December 1, 2015

A speakers agency is not the way to go for unblooded speakers

Motivational Speakers

Because I get so many calls to represent professional motivational speakers, I decided to write this article. Most new (unblooded) speakers reckon that a speakers agency will automatically put them on its books.

The reality is harsh and unsettling for new speakers. They don’t.

Are you one of the many brand new motivational speakers looking for a speakers bureau to represent you?

Here’s the deal …


Unless you’re hugely famous or instantly recognisable, don’t consider using a speakers bureau until you have been at your professional speaking career for at least 4 years.

When I started my career as a conference speaker in 1998, it was a different world. Many speakers bureaus signed up just about anyone who had a pulse and professed to be a professional speaker. So, it was easy to get on their books. Most of us didn’t make much money out of the speakers bureaus … but we were on their books.

Not so easy now (to get on the books and to make money ;-)).

This is so unfair!

If you’re a new keynote speaker and you think it is grossly unfair that you can’t get onto a speakers bureaus books, look at it from their side:

  • Speakers bureaus are in the business of making money (yes, there’s also all the good stuff like connecting amazing people to audiences so that they can make a difference in the world). But, in essence, it is profit that counts. In South Africa, if a bureau can’t charge a professional speaker out at R15 000 as a minimum, then it is really not worth its while. From that fee, the speakers bureau gets 20% (in this case R3000). New speakers generally don’t start out at the R15 000 mark and often start out at less than 10k (the good ones grow into R15 000 and more in time). So, as a business case, a new speaker is not a viable option.
  • Unblooded and untested speakers are risky business. A speakers bureau has built up a reputation over years and for it to send in an unknown entity is a risk. If that speaker blows it, it directly affects the credibility (and income) of the bureau. At the very least, a speakers bureau needs to see a new speaker in action before ever considering placing him or her.
  • I suppose the best way to describe speakers bureaus is that they are like banks. A bank will only loan you money when you have money (for collateral). Speakers bureaus will generally only place you if you are a known, trusted, well-established and (relatively famous) expert.

If you can’t get onto a speakers bureau’s books, see it as an opportunity:

  • I’ll share a secret with you. Speakers bureaus (in South Africa at least) generally only account for 2 – 10% of a speakers business. Yup, they’re not the Holy Grail, sweet spot marketing magnet you thought they were. So, you have an opportunity to become a great marketer and hone your speaking skills in the meantime.
  • Go and give your speech 100 times for free until you’ve polished it into something magnificent. Work your craft all the time.
  • You can take the pressure off yourself and work out a timeline for your speaking career by following Jane Atkinson’s focus list.

Ok, so you think you’ve still got that special something and that this article is a load of nonsense and doesn’t apply to you. Well then come prepared. At the very least this is what a speakers agency wants to see:

  • A proper website with all your information in it
  • Your biography
  • Your keynotes and a brief explanation on them
  • A video or two of you in action
  • Testimonials from satisfied clients or audience members
  • References – contact details of some of your clients

I’m a big fan of Jane Atkinson, The Speaker Launcher and have bought all her books. If you’re a new speaker I definitely recommend you getting her work – it will take years off your learning curve.

Here’s Jane’s Focus List:

New Speakers (0-3 years):

  • The Speech – make it good!
  • Position in the market as an expert
  • Build marketing materials that represent you (they may not be perfect)
  • Build your social media platform (focussed messaging)
  • Develop relationships with clients — get your name out there
  • Pull people into your team who might help you get there (part time, virtual)

Seasoned Speakers (4-6 years):

  • The Speech — keep working it!
  • Take your marketing to the next level (now it needs to be good)
  • Reposition/reinvent, if necessary
  • Continue to grow your social media platform and ensure you are converting prospects to clients
  • Build on your reputation (which means moving your fee up the ladder)
  • Product Development — full steam ahead (some people may launch into the business with a book, and that’s great too)
  • Develop systems in your office — you’ll need them now
  • Build the team (staff — part time or full time)
  • Make inroads with speakers’ bureaus (work the business yourself for a few years before doing this)

Seasoned Speakers (7+ years):

  • Re-position if necessary — new products, new markets — stay cutting edge
  • Continue publishing on your topic – will assist in raising fees and growing revenues
  • Narrow your lane even more – are you known for one thing?
  • The Speech — keep it fresh and fun for you — Reinvent it!
  • Marketing and social media — update (don’t get complacent)
  • Continue with long-term relationship building — keep your name out there in fresh ways
  • Stay in touch with your top clients on a regular basis, remember the 80/20 rule
  • Fine tune – by now your office should run like a well oiled machine

By following the timelines above, it should take off some pressure and your need to do everything today.

Permission to print the list was granted by Jane Atkinson – Speaker Launcher. Jane is the author of The Wealthy Speaker 2.0 and The Epic Keynote (her newest release).

Jacques represents Speakers Inc’s interests in Gauteng.

One Comment on “A speakers agency is not the way to go for unblooded speakers

Judith Taylor
December 1, 2015 at 11:06 am

Thanks – a very useful article. I don’t see myself as a motivational speaker! It difficult to motivate around mining waste impacts


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