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Getting Income from No-fee Engagements

JoAnn Hines

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I have been asked to speak at a large association conference. The problem is they don't pay, not even expenses, nor will they allow me to be sponsored to cover my costs. Getting a booth in trade for the show is not an option, nor is it likely I can get another paid engagement to piggyback. I've had similar requests for other big industry trade shows that want me to speak but as soon as I mention fees the dialogue dies. I'm looking for creative ways to offset my expenses in traveling to speak at this event in addition to back of the room sales. What have you done to generate revenue to offset your expenses to speak to large conventions which don't pay?

-- Beryl Shaw

I've been doing a lot of conferences for health professionals, to become better known in an industry I hadn't previously spoken for. That costs me -- quite a lot.

I always make time to go around and speak to all the people who do have exhibits. Sometimes they jump at the idea to book me elsewhere.

When I run seminars or workshops (rather then keynotes), I gather email addresses, ostensibly to send them a precis of what we've done -- and I do send this, but this is also a list for future work.

Most of all, if you have a good minidisk or other lapel mic recording device, you can sometimes sell these as tapes or CDs afterwards -- or at least use them as demo tapes for future client contact.

I know this is not DIRECT payment, but we have to work all angles don't we?

-- Laura Benjamin

Here are some of my experiences based on your situation with a no-fee invitation.

  • Over the years, I've tracked what kind of business has resulted from doing "no fee" engagements, even those where they did cover my travel expenses. I have determined that only one subsequent spin-off assignment has come from those engagements. For this reason, I've established a "horror floor" which keeps me from back pedaling when I am tempted to accept something like this. For example: under no circumstances will I leave my family to do work that does not support my family; I will accept an honorarium for events hosted by non-profits in my local community, but only those that I feel strongly about supporting. Otherwise, I will not accept work that pays less than X amount because ultimately, I end up feeling frustrated with myself and disappointed when the event does not generate additional paying work -- which it never does!
  • I have asked to be able to set up individual consulting meetings with those who wanted one-on-one support while I was there, which brought in a little extra income.
  • I used the opportunity to interview others on site (during the tradeshow is a good time) and then use the interviews in articles that I subsequently sold to trade magazines.
  • Contact local media to see if you can host/emcee a community event which would provide a stipend/honorarium for your help.
  • Some trips have provided a business write-off, which also gave me the opportunity to visit a family member or friend who lived nearby. I approach it only from the perspective that it is a great time to visit "so and so" and look at it as a vacation rather than a business-generating trip. I focus on what I will gain from time with this person rather than the desperate feeling you get when you realized you donated your work and your time for naught.

Hope this helps. I know it sounds a little hard-nosed, but like a friend of mine says, "I'm not a United Way agency."

-- Larry Mersereau

Every time one of us says "yes" to a no-fee gig, we diminish the value of "professonal" speakers everywhere. If we let these big events get away with this, it will continue and spread. Just say "no." The time you spend trying to figure out how to drum up revenue could be better spent working towards a legitimate sale. Do you think the A/V company or the security people would do the gig for free? Hell no. They're professionals and expect to be paid for what they deliver. We should too.

-- Mitchell Goozé

I don't have an answer to your question (sorry), but a comment and a question.

We were faced with the same situation over the early years and decided that any conference that did not at least cover expenses, we would not speak at.

This was because we never got any follow-on business. What we found was that those conferences tended to have speakers who overtly sold their services from the platform to try to make up for not being paid. We found this lowered the quality of the speakers, and unless you had very low-cost stuff for them to order, it didn't result in business.

So, my question to you is: have you found it worthwhile to speak at this type of conference, and if not, why are you working at trying to?

-- Kathleen Gage

I did a presentation to a small Chamber yesterday and walked away with $1,500. Now that isn't what I normally get to speak but for a quick drive in, a 45-minute presentation and a short drive home, it worked.

What I did was bundle several of my products and sold a $129 package. Bundling products has worked really well for me. Three were CDs with eBooks and three books. Sold separately it would have been about $360. The group was mostly women and although the main products were marketing products there were also a couple inspirational books I have written included in the package.

Something else that works is finding a company that would be willing to sponsor your trip. Perhaps a member of the association who wants some visibility at the conference. There would be details to work out but maybe they could put their brochure in the conference package indicating they sponsored you.

-- Fred Gleeck

I'm one of the few speakers in NSA that is a PRODUCT-BASED speaker as opposed to a FEE-BASED speaker.

This means that I ONLY do the types of engagements that you describe. I ALWAYS have to pay my own way and RARELY (these days, never) get a fee to show up.

If I were you I would create some products (audio, video, etc.) that are SPECIFIC to the group you are speaking to. This does not mean little puny products. These would be multi-hour products.

If you have a lot of people who will be attending, you should be able to make PLENTY of cash this way.

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