Why I Still Speak for Free

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Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, author, and comedian who teaches you how to harness the power of your story to connect, engage, and get results. In this blog, Kelly focuses on the business of professional speaking. Kelly’s post day is Friday. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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Why does this motivational speaker still take free jobs?

Should speakers speak for free?

It tends to be an ongoing debate in the speaking industry, where we sometimes spend too much energy worrying about what other speakers are doing – the question of whether speakers should speak for free. It’s not an easy question to answer, and I don’t believe there are any hard and fast rights and wrongs in this business. And I don’t want to be one more speaker telling other speakers what they should or shouldn’t do. If it works for you, why not? There are some who think that working for free hurts the world’s perception of our value. And I get that. To some degree it’s true. Others believe that you shouldn’t charge in the beginning, as you are new and don’t have the experience. Others don’t agree. So quite often this conversation leads us back to where we started, and just ends up with both sides trying to prove they are right.

But I still want to answer the question because some of you are asking.  So here is what I’ll do. I will tell you why I take free jobs.  These are just my reasons. Take them as you will.

First of all, I don’t take many of them. If I took every free offer that came along, I would be living in a cardboard box. And when I take a free offer, I turn down other work. So this is not a decision I make lightly.  So don’t hear me say that I take any free job that comes along. So which ones do I take? Here is how I decide.

  • What else am I doing? Asking me to speak a year from now is harder to commit to. But if you ask me for next month and I’m not doing anything else, and it won’t really cost me a lot of time or energy or expense – then that affects my decision to say yes or no.
  • How many people will be there? If it’s a large group, I can sell lots of product. Selling product makes me happy.
  • Who is in the audience? Is this going to be a group I’m going to love? A group filled with buyers? Or is this a group that I don’t really like speaking to?
  • How much work is involved? Can I use something I’ve already written, or do I need to write something new? How much time will this take on the front end?
  • What is the spin off potential? Who else in this audience can book me or tell someone else about me? Is this a state association that is connected to ten other associations?
  • Will they video tape it for me? I LOVE getting good video, and that costs money and time. But many groups are willing to do that for me.
  • Can they offer me any type of exposure?  Sometimes they have large followings on social media and their webpage – and are happy to post a link to my site on all their channels – and sometimes repeatedly. Do they do a lot of press and PR around this event? Good press always leads to more work.
  • Do I like the city where the event is going on? Sometimes I will take the job just because we get to go to Disneyworld.
  • Is this a good feather in my cap? Some clients look good on paper, and it’s valuable to have a testimonial from them to get future business.
  • Is it something I believe in? Sometimes I take a job because it’s for a good cause. I never want money to stand in the way of spreading humor and hope. And sometimes the people who need it most are the ones who can’t afford it. Unfortunately, I still get too many to accept. So I choose the ones I believe in most.
  • Will I have fun? There’s no point taking a free job unless it will be fun.
  • Because you never know who might be in your audience. No matter how small, there is always the chance that someone there has a big opportunity for you. It’s happened for me more times than I can count.