Speaking for fun and profit

I recently spoke at an AIIP virtual event with Marydee Ojala on “Public Speaking For Introverts: From No Way to Speaking for Pay”. (AIIP members can watch the recording here.) The questions that we discussed got me thinking, so I’m taking this chance to expand a bit on my thoughts. And keep in mind that public speaking need not be in person, although it’s a lot more powerful that way; my answers below apply to virtual presentations as well.

What do you wish you knew when you first started speaking publicly? It took me several years to realize that it’s not about me… it’s about the audience and the event organizer. My goal is to give people a tangible skill or insight that they didn’t have before. If the audience feels that they learned something that they could put into practice immediately, then they’ll be happy they attended my talk and the event organizer will be happy that the participants are happy. And, remember that the ultimate client in a speaking engagement isn’t the audience—it’s the person putting on the event.

When did you first start charging for your speaking? For the first three or four years, I spoke for free or, when the engagement was out of town, I would just be reimbursed for my travel expenses. My goal was to get people to know me, to see that I’m generous with what I know and committed to sharing what I’ve learned with others, and to build my leads by offering valuable information and then inviting them to subscribe to my (then) email newsletter. I wanted as much exposure as possible, so I tried to always find a way to say yes.

I finally started charging when I was getting more unpaid engagements than I could afford to do; at that point, I realized that I had the chops to speak for pay. And as soon as I started charging, I resolved that I would lose at least a quarter of my speaking invitations because I was too expensive. The only way I could determine the upper end of my speaking fees was to keep raising them until I started to get push-back and, as much as I enjoy travel, I’d rather make more money doing fewer speaking gigs.

What helped you get over the jitters? I take two approaches to that surge of adrenaline that always hits me 10 or 15 minutes before I get up to speak. First, I remind myself that adrenaline is my friend; it sharpens my brain and will help me while I speak to think quickly and clearly. And then I take a few deep breaths and remind myself that the people in the audience are on my side. They aren’t waiting to catch me making a grammatical error or to smirk if I lose my train of thought. Rather, they are sitting there assuming that I will engage them, teach them something they didn’t know, and leave them with a fresh perspective. They’re actually all silently rooting for me to succeed. So as soon as I get to the podium, I smile, make eye contact with three or four people in the room, and then focus on just talking to those friendly faces. It works every time.

Any tips to help introverts get started speaking? As a fellow introvert, I’ll let you in on a secret—many of the best public speakers are introverts. Think about it… instead of having to make small talk, you’re free to talk about what you’re passionate about. You get to share what you know with people who are interested in learning. And afterward, instead of having to start yet another awkward conversation, people come up to you with comments about your presentation. In fact, a pro tip I picked up from Marcy Phelps was to include an invitation at the end of my presentation for people to talk with me afterward and share their favorite technique / experience/ idea—whatever I want to prompt my audience with that will give them something to come up to me and talk about after my presentation is over.

Yes, my first four or five public speaking engagements were nerve-wracking, and I still worry whether my audience is going to find my presentation useful, but I have learned to accept my worries as simply part of the process. As with anything that moves me outside my comfort zone, it’s both challenging and really gratifying to effectively share my knowledge and enthusiasm with others.

How to attract and keep GREAT clients

I recently wrote a Coach’s Corner column for AIIP about how to manage difficult clients and, as I was writing it, I realized that I have had very few difficult clients over the last 25+ years in business. What’s my secret? I’m certainly not perfect, but here are the approaches that have helped me attract and keep so many clients I respect, admire and look forward to working with.

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Help—I still don’t have any clients!

The solopreneurs I coach and mentor, especially those in their first year of business, often tell me how hard it is to figure out how to measure success, how to best spend their time, and how to turn interest into client engagements. While each business is different, a few pieces of advice apply in almost any B2B solopreneur.

