July 21, 2020 Shawn

The Speaker’s Sales Equation: Time vs. ROI

While we’ve focused almost exclusively on sales systems in past podcasts and articles, the sheer amount of things we could be doing in sales – let alone in other areas of the speaking business – can get overwhelming. As we’re often responsible for operations, marketing, sales, administration and stocking the break room as part of our duties as solopreneurs, it’s tough to be able to look at all the tasks we could be engaged in and know what we should be focusing on. Why is that the case? We can learn all about keynote writing, storytelling and even social media marketing but no one teaches speakers how to be a business owners.

And that starts by knowing how to prioritize all the things we could be doing to grow our businesses.

There’s a very simple equation that consistently yields the answer to where we should be spending our time if we are running an entire business ourselves:

Time vs. ROI

As business owners, the one resource we have that costs nothing is our time, and it’s also the only resource we can’t replicate without systems (that’s why we stood up a whole brand based on systems!). As entrepreneurs, we have to look at every activity from the perspective of: “Will the time I invest in this activity yield the maximum return on my investment?”

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Our buyers look at this the same way when considering who they’re going to hire as their event’s speaker: “If I spend $X on a speaker, will I get $10X or $20x value back to me and my audience?”


We should look at our business activities the same way, but where do we start?

First, it’s all about the benjamins:
The absolute highest and best use of the time for an entrepreneur, especially one in the early years of their business, is revenue generation – not marketing, content production, or practicing their speech. Without revenue coming in the door, a business won’t survive long enough to execute a great marketing campaign, write the bestselling book or to practice the speech until it generates standing ovations.

The first and primary filter we must put all our potential tasks through is: How many steps will it take for this task to generate revenue?

Writing a book or an article means we have to write it, publish it, find people who need it, get it in the hands of people who need the solutions it contains, follow up with them, find out when they’ll be hiring a speaker, discover challenges, send our information to them, follow up with multiple emails (the way most speakers prefer to communicate as they’re afraid of getting on the phone), finally send a proposal, and cash the check. That’s at least 11 steps, and it could take months to produce the book and years to finally send enough emails to get a request for a proposal. There’s a better way if we map out the steps. The way we book business is much faster because we took the time to run the equation. What does that look like?: Find people who need our expertise, call them, find out when they’ll be hiring a speaker, discover challenges to customize our value against, send a proposal, and cash the check. That’s 6 steps, and going from a conversation to issuing a proposal can occur in as little as an hour.

If we look at the time vs. ROI as it applies to revenue generation, why would we tack on almost a year (or more) to our revenue-generating process? The numbers don’t work out when we look at speed to revenue generation.

Every aspect of our business should be filtered through the time vs. ROI equation, including who we sell to, who we speak with during outreach, content generation and even the administrative tasks of our business. Let’s dive into each and explain how the time vs. ROI equation works:

Who Am I Selling To?

While speaking for a Fortune 100 company seems like a nice feather in a speaker’s cap, few speakers who are conducting outreach take the time to run the time vs. ROI equation on the type of prospects they reach out to. To speak for a company’s internal event where we don’t know anyone at the company, it requires navigating a mass of potential decision makers, establish a trusting relationship, and ensuring we’re top of mind when they are in the mode of purchasing a keynote speaker. It’s almost impossible to get information on internal company’s conference dates, audience sizes, or even specific challenges they’ll be addressing. That’s a lot of time for the same amount of revenue we could be receiving from other types of prospects.

Associations, for instance, limit their decision makers to only a few job titles, all their contact info is publicly available, their conference locations and dates are posted for all to see and because they want strangers to find them, they are great about sharing what they’ll be focusing on at their conferences right on their websites. Knowing this, we can leverage the time vs. ROI equation to focus on the types of prospects that yield revenue sooner and in less time.

Who am I contacting?
It takes time to research any organization and conduct outreach, but many speakers forget the time to ROI equation when they actually get another human on the phone. We tend to revert back to our likable, charismatic selves and wax poetically about all the great things we’ve done to the poor person who made the mistake of picking up the phone. The problem is that unless we verify this is the right person in the organization (i.e. the one who can hire us), we’re setting ourselves for poor results in our time vs. ROI equation.

What content should we create?

If we’re reaching out to enough people who can say yes, then it’s acceptable to use any leftover time to create more content. Unfortunately, few speakers take the time to apply the time to ROI equation when considering what content to produce. Most of the time, we write/create videos/record podcasts about whatever we’re interested in at the moment instead of what our likely decision makers are struggling to achieve/solve for their audience. This means that the content we’re taking time to create may not be relevant to them now (or ever).

A better way to leverage the time vs. ROI equation is to ask our prospective buyers, “What will your audience be dealing with at X event? What challenge will be top of mind for them?” and writing to those challenges during our content generation time. That way, we can ensure our content will be both relevant to a target audience and helpful to a potential buyer who’s considering hiring us.

What am I uniquely qualified to do?

Once revenue does start flowing, speakers are pretty awful at asking what things in their business are things only they can do. What this means is they continue to wear every hat in their businesses long after they have enough revenue to hire people to do things that don’t require the speaker to be personally involved: Making initial sales outreach, editing and loading content online, managing the finances of the business, etc. While revenue generation should be the primary focus in the early days of any business, once that happens business owners in general and speakers in particular forget that the time vs. ROI equation can be focused not just on customer-generating activities.

Whether it happens after one year or twenty years, it’s imperative that as entrepreneurs we ask: “Am I the only person in the world capable of doing this task?” If not, then we know we’re about to get a bad result from our time vs. ROI equation. But in order to ensure we focus more on the things only we can do and outsource everything else, we need the final element in the scaling a business – systems.

What am I capturing in systems?

Of course, we advocate that every speaker systemize their sales processes, but systems can also extend to every other aspect of a speaking business (even the things that only the expert — you ­– can do like speaking from a stage). If we don’t take the time to map out the processes we use for what does work, we’ll always be limited by our own time or the time it takes someone else to learn the process from scratch.

Michael Gerber mentioned that if we want to truly scale as entrepreneurs, we need to imagine that our business is the prototype for thousands of others like it. If that was the case, we’d have to capture everything we do from sales, marketing, content generation, financial and accounting tasks, booking travel and even speech delivery into systems.

By doing so, we’ll have finally mastered the equation and ensured that our time is yielding maximum ROI for our business so we can deliver maximum ROI for our clients.

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