EPISODE 138: THE PATH TO BECOMING A PAID SPEAKER WITH JANE ATKINSON
Jane Atkinson is the Author of The Wealthy Speaker 2.0 and the Founder of The Wealthy Speaker School, which provides online courses, group coaching and live events for all levels of speakers. She is also the host of The Wealthy Speaker Podcast.
On this episode, we chat about:
1. How she got into the speaking business
2. What you need to know about paid speaking and if there are prerequisites to becoming a paid speaker
3. How to find both free and paid speaking gigs
4. How to keep getting paid speaking gigs
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"Spend a lot of time and energy and maybe even money in the first year or two, getting really really good. Because that's how you get your spin off, and that's the best form of marketing is a great speech."
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Topics Discussed In This Episode:
- How she got into the speaking business
- What you need to know about paid speaking and if there are prerequisites to becoming a paid speaker
- How to find both free and paid speaking gigs
- How to keep getting paid speaking gigs
Resources Discussed In This Episode:
One of the ways that I have grown Chrys Media is through speaking at conferences and at events. Speaking at conferences has grown my brand authority, my personal brand and has allowed me to get new clients. However, I am not at the stage where I’m commanding big fees to speak and I’m not getting booked solid. Which is why I’ve invited my guest today to come on the show and explain how we can use speaking to grow our online businesses, command speaking fees, and get booked to speak.
She is the Author of The Wealthy Speaker 2.0 and the Founder of The Wealthy Speaker School, which provides online courses, group coaching and live events for all levels of speakers. She is also the host of The Wealthy Speaker Podcast. Here’s my guest, Jane Atkinson. Jane, welcome to the show!
Hey, I'm so excited to be here. Thank you for having me, Chrys.
Super excited to have you on the show. Like I was telling you before we went live, this is something that is dear to me. I'm trying to get better at speaking. So I want you to expand on an introduction and tell us more about the backstory of how you got into the speaking business.
Sure. Well, I want you to know that what I focus on mostly is the business end of professional speaking. Okay. I don't necessarily do presentation skills, although I do have a book on that, but it's not really my forte. But I fell into it, like I think probably almost everybody does about 30 plus years ago. I'm stopping at 30. I'm not going to go beyond that because I feel too old.
So 30 plus years ago, I saw a Les Brown PBS special. And I'm not sure if you or your listeners know who Les Brown is, but he's an amazing motivational speaker. He's the first motivational speaker I had ever seen while I taped it on my VHS tape recorder and I watched it over and over and over again.
I'm 25 years old at the time and I'm hearing things like if you can look up, you can get up, and don't surround yourself with negative people and make sure that your car is your library on wheels and all of these ideas that were, I hadn't read a book since college, it was completely foreign to me, this idea of becoming self motivated.
And so I thought, oh, I was kind of coming to the end of my contract. I was on a temp job with 3M and I thought, oh, I'm just going to go and work for a motivational speaker.
So you know how you put something out there? Well, within a matter of weeks, I actually had a job working as a business manager. That was my first position that I had for the first half of my career. And I represented this speaker, basement office, straight commission three years and I learned the business.
It was like a slog, but it was really good. We doubled her business every year for three years. Then I got recruited out to Vancouver, worked for a multimillionaire, completely different. Instead of a basement office, it was a corner office and I doubled his business every year. And then I got recruited down to Texas and I worked there for six years and I worked with an Olympic athlete and doubled his business every year for three years.
And then I worked actually under the roof of the Speakers Bureau, which is white phones. So I was able to gather up some amazing industry knowledge being under the roof of a Bureau was amazing, right? It kind of after 9/11, I came back to Canada and I decided to hang out my own shingle because people had been asking me all the time, you know, can I take you to lunch? I was in Texas. Can I take you to lunch and pick your brain?
And so I thought, okay, someday, I'm going to charge for this. I hung out a shingle as a coach. And over 15 years later, I have been just chugging along and building and building and building my business. It's been very exciting.
