Some of you get paid to speak; others hope to get paid one day. One thing that we all face as paid speakers is the issue of payment vs. exposure. That is, we will be invited to speak pro bono, or will be offered less than our usual rate, and we'll have to decide if it's worth it to take less money in order to get exposure or visibility.
I will tell you right up front that only a few of my pro bono speaking engagements have paid off in clients or future speaking engagements. So why do I do them and how do I decide who gets my services for free?
I have a soft spot for nonprofit organizations, having worked in the field for sixteen years. I know what it's like to struggle for funds and to never have enough for everything you need and want to provide in the community, never mind training and development for your staff and volunteers.
I've chosen a couple of nonprofit organizations that I have had connections with for a long time, and for them, I will speak pro bono. Occasionally I get a client from doing this, but for me, it's my opportunity to give back to organizations that have done so much in our community.
One in particular provides self-employment training for women entrepreneurs, and as I went through the program, I feel a sisterhood with every other woman (and man!) who graduates from the program.
Other nonprofit organizations may take advantage of my non-advertised nonprofit discount if they can't pay my full fee. But you have to be careful about giving away your expertise when there's no pay and no significant exposure.
Another possible pro bono opportunity for me is one in which the group consists of my target audience: successful self-employed professionals and entrepreneurs. I'm willing to give short presentations to groups like these because the exposure is to my exact target audience, and a short presentation doesn't take too much time or preparation to give. Some speakers won't give more than an hour when offered a pro bono gig. That sounds reasonable to me.
Also, even when speaking pro bono, there are still creative options for trade or other compensation, as indicated by these two great lists on SpeakerNet News: Getting Income From No-Fee Engagements and Creative Tactics for Compensation.
If the group is not your target audience, and the so-called "exposure" is unlikely to bring you future business, think carefully about giving your time for free. You're not a nonprofit organization. You get paid to speak.
Ultimately, you just won't know until after the gig. Sometimes a group seems like it's full of great prospects, but nothing comes of it. Sometimes nothing comes of it right away, but you get hired two years later by someone who heard you speak and that snowballs into more engagements.
We can't foretell the future, but we can make reasonable decisions on giving our time for free or negotiating creative compensation. If you want to make a living as a speaker, you need to get paid!
Do you speak pro bono? Why or why not?
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