When someone decides to be a professional speaker, they rarely have experience running their own business, and ever fewer have insight into the business model of professional speaking. This means we have to learn business lessons the hard way, and that equates to a lot of lost dollars in the process.
Whatever our motivations were for striking out on our own and giving up the security and certainty of a paycheck, many of us struggle to change our mindset over into that of a CEO – someone who pays attention to revenue goals, maximizing profit and minimizing expenses throughout their business. We mistakenly believe that money is something ‘other people’ should concern themselves with; we’re in this business to change lives, right?
This mentality works until we either run out of money or realize that in order to continue sharing our message with the world, we have to think like the businesspeople we serve. None of our audience members would want to sit through a talk about how to lose money, but that’s exactly what many professional speakers are doing with every speaking engagement.
The simple truth is – the more we get paid for our expertise, the more of our time and resources we can bring to drive the results we’re being brought in to achieve. For a minimum amount of money, a keynote may be all we can provide. If a client has 5X that fee, we can also include books for attendees, pre-, during- and post-event value adds to aide with prepping folks to learn and ensuring implementation, etc. This means in the effort of maximizing the value our clients receive, we as experts and businesspeople need to maximize our revenue – the more we are compensated, the more we can do to make an impact for our audiences.
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1. Know What It’ll Cost Without Our Expertise
What will our audience members have to pay if nothing changes in their lives or businesses? And what is that multiplied across every audience member? Unless that number is known (even if it’s approximate), then whatever you charge for your talk will be too expensive. However, if you can link your expertise to solving a $500,000 problem, then a $50,000 fee is a 10:1 ROI for your client. A $25,000 fee is a 20:1 return. Few legal investments yield that kind of return, and speakers who are running great businesses ensure they discover what the cost of the problem is among the audience members they’ll potentially be addressing.
2. Know What They’ve Paid In The Past
If you knew what the organization you’re reaching out to has likely paid for a past speaker, would that make a difference in what fee you could comfortably quote (or even if it was worth reaching out to this org at all)? Of course! Fortunately, this information is readily available.
If you can locate the name of a speaker the organization you’re targeting has hired in the past (thank you, Google!), then you can also find that speaker’s ESpeaker listing or bureau page – both of which usually list a price.
3. Know The Cost Of Their Membership Levels
If you’re dealing with an association, understand most of their revenue comes not from their events but from member dues. This means they are always seeking new members and doing everything they can to get their members to renew their memberships. Membership costs are usually available on the association’s website. Why is this important?
If you can tie your pre and post-event value adds to getting members to renew or getting your promo content shared to get some folks registered who may not have attended if not for the marketing content you provided, you can prove additional ROI. If a membership fee is $500 and you can reasonably say that you’ll get 20 members to sign up/renew, you’ve made the organization $10,000. If you fee is $10k, then ultimately you don’t cost your client a thing. That’s a great deal for a keynote speaker!
4. Know The Venue Of The Event
The costs an organization will set aside for a grand ballroom at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and the basement boardroom at the airport Sheraton will differ dramatically – and tell you about the likely difference in the budget they have for their speakers. Many events’ websites prominently feature the location of the event and are easy ways to know if you’re dealing with high rollers or folks operating on a shoestring budget.
5. Know The Number Of Audience Members
As with the previous point, an event booking a speaker for a 3,000-person audience will have a substantially different budget (usually) than an event booking for an audience of 35. While there are exceptions to this principle, it’s always a great way to know where you stand when you know how many audience members are expected to be standing in front of your stage.
6. Know Their Budget
Believe it or not, it’s entirely possible for a speaker to simply ask, “What’s your overall education/speaker budget for this event?” We ask, and usually get an answer that helps us understand the amount of value we can provide. So many speakers quote a flat fee and hope their buyer has the budget. Unfortunately, this leaves an enormous amount of money on the table for a speaker and a lot of value the speaker could deliver that never becomes an option.
A great follow-up question is ‘How many speakers are you booking from that budget?’ A $20k fee is great for a talk, but split that $20k into 40 speakers and you’re looking at different math. This is why we ensure we know the overall budget and how many ways it needs to be dispersed to understand what fee range we’re playing in.
7.Know Their Decision-Making Timeline
Critical to receiving any revenue is knowing when it will actually become available. A lot of speakers will go through the steps of a great sales conversation, send along a proposal and then sit staring at their computer screen for weeks before sheepishly picking up the phone to contact their buyer, only to hear: ‘Oh, we don’t select speakers until X date in the future, but we’ll let you know if we select you.’
This is why we always ask, ‘So when are you planning on deciding on your speaker so we know when to release your event dates to other folks who might want them from me?’