Why did you decide to leave the corporate environment and actually start your own business?
I think with the business that I was in at the Bureau that I worked for in Dallas, I watched that company grow from 4 people to about 30 people over the course of years and years. And it felt to me like the company just kept changing and changing and changing and changing, and it was really hard to keep up with what was going on there.
I think also I recognized that being in charge of my own destiny, I wasn't something I set out to do, but I've always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit, so I thought, why am I making money for other people? Why don't I just go and make it for myself?
So I decided to hang out my shingle and I've been very lucky. I went and got certified as a coach early on, and I really didn't have a hard time starting my business as I think sometimes coaching coaches do. I'd already had 15 years of reputation built and that was very helpful where you're afraid when you started your business.
And one thing that really helped me and we try to recommend this when people are just getting started in the speaking business, if you can have some little side hustle along the way that just gives you that, and I did, I actually worked for someone who was building a speaker management company and I dealt with only her.
I think it was her Bureau business in the U S or something like that. I just took a little chunk of her business and managed it for her. That was a nice way to get started having a little bit of a side hustle. So that financially it was no big deal.
Did you poach any of the clients that you're working with previously, or how did you find your first few clients?
Because I was with the Speaker's Bureau, they were maybe clients of the Bureau working for other clients. So it wouldn't have been considered poaching, who might have needed help getting started with speaking.
Honestly, 15, 16, 17 years ago, I don't even remember what I did. I put up a website and I just got going. And I was very lucky that I was able to attract business. I think the reputation really, really helped. I went around and I spoke at all the national speakers association chapters and the caps chapter.
So that's the Canadian version of NSA all over North America and I did that circuit for about 10 years. Those are all freebie speeches that you go and do and I got a lot of business from that.
So tell me how you try and differentiate your company from the other companies out there that are trying to help speakers.
Well, you know, I love that question, Chrys, because it's such an important thing to be thinking about all the time. And what we've started to use more and more in our marketing is the idea that this isn't something that I do as a side hustle. I think about how to get speakers booked all day, every day. I'm kind of thinking about you as my client, if you're my client - all day, every day.
And I've developed over 30 years formulas and systems and templates and all of these things that we've put into the school, and I'm pretty sure there's just not anybody who's not kind of trying to sell themselves as a speaker on the side. There's not a lot of people that are doing just what I do.
Walk us through what exactly is this school where you have online courses? What do you teach? Who do you work with? Walk us through the whole deal.
We built both an online platform as well as a membership site. So we have right now about 70 people going through the school and we have a formula that we're kind of taking them through. That has been the basis of all of the work that I've done.
Basically, everything that I know about speaking has gone into the school. So what do you need to do to get ready? We have this formula ready, aim fire.
In the ready stage, we pick a lane, that's our topic. We make sure that we have some good marketing language. That's our promise. We figure out who our audience is going to be in an identify who our clients are going to be.
And we start to develop the wealthy speaker mindset because mindset is a big part of this, as I heard on some of your shows as well. And then we move into aim and that's where we get all our marketing materials together, our website, our demo video, et cetera, put together our social media platform.
And then, and only then, do we fire it. We start rolling it out to our target markets. And so all the steps of each of those are in there, and then we also have a big bonus section for the advanced speaker. People who have been doing this for awhile, things about how to scale, how to develop a team, how to manage being a road warrior.
And then we also have a whole section that gives you all the worksheets and all the homework in one place, because each segment has a homework and templates and worksheets and cheat sheets and things like that.
Most people that I know of, when they have speaking companies, I've actually interviewed quite a few in the past, but they usually do one-on-one or they have a course. They don't have a membership. So what gave you this idea of approaching education from a membership standpoint and also talking about mindset and a business part of it?
Well, one of the things that I recognized as a pain point for my clients is that the speaking can be a very lonely business. And so we've had a live event that we've done now for maybe five or six years, and I recognize that when everybody came together under one roof, they were really sharing a lot of ideas with each other and getting information from me.
