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Ten Steps to Becoming a Professional Speaker: Part II
by Chris King

So you want to be a "Pro!" In Part I of this topic we covered the first five steps to take: get good, join the National Speakers Association, make decisions and develop a strategic game plan, develop a salable speech, and develop as a speaker. In the next five steps, we will get into the nitty-gritty of becoming a profitable professional speaker.

Market, market and market! The key to your success as a speaker depends upon how effectively you market yourself. In the beginning of any new business at least 80% of your time needs to be spent on marketing so your target market discovers you. One of the first steps is to establish your target market. You have developed your salable speech and topics (not too many). What group or groups would benefit the most from hearing your message and would be likely to want to hear your message? To establish your credibility, you may have to give some free presentations to these groups. I would suggest, however, that these presentations cover the topic and or topics you speak about. I originally made the mistake of speaking about anything to anyone. It was good practice and did help me to develop as a speaker, but it didn’t set me up as an expert in a specific area.

When you speak for free, ask for a testimonial letter that you can use in your marketing packet. When you make copies highlight the most important and glowing words. There is incredible strength in the written word. Write about your topic/topics and contact organizations who would be interested in using your article in their newsletter or on their website. Tell them they can print it free of charge if they give you a byline including contact information and a headshot of you. As you move up the fee ladder, it will be important to have a short and punchy video of you speaking. The National Speakers Association has more information and tapes on how to approach this, along with other great marketing ideas, than you can imagine. The workshops and presentations given by the been-there done-that speakers who belong to the organization are invaluable. And get a website. It doesn’t have to be intricate or flashy, but it does need to reflect you and your professionalism. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about marketing is to think, “In the best of all possible worlds, where money is no object, what would my marketing materials look like and say?” Then, do it.

Create and sell product. Most of the fulltime speakers I know sustain themselves and their income by selling product. This can be “at the back of the room,” at trade shows, through publications and/or catalogues, and on the Internet. Some buy books and other products (a humor speaker friend offers all sorts of “toys” and humorous objects that audience members and those who receive his catalogue are delighted to buy). For years I would recommend and sell tapes through Nightingale Conant (they have a distributorship program). You can develop your own products that range from audio-tapes of your presentation, to booklets, to videos, and to writing and publishing a book. Another speaker I know had funny pins (including his name) made up which he sold by the dozens at his engagements. Just always check ahead with the meeting planner to make sure that this will be OK with them. Extra note: you may not make a huge amount of money from the book you have written, but the credibility that accompanies a book is well worth the time and effort.

Consider fees. I am sure that you have heard that speakers make “big bucks.” This is not always the case, and when you are just becoming established, you will not be able to charge as much as later on. At this time, remember it is better to charge less than you are worth and have the meeting planner feel that he/she “got a deal.” There are various feelings about negotiation. Personally, I feel that once you have set your fees (and you feel that they are fair), you shouldn’t let the meeting planner “talk you down.” If you were a meeting planner and another planner said, “Oh, yes, we had Chris King speak and she was so reasonably priced at _____,” which was a lot lower than what your group paid, how would you feel about Chris King? I determine fees for myself by checking around to find out what groups are paying and then I have a chart that takes into consideration the location (I charge a lot less in my own area), the time involved, whether it is a keynote, workshop, or seminar, and whether or not I have to spend a great deal of time traveling. When do you raise your fees? The best advice I ever received here was, “It’s time to raise your fees when you have so many requests to speak, that you can’t possibly fulfill all of them.”

Learn about speakers’ bureaus and agents. Most speakers’ bureaus and agents are like banks. They don’t want you until you don’t NEED them. It is when you are “hot” that they usually come to you. There is one word of warning here. Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous people out there who will want to represent you even if they haven’t heard you speak. If someone says they are an agent or have a bureau, but need money “up front” to include you in a directory or brochure, run the other way. Most pros suggest waiting eight productive years before soliciting a bureau. Again, remember that in all your dealings with any bureau, you are professional, ethical, credible, and always go “that extra mile.”

Find a mentor or mentors and listen to them. There are a plethora of professional speakers who willingly give their time and advice to aspiring speakers. I am always amazed by how few of the aspiring speakers listen and then follow the advice. This scenario takes place at the National Speakers Association Winter Workshops and Convention. You will also find mentors, and have the chance to become a mentor yourself at the Chapter meetings. Get active and take part.

And my final words of advice to you are: STICK WITH IT. Persistence pays off in everything you tackle.

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