8. Know If Travel Is Included
Because every organization we speak with does business (and buys speakers) differently, it’s imperative we understand if the budget range we’re being given includes travel costs or not. This can easily mean the difference of $1500 or more to a speaker’s bottom line, so make sure you clarify this during the sales conversation.
9. Know Your All-Inclusive Offer
This is one of the basics of fee (and value) maximization for a speaker, but so many speakers have been taught to put together a ‘tiered’ proposal with different options at different price points. This leaves money (and value) on the table. Instead of a tiered package, we offer our ‘platinum’ package at $x amount, and if the budget can’t pay for it, we’re happy to pull items out to meet their budget range and ensure we’re offering as much value as we possibly can along the way.
10. Know What To Put A Price On In Your Proposal (And What Not To)
If you break your value-adds in your proposals (workshops, books, webinars, etc.) as line-item costs, you are asking for re-negotiation. When anyone who is trying to maximize their budget sees a separate cost to something, they’ll ask ‘Do we really need this?’ That’s akin to a patient asking a surgeon ‘I don’t need the full round of stitches, I’m budget conscious. Sew me up with half the stitches, please!’
Sounds ludicrous, right? Then if you have anything but one price a buyer sees in your proposal, stop it now!
11. Know Your Payment Terms
The quickest way to ensure you only get half of your fee? Set “half fee now and the balance to be paid at …” in your payment terms! No businessperson on the planet would tell someone to purposely go on a payment plan rather than be paid everything up front, but speakers do this all the time!
While we may not always get the most advantageous payment terms, we’re guaranteed to not get them if we don’t ask or ask for something different. If you are asked to take less-than-advantageous payment terms, now you have room to negotiate other non-monetary recompense from your clients – extra nights on site, guaranteed introductions/referrals, high-quality video, etc.
12. Know What Happens If They Don’t Pay
Sometimes clients will only do business with us if we collect the balance of our fee on the date of the event or afterwards. That’s fine, but it’s imperative for us as businesspeople to ensure those funds are delivered on time – we have bills to pay, too!
This means instituting a ‘penalty fee’ or interest to be added to your fee if the payment is not available by the date promised. We’ve never had a gig cancel because of that language – most folks understand that we’re operating as good businesspeople by ensuring cash-flow and wish their members/employees had more of your mindset.
13. Know What It Means If Someone Says ‘You’re Too Expensive’
If you ever have a proposal kicked back for re-negotiation or when we inquire, learn that ‘you were outside our budget,’ know what that means. It can only mean YOU didn’t have a conversation with the economic decision maker. It’s this person who is responsible for the solution a speaker is being hired to provide, and usually knows how much money is available for the speaker budget. If you take the time to ask ‘What’s your budget?’ during the sales conversation, you’ll never quote a proposal outside their budget range.
14. Know What To Do If You HAVE TO Reduce Your Fee
Once you’ve submitted a fee for a set of options in a proposal, you’re saying to your buyer, “As a professional, I have assessed the problem as we discussed it and have built a solution that I believe will be impactful to you and equitable to me.”
If you, for any reason, reduce the fee on those options without removing options as well, you’re telling your buyer, “I was trying to take you for all you were worth – and I’m willing to accept less for the same amount of effort and time on my part.” That’s not ethical, and it should cause you to lose the gig. To maintain your fee integrity, if your client removes potential dollars they’re willing to pay you, you have to remove value you’re willing to deliver in turn.
15. Know What Happens After The Proposal Is Sent
Many speakers believe they know everything they need to know to send a great proposal, but don’t know what to do after the proposal is sent. They believe it’s up to their buyer to make the next decision – hire or not hire the speaker. This is only slightly worse than making your entire marketing strategy ‘waiting for the phone to ring, someone who saw me speak in the past must be looking soon to hire me for their event!’
Instead of self-selecting to be in feast-or-famine in your speaking business, take the initiative and reach out the week your buyer has told you they’ll be making a decision, just to see if they have all the info they need/have any questions. We’ve never been told we’re being too pushy by doing that. We have been told, ‘Thanks for checking in! Something came up, but now that you’ve reminded me I’ll make sure accounting cuts that check for you today!’ A businessperson only needs to hear that once to make sure they always check in around the decision-making timeframe.
BONUS: Know Your ‘MAF’
The most powerful person in any negotiation is the one who can walk away from the deal. As businesspeople, our time is valuable and we need to know what our ‘minimum acceptable fee’ or ‘MAF’ is. If our buyer can’t meet that minimum fee, we need to be ready to walk away or help our buyers identify other sources for your minimum budget. Strangely, if you come across as a professional that knows the value of the solution you provide, money tends to appear if your buyer believes you can deliver ROI on what they pay.
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