There are three simple things you need to do to start, run, and grow a speaking business from scratch.
If you do these three things with your best effort and without cutting corners or skipping a single step, you’ll be well on your way to growing what could be a six-figure speaking business! Here are the three things you must do:
- Get your foot in the door with new clients and associations for speaking opportunities.
- Develop your “Sell-Your-Message Speech”
- Create your FFF (Fee, Focus, Format)
Let’s start with point #1.
1. How to Get Your Foot in the Door with New Clients and Associations for Speaking Opportunities.
Stay local initially, within 100 miles of your home.
There's no reason to try to get an engagement across the country where you've got all the travel issues and where you may not be known. Instead of bogging yourself down with information overload, start local.
I urge you: do not dismiss this next tip as an option. It’s a requisite. These recommendations will sound simple, but they are strategic. Here’s what to do:
- Google your town name and add “chamber of commerce,” then again with “business networking group,” and again with “Rotary club.”
- Find out when these groups meet.
- Attend their meetings and join these organizations.
It’s this easy:
This is a low-risk / high-reward scenario.
First, joining these groups will help you build your networking skills. Second, it will help you interact with people relationally. They won’t feel like you’re trying to sell them something.
The investment in a Rotary club membership can often buy you a lot of business, particularly if you're in a larger market with numerous and varied companies whom you can serve in some way.
Don't walk into the meeting with the intent to sell yourself.
Have some patience!
This is going to take some time, but when you get involved in this way, you position yourself as a peer. When people see you as one of them, they’re more likely to do business with you.
Once you've connected, find out whether they have speakers at their meetings. If they do, ask who books the speakers for their meetings, and set the process in motion to become that speaker.
This is what we might call the “backdoor path.” You’re taking the time to get to know people and giving them the opportunity to know, like and trust you. Eventually, you’ll offer your services, but going about it like this makes it easier for them to say, “Yes!”
When the time has come you simply say, “I have a presentation that can help this audience. When can I get on the schedule to give that presentation?”
Just about every association has a state, local, or regional chapter. Every trade association has an industry, so when you know where your message fits best, you’ll know where to focus your efforts.
Perhaps you worked as a human resource professional at some point in your career, or you are currently employed in HR. If you’ve worked that field, it’s logical to associate with people in that field. No doubt your journey has revealed some important lessons you can share. Many aspiring speakers start in this way because they are equipped to serve in the niche in which they have the most experience. Later on, you can broaden the scope of your message and audience.
Joining these groups is not a glamourous tip, but it’s extremely valuable! It’s the way most successful speakers have started their speaking business. And that begs the question, “Why are those speakers successful?”
Speakers are successful because they’ve developed the requisite skills both on and off the stage. Yes, they can deliver onstage, but their ability to network, connect, pitch, and brand themselves is just as important to their success.
- Stay local initially, within 100 miles of your house.
- Find and join those key business groups in your area.
- Do it today!
2. The “Sell-Your-Message Speech”
Getting ready for a speaking engagement that doesn’t yet exist might seem like a waste of time and energy. But you should always be prepared for a speaking engagement … even if you are not actively seeking one.
This is what I call the “Sell-Your-Message Speech.” This is a short, 12-15 minute talk that showcases your unique perspective and value. If you deliver it well, potential clients should understand exactly what you can contribute to them.
This talk should focus on your own story, so don’t spend tons of time doing background research for this speech. The subject of the talk is you…and who knows you better than you?
Use these four questions to bring out the real power of your message:
- What led you to where you are now?
- What was the pain (or crisis) you were experiencing?
- What is the solution path you discovered?
- What transformation do you want to help others create in their lives?
The Sell-Your-Message Speech is about getting your message heard. At this point, you’re not calling the audience to take action. But now they want to know how they can change their lives like you did.
To get an excerpt from my Sell-Your-Message Speech, Download My 3-Step Roadmap (PDF) Here. (There you can see how I incorporate answers to the questions outlined above.)
Creating a Sell-Your-Message Speech provides your audience with a point of reference that showcases the work you are doing as an expert. Having that talk “at the ready” will benefit you when unexpected opportunities arise. You won’t have to scramble at the last minute to create something great.
3. The Three F’s
Once you’ve completed the first two steps, you need these three indispensable “Fs” so that potential clients will hire you:
- The Fee
- The Focus (Questions to determine the topic or scope)
- The Format (Workshop? Presentation? Interview?)
If you skipped ahead to this section thinking it was more important, allow me to state one simple warning:
Never cold-contact people for speaking engagements!
Cold-contacting doesn’t work. It works if event coordinators cold contact YOU, but not the other way around. If you have not warmed-up potential leads ahead of time, you’ve positioned yourself as nothing more than a seller.
People love to buy, but they do not like to be sold. Follow through with steps 1 and 2 before jumping to, “How much do I charge?”
But when it’s time to ask that question, the answer is: “It depends.” So, let’s talk about this.
Your fee depends on the VALUE you are bringing to the organization. Now, before you roll your eyes and think, “Just tell me what to charge, Michael!” let me say it again: it depends.
Most beginners will try to find out what other speakers or consultants charge. Then they adjust their fee based on how much of an expert they feel they are compared with the “going rate.”
