How to Move Your Speaking Career from Free to Fee Faster

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With regards to a professional speaking career one of the biggest issues that comes up is how to move from speaking for free to getting paid a fee. That’s the topic I discussed with Bill Guertin, former NSA Illinois Chapter President, for this blog post.

Setting and Achieving Your Speaking Goals

Bill recalled a pivotal conversation with legendary NY Times bestselling author Mark Victor Hansen. Bill was assigned to pick him up to take Mark to a speaking engagement. This afforded Bill the rare opportunity to spend two hours talking with Mark on the ride to the engagement. Mark asked Bill if he had any goals. Bill mentioned that he wanted to become a professional speaker amongst other things. Then Mark asked: “Do you have those written down?” Bill said he didn’t have them written down, but he had them in his head. Mark’s response was “If you don’t have them written down you don’t have any goals. The only way to achieve goals is to have them written down. When you write them down your subconscious begins to manifest them.”

Mark then challenged Bill to write out 101 goals and Bill got to writing over the weekend. To date he has achieved over 80 of them. What does this mean to you as a speaker or aspiring speaker? Get very clear about your goals, it’s important to be very specific. For example: If you want to write a book, don’t just set a goal of “writing a book.” Set a goal to write a specific kind of book about a specific topic.

Moving From Free to Fee Faster

Mark also shared this nugget of advice: “Speak for free until you no longer have to speak for free.” You must become versed at your craft before and be worth the money that you want to earn before you can ask for money. Bill’s advice is to speak for free as much as you can until you believe that you’re ready to start charging. To get there faster talk about what you know best – not just the “hot topic” of the day. In Bill’s case this was sales and sports (and it still is for him). That way you can speak from firsthand experience from doing what you’re sharing with your audiences. That’s much more powerful than reading a book and talking about what you read.

It’s not enough to just tell your story. You should have the intention of helping others get better at what they do. Your story needs to be relevant and actionable to your audience. They need at least one action item to take with them after listening to you. What are you inspiring them to do, be or have? Inspire them to do something better or different that will make their lives better as a result of taking the action(s) that you suggested.

There are ways to successfully make the transition from free to fee. If you’re considering speaking at an event that is paying other speakers, that opens to door to the fee conversation. In that case a fair question to ask is “What is your budget for the event on the high and low side?” They might tell you that they don’t have a budget, but unless you ask you won’t know. One of Bill’s favorite mentors told him “Ask and you get, don’t and you won’t”. If they don’t have a budget, it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth your time. In that situation you could ask for something in lieu of money such as a video of you speaking instead of a speaking fee. Speak in exchange for them filming you and then use that footage in your marketing materials.

One indication that there is SOME kind of budget is when people are paying to be in the audience. The money has to go somewhere, and it could be going to you. In that case asking to get paid is an appropriate question. You can ask the event organizer who else they’re bringing in to speak. If they mention a celebrity speaker that tells you that their budget is high. You can also target sales-driven organizations such as banks and insurance companies because they are used to paying for expertise.

Once You Start Getting Paid

Once you become proficient at your craft you need to get the highest possible quality video of the work that you do. They key word is “proficient.” Don’t video tape yourself until you believe that you are ready, a poor quality video is worse than no video at all. Another “don’t do” has to do with editing videos of yourself. If have an editor make a four-minute video, or “sizzle reel,” the other 50 minutes of your speech better be just as good. If you get hired from a sizzle reel and can’t perform at or above par for the rest of your speech you won’t get asked back and you won’t get any referrals. Ideally the video will feature you in front of an audience so the video can capture the audience’s reaction to your speech. If you don’t have a budget for a video, then you can use the tactic that you just read about – offer a lower fee or even no fee in exchange for a high-quality video.

Another important tip is to ask for referrals at ALL of your speaking gigs, paid and unpaid. Even in small groups you never know who is in the room and who they know that they could refer you to. Bill uses the word “dream,” as in “My dream would be to have one of you in this room refer me as a speaker to a major conference.” He uses that word because people like to be part of making someone’s dreams come true. Bill has successfully used that strategy. In one case he went from the local level of school food service professionals to the national level at a conference with 1,600 people in attendance.

Bill uses the word “dream,” as in “My dream would be to have one of you in this room refer me as a speaker to a major conference.” He uses that word because people like to be part of making someone’s dreams come true.

In Closing…

Bill’s biggest piece of advice? Don’t give up! Ask anybody and everybody for referrals and do not be afraid to do so. If you’re good at what you do, and you’re confident in your abilities, success will come if you’re patient and diligent enough to ASK.

About The Guest

Bill Guertin is Immediate Past President of NSA-IL and is known throughout the business world as “The 800-Pound Gorilla of Peak Performance.” As a sales trainer, he has worked with the ticket sales departments of over 100 professional sports teams throughout the US, Canada and Mexico, including teams in the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, and many others. Bill’s new Virtual Keynote presentation (“The 7 Voices in Your Head”) is a much broader program targeted to more general audiences, and uses sound effects, music and voices for an unforgettable virtual experience for online conferences and meetings.

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