Here is a big cheesy picture of me speaking at last year’s Guardian Small Business Awards, which I was very pleased to host. My ears are smaller in real life I promise. I speak a lot and as you’ll gather from my presence at Guardian event, I write for the Guardian quite a bit too (I’m going somewhere with this, I promise).
One thing that paper, which goes to just over a quarter of a million people and which has a lot of prestige, has never asked me to do is to write for nothing. The exposure, a handful of other would-be clients tell me, will be invaluable. I get people asking me to speak or write because the readership or people attending the event will be useful contacts and may well offer me some work.
The logic is so flawed it’s jaw-dropping – but let’s run through it for a moment.
So, you want me to speak at your event. That’s fine, as long as I can add some value I’d love to. You only want me for half an hour and it’s going to lead to good exposure, you tell me. You don’t see that paying for only half an hour is a realistic expectation.
OK. As long as that half an hour speech is in my living room, I agree, it will only be half an hour. I warn you, though, you won’t get a particularly good audience in there. Parking for a crowd is terrible. A better idea would be to get me to go somewhere, in which case I’m going to have to allow for around half a day.
I’d probably better practice the speech as well. Oh, and maybe write it and do some PowerPoint, or at least know where I’m going with it. Hopefully by this time you’ll note that “half an hour” is no such thing, and that’s before I start to consider my price based on experience or relevance.
But what about the audience, you say? They might book me and they will be very useful contacts apparently. Well, fine, but this audience is watching me speak for nothing in your scenario. They won’t expect to pay me to go and do the same thing again at their event.
Sometimes I hear the argument that the audience isn’t paying to come to an event so there can be no fee; I suggest the audience should pay and the speaker fee should come from that, and I get told that the audience wouldn’t wear it. So now I’m expected to take part for nothing in an event with an audience that might hire me but actually doesn’t have the budget to attend the event in the first place.
You see how this doesn’t add up? Of course some speakers do it, but they tend to end up selling to the audience because they’ve got to make the event worthwhile for them. You don’t want me to come in focused on my business and thinking of your audience as my marketplace, you want me to add genuine value and to be focused entirely on your event.
Writing for your blog or publication is much the same. You want to take advantage of my time and experience to add value, you have to pay me to do so unless you’re a mate trying to start a business and need some content – I’ve done plenty of those – or you work for a charity I want to support. My dad died of a heart attack when he was younger than I am now, and if the British Heart Foundation ever needs any favours free of charge the door is firmly open.
If you’re a commercial concern, though, if you want to make a profit out of content you want to extract from me or my colleagues, please don’t patronise us by claiming a payment isn’t necessary because we’ll get exposure or make useful connections.
There can be ways around the problem. If you genuinely don’t have budget but can offer me good pictures for this website, or a video for my showreel, I may well consider it. If you have no budget for speakers but are offering a goody bag to 500 delegates, I can get a deal on one of my books and extract my value in that way.
But please, don’t sit in an office being paid for your time and ask us to work for free – that suggests you value your time at something and mine at nothing. See why it doesn’t go down well? The highest profile clients, including the Guardian, never ask.