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For years I've been recommending that people with specialized knowledge become paid speakers. The benefits are obvious:
  • you get a fee, often a very substantial one;
  • you get an audience of people who can buy your products and services and who, if you speak well and convincingly, certainly will;
  • you build your reputation and perceived value in the marketplace since it's obvious that only the best people get invited to speak, and
  • you get deference, that magic elixir that is becoming more and more hard to find (if never less valuable) in our democratic days.
Yes, I can recommend the benefits of becoming a paid speaker.

Trouble is, as any paid speaker can tell you, getting these gigs isn't a piece of cake. In fact, when you enter the world of paid speaking, either full-time or (as most people do) part-time, you're entering into one of the most competitive universes anywhere. Period. This report starts from a recognition both of the benefits of paid speaking and of the difficulty in securing paid engagements and offers detailed information on how you can maximize your chances of getting the paid engagements you want.

Now, I'm going to shoot squarely here. I'm not going to advise you to get an agent. The fact is, until you're a best-selling author or celebrity no agent really wants to talk to you. Agents make their money by taking a commission, and the fact is most speakers make too little to entice an agent to take an interest. What's more, securing the services of one agent who represents you exclusively or several who represent you on a non-exclusive basis doesn't ensure you of anything. Just because you're listed with one or several agents doesn't mean you're going to get any business.

Okay, you may not like to hear this, but it's true. In my greener days when I was a new author, I was listed with a good agent who had a lot of hustle. I never got one speaking engagement the whole time I was listed with him -- not one. Nibbles, but no bites. And since then I've never had a booking through any agency, although agents regularly approach me and ask for detailed information packets. I unfailingly send them; nothing happens.

But if speaking agents either won't look at you or (in most cases) won't do you much good even if they adopt you, what are you left with? Cold calls? Tracking down meeting planners cold and calling them; sending them packets of information about what you speak about chock full of color photographs, testimonials, and the like? No way! To use cold calling and cold contacts alone to develop a series of paid engagements takes far too long and is far too disspiriting. Sure you're going to do some of this; all of us do. But to rely on it for all your paid engagements is not a good use of your limited reserves of time, money and enthusiasm. What then? You must set up your own Independent Agent Referral System (IARS).

What Is An Independent Agent Referral System?

The underlying idea of the IARS is simple. It's based on the concept of networking and essentially says that the people you come in contact with collectively know many times as many useful people as you know individually. They belong to many times as many organizations as you do; are suppliers to many more organizations than you are; attend many more meetings than you do; and know many times more meeting planners than you do individually. Do you agree? So what, you say, what does that have to do with getting me speaking engagements? Simply this, if you can find a way of motivating these people to help you, you can regularly get access to their universes -- and benefit accordingly. That is, if you can put them to work for you, you can benefit from whom they know... and access their contact networks. The question is how can you do this. That's where the 8 simple steps towards establishing your own IARS come in.

1) Creating Programs People Want To Hear And Becoming The Consummate Speaker If you're going to make money as a speaker you'd better become a good speaker... the kind of speaker who delivers useful and up-to-date information in an entertaining way. This may seem obvious, but always isn't. Over the last dozen years in the speaking business I've seen lots of "big names" come and go... because they didn't work on keeping their products (the speeches they give) current. And if their products are faulty they not only disappoint audiences... but make it unlikely those audiences are going to do anything about referring the speaker to new audiences. (Just what you need to do to become an effective speaker is beyond the range of this report. However, you'll find exhaustive details in my book MONEY TALKS: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO CREATING A PROFITABLE WORKSHOP OR SEMINAR IN ANY FIELD.)

2) You Need To Establish Your Own Desirability And Credibility This point is closely allied to the one above. The more desirable you are... the more credible you are as a speaker, the easier it will be for people to refer you to others and make those referrals effective. It's no surprise that I'm getting virtually daily referrals now; after all, I've been in the speaking business for over a decade. This is happening because I continually work to develop my own desirability and credibility as a specialist who can help people.

Here are a few ways to help make this happen for you:

i) when you give a talk (even a free one!), place an article-by-you in the organization's newsletter. Write it about something of direct and immediate interest to the readers;

ii) get interviewed in the newsletter of the organization inviting you. A speaker is a speaker is a speaker... but the person who gets interviewed is a star.

iii) use your appearance before an organization to seek out the editors of publications reaching others who would be interested in what you've got to say. Whenever I'm in a city delivering a talk to any organization, I ask the organization to contact local business editors and editors of specialized publications that may be in the area. Leverage your appearance to get more ink!

iv) have the organization get the local city council, state rep or senator or even the governor of the state to declare the day in your honor or get you official recognition. (These and dozens of other possibilities for developing your perceived standing and reputation through free media are canvassed in my well-known 366-page book THE UNABASHED SELF- PROMOTER'S GUIDE: WHAT EVERY MAN, WOMAN, CHILD AND ORGANIZATION IN AMERICA NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT GETTING AHEAD BY EXPLOITING THE MEDIA.)

3) Come Up With A Good Motivational Package Designed To Get People To Help You

If you want to get people to help you, there are many ways of doing so. You can ask. You can plead. Or you can motivate. Motivation works best. But what can you use to motivate them? There are many answers to this question, of course, but over the years I've found that offering your independent agents a share of the rewards works best. I give people who refer me to a paying speaking assignment 10% of the money I get from my speaking fee -- and 10% of the money I make from my product sales on the day of the program. This is highly motivational for people... especially once they know they can make up to $3,000 for just a few minutes work! Will this offer work as well for you if you don't have a line of products and don't make up to $30,000 for your speaking engagements? Frankly, no. But it will work. And you've got to start somewhere. Maybe the first commission checks you dish out won't be any more than $50. That's fine. So long as you realize you're in this business for the long haul and intend to work on developing a career... not just giving a few speeches.

