Speaking for free

imageI receive requests to present at conferences at least once per week. I’ve got a great pedigree from speaking at conferences and large events and I work with large corporate clients on their social media strategy and online branding activities.

But most of the enquiries I receive want me to travel to the location and present for them for free.  Take these recent requests for my time for example:

One organisation wanted me to speak for them at a social media strategy event.  One of their corporate speakers had dropped out at the last minute and a week before the conference, they had no one to take their place. They had charged each delegate £495 to attend the strategy workshop, but because they sourced their speakers from Agencies and corporates, they would not pay any of their speaker fees.  They reasoned that the great networking opportunity would be worth the investment in my time

Another event in London later this year, boasts some large corporate names.  They are charging each delegate a fee of £500 for the day.  They never pay their speakers a fee and they don’t usually pay any travelling expenses.

Each of these events have costs to bear for hosting the event so it’s understandable that they would have to charge a fee.  They would have to pay the venue, the events team and the marketing team for their work around the event. For the event itself, a venue would normally charge about £50 – £100 per delegate for catering and use of the hotel room for the day.

Yes – you’ve done your sums correctly.  Take away marketing and logistics and the company has turned a  nice profit for each event they run.

And by speaking at their conference,  I would have helped them with their revenue stream.  At my own cost.

I’m happy to speak for free. I regularly talk to networking groups and non profits. I run workshops showing businesses how to use social media to their advantage. Non profit organisations will always pay a reduced fee and my travelling expenses. But I believe that this should be different for profit based organisations.

Of course, I’ve got a great opportunity to meet new businesses, and network.  I’ve got a great opportunity to showcase my knowledge outside of this blog, and I can get to meet and network with other speakers.

But does this actually turn into revenue?

Customer opportunities have to be worked on.  Relationships need to be made and built upon.  Trust needs to be gained, and credibility established, 

That’s hard to do in a 45 minute session on stage.

So when you want to hire a speaker to speak at your event, consider things from their perspective.  The speaker has to spend time preparing for the presentation.  They will have to research, and create the slide deck and interact with the organisers of the event.

They will need to spend their own money travelling to the event, and they will not be able to do any funded work whilst at the event.

If you’re planning to hold an event similar to the type of event that I’ve described above, then don’t be surprised if the ‘free’ speaker lets you down at the very last moment to deliver some funded work for a client.

A client who values their time – and is willing to pay for their knowledge and experience – which will ultimately add to the clients revenue stream and profit.

Think about that when you’re trying to get someone to do something for nothing. 

You might just get what you pay for…

What do you think?  Would you speak for free to a company that makes money out of your efforts?  I’d love to know

Eileen is a social business consultant and author of Working The Crowd: Social Media Marketing for Business.

Contact her to find out how she can help your business extend its reach.

Image credit: flickr

7 thoughts on “Speaking for free

  1. William Hilsum

    Very interesting to read… Had no idea it worked like that.

    I wish I had an interesting topic I could speak about!

    If it is a usergroup or similar, I would expect speakers to do it for free to get a name for themselves or just engage with the community.

    However, when it comes to large conferences or similar, if you were doing an informal presentation and/or heavily promoting your company, I don’t think you should charge a penny, but, I really think it is disgusting for a large conference with (guessing) hundreds of people paying a lot of money, not even to pay expenses, let alone a fee!

  2. John Breakwell

    Those organisations sound like ones highlighed in the excellent http://ClientsFromHell.net/ website. Basically “how about you design my website/flyer/presentation for free – think of the network opportunities/exposure you’ll get as a result?” I wouldn’t give them the time of day.

  3. nicky fraser

    Great post Eileen. I recently did a couple of talks for non-profits, and waived my fee. I only asked that my expenses be paid for (covering the cost of the handouts I prepared), . I’d happily do that again, for non-profits, and incidentally received work off the back of these events.

    I definitely wouldn’t waive my fee, if the ticket price were set, to make a profit for the organiser. The networking opportunity is a perk not payment. I’ve come to realise that whenever someone utters the words “it’s a great opportunity for you” it generally isn’t, and it’s time to grab my coat, wish them well and move on.



  4. Mary Jo Foley

    Great post! I’ve found when I’m asked to speak for free that if I say no, but I’d do it for $xxx, suddenly places with no speaking budgets find them! 🙂 If the speaker makes it clear that there will be value add, time spent prepping, etc., as you noted, it should be a fair trade. If a company/org wants you to come prepared and to do a good job, they should expect you will spend time prepping that will make the fee worth it…. Yes, contacts you make are nice. “Building your brand” is nice. But brand building and contacts made don’t pay the rent — especially in pricey cities! MJF

  5. eileenb Post author

    Thank you ALL for your comments about this. I’ve spent the day feeling wretched and worrying that I came across like a money grabbing opportunist who wouldn’t open her mouth unless I was paid.
    I want to share what I know with anyone who will listen. If I can help people out with social media, then I’m happy. Call me and i’ll be deligted to help out. email me, I’ll respond. This blog makes no direct revenue for me, I share what I know freely. I want to help.
    But I have to pay the mortgage, I have to buy the computer that helps me research all of the information that gives me the expertise and the value add. I have to pay for the broadband.
    I need to be paid so I can continue to give value from the skills I’ve learned. I run a business, not a charity.

    Thanks you for agreeing that paying for skills and knowledge is the ethical and honourable thing to do. It’s really appreciated.

  6. brucelynn

    A lot of ‘conferences’ are one big scam. You pretend to work and we’ll pretend to offer something of value.

    Speakers get to pretend they are saying something useful or interesting when they are just pitching their wares.
    Attendees get to pretend they are working when they are just getting a day out of the office.
    Managers get to pretend they are training their staff by signing a relatively small cheque.
    Organisers get to pretend they are offering insight, when they are just organising the mutual back scratching session.

    No learning, no lead generation. Just speakers with too much time on their hands talking to attendees with too much time on their hands and both pretending it is useful.

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