The Ultimate Guide to Working as a Professional Santa Claus
Do you love Christmas? Are you full of cheer? Can you grow a belly, and more importantly, a beard?
If so, then you might have what it takes to work as a professional Santa Claus.
If you’ve thought about pursuing this unusual seasonal job, but didn’t know where to start, keep reading for advice from professional Santas in three different states; they share the inside scoop on working as Santa this Christmas.
Santa Claus Job Requirements
Yes, there are a few important requirements if you want to work as a professional Santa Claus.
First, you need to look the part. It’s best if you’re over the age of 50, have a belly and can grow an impressive beard. (But it doesn’t have to be white; some Santas actually bleach their beards!)
Jim Beck, who worked as a professional Santa in Denver for eight years (but is taking this season off), says he got into the business because people kept telling him he looked like Santa -- even without the beard. So after he became disabled and could no longer work in construction, he decided to give it a shot.
Michigan Santa Claus was also a natural: “Mrs. Claus always says: ‘My Santa has a real beard and natural cookie zone.’ I’ve actually had my beard for nearly 45 years!”
More importantly, you have to want to be Santa Claus. You should have a genuine love of Christmas and children.
Santa Tim is enjoying his fifth season as a professional Santa in Lenexa, Kansas. He started working as a Santa to “enjoy the whole Christmas spirit and give back a little bit -- to share hope and joy and love.” (If that’s not a Santa answer, I don’t know what is!)
Where Can You Work as a Santa?
Professional Santa Clauses have lots of work options, including shopping malls, corporate and community events and private home parties.
The Santas we interviewed mostly did private home visits, with some corporate events mixed in. None of them worked as mall Santas -- though some Santas do prefer these gigs because they’re long-term positions with steady hours.
When asked why he didn’t work at the mall, Santa Tim explained: “First of all, I want to be independent; secondly, you can only spend around 30 seconds with a child while at the mall. When I do a home visit or corporate event, I get a lot more time with each child.”
Santa Jim Beck has worked at the mall in the past, but now sticks with mostly private parties because he “enjoys the smaller venues.”
How to Start Working as a Santa
Ready to find work as a professional Santa Claus? Here are the techniques our Santas suggested:
1. Go to Santa School
You probably didn’t know it, but Santa schools are a big business.
One of the most comprehensive is the Professional Santa Claus School in Denver, which is held over Labor Day weekend each year. The cost of this four-day school starts at $850 and includes food, 11 months of pre-and post-conference training and consultations, publicity pictures, makeup kits, 72 hours of classroom training -- and even live reindeer!
Santa Tim graduated from this school and found it a “very worthwhile investment” because there are “certain amounts of psychology that go into speaking to children.”
He learned a lot about that there, including how to react when a child says they want an iPad or tells you about abuse. Mostly, he enjoyed the school because it set “such a high standard; you’re not just Uncle Joe from next door anymore.”
2. Network With Other Santas
That being said, you don’t have to go to Santa school to find success as a Santa.
Santa Jim Beck got started by working for an established Santa who “subbed out other Santas.” Though he had to pay the lead Santa a cut of his earnings, it led to gigs of his own.
If you’re just starting out, this is a smart move. Find a local Santa who has more work than he can handle, then offer to take on any gigs he can’t or doesn’t want to do. If you offer him a percentage of your earnings, what Santa is going to say no?
3. Buy a Suit … and Start Working
That’s how Michigan Santa Claus did it.
His first Santa suit was made by a friend who is a professional sewer. He wore it while helping to sell Christmas trees at the Home Depot where his son worked. He wanted to “see what the response would be and if I liked it.”
Clearly, the response was “awesome!” -- because he is now in his thirteenth season.
4. Build a Website
For all of the Santas we interviewed -- just like the party princess we spoke with last year -- web inquiries are how they get the majority of their business. Creating a website is an essential step in starting your business.
Michigan Santa Claus recommends R & R Web Design, whom he hired to create his snazzy-looking site.
But if you don’t have the money for that right away, don’t fret: Santa Jim Beck’s site was designed by a friend and is very basic. Despite its simplicity, it is still how he gets almost all of his customers.
5. Create a Profile on Gig Salad
When looking to hire a professional Santa, most people’s first stop will be an Internet search. And Gig Salad, a site for booking live entertainment, might be one of the first things that pops up.
For that reason, Santa Tim says creating a Gig Salad profile was the “most effective” thing he did. Membership ranges from free to $39.99 per month.
6. Return Visits
The first year of being a Santa is definitely the hardest. However, once you’ve visited some families, Santa Jim Beck says, “They’re generally going to want you back next year.”
People want continuity for their kids, which means guaranteed repeat business each year -- in addition to any new clients you drum up.
Santa Tim says this works for corporate events, too -- as does word of mouth: “One HR lady will ask another one: ‘What Santa did you hire?’ and that will get you some more gigs.”
How Much Money Can You Make Working as a Santa?
The pay range for professional Santas varies widely, depending on how much you work and how much effort you put into marketing yourself. The majority of Santas only work during November and December, though some keep the holiday spirit going all year long.
Santa Jim Beck recently raised his rates from $150 to $200 an hour, though he says he is “not gung-ho like a lot of guys are.”
Santa Tim estimates you can earn “$3,000 to $7,000 in a season” working part-time on some weekday evenings and during both the morning and evening on the weekends.
How Much Does It Cost to Start Working as a Santa?
Besides for growing out your beard, there are some start-up costs involved in working as a Santa.
If you choose to attend Santa school, that will be one of your biggest expenses.
Santa Tim says the rest depends on your “level of professionalism,” adding: “If I'm going to represent Santa for children, I want to be as professional and realistic as I can be. Children are looking at everything about you: your eyes, your cuffs, your boots, your belt. I put $200-$300 into bleaching my hair and beard; I have two suits that each cost over $1,000, a $300 belt and $300 boots.”
Michigan Santa agrees, saying it’s “very important” to “not ‘skimp’ on the suit.” His is “lined wool with real sheepskin white fur trim.”
In addition to the suit and the website, he also says, “It’s very important to set up as a business account and register the name of the business with the state establishing LLC … [And] we’ve never had an issue but we do carry Entertainment Liability Insurance.”
What Do Aspiring Santas Need to Know?
So you still want to work as a Santa? We asked our professionals for the one piece of advice they’d give to aspiring Santas, and here’s what they said:
“Grow a beard and learn how to laugh!” -- Santa Jim Beck
“Before you become a Santa, you really need to understand what it's going to do to your life … You are going to have to be Santa Claus. I have a different standard every day; it's a high level of responsibility. It’s everywhere you go: If you’re driving your car, and you have road rage -- people are going to say: ‘Oh, Santa's having road rage.' You have to really govern yourself … Even in street clothes, some kids will come up and grab your legs and tell you what they want -- so you’ve got to spend a few minutes with them.” -- Santa Tim
“Always stay in character when you have your Santa suit on. Work on that ‘HO HO HO;’ it must come from deep within the belly! When [Mrs. Claus and I] have an event, we take the children into our arms and on our laps and in our hearts, as our own. Yes, we do receive payment -- but you’ve got to love children and their families too!” -- Michigan Santa Claus
Your Turn: Who do you know that looks like Santa? Send them this article and see whether they’re keen to make some extra cash this holiday season!
Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.
This post originally ran in 2014, but we wanted to bring it back for any potential new Santas.