Should I Speak for Free?

Should I Speak for Free? - PleaseNotes

When I started off in my business, I would take any offer to get eyeballs on me and the things that I do. It felt like it was an amazing opportunity for me to speak at as many places that would take me. In doing so, I got the chance to talk more about my brand, connect with people, get feedback and practice communicating the value of my goods and services. As time went along I gained more experience,  the strength of my delivery and my ability to communicate increased, therefore, I was able to start charging for facilitating workshops, speaking events, and online events. 

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I often still get asked to present work or speak at an event for no cost, and there are certainly some opportunities that I will. However, there is a point in your career where you know that speaking for exposure is not going to cut it. Within creative communities such as Wellness, Art, Music and more, people who are deemed as having “soft skills” often are not taken as seriously or paid the same amount as people in a corporate setting. Some brands and companies will tell you that exposure is a good enough payment, and in some cases it is. Wondering if you should be charging for your services or offering them for free? Check out these seven factors to help you sort out what works best for you.


  • Who is the audience that you're presenting to? 

 If you're doing an event with a plethora of people who are your target market, they have the expectation that they will be sold to, and are in fact encouraged to purchase goods and sign up for communications from the people presenting, this might be a good fit for you.  With this, bear in mind the 16/4/1 rule.  On average, for every 16 people you talk to, 4 will be interested and 1 will purchase.  If the ROI you are looking to receive is equal to the amount of people you estimate will purchase your products or goods, then go for it.  IE. When I first started presenting workshops, I would charge $500 for a one hour class. Since my average profit per order of PleaseNotes Goods is $15, I would need 33 people to buy products for me to hit $500. Using the 16/4/1 rule, that means there would need to be 132 people attending the workshop. Make sure you run the numbers so you don’t feel resentful. 


  • Is this a paid event?

I don't speak at events people pay to attend for no cost, I feel like it's exploitative for there not to be a value exchange. It doesn’t make sense to me if the event coordinator is getting paid and the talent is not, it feels a lot like 1990s Puff Daddy. The only exception I have is if all of the proceeds are going towards a charity or a nonprofit cause. At this point in your career, if you were looking to practice your presentation and you feel good about perhaps only gaining a couple people on your email list, doing it for no cost is a great place for you to play, and there is value in that.  

There have been some paid events that I've been to where they have given speakers access to the attendee email list (permissions were granted by the attendees in the sign up process), will highlight facilitators on social media for weeks before and after the event, given speakers no-cost tables for their own sign ups or sales, and/or sweet thank you gifts.  If you are a coordinator running on a budget, there's many ways that you can offer an appropriate value exchange without giving money. In my experience, if the event coordinator doesn't offer anything in exchange or create some sort of value for talent, it communicates how the event coordinator feels about what I'm bringing to the table, and sets a weird energy for the attendees as well.


  •  How much energy are you committing?

Some paid events I've spoken only for 15 minutes and some I’ve spoken for over an hour and a half. Let the content and the context of the actual event help you dictate your speaker fees. Is this an off-the-cuff conversation? Is this a panel? Is this you presenting material? Do you get a copy of the recording or event photography to use? Please bear in mind that all the experiences that you've had have gone into you being an expert in your field. It's not just about the amount of time that you're spending on stage or on camera, it's also about your innate talents, the preparation that you've put into putting together the actual presentation, and your experiences and learnings that have gone into you being where you are today. 


  • What happens to the content after?

Some organizations have actually started building an internal skills library, a place where the workshops that are done can be re-watched indefinitely. Often with these sort of sessions, there can potentially be thousands of people that will watch your content. You deserve to be paid for something that will be used multiple times over, especially if somebody is charging others to access that content, or it is used as an incentive.


  • Are you cultivating a relationship?  

In exchange for a long-term building relationship with an aligned company, sometimes you'll be asked to do work for lower than the rate that you expected, however you'll be signed on as a part of the leadership team, will be noted as a go to expert on their website, and also be given an agreed amount of paid workshops in the future (get it in writing). This is a great option because it communicates to the people working with that brand that you are in fact an expert in your field, as you have a long-term partnership. This looks great on your LinkedIn and opens you up to additional similar opportunities. If you believe in the leadership team and their company values are in alignment with yours, this allows you to access their circle of influence, increase your network and visibility.  


  • What’s the opportunity cost?

The definition of opportunity cost is “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen”. What are you giving up by doing the event? Is the time or day of the week that it’s happening during family time or your day off?  If during the time you take to do the event, you could be doing something that advances you or your business in some way, that's something to think about. With burn out growing at increasing rates, you also need to make sure your personal boundaries are taken into account. For myself, this means allowing at least one weekend day for doing nothing work related, catching up with friends, cooking, reading, taking a nap, whatever.  I know that in making sure that I’m well rested, I can give my best throughout the week. As a recovering workaholic, I keep my urge to overwork in check by reminding myself “ If I don’t take care of myself, I’m not able to take care of anyone else.” 


  • What does your gut say? 

Do you feel good about this? Does this opportunity feel exciting and thrilling, or does it feel like another task and exhausting? This is a clear indicator from your intuition of what path you should be going on. I’m getting better at listening to my intuition, and when I don't, that's whenI do things that aren't in alignment with my long term business success. Engaging in a business relationship that’s not joyful and exciting will actually impede your business success, especially if you're taking it out of scarcity or obligation. Take the time to sit on an offer and if it doesn't feel right, it's OK to decline it. The most important thing to remember is the Universe will give you exactly what you want, and if you're choosing into business relationships that don't feel good, then the Universe will give you more opportunities  that don't feel good. When you say yes to the opportunities you really love, the Universe will give you more of that.

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To summarize, there are a plethora of different factors to help you decide if you should charge for your knowledge. The most important thing is how you feel about the opportunity. If you feel valued, if you feel excited, then feel free to say yes. Otherwise, journal about negotiating your rate to see if that works better. If not, be assured that you saying no is the best thing for you. Sometimes saying no or just asking for what you want can feel scary, icky, or super awkward.  If you want to learn how to negotiate for what you deserve in situations like this, make sure to check out the PleaseNotes workshop, “ Value Your Value - Keys to Negotiating for Your Worth.” It's one of my favorite workshops to do, because it's all about your mindset, seeing yourself as valuable and valued, and learning techniques so you can feel confident asking for what you want.  Click here to check it out! 

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What are your feelings around charging, or not charging, for events? Comment below!

1 comment

  • Tenisha

    Thank you so much for sharing! There’s been so many people asking for my time, and for free! I feel like I can stop and say no, and that it’s ok if it’s not a fit!

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