First, make sure you know what your prospective clients need, value and will pay you well for. If you haven’t conducted at least a half dozen informational conversations, in which you were able to learn what your market needs and how your prospective clients talk about that need, then you need to invest the time and energy into these essential conversations. See my blog post Making Yourself Irreplaceable for lots more resources on how to conduct insightful informational conversations.

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Getting to ‘Yes’

One of the most common traps I see new infopreneurs fall into – and I’ve done this myself, too! – is equating a prospect with an actual, paying client. We meet someone at a networking event or have a phone call with someone we met through social media. The person sounds interested in what we do, accepts our business card, and maybe even says “Yeah, we could have used someone like you that one time.” They may attend a webinar we give or download a white paper we wrote. We end the encounter confident that the person will be calling us shortly with an assignment, but then we never hear from them again.

In my experience, failure to convert interest into engagement is often caused by some combination of the following factors.
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The top 10 myths of starting a consulting business

I’ve seen a lot of myths about consulting, all of them as hoary and false as the idea that if you build a better mousetrap, people will beat a path to your door. Following are the infopreneur myths I’ve found to be most prevalent… and wrong.

#1. Consulting is what people do when they’re between jobs
In my experience, you can’t both start a business and look for a job; either you are focused on finding what your clients need most and how you can meet those needs, or you’re focused on finding who will hire you for your skills.

#2. The services I provided as an employee will be valued by consulting clients
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Seven Traits of Thought Leaders

It’s always more effective for a solopreneur to attract clients rather than chase after them. Cold calls and cold emails are usually unwanted, most likely not immediately relevant to the recipient, and often filtered as spam. Building a reputation as a respected expert in your field, on the other hand, can be an efficient way to attract clients who need, value and will pay you for your services. Following are seven traits that successful thought leaders develop.

Be curious. Read news sources that cover trends in your industry and reflect on what impacts new developments will have. Attend conferences; the conversations and serendipitous meetings enhance your credibility and expand your horizons.
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Outcome-oriented taglines

As I was driving the other day, I passed a panel truck for Panorama, a local company that handles landscaping and maintenance services. Their tagline?

Enjoy life! We’ll manage the details

Like my favorite tagline from The Cleaning Fairies, We give you your weekends back, and Old Dominion Freight Line’s Helping the world keep promises, it focuses on why their clients would use them, not what they do or how they do it. Landscaping, housecleaning and trucking are three service professions that can be seen as commodities, just as many solopreneurs can feel like they are competing with the cheapest alternative on the web. By focusing on their commitment to their customers’ outcomes, they’re able to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Learning about your unknown unknowns

Recently, I was talking with Kim Dority, a friend and colleague and one of the smartest people I know, and she was telling me about how she had recently pivoted the focus of her business. First, she developed a compelling write-up of the services she could provide to graduate schools to better attract, support and retain qualified students. She then sent this out in an introductory letter to a few of her top prospects to see how it was received. She followed up with conversations, either in person at a conference they were attending or on the phone, to discuss what she could do for each of those prospects. It turned out that no one wanted to buy any of the services she had so carefully crafted. Instead, they all asked for something specific to their needs – to run their internship program, or to develop a series of workshops for alumni. She could not have predicted the outcome of any of these conversations, but each one resulted in some type of consulting engagement.

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The ROI of Relationships

I recently overhead a consultant talking about the need to stay in touch with contacts, even if they never turn into clients. I completely agree. But then I winced when I heard how she described her thought process: “I know I’ll never make any money off her, but…

Words matter. The words you say out loud matter and, perhaps even more importantly, so do the words you say to yourself. And what you say in your head often winds up being reflected in how you act and the words you do choose to speak. When we let ourselves think in crass terms, even in jest, we reinforce the worst of being in business – seeing everyone as a mark, as nothing more than how much we can make off them.

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Resumé or dog whistle?

dog1What’s one of the first things you do when you launch a business? Get a domain name and set up a web site on a platform like WordPress. You pick one of the popular templates, write up descriptions of your services, grab a few stock photos and you’re good to go. No-brainer, right?

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