But I'm not the only one who's smart in the room, right? I mean, everybody else there is come to the table with something really good. And so I wanted, when they were going through the course, I knew that there were going to be places where people got hung up. I can't decide between this topic and this topic for my lane. Can I get some help please? I can't decide on my marketing language. Can I get some help please?
And so we want it to offer support as you're going through the course, like, let's get you over that next hurdle. Let's get you over that next hurdle. And when people say, Hey, you know, I've reached out to like 27 companies and I'm not getting any thing back then they all swoop in on each other and say, keep going, man, you gotta, you know, it's a numbers game and dah, dah, dah.
And so it's really amazing to see the encouragement that comes from the membership platform. It's just a beautiful thing. And when I'm not the only voice telling people what to do, I absolutely love that. So then when they all get together again for our live event, which happens every March, I mean, they already know each other. So it's really, really cool, and it deepens the learning.
I just heard you say it's a numbers game and I know we're going to go into strategy later, but let me just quickly ask you this question - is getting speaking gigs a numbers game? Is it like the more I apply, the better the opportunities?
Well, it could be exactly that for the most part. Let's say, you're just starting out. It's like a blank farmer's field and you're going to start planting your seeds and then you're gonna give them a little fertilization. And then you're going to hopefully see a harvest that is a good, solid, straight forward way of doing business.
But I want to give you another number when you go out and deliver one presentation. If that can turn into three or four more presentations by a spinoff, now we're really cooking with gas. So it could also be working in your favor from a numbers perspective. That way, the more you speak, the more you speak.
Now, guys, if you want to learn more about the Wealthy Speaker School, go to wealthyspeakerschool.com. I want to talk a little bit about your backstory. So I like talking about the strategies and the mistakes and the things that grew your business. So can you share a story about the biggest mistake that you made when you first started your business? So what did you learn from it?
Oh my gosh. I think I probably learned the same mistakes over and over again. Every time I launch something, it's never goes exactly the way I think it should. Right? Probably the biggest mistake I made though was actually writing a book out of my lane.
So I got married fairly late in life. I was 43. I actually became a stepmom and a grandma I'm called G-ma all on the same day when I'm 43 years old. And so I actually took a strategic approach to finding love. So I wrote that down in the three-part formula. You know how I have my ready aim fire for speaking? Well, I have kind of the same thing for finding love.
And so I decided I would write a book called the frog whisper, and I wrote down everything I knew about finding love, but that was completely outside of my lane.
And I knew that when I was doing it, but I just had to get what was in my brain down on the paper. But when it came time to promote the book, I didn't mind doing interviews about it, but I didn't want to do any coaching. I didn't want to be famous or get on the morning shows or anything like that with this book. I really didn't even want to be known for that book.
I wanted to be known for the Wealthy Speaker 2.0, that was my core business. And so that was probably one of my biggest missteps and it just really reinforced the premise that I have around picking a lane. And I can say, I know this because I've made this mistake firsthand.
Absolutely. And I think it's so important to kind of stick your lane. I think that is why I've selected one niche and I've just stuck to it. One topic. When I apply for speaking gigs, I only talk about one stuff. And even if they tell me like, oh, we have someone talking about this, can you talk about something else? And I'm like, I have nothing else to talk about. That's all I know.
Well, and that's a perfect way to go is that I'll circle back to you next year, if you've got that, I'll come back to you next year, because this is really my lane and I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel or be all things to all people when it comes to delivering is a great idea. So you're already doing it right. That's great.
Can you take us back to an early success that you had that changed your business?
Writing the first book that I wrote, it was called the Wealthy Speaker. The next version of it was called the Wealthy Speaker 2.0, which came a few years ago that got all of my ideas organized and down on paper. So that ready aim, fire process that was in the book. It's been what we've built an entire business on.
