Business Speakers – Don’t Follow Your Bliss – Follow Theirs!

As a professional telemarketing speaker, customer service speaker, and negotiation speaker, those that aspire to this profession or that just want to be paid for their platform pyrotechnics, ask me for advice.

Recently, just such a hopeful, residing in a town with a famous prison, said to me she wants to position herself to speak for money. I gave her the standard suggestion for novices.

Start “free,” and evolve into “fee.” This is to say, offer your services gratis to service clubs such as Rotary and Lions. Suggest a breakfast speech topic or two.

Join the local chamber of commerce, and do the same. And in her case, I suggested she offer speeches and training at the prison, particularly on vocational topics that have a good chance to attract funding.

She wrote back that the lockup “is not a place where any of my topics would fly.”

If there’s anything more annoying than someone that asks for free consulting it is a person that argues with it once it is politely tendered. Anyway, here was my reply to her rebuttal:

“Fit the topic to the venue. We don’t get paid to deliver what we want to say, but what audiences want to hear, and above all, what they’ll pay value for. Joseph Campbell notwithstanding, don’t follow your bliss, but theirs. Over and out.”

Public speaking seems to be a great profession for extroverted egomaniacs that want to strut their stuff. But it is a career disaster if we don’t put audience wants and needs, first.

If that speaking wannabe is genuinely interested in talking for a living, she should pitch the prison. That will help her to come face to face with the relative constraints and freedom involved in starting her own speaking enterprise.

Home-Based Business

People are funny about money. If they have been receiving something for nothing and then they are told that they will have to be charged for it, don’t expect them to be your paying customers.

Instead of being grateful for the services or the accommodations that you had been letting them use for free, more often than not, they will be offended that you are going to charge them for the same things that you were letting them have gratis.

It’s one thing to open your home to friends and strangers and let them enjoy your hospitality, but it’s another thing to start charging them for it.

When they are your guests, they can be very complimentary about you, your home, your furnishings, your refreshments, and/or your services. And why not? They aren’t paying anything for it. But someday you might get tired of playing hostess with the mostest and you might want to get paid for something that, up until this point, you’ve been giving away for free.

This is when you discover whether what you have is worth something to the people who have been enjoying it. That’s not to say that what you have been giving away isn’t of value; it’s more to say that people don’t want to pay for something they have gotten for free.

Before the Internet came into our lives, most people bought books or borrowed them from the library. Nowadays, you don’t have to pay a penny for your books because thousands of books, on any subject and any genre, are offered for free on the Internet. Some of them may even be by your favorite authors or bestsellers that are given away as promotions or borrowed as part of a membership club. But once people get into the habit of not paying for something, it’s next to impossible to get them to start paying for it.

Small town newspapers may be the exception. They have been known to get their start by not charging anything for the first year, getting people in the habit of wanting to read their newspaper before charging them for it. And it worked for most of the newspapers.

But personal services and home entertainment are different. It’s almost like being on a celebrity’s A-list for years and then being demoted to their B-list. People take it as a personal offense and would rather go somewhere else, even if it’s less desirable, than part with a single penny to give to you.

Before you go to the expense of making home improvements in order to start your home-based business, start charging people for the things they’ve been receiving for free. Get a realistic assessment of your customer base and your future finances before you spend a lot of money on renovations.

Training Business – Should You Give Your Services Away?

If you’re interested in being – or already in business as – a professional trainer, the question of fees is one of the most intimidating issues you may have to deal with. You have to address how you charge and what to charge. How do you make sure you don’t over-price and, vice versa, that you don’t under-value your services? And then there’s also the question of whether or not you should ever “give it away.”

There is no right answer for how or what to charge – it’s a combination of your experience, what you’re offering, and what the client is willing to pay. But “freebies” are good to consider if you’re making a living as a trainer.

The most compelling reason you’ll hear for why you shouldn’t offer gratis training services is that it will devalue your work. You might be perceived as “less professional” or “less credible” if you give free workshops. And the second most compelling reason you’ll hear about why it’s not good is that it’s unlikely to be of any benefit to you – some organizations just want you to give to them, but you’re unlikely to get any return.

Let’s debunk those reasons. Because, if you’re going to be in the business of offering your training services, you have to recognize that free, or gratis, or pro bono work is a part of doing business. Heck, doctors do it, lawyers do it. Why wouldn’t you?

Here are some compelling reasons why you should definitely consider giving away business from time to time:

EXPOSURE. One of the keys to success in your training business will be how many people know your offerings and can speak highly of it. Giving a free workshop gets you that exposure. Be sure to take as much advantage as possible and ask the participants and the client to complete evaluations and/or write glowing testimonials that you can use as references.

MARKETING. One way to look at your gratis offerings is as a source of future business. Sometimes a free program can be leveraged for more business. The hope is that participants may actually want to hire you or at the least, will sing your praises to people they know, resulting in business down the road.

CHARITABLE DONATION. Probably most of the pro bono opportunities you’ll have will be for nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits generally do not have the training budgets that corporations have and therefore cannot afford to hire a training contractor. While it’s important to note that, for tax purposes, Uncle Sam doesn’t allow you to count donating your services as a charitable contribution, it can still be something that you choose to do from the heart. It may be a way you can support a group important to you, whether a social services agency, or a health-related association, or an arts organization. And you never know who those attendees might know!

SKILL BUILDING. Especially if you’re just getting started, or if you’re “road-testing” a new program, free offerings can help you hone your skills, iron out the rough spots and build your competence and confidence. And if there are any glitches, then it’s more palatable to your client who didn’t have to pay for it.

In addition, don’t forget FREE SPEAKING. Unless or until you decide to become a professional platform speaker, you should take every opportunity to speak and not worry about charging. Some organizations may have a budget for an honorarium, and that would certainly be nice. But don’t speak looking for money – you should speak looking for exposure. Any time you can speak about your area of specialty, no matter what kind of group – business or civic or philanthropic or educational – you are spotlighting your name and your expertise, increasing the odds that someone will see you and just have to hire you.

Speaking and doing training for free is an investment in your business – you will reap returns in the future.