As a business owner, you may sometimes find yourself in awe of the substantial speaking fees commanded by experts in their fields. What you might not know is that you, too, may be able to share your expertise and get paid for doing so.
“Often small-business owners underestimate the value of what they know. Everyone has expertise that can be leveraged into a marketable message that creates a revenue stream,” says certified speaking professional and author Joseph Michelli of The Michelli Experience.
Capitalize on Your Expertise
The best way to get paid for speaking may be to raise your profile as an expert, believes business and speaking coach Jane Atkinson, author of "The Wealthy Speaker 2.0" and "The Epic Keynote." “Companies will pay big bucks to solve issues like attracting and retaining top talent,” she says. “Think about what you have to offer. If you own a small business that has been highly successful with customer service, groups may want to hear your tips and tactics.”
The key to acquiring impressive speaking gigs may be knowing how to position yourself as a sought after expert within your industry, agrees Douglas Vermeeren, CEO of High Profit Speaker and author of several books, including Guerrilla Achiever. “You establish expertise by constantly learning about your industry and coming up with problem-solving techniques. Business owners who solve issues become high-demand speakers.”
Keynote speaker and business coach Bill Wooditch, founder, CEO and president of The Wooditch Group suggests letting your mastery do the speaking for you. “Don’t extend too far outside of your knowledge base—stay centered,” he says. “Drill deep on a few areas you’ve mastered and let the audience feel your conviction, confidence and competence.”
—Douglas Vermeeren, CEO, High Profit Speaker
Determine Speaking Topics
When you speak, Atkinson suggests focusing on subjects that have earned you business. “What’s your secret sauce for winning business or creating long-term loyal clients?” she asks. “How have you influenced people or been a great leader? If you are overwhelmed by many choices, pick a topic you are truly passionate about.”
Consider being focused about your topic and goals, Vermeeren adds. “Funnel where you want to take your audience so they can achieve powerful results and overcome specific problems. When you become very focused and knowledgeable in those areas, people will recognize you for it.”
The topic should pass what Michelli calls the CRUD test. “On which topics will you be most credible; which topics will enable you to provide unique content, and on which topics will you be most relevant? Also, what are you most passionate about? A message without an audience is pointless, and a speaker without passion is a snooze fest.”
“Those small-business owners who get impressive speaking gigs know how to market and position themselves as the experts in their industry,” Vermeeren says. “The gigs don’t always go to the most qualified, but to the most visible.”
To help sell your speaking skills, create an effective media kit, adds Denise Jones, speaker bureau director for Ascendant Group Branding. “When pitching yourself, make sure the information you present is clear, precise and to the point.”
Negotiate Speaking Fees
When it comes to negotiating and setting your speaking fees, Michelli notes that it’s a market-driven process. “Many speakers start by keeping fees low until they have tightened their message and dialed-in their platform skills,” he says. “They then set a higher speaking fee.”
Also take a look at your competition to see what other business owners are charging. Michelli suggests consulting your local chapter of the National Speakers Association, which may have a mentorship program. “A mentor can help with both the business—marketing/pricing—and platform—presentation/technology—aspects of being a professional speaker,” he says.
Whatever you do, you may not want to accept the first offer, Atkinson suggests. “Negotiating is a mental game, and the more you believe in your value, the better you're positioned to ask for what you're worth,” she says. “If you believe even subconsciously that a company or association is never going to pay your going rate, that’s going to come through in your posture and approach and will have a negative impact. Learn what the market will bear, know your value and stand tall when asking for your fee.”
Should You Speak for Free?
At some point, you may be asked to speak for free. “I’m careful to not give my expertise away,” Vermeeren says. “Unless you are absolutely brilliant, most audiences will never remember you or your business. The old adage that people value most what they pay for is certainly true in the speaking business. I will generally only speak for free if I can sell my products or services or be assured of the likelihood of acquiring paying customers.”
If you find that speaking for a group won’t provide any value without compensation, consider suggesting the group find a sponsor to pay your bill, Atkinson suggests. “You can give the sponsor visibility by having them introduce you.”
Before you decide to do an event for exposure, it may be helpful to try to find out specifics such as how many people they expect in the audience. If possible, consider consulting with others who have spoken there about their experiences. You may want to determine if sufficient marketing is done for the event.
“There are going to be speaking engagements you’ll want to put on your freebie list, because your ideal client may be in the audience,” Atkinson says. “If a speaking engagement results in $20,000 worth of business, you won’t want to turn down the opportunity because you won’t get your $2,500 fee.”
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A version of this article was originally published on February 19, 2016.