7 reasons why I won't work for free

I've written this blog last year but it's still relevant for most people.

'But you’ll get a lot of exposure to potential clients. You get the chance to speak in front of a lot of influential people. It’s a great opportunity.'

This is one of the phrases that I hear quite a lot of times. Most of the times in combination with the sentence ‘But we have very limited budget to pay you’.

I don’t have the intention to insult the event or conference organizer because they probably ask this question with the right intention but I would love to give a bit more background information and reasons why I’m saying ‘No, I’m sorry’ to these great opportunities.

I’m working as a motivational speaker but I can imagine that a lot of people working in creative industries (copywriters, designers, …) get a lot of similar requests.

1. Can I ask you to work today for 20% of your normal fee?
There’s a tendency to believe that it’s easy for speakers to lower their fee significantly because they get a lot of exposure. I wonder what a baker would say if you would only pay a small fraction of a bread because you’re going to promote the bread to all your family and neighbours? Or tell the hotel manager that you only pay 25 euro for a night in his hotel because afterwards you will send a mail to your clients that his hotel was very good? Or try to book a flight to your favorite holiday location and tell the airline that you don’t have budget for a ticket but they will get a lot of new clients if they let you for free on the plane? Probably the answer is no.

2. I invest a lot of time and money in being a ‘professional’ public speaker 
Most of the times, the event organizer forgets the word ‘professional’ which means that I have to earn money with public speaking. I don’t have another day job which will pay for my rent, my food and other expenses. And ‘professional’ means that I’m investing a lot of time and money to be(come) one of the best speakers in my domain (between brackets are indications of the time/money I spend):
– going to conferences worldwide to experience and learn from world class leaders (I spend around 20.000-25.000 euro /year to go to these events);
– following expertise training and coaching to make sure that I can give the latest updates at the events that I speak (I spend around 10.000 euro / year on this)
– reading the latest books and blogs and articles (I try to read one book / month + spend 4 hours / week checking blogs and sites)
– sharing all this content via tweets, blogs and newsletters (on average, I spend 3 – 4 hours a week to share this)
– publishing a new book about my topic every 18 months (which means investing 2 months / year without any income + investing around 15.000 euro in a good copy-writer and designer)
3. Don’t compare a top-speaker with an extra coffee-break
I believe the organizer when (s)he is saying there is a limited budget. What they forget to say is that there’s a limited budget for speakers. Most of the time, they is a budget for a nice location; there’s a budget for food & beverages; there’s a budget for administration; …  A CIC economic impact study shows that 85% of spendings on events and conferences is going to travel, hotel and F&B; 15% is left for business services, technology and … speakers. I think that the added value of a good speaker is a lot more than a coffee break.
And if you calculate the costs speaker / participant than it suddenly looks very different. Eg a fee of 5000 euro / 100 participants is 50 euro; /200 participants = 25 euro; /500 participants = 10 euro.
BTW: Event organizer, I’m very happy to think together with you how we can create a nice flow/program where you can probably save a lot of money on the F&B or hotel budget (and then you have some extra budget to pay the speakers ;-))

4. My added value is worth thousands of euros / participant
It seems that it’s very hard to calculate the value of a good presentation but I’m sure that my participants get away with at least one good method to generate a lot more ideas (and speed up the innovation process). If you just can save one extra meeting – Eg because a method like ‘yes and’ helps you to overcome long discussions that don’t lead anywhere – then you save already hundreds (or thousands – depending who’s attending the meeting) euros. And now I’m not talking about breakthrough ideas like the launch of a new product or service; finding a new target audience; integrating a smoother business process; having happier employees; …) which can be worth millions in the long run.
5. You don’t pay me just for one hour of speaking
You pay me for 15 years of expertise and experience. I have probably already spend 5.000 hours on front of groups (of which at least 1.000 hours on stage on larger events and conferences). Every time I learn something new to improve the quality of your event (a technique to interact; an example for a certain target group; a pause of 2 seconds longer to make sure that an insight can happen; … – all kind of things that most people don’t even notice but which have an impact). And you also get access to my network of connections if I know relevant people for your event. And I will spend a day searching for tailor-made examples to inspire your audience.
6. Your audience isn’t necessary an interesting audience for me.
I can speak in front of 500 dentist or IT-professionals or coaches (and I believe that I can absolutely have a big added value for them) but the chance that they will hire me afterwards is very small. Even talking in front of event-organizers (my main target group) has a ‘potential ratio’ of 1/500 (see next topic). A strange ‘side-effect’ is that quite a lot of times, the potential clients from a client -who don’t have (a lot of) a budget- also don’t have a lot of budgets.
7. The route from an enthusiast participant to a paid customer is complex and long.
When I speak for an audience, I want to get at least (High) Distinction which means to get at least scores of 8 or 9 on a scale of 10 because organizers pay me a lot of money. And in most cases, I get these results so apparently the audience loves what I’m doing but this doesn’t have a direct relation to future assignments. On average, when I can speak for an audience of 500 people, 3 or 4 people will come to me after the session and say that they want me to speak for one of their own events. If I connect to those people afterwards, only 1 or 2 are serious and if I’m lucky, 1 paid assignment will happen within a year. So the conversion rate would be around 1/500 (assumed that the audience is relevant for me). I have a feeling that a lot of conference organizers count on a ratio of 1/25 when I get their mails.

BTW: I don’t speak that much at events of 500 people (yet, hope to get there) – most of the time I have an audience between 50 -150 people which means that I get 1 new assignment out of 5 assignments – even if the evaluation rates are very good. 
And one of the reasons that I even didn’t mention above is that it’s my job as a public speaker to get exposure. If you only wanted to give content to your audience, you could better give them a book or let them follow an e-course. You want a speaker because you want your audience to be exposed to an inspiring and motivating keynote to deliver your message.

So I hope that these reasons give a little bit more background why I think that a good professional speaker should be paid well because (s)he’s worth the money. And yes, I make exceptions a few times a year for a good cause but then I like to choose the non-profit organisation. And in other cases, the compensation doesn’t only have to be money but organisations can reward me with other non-money value (that’s often a lot worth for me and doesn’t cost them too much money) – like a professional recording of my performance on stage; connections and recommendations with other associations; offering one of my books as a New Years’ present to employees or relations; … be creative but the value should reflect the added value that I’m giving to your audience.

I am on a mission in life: boosting the creative & entrepreneurial mindset of professionals in change. I deliver keynotes all over the world and write books around 'The Change Mindset'. Changing your own mindset (or others) can be difficult. There are a lot of challenges in the VUCA world but the biggest challenge is not coming from external sources. It's your own mindset. Have you ever noticed that you (or your employees) are stuck in...

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7 reasons why I won't work for free | Asia Professional Speakers Singapore


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