this stage.
TL: And how have you worked out the way you charge? Is it the same or is it less, or…?
DA: I find that I’m not charging as much because everyone’s doing it tough. I’m trying to make my service affordable for everyone. And for the trivia, it’s only $10 a house, and anyone in the house can play. I’m not being greedy.
“I’ve never been greedy when it comes to that kind of thing.”
I feel like I’m starting over. It’s all about getting word of mouth, and it’s getting traction, people are going, “Oh my god, we had a great time. You got to do this for your birthday party”. As long as I’m getting regular work I don’t care. I’ve never been greedy when it comes to that kind of thing anyway.
I’ve done a few freebies for mates, just for people that have supported me over the years. But at this stage… I was earning about $1500 a week, and this week I’m earning about $600. So that’s great; food and bills sorted.
And I find I’m not spending as much money because I’m not going anywhere.
TL: Do you think that the way that you operate your business will be changed for good?
DA: I hope so. I really don’t want to get into my car and travel! I travel so far and wide, and I just get so tired lugging DJ equipment around, and driving home at one or two o’clock in the morning.
TL: So it’s been an opportunity for you to rest up?
DA: It’s been great. I just walked past my 14-year-old daughter, from the bedroom, going, “I’m going to work now.” She goes, “What?” and I said, “Going to the study.” So I’ve got my study set up at home.
TL: Do you think that there will be a positive that comes out of this? So while it feels a bit doom and gloom at the moment, do you think we will emerge with a different perspective on life?
DA: I think it’s really connecting people that haven’t been connected for a long time, and not everyone goes to pubs and clubs, you know? There’s a lot of people that don’t go out, and they’ve been self-isolating for years, you know what I mean? So for those people, they’re really embracing it.
“I’ve seen people that I haven’t seen for years.”
There’s one lady in particular that I know she wouldn’t go out that much, and she’s just getting her mates from all over the country to play trivia bingo with me. So she’s loving it, and she’s not having to move from home, and she’s able to connect with every one of her mates. And I find that personally too; I’ve seen people that I haven’t seen for years, you know?
We’ve got the time now, we’re not rushing everywhere. It’s really interesting. It’s like a reboot that we needed to appreciate everyone in our lives.
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