The speaking business, as with most entrepreneurial endeavors, can be a fickle chick. You can be totally booked in October by January and then, spend the summer eating Chunky Monkey while eye-guzzling three seasons of The Real Housewives of Some BS County.
While my business was doing pretty well (probably better than most) I still wasn’t making the money that all the other people in my industry were pretending to make. *sigh*
I had all the right stuff – a great website, great content, great social media, and a great speech for great value at a great rate. Everything should’ve been great…uh…it was’t.
I was struggling – a lot…but why?
Well, after a little introspection I discovered it was because I was ruining my business when I needed to be KILLIN’ IT (ps – that is slang for doing really well… kinda like bad – not bad meaning bad but bad meaning good. You know what… get a cool friend.)
So, just in case your business is not living up to your expectations, take a look at this list of things that I stopped doing.
Stop Thinking – I am too old for a mentor
At one point I had worked with someone that said, “If you want me to work with you to reach your goals you must have skin in the game. People without skin in the game are not serious.” (Note: skin is code for money.) So I paid them. We worked together sporadically. And it just wasn’t a match. I started to think, “Maybe I’m too old for a mentor” and then…
Holy Mother of Kick In the Butt – Connie Friggin’ Podesta changed my life… in 1 phone call.
Connie gave me a new perspective on things like – the business of speaking, my rate, my poor website copy, being a woman in this business, my crap website copy, sales, negotiations, and so much more! She was really honest about her experiences and didn’t hold back when telling me something was complete $h*t… like my website copy.
Connie wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings; she was telling my how I was hurting my customers and my business. She took the time to explain why things were wrong and talked about viable solutions. She transformed my association vs corporate mind-set to customer centric knowledge.
I never asked her to be my mentor. I just said, “YEAH! You’re my mentor. This is happening.” In fact she might read this and think, “I am?” Remember that cat you fed that one time who would never ever go away. That was me to Connie!
To me, Connie was more of a badass than EF Hutton. When she spoke, not only did I listen; I learned and took immediate action. Never ever did I drop an excuse like “well this is why I did it this way”. Who gives a crap why something was done in a certain way when that way isn’t working. I asked questions… lots of questions and stayed completely open to her perspective.
Connie would be as excited as I was nervous when I took action on her lessons. I soon learned that the best way to pay a mentor is with immediate action on lessons shared. A real mentor wants to see their words turn into something great!
I was so accustomed to giving advice, that being on the receiving end felt odd. Needless to say, when Connie had something that she needed help with , I was excited to share my secret stash of stuff that I knew how to do that no one else has access to. (oh.. and it is a pretty epic stash.)
Stop Thinking – Topic vs Niche and Corporate or Association
We hear speakers talk about having a niche and how your business will struggle and fail without one. I soon learned that most people think that a **niche is a topic (marketing, social media, women in business)…. uh… it’s not. Read here to find out what a niche is.
I, like many others, was told that I needed a tight niche and a target market (which most believe is either corporate or association) to be top of mind and to keep my phone ringing. Also not right.
When I cut the niche cord, developed a topic, and understood my customer better my business started to soar quickly… like in a few weeks quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I had to market, but now my marketing had some major swag-nificense (again… get a cool friend) and was irresistible to my target customer.
Stop Thinking – Keep it Safe and Ultra Professional… like Tom Brokaw
My website design is amazing. My pictures are great. But… and this may come as a total surprise… the website copy needed some work. It made me sound like an old TV news anchor. Basically, I was channeling Tom Brokaw. While Tom is fantastic, I am no Tom Brokaw. Nice, safe, professional… Tom Brokaw.
I had words like: Leadership in the New Millennium, Innovate to Dominate, Lean In to Stand Out as titles for speeches. Connie said, “Ha ha ha! You would never use words like that in a sentence, so why are they on your website?” Uh… duh!
Connie further explained that my boring titles and crappy copy was competing with the spa. And that people can choose to dominate or get a massage. She asked me, “Based on your title what would you do?” I thought, “I would skip the speech and ask,’How much for the happy ending?’”
I immediately took action. A copywriting class by Len Smith on Udemy was just enough to make me see the error of my ways and get me headed in the right direction. What was even better was that LEN (the man himself) blessed my copy. Now, the number one reason that event planners call me is because of my copy.
Most speakers are hired because of their videos; My speaking videos aren’t even on my homepage. I have doubled booking calls based on COPY! Wait until my epic videos go up in February.
Stop Thinking – I just need to be comfortable with my rate
I was “in the middle”… just like everyone else. So many times I was told that associations wouldn’t pay a 5-figure rate or that $10k was at the top of their budget. I should get comfortable with my rate and never go higher than $10K; in fact, I should stay a little below. I was also told that if I dared to stray above $10K, then corporate engagements would be the only engagements I could get; and even that would be limited.
Wrong on both counts. Not only have I booked corporate and association engagements – I have not had to renegotiate a lower fee.
Don’t get it twisted. I had to up my game.
Every written piece of copy, every word in my keynote, and everything I delivered had to be worthy of my new rate. Even my old preview videos had to come down. They were bringing down my stock rather than raising it. Most speakers would say this is cray-cray; but the seriously interested event planners simply Googled my videos. Sure there are pros and cons; but so far so good.
I looked at everything with a critical eye. It didn’t have to be perfect but it had to be worthy of a premium speaker. The stories I used in a $5K speech had to die or be amped up for a speech at 3x the rate.
Stop Thinking – I have to check with All the professionals and do what EVERYONE has done well
“Group Ask” was my number one way to get help. I’d have a problem. Go to my favorite online group. And ask them what I should do next. And 20 people would gladly give me thirty well thought out opinions of what worked for them.
I scaled back… way back. I minimized my participation in groups unless I was sharing something specific. And by the way, most groups don’t like long educational posts… so yeah… I scaled way way back.
If I had an idea, I asked just one or two people with the expertise I respected, needed, and wanted to duplicate. If I was making a business decisions, I would call Connie… period. Just Connie. When I had a call to negotiate with a client at my new fee, I called Connie first to get my new negotiation skills in check. The only expertise that mattered was that of the woman who was earning what I wanted to earn.
If I wanted feedback on something like my website, I asked my customers – not other speakers or web developers; but my customers.
A great example is that I had a web developer tell me that my site was confusing to my user. However, my users said that they loved my site and how cool and easy it was to navigate. There are some minor things that I would love to fix, but they are not stopping business.
There are only 5 people whose expertise I take heed of and they all have very very different skill-sets. If I need to know something specific, then I go to that specific person and that’s it.
This is the only advice I will give you – Find a person who is like you (I swear that I was Connie’s daughter in a past life.) and then model your business after theirs. Don’t compete with them, model them and give back to them as often as possible.
My fee is double today than what it was less than a year ago… and I am consistently getting that fee. The bottom end clients who caused me to negotiate hard only to cut my rates in half have been referred to others. I lost 5 of those clients but gained 7 on the top end. The amount of deals that I closed in the past 2 months have already exceed the half way mark of what I earned in the past 11 months… and I earned in the 6 figure arena. I have an equal number of corporate and association clients.
The one surprising thing is at my new rate there are far fewer questions. Event planners usually say something like, “Well you are the professional so I will let you decide what’s best.”
And isn’t that where we want to be in our business? Seen as the professionals we are and earning what we are worth.
For example: A Project Management firm that does course correction on Enterprise Projects which are greater that $5 Million and experiencing difficulty in the area of scope, budget, schedule, and quality. This means that if a company wants this PM firm to work on a project that is not experiencing difficulty or is new or wants them to remain after course correction would not be a match. Simply because these items are not their niche. Back To Top