5 Phases of the Professional Speaker Career: Which Are You In?

By Jane Atkinson

Over the past 30 plus years, I’ve had a bird’s eye view into the careers of many professional speakers. It has been incredible to watch so many talented individuals build and grow their speaking businesses. And as I’ve watched these various speakers go through the process, I’ve been able to identify five phases of the professional speaker career, which I want to share with you today.

Let’s find out which one you are in!

The 5 Phases of the Professional Speaker Career

All of you reading this blog post will most likely identify with one of the phases of the professional speaker career I’m about to outline. I thought by defining these phases, you can more clearly see where you are and where you may want to go.

The ‘Rubber Chicken Circuit’ Phase

The Rubber Chicken Circuit phase is where the speaker who is speaking for free the majority of the time sits.

Years ago, hotels had pretty bad food, and when you spoke for free, sometimes the event coordinator would say “but you will get great exposure and a beautiful chicken dinner.” Great exposure – maybe. But back then the chicken wasn’t all that good, thus the term Rubber Chicken Circuit.

In the Rubber Chicken Circuit phase, you would like to get paid but aren’t really sure how to move in that direction. Everyone and their dog tells you that you are fabulous, but you have yet to crack the code to receiving that almighty paycheck.

If you identify with the Rubber Chicken Circuit Speaker, be sure to check out The Wealthy Speaker 2.0 and our 12 week Accelerate Course for the step-by-step process for moving from free to fee.

The ‘I’m Still Working Full-Time but Want to Leave Soon’ Phase

This is a pretty common phase for speakers. Having a job while you are starting is a brilliant way to go.

My client Jacob, who is an absolute rock star, is in this phase. For Jacob, it’s only a matter of time before he feels comfortable enough to leave the paycheck, which is a scary thing when you’ve got a house full of kids at home and don’t want them to suffer for your dream.

A few weeks ago, at a full fee gig in Florida, he got people to stay for hours, buy tons of books and the engagement resulted in more spin-off business. Jacob is making it happen, and when the time is right for him, he’ll be able to successfully make the leap and quit his day job.

For those of you who identify with Jacob and are in this phase, my advice is to be patient.

If you are struggling to book speeches while you are working, you may have more work to do before leaving the job behind. You have to learn how to run the business and sell your value. If that doesn’t come easy, you may have a longer journey.

When you can see half your current income on the calendar, you may decide it’s time to implement your exit strategy. You don’t have to see the entire picture in place, just trust that when you start working at the business full-time, you are going to continue to build, but at a quicker rate.

And while you may encounter an income drop for a year or so while you are in the building stage, with hard work and perseverance, you will likely see a solid revenue stream in no time. When you move from employee to business owner, the sky is the limit in terms of income.

For those of you in the ‘I’m Still Working Full-Time but Want to Leave Soon’ phase, who want ‘soon’ to come faster, our Inner Circle Mastermind program may be the help you need to get to the next level. Our next group starts in April 2019.

The ‘I’ll Speak For Any Audience with a Pulse’ Phase

The ‘I’ll Speak For Any Audience with a Pulse’ phase contains speakers who have been speaking full-time for at least a couple of years. They are getting some traction, but it’s in several different markets. This speaker is a bit nervous about narrowing to one lane, as that may result in fewer gigs.

Does this sound like you?

My client Barbara fits into this speaker phase. She’s been working full-time in the speaking business for over three years and has made some really good headway. She has submitted hundreds of RFP’s (requests for proposals) and has gained quite a few unpaid as well as quite a few paid events. She is picking up momentum.

But here’s the problem…

Barbara is becoming known for five different topics, and it’s going to be difficult for her to gain higher fees if her area of expertise is spread too thin. The goal for Barbara is to choose one lane that she loves and develop an “epic” keynote within that lane. That will be her path to greater success.

The ‘I’m Crazy Busy and Don’t Have Time to Grow My Business’ Phase

In this phase, you still love speaking but might be a little tired of the travel. If you are in the ‘I’m Crazy Busy and Don’t Have Time to Grow My Business’ phase, you’d like to work a bit less and earn more revenue per year. Perhaps you’ve thought of developing more ancillary income, like an online course. (if this is your plan, make sure you are capturing emails from your audience members and communicating with them on a regular basis!).

Here’s the rub with this phase: It’s very difficult to stop and assess where you are in your business and where you need to focus to grow. Growth becomes stunted by your “busy-ness.”

To break free of this phase and level up, you need to embrace a Wealthy Speaker mindset.

First, forever do away with the language that speaks to being out of control. Give up the phrase “I’m so busy” and replace it with “I choose to take a lot of business.” Second, you need to get real about what the real problem is – you!

What’s needed here is the courage to raise your fees. Even your clients who have been with you for a long time may be ready for a fee increase. You deserve it, and you should ask for it. This may result in having to part ways with your low fee clients but opens you up to take on clients who are indeed a right fit.

When you raise your fees and let go of some business, make sure you keep your dollars front and center. This will help you to not freak out when looking at your calendar and it’s a bit less busy.

The ‘Business is Good; Money is Great’ Phase

The ‘Business is Good; Money is Great’ phase is where the speaker who has worked hard and achieved a level of success that they weren’t even sure was possible sits. In this phase, things are going well, and you have marketing and systems in place that keep the business running like a well-oiled machine even when you are out speaking.

After a few years at this level of “busy-ness,” you may see a need to diversify your efforts.  Always be thinking about how to capitalize on the sheer volume of people that you meet along the way. You want to make sure that you are capturing a very large percentage of your audiences on email and making them a part of your tribe. This will allow you to pull them into the host of products you have to offer.

Mel Robbins is someone at this level who has done a great job of this. She created a strong following while still speaking but she realized at one point that she didn’t love the travel and hated being away from her family. So she’s gone on to figure out many ways to cash in on her fame, starting with her book, ‘The Five Second Rule.’ She has also developed some very successful partnerships, including one with Audible, and now she’s coming out with a new TV show. She’s running her business on her terms.

So, which phase of the speaker career are you in? Which do you relate to most?

Perhaps you straddle two phases, which is okay. Knowing where you are, and the steps to moving forward are the key.

For those of you in the, ‘I’m Still Working Full-Time But Want to Leave Soon’, ‘I’ll Speak For Any Audience With a Pulse’, ‘I’m Crazy Busy and Don’t Have Time to Grow My Business’, and ‘Business is Good; Money is Great’ phases, the right next step for you may be our Inner Circle Mastermind program. Check it out and be sure to schedule a 15-minute chat with me right away as we start our next group in April 2019!

See you soon Wealthy Speakers!