And it's over 10 years, we've been using the same philosophies only in two point, oh, we updated it all four. Well now there's social media. Now there's this and that. So there's a whole lot of things that got changed along the way, but we just keep adopting the same formula to what's going on in today's world.
And I would say that not only did writing a book, make me an expert and establish me as someone who you could listen to lots and lots of people have said, Oh my gosh, that's my Bible. I've got it all dog-Eared and I've referred to it again again, that makes me feel really good.
But if somebody is comparing you to somebody else and you have written the books on the subject matter, it makes you that much more of a subject matter expert. So I've written several books for the industry. I have a journal, a daily success journal, and I have a book on presentation skills called the Epic keynote. And so those have all just added to my own credibility and bio.
Do you think that speakers ought to be writing their own books? Do you think that writing books give you some kind of credence that non authors don't have?
I think that they may have the edge. Okay. So let's say I'm a decision maker and I'm trying to hire somebody for social media talk or something like that. And so I have speaker A and speaker B and speaker A has social media on their list, but they've not written any books on it, whereas speaker B has been only speaking and writing and writing books on social media for a long time. That's going to tip the scales, I think.
And I think it's very helpful to getting your ideas, taking all of the things that you've taken in and then making them your own, putting them in your own language, your own formula. That's really important too.
You really want to name everything, all your processes and all your systems pick a lane has become synonymous with me, but I always recognize who gave it to me back in the early days. But it's nice when language gets associated with you.
Let's talk about becoming a paid speaker. So Jane, if my goal was to become a paid speaker, what do I need to know about paid speaking?
I think if you follow the formula, that's okay. Good starting point. So in the ready stage, it's ready, aim fire in the room at any stage, we get crystal clear on what we're selling and I think this is you've got it right. But I would think a lot of people tend to want to be all things to all people.
And so I think if you pick your lane and decide to become known for one thing, that can be very, very helpful.
The second thing you can choose is the promise statement, which is what is the outcome of the work that you're going to do. And that really is going to be focused on the client and not you, it's not I'm Hey, I'm going to show up and give a great speech. That's not your tagline. Your tagline might be helping you build or a more positive and inclusive culture in your company or something like that.
So we develop that first and then we make sure that our website in the phase has that same level of clarity. So I would say, let's get set up, make sure that your website is ready to roll and really lists all the presentations under your keynotes tab so that people can really see what it is that they're buying.
And then once you've got that ready, and you might even have a little clip of video on there, we can talk about video more deeply, if you want to. And then after that's ready, you move into fire. And now you start doing that seed planting game where you just, maybe you email, maybe you kind of figure out what your superpower is when it comes to reaching out to people. Your goal is to kind of pull them into your website and keep them there and keep giving them good, solid content until they buy from you.
So it could be that you do an email campaign. One of my clients, Kendra hall, she started with 600 emails to the American marketing association, where she went out and did a whole bunch of either a low pay or no pay freebies, and then that led her into all the corporate business that she's doing today.
So it could be that you do email, maybe you pick up the phone and call people. Maybe you're really good on one of your different social media channels. Maybe you're great in person doing live networking. There's all kinds of ways to go about it. You just have to figure out what way is going to be best for you. So ready, aim fire.
You talked about using a video. So speakers reel. How important is having a speakers reel? Because I've had friends who told me that having a speaker reel hasn't really quite helped them get paying gigs when they apply.
So if they're applying and not getting the engagement, it could be that the title isn't compelling enough, it could be lots of reasons. But a speakers reel, if you have a video that's just okay, I'd almost tend to say that no video is better. No video for sure is better than a bad video.
What you want to get on your video is the types of engagements that you cover. One of Kendra's ideas was we'll speak for video. She agreed to do some freebies for no fee in order to get some really great photography and some really great video footage. So that's an option for you. If you know of a live event that's going on with lots of people and you want to speak in front of lots of people, then maybe you say, Hey, could I come and do 15 minutes? And I'll just do it for free in exchange for video.
