Thursday, July 29, 2010

Is it fair to have your speaking fee donated to charity?

I've been in conversation with many professional speakers in both the UK and the US over the past two weeks. One topic of conversation has been the increasing number of requests we receive to speak in return for a donation to charity.

The speaking profession, and the members thereof, are the most generous and giving people I've ever come across. Each of us has our own charities and causes that we support, in our own private ways. In addition, many of us offer greatly reduced fees for charity events. Now and again, we speak for free.

For many years, I, along with many other speakers, have received requests to speak for free, from organisations who have limited funds. I don't mind them asking, and I have a policy of accepting a maximum of one such request each month. Many other speakers have similar policies.

Of late, the requests often come in this form. "We'd like you to speak at our event. We recognise that you are a professional, so we are offering a reasonable fee. Would you be free on this date?" Sometimes the fee is specified, sometimes not. If the date is free, I make a provisional booking and pass the details on to my business manager. A couple of days later comes another call. "Alan, all of the other speakers have agreed to donate their fees to charity (always a good cause, such as a hospice, or cancer charity).Would you agree to do that same?". Now I have a problem. I've confirmed that I'm free on the date. I've expressed interest, maybe even agreed a fee. I now have to either appear uncharitable, by insisting on receiving a fee, or decline to speak, citing some excuse. It's an insidious form of blackmail, in my opinion. On one occasion when I did appear under these conditions, I asked to see evidence of the charity donation. The organisers told me it wasn't possible, and that I should show more trust in them.

I know many professional speakers who have received similar approaches. There's often a rider attached, such as "Of course, we'll be promoting you to our database, and you may meet people who want to purchase your services". The unstated irony is that I am delivering my services effectively for nothing at the event itself. Since I receive most of my income from speaking fees, I am effectively under-valuing my professional expertise by appearing.

I've never met a caterer, a venue hire manager, or a security team, who were asked to donate their event fees to charity. My advice to professional speakers is to be careful of "fee to charity" events. They may be genuine, and you may decide to take them. If you do, be sure that there really is a fee to charity. If you decide to decline the request don't feel guilty about it.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The web for knowing, A handshake for closing

There are many, many individuals who, in my opinion, are wasting time, money and effort trying to sell their services online. They include coaches, trainers, consultants and other providers of "soft" services which include a major element of person-to-person contact.

We all know the mantra of find, know, like and trust that is part of the sales cycle. It's true, and has been for thousands of years, that we buy from people we trust. But trust, as we also know, is hard to establish online. It stems most strongly, and most easily, from personal recommendation from another person we trust. In the absence of direct recommendation, trust can be enhanced by testimonials, case studies, and reputation.

So here's my take. I'm happy to buy a commodity online - a music download, a flight, a hotel. I'm more wary of buying a more "risky" product, such as a financial service, but I'm prepared to go with a well-known brand, probably one that I know in the physical world (First Direct being a prime exception to that rule). However, would I buy a service such as business coaching or marketing services from a company I had only encountered on the web? Absolutely not.

I had this discussion with a group of fellow speakers at a convention in Orlando earlier this week. All agreed that they would only buy high-cost person-to-person services from someone who was not only recommended by a friend, but that they had met face-to-face.

So here's my advice. We all need websites and a social media presence. But for many of us, that's not enough. We need to get out there and meet people in the real world. We need to speak and offer help and advice in person. It may sound old-fashioned, but that's still how high-value relationships are created. Fair enough, the initial contact may be online, but the deal will normally be closed in person.

In the past 20 years, I've met a lot of people who are trying to sell person-to-person services solely via websites, SEO, email marketing campaigns and the like. A few are successful, but a lot aren't. The most successful people I know have built a network of strong, real-world relationships with people who trust them and recommend them constantly.

Golfers say "I drive for flash an putt for cash". I say "The web for knowing, A handshake for closing"

Friday, July 23, 2010

Message first, social media second

Some people are so beguiled by a new piece of social media technology that they overlook the message they are using it to deliver. Of course, finding more efficient ways to deliver our points is always a sensible quest, but we must never forget that social media, and social networks, are tools, not an end in themselves.

Permit me to take this a stage further. If you have a powerful, timely message, it will be heard regardless of the methods you employ initially. You may decide to run a YouTube campaign to promote your latest book. People may start talking about it on Facebook, which attracts the attention of broadcast media, such as TV and radio. Before you know it, you have a wider audience using channels you hadn't planned to use that in the media that you had carefully planned for.

That's why, in my opinion, all campaigns should start with the core message, and then seek the best way of delivering it. You should also be prepared to switch your media focus at short notice. It's not about the medium, it's about the message. Maybe that's not the way Marshall McLuhan would have seen it, but it's my take.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Social media; time to get serious

The hype around social media is beginning to die down. Now it's time to get serious. If you are going to make use of social media in your business (and you don't have to), then you need to have a strategy, a plan to measure the results, regular checkpoints, and a willingness to put some resource behind your efforts. Here are a few tips to crank up the volume on your social media campaigns.

* Make sure you can measure your results. If you can't measure, you can't judge how well you are doing. There are plenty of tools available.
* Behave professionally. Don't leave your Twitter feed to the office junior (unless they are very good).
* Get your internal people trained, so they are confident to use social media responsibly.
* Look for niches and special areas where your customers are speaking. You don't need a presence on every social network.
* Don't hide your involvement. It's no longer the time for limited test sites. Go mainstream.

Finally, don't believe what external advisors and consultants tell you without reviewing their evidence. By now, anyone who advises on social media policy should have a track record of success. If you're serious about social media, you need solid professional advice.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Who cares what you say on social media?

Many people accuse users of social media of posting uninteresting trivia about their lives. In some cases, that's a fair criticism. If all you ever hear is the regular daily goings-on of an uneventful existence, it's hard to maintain your interest. On the other hand, a constant stream of "inspirational " quotes is not going to win you many followers, or even keep the ones you have. The answer is not full-on marketing either, since that will turn people away even more quickly than trivia. Worst of all, in my opinion, is the automatic broadcasting of news-related links in a never-ending stream of headlines. It's obvious that it comes from a machine, not from you.

So what is the answer? In my opinion, it's to communicate something useful - a piece of advice, a recommended restaurant, a place to buy great-value products. Think about the conversations you have with your friends. Sometimes you chat about music or sport, sometimes you offer advice, sometimes you may ask for help. That's why people like you. But if your conversation is dull, they will turn away, or look at their watch as they remember an urgent appointment.

Social media is about conversations. It's not about being dull, nor is it one-way. If you join the conversation, you will find that people do care what you say. You may do business with them you may not, but you'll be doing something interesting and useful. People will recommend you too, and business will come your way when you aren't even asking for it.