Speaking is a business, and the most successful professional speakers treat it that way.
In fact, you can be the most dazzling, engaging speaker there is up on stage, but still feel the pinch offstage if you’re not of the right mindset. Your business can fizzle if you’re not approaching it with an owner’s perspective.
As Hall of Fame speaker Shep Hyken said in a previous interview:
“The speaking business is two words: it’s speaking and it’s business. There are successful speakers who are just good at what they do. Then there are amazing speakers that will blow you away with their speaking ability, but they don’t get much work. The difference is that some people have figured out that the speaking business is two words, and others haven’t.”
What then, does having a business owner mindset involve?
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Taking a proactive stance
Most professional speakers don’t “just” speak. If they have any team members, that usually consists of one other person, such as a virtual assistant for helping them to stay organized. Whether you’re a small team or flying solo, your job is still to proactively guide strategy.
Even if you’ve got a huge network of contacts and potential sources for referrals, the gigs don’t just happen, it takes active management to keep your calendar booked.
Jeff Bush, a speaker whom we interviewed recently, estimates that he lost up to 20 opportunities per year just because his inbox wasn’t proactively managed. We get it! There’s only so much time in a day and inboxes have a habit of being crowded places.
Luckily, Bush is a speaker who understands the value of a holistic approach in managing a business. He took a step back, examined what was going on, and realized he needed a tool to help with long-term nurturing of prospective clients. In this way, he is proactively managing his business, rather than simply hoping that someone will book and responding in an ad hoc fashion.
This definition of a proactive business is a good one for speakers to consider:
“A proactive company is one that places greater emphasis on forward-thinking strategic planning as opposed to reactive strategies to deal with problems, or to approach opportunities as they arise.”
You get to actively create your own opportunities – that’s what tends to separate the most successful professional speakers from the rest. What can you do to adopt a growth strategy for your business?
Willingness to learn
“Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily.” – Thomas Szasz
Learning can be humbling and a bit scary, but successful speakers know that in order to grow themselves and their businesses, a willingness to learn is a must. This often means having to get a bit uncomfortable, to tread unfamiliar waters in a quest to make improvements to your own business.
A common area that many speakers express discomfort with is getting sales. You’ll hear some variation of “oh, I’m not into sales,” and yet, without sales, how would you have a business? Whether it’s sales, implementing new business software, researching new topics to meet market demand or any other area that may be “new” to you, having that simple willingness to learn is part of the owner mindset.
You’re in charge of strategy, and adopting new practices or learning new things can be a key part of keeping a business thriving. Remember, your clients, the business market, and the world in general aren’t remaining stagnant, so neither should you.
From our speaker interview series, Diane DiResta says:
“Most speakers love speaking, and that is where they may be putting all their effort, but it’s really a sales and marketing business.”
If these areas are unfamiliar territory to you, then they should be learning priorities. On keeping your business thriving for the long-term DiResta says:
“You also have to be a lifelong learner. You have to stay relevant. The market has changed so much that you have to continue to learn new skills, new technology, and new ways of doing business.”Willingness to learn can be humbling, but it’s part of a business mindset for professional speakers Click To Tweet
Getting to know customers deeply
Customers are the heart of any business, and the savvy business owner knows it. For professional speakers, like any other type of business out there, being able to deliver value is a key to success.
In order to develop the content and packages that will deliver the best value to clients, top professional speakers do their homework. They get to know their customers deeply.
Michael Hoffman, CSP, a motivational sales and customer-service expert, discusses part of his preparation process:
“I listen for the words they use: what they call themselves, what they say when they complain about their jobs, how they talk about their clients. Then, I will pepper these words into my presentation.”
It’s not just about your preparation for the gigs you have already booked though, it’s the research and preparation that you do in-between. Staying up-to-date with the common issues in the industries of your clients and understanding where their typical needs are helps to put you in a better position to book the next opportunity. This is another part of being proactive – deliberately seeking issues which you can deliver help on.
One thing that can help to get you into the right mindset is to have clearly developed “avatars” or “personas” for your clients. These help you to create a clear picture of who your target client usually is, what their interests and problems are, and how you can help them. You may have more than one customer type, so sometimes it makes sense to develop a few different avatars.
Being a doer
“Keep on going, and the chances are that you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I never heard of anyone ever stumbling on something sitting down.”
-Charles F. Kettering
For a professional speaker, being a “doer” is about maintaining momentum. It’s about grit, tenacity and finding ways to move your business forward.
This doesn’t mean you have to actually “do” everything. In fact, this might not be the wisest use of your time. However, you do look for ways to ensure those key tasks in your business still get done, with or without your input.
Neen James, a professional speaker whom we interviewed, is a great example of a “doer” who ensures that her time is well-spent. She operates a virtual team and says:
“I outsource as much as I can so that I can focus.”
Part of the secret to this is systemizing everything that she can. It might initially take you some time to document processes, create templates and automate what you can, but in the end, this allows you greater time-freedom.
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You can rock the stage every time you’re up there, but that alone is not what keeps a successful speaking business going. You need to take care of the “business” part and operate with a business owner’s mindset.
This might mean heading out of your comfort zone, needing to learn new skills or develop systems that support your business. Willingness to learn and being proactive are key traits that will help you to maintain momentum.
Be sure to check out our professional speaker interview series for more nuggets from successful speakers.