They might go for that. Cause it's a little bit of cart, horse situation. Getting the video is hard because you don't have the gigs and so on and so on. But I would say, be patient with your video and wait till you're really good before you start collecting footage, because oftentimes you get started, you've given the speech once or twice you collect some footage and then the footage is just, okay. It's probably because you have a little ways to go in terms of getting the speech good.
So if people only take away one piece of advice from this whole show, I hope it will be to spend a lot of time and energy and maybe even money in the first year or two, getting really, really good because that's how you get your spinoff. And that's the best form of marketing is a great speech.
And of course, to get really, really good, you've got to keep doing it over and over again.
So where can we actually go and start looking for speaking opportunities? Because what I do is I go on Twitter and I searched for apply to be a speaker. I searched for a speakers application, but I know there's a lot more things I can be doing to find speaking gigs.
Let's talk about the free speaking gigs first. So the freebies, a lot of times people will start with nonprofits like the rotary or the lions clubs or the chamber of commerce and places like that. That's definitely places that would probably like to hear from you. And a lot of speakers, I know they just do the rotary circuit for a few months and then that leads them into paid engagements.
Let's hope that your freebie is not getting you more freebies. We want the freebie to lead to paid gigs. That's our goal. That's probably the best way.
Now, if we want to be just slightly more strategic about it, let's say that you only want to speak to the insurance industry and you know that that's an industry that you want to target. So I'm thinking for you, Chrys, personally. So you're in Mexico. So you might say, okay, I'm going to go all up and down the California or the West coast, or I may do California and Arizona, that type of thing.
So you might start Googling insurance conferences in those cities, insurance conferences in those states, and there's lots of different ways that you can Google it. There is actually a search engine that is designed for speakers and we can put this in the show notes if you're okay with that. A gentlemen who is a speaker named Sam Richter designed, and he has kind of done the heavy lifting for you so that you don't have to try so hard and know what the Boolean code is that you want to put into Google to get exactly the right group up.
So that's for freebies. And so I would encourage you to pick an industry that you think would be really ripe for what you do, and then start to attend the association conferences that houses, all those people.
So are there prerequisites to becoming a paid speaker? Do I need certain number of years?
There really aren't any, I think if you have a good message, you deliver a good performance. I mean, you've got lots of great energy and things like that. I think that's going to be what kind of comes across in your video. There are no aren't really any prerequisites just that you, I would say be an expert in something. And that's probably a good prerequisite.
As we were walking through the process of finding the free speaking gigs, I'm wondering, is there a difference between the process of finding free gigs versus finding the paid speaking gigs?
Yeah, we would not do the rotaries or anything like that. We would skip right to the groups that we want.
So once we've picked an industry, I would say, pick one, two or three industries, and then we want to go based on where our fee is to the associations at the right level.
Let me give you an example for doing a freebie. I'd go to my local insurance association. There's one in the States called the general agents and managers, associations gamma. So I'd go to the local gamma meeting and I deliver a freebie, but then if I want it to get paid, let's say my fee is anywhere up to about $7,500, I could go up to the state level.
So think about it. That's 50 States that have Gama meetings going on. Maybe some of them, if they're smaller States, they might go together and do regional conferences, but there's lots of opportunity at the state level.
But then the show is to get to the big associations that are at the national or international level. And that's really when you want to make sure that your speech is really, really solid and that could then lead you, let's say you do the national gamma event, which I have been. I booked some of my speakers into that could lead to tons and tons of insurance business in lots and lots of companies.
So that's why we always start with associations, Chrys, because it's easier to find when their conventions are. Let's say, if you're going to Gamma versus IBM, when does IBM meet? We don't know. There's like a million divisions and there's a million different meetings going on at lots of different times. It's very hard to know where to start there. But with Gamma, you can go online and see where their next event is.
