Question from the mail-bag:
I’m an excellent speaker but there isn’t high demand for my talks yet. I’ve been speaking for free to attract clients, but now I’m being offered money. I don’t know how much to charge, especially when the truth is, I will speak for free if I have availability and room for new clients. I don’t want to undercut myself. I also don’t want to charge too much and be turned down. Last year I quoted 1500 for a half-day seminar and they said their entire budget for the day was 500. I told them I’d be wiling to negotiate, and never heard back from them.
As I explained in Why Speakers earn $30,000 an hour, speaking is a free market activity. There is no single reference to use for how much to charge. This works against you if you only speak once in awhile, since you can’t triangulate to find out what people think you are worth, and have fewer chances to get drunk with other speakers and organizers to get them to dish on what they charge or pay (I list the ultra high end of known fees here).
Being an excellent speaker isn’t of primary importance when it comes to fees, unfortunately. Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber might be horrible speakers, but they’ll fill a stadium of paying customers just for showing up. Fame and expertise draw people first, not speaking ability.
In some circles a $500 fee is significant, as paying someone to speak at all seems exorbitant to most normal people on this planet. In other circles, $5k for a lecture is small change. Study your profession and seek out high profile events. You’ll find they charge people $1000 or more to attend for a day, which implies they have sizable budgets for paying speakers. However these budgets come with higher expectations of the profile or fame you need to get that gig.
I wouldn’t worry about undercutting yourself – if your primary income is something else, it’s wise to see speaking as a funnel for that business until there’s enough demand to think otherwise. If you are good, each gig you do will lead to more gigs, and soon you’ll have too many requests than you can handle, which gives you leverage in explaining higher rates. Same goes for most freelance type careers.
On your lost client: clients can be flaky. The fact they disappeared may have nothing to do with your rates (ask them). They likely contacted a few people, and possibly got lost in all the email, or the agenda changed and the workshop was cut. All freelance work has a high inquiry to engagement ratio and speaking is no different.
If you want more insider speaking advice, you want my bestseller, Confessions of a Public Speaker.