4) Develop A Compelling Marketing Piece

All marketing is a numbers game and your success in this game is predicated on your 1) developing a good product/speech; 2) coming up with an attractive motivational offer; and 3) presenting that offer to your Independent Agent prospects (the people with the connections to organizations, etc) in the most compelling possible way.

In this regard, here's the headline for the flyer that I use to get a constant stream of referrals: "Get Yourself A Check for Up To $3,000 -- For Just A Few Minutes' Work." I knew this headline was a winner when the usually blase boy at the copy center I use stopped everything just to read this flyer when he was printing it. Since then it has grabbed the attention of those who have received it quite as effectively as it grabbed him... my referral stream proves it!

The rest of the flyer goes on to detail:

  • how little work the independent agent has to do;
  • what I want him to do;
  • the kinds of programs I offer;
  • when the independent agent gets paid... and how much he can make. On the flip side of this single 8 1/2" x 11" flyer is a complete page of testimonials from satisfied people who've attended my programs, sponsored my programs, or read the books on which my programs are based. Note: I print this marketing flyer on green page at a cost of around $55 per thousand.

    5) Develop Appropriate Follow-Up Materials For Those Responding To Your Marketing Flyer

    Lots of people, of course, use networking to get assignments of every kind; what differentiates this program from what other people do is that it's a system, a rigorously organized means of both generating and responding to opportunities. To make it work for you, you've got to be prepared to respond -- immediately. This means thinking through the materials you need and creating them before you need them. Remember, the Independent Agent is ordinarily not the decision maker for the gig you want. Thus, you've got to be prepared with materials to convince that decision maker (and the committee with which he so often is working) to retain you. Here's what you need:

    - an audio cassette. Record one of your life speaking sessions (60 minutes should do) and don't omit the opening and closing applause and the question-answer period that demonstrates conclusively just how good you are with an audience;

    - a video cassette. This should demonstrate your mastery with the audience and convince the decision maker Quasimodo was not a relation.

    - testimonials from satisfied meeting planners and audience participants. Anytime anyone says anything good about you, have them put it in writing. The testimonial document I send to meeting planners is currently well over 7 feet long and is packed with page after single-spaced page of outrageously laudatory comments;

    - review copies of books, booklets, and articles. This kind of stuff shows just what kind of knowledgeable specialist you really are.

    - two black-and-white photos: an action shot of you doing what you do and a head shot.

    - detailed descriptions of the programs you offer and the benefits participants get from them. You should also develop a cover letter to accompany these materials and have it available in your computer so you can get it out immediately, as soon as you've got a lead. Note: make sure you send a copy of this cover letter to the person who made the referral. This lets this individual know you've taken responsibility for this lead and are doing what's necessary to foster it.

    6) Develop Your Distribution System So You Can Get Your Marketing Flyer In The Hands Of As Many Appropriate People As Possible The success of your system depends in large measure upon just how many people know you've got a system... which means concentrating on the distribution system that brings you and your programs to their attention. Here's just some of what you should be doing:

    - put your flyer in all your outgoing mail;

    - stuff it in your book and product packages;

    - print it as a page in your information products and mention it on your audio cassettes;

    - distribute flyers at trade shows, and

    - make sure every member of all your audiences has a copy. In short, hustle.

    7) Follow Up Leads Swiftly

    Depending on how thoroughly you've followed the preceding suggestions, you'll start getting leads almost immediately: I get them almost daily now, sometimes, in fact, as many as five or six a day!

    Hopefully, you're prepared to act promptly.

    i) Open a file in your computer for your leads. Write down the name, title, organization, address and phone number of both the person you've been referred to and the person who has made the initial connection. Write down any further details that may later prove helpful.

    ii) Append the date you added this information and how you followed up.

    iii) Indicate just what you're going to do next and when you'll be doing it. Now do what you say you're going to do. Send the person you've been referred to what he/she needs. Send the referrer a copy of the letter you've sent to the person reviewing your credentials. Then follow up appropriately when you said you would.

    What happens if you hit a snag? Can't get through to the person making the decision? Can't get your phone calls returned? The usual business run-around? Why, contact the person who made the original referral and ask him to call on your behalf. This person isn't just essential for making the original contact... but often proves crucial in getting through the inevitable decision-making log jams. With what you'll be paying this person, don't hesitate to use him now!

    8) Pay Your Commissions Promptly... And Ask For More Leads!

    After the splendid success of your speech and the avalanche of product sales it generated, it's time to report back to the person who made the original contact and who now, quite properly, wants to be paid. The first day you're back in your office, write a report that covers the speaker fee you were paid, the amount of products you sold, and the commission which is owing and which should now be paid. If some portion of the amount generated remains unpaid by the program sponsor, so note; pay what you can now. Indicate when the rest will be forthcoming. Also note that if you're paying your Independent Agent over $600, you'll be sending a 1099 form in January. Send your report and check with an enthusiastic cover letter letting your Independent Agent know just how grateful you are... and that you'd like to hand over any number of other checks... if only this person will keep making referrals for you. Each check should provide the necessary fuel for developing both your relationship with this agent and with others who want to get their share of the winnings, too. Which is why your agent literature should include testimonials from people who have regularly been getting checks from you! With this Independent Agent Referral System there should be lots of them!