Is your stand then to always start, if we want to have a speaking career, to always start the free speaking gigs first, and then we slowly move all the way up to the paid speaking gigs?
It really depends on where you are. There are lots of people who have come out of big executive jobs and they would just roll right into speaking, or they already paid their dues and done lots of freebies speeches, and they've just written a book and now they're going to speak. There's lots of people who slide right into paid engagements.
What are the usual mistakes speakers are making, whether it's with your application or your background? Things that just stop people from actually getting paid speaking?
I would like you to try to go around an application process. Let's go straight to the association, find out where their event is and just try to talk to somebody on the phone or email somebody directly.
Maybe you approach them through Facebook or a lot of people doing business will do it through LinkedIn. "Hey, I just wanted to connect. I'm not going to inundate you with a big pitch, but I am a speaker on this topic. Let me know if I see you have a meeting in November" or something like that. Very nonchalant, very conversational.
Get to know something about them first and see if you can connect on that level and then maybe mention it. There's lots of people out there looking for speakers all the time. And somebody just told me yesterday, a guy I just interviewed. Amazing speaker, doing amazing things out there, and he gave me a number. Let me see if I can find it here.
$4 billion being spent on speaking every year on speakers, $4 billion. That's a B. So there's lots and lots and lots of speeches out there. And there's lots of people getting paid.
That is an amazing number. I did not know that. I always assume that there's a lot more free speaking gigs out there. I just didn't know how to get the amount of money that's moving around the paid speaking gig. So say if we find one speaking gig, one paid speaking gig, how do we keep getting ourselves booked solid? What are your tips on that?
The best way to get booked to speak more is to really be great on the platform. What will happen is people will come up to you afterwards with their business card. "Oh my goodness. That was so good. I know somebody else who needs that same information, here's my information."
And you write everything that they tell you down on the back of the business card and then you follow it up quickly. So that's be good marketing that's number one.
But then number two would be, well, we could do an ask from the platform. I call it the help me speech. About the three quarter mark into your speech, they already know like, and trust you, right? At least hopefully they do.
And so right before your closing story, you would say something like, as you can see, I am very passionate about Facebook marketing. If you know of anyone who could benefit from what we've just talked about, please come in, hand me your business card at the end of the program.
So they come in hand you a business card again, and you've got some more leads. That's another way to do it. We definitely want to be pulling the audience in every audience that we have.
Let's try to bring them over to our website to capture some sort of magnet we're going to give them. It could be that because you're walking your talk, you're pulling them in with your messenger and then you're giving them some good solid content over the course of time. Or it could be that you grabbed their name and email address. Maybe it's a text to get this really great cheat sheet that will go farther into what we're talking about today. Whatever it might be, the goal is that you pull all these people into your fan base, keep giving them great content until they're ready to buy from you.
And every once in a while on our email, we'll just go out with a straight up ask, Hey, do you know of anybody? I mean, maybe there are people, one of the very first things, and I haven't mentioned this, one of the first things we have people do when they're just getting started is go to your inner circle and let them know what you're doing now and say, Hey, do you know of anybody who could benefit from this particular message? I could really use your help.
So you do kind of the help me speak only to your inner circle of friends, family, coworkers, anybody, church people at church, whoever. Just really let people know that you're on a mission and you'd love to serve more people and can they help you.
To end off this episode, can you give me one final actionable tip for those of my listeners who want to become a paid speaker.
I really think that it's going to be around the speech itself. I would love for people to look at it more like a craft. And the goal is that you have a really well organized speech. You craft it really well.
And then when you show up, you're just having a conversation with people. So think about it from the standpoint of, do I have enough stories or am I just teaching for 60 minutes and do I have enough humor? There could be a couple of places where you might say, hey, yeah, that's probably a story I can make a little bit more funny just by thinking about it.
So what we're trying to do is take people from what I would call unconscious competence, where they're good, but they're not really sure why they're good to conscious competence where they're good because they planned it and they've crafted it.
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