Other beginners look at the client, guesstimate the size of their speaking budget, and try to extract as much money from the client as possible.
This is more than just a rookie mistake: it’s foolish.
Neither of those two criteria have anything to do with YOU, or the VALUE you provide. Instead of basing your fee on yourself, you’ve based it on external factors. At this point, you probably have no idea what kind of value you provide or the level of compensation that value deserves. You’re trying to sell a product whose value you don’t know,
If you are serious about building your expert business, read the following two points — because they will help you answer the vital question of the value you are bringing to the client.
Then I’ll circle back to discuss the fee.
(Setting fees is an extensive topic, so I also suggest you bookmark this free podcast episode, How to Move from Free to Fee.)
The Focus (Questions):
Questions allow you to “interview” the client about their experience and map out the objectives of your speech, seminar, or consultation. This will also help you get an idea of the value you will provide.
Several years ago, I was introduced to an HR director (let’s call her Jane) by her CEO. The CEO told Jane, “I want Michael to come help us with this culture problem we have.”
She had never met me, but had been “ordered” by her CEO to work with me. She had no idea what I do. Likewise, I did not know her. It was an uncomfortable position for both of us to be in.
So what did I do? I asked Jane several questions to help me understand her perception of the “culture problem” her CEO had mentioned. When I felt she knew I understood her perspective, I moved on to my three focus questions. Memorize these and use them often.
- Please tell me about your previous work with outside trainers, coaches, or consultants. What have your experiences been like?
- What did you like most about the last program you did?
- What would you like to see done differently?
Asking Jane these questions gave her a chance to open up. I mentally took notes as I listened to her responses, and I was able to give a thoughtful solution. You can really learn a lot about people’s needs by listening to them. And by listening to their issues, you have a much better idea of the value of what you have to offer.
Instead, we often go into such a meeting simply telling them what we have to “sell.”
At this point, you’re likely weighing the options of HOW you might deliver the solution to your client’s problem.
- If your client is an event coordinator and needs a conference speaker, it’s likely you will either deliver a keynote or workshop.
- If your client is bringing her entire marketing or sales department to meet with you, you’ll probably facilitate a training or strategy session instead of giving a speech.
- If your client is an individual executive, you may end up simply coaching that person one-on-one.
All of these are different expressions (or formats) of the solution you are offering … and they all determine the level of value you are providing. They also define the amount of work you will do to prepare.
Back to my story; once I asked Jane some focused questions, I was then able to respond with:
“Jane, based on what you've said, my sense is ____. Is this an approach that might work for your organization?”
You see, this is a collaborative negotiation.
The worst thing you could do is say, “I have this canned program. It is done this way. I need 25 people in a room for 2 hours and 37 minutes, etc.” That is professional suicide!
Now, Back to the Fee Questions…
As you can see, thinking through the Focus and the Format makes setting your fee much easier. Below is a list of questions to consider in order to set your fee.
The order matters! Question 1 helps you understand the audience they envision. Question 2 engages them in thinking about how best to serve that audience. Question 3 reminds them you are seeking to create results, not get the gig. Question 4 deals with the current budget reality.
- “How many people will be involved in the program?”
This is critical as it helps you estimate the value of your program to the organization.
If 10 people who each earn $50,000 per year are going to invest a full day with you, then that day is costing the company at least $2k in salaries and benefits. BUT if you can teach them something that saves them one day a month, then the aggregate return is over $24k…that is a lot of value.
I am not suggesting a per-person rate, but rather a value-based pricing approach where you link your fee (at least in your mind) to the value you create. This is the easiest way to get comfortable asking for higher fees! The response to this question will also help you refine, enhance, and customize the structure for this client at this time.
- “What do you see as the best way to deliver the program to get the results we are seeking?”
This is a place where you can really shortchange yourself…they may have 100 people and you immediately think about a big workshop format where you can handle it all in one day.
But the client may know that a series of smaller programs would work best, or you may know it and need to suggest it (and usually that is the case for scheduling reasons).
Using what you learned in your FOCUS conversation you can map a plan that creates a multi-day engagement, and therefore generates a higher fee. Just make sure you are being honest and that the approach makes sense and is the right one to create the desired impact.
- “What has to happen for this program to be a success?”
This is a low-hanging-fruit question because you know the answer…the pain they are experiencing has to be alleviated in some way. But it allows them to tell you a specific outcome and how they will measure that outcome. (If they don’t tell you, ask.)
That enables you to explore follow-up support you can provide to help them ensure the program creates real results.
The truth is that few do this. So this is something that will make you stand out. Also, it often can add 50% or more to your fee because of the additional support and value you’ll be providing.
- “Do you have a specific budget for this program?”
Some would argue this question should come earlier in the discussion, but that would be a mistake. If budget were a real issue it would have come up before you even got to this point.
The budget question is best asked after you have a clear vision of the focus and format, and have listened to the client and co-created a program that solves their problem.
At this point, the client is engaged and even if the budget wasn’t available they may find a way to make it available. Or, they may want to do a pilot this year and go deeper the following year. This is what leads to repeat business and helps you get off the “random revenue roller coaster.”
The bottom line is that this is a consultative selling approach. You are “coaching” the client all the way to closing the deal.
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