Use Your Words: Making a Living from Speaking

Today’s Use Your Words BlogTalkRadio program addressed the question, “Can I really make a living speaking”? If you didn’t get a chance to listen live, listen in now right here!

If that question is nagging at you, though, here are my thoughts.

First, of course it’s a tension between income and ministry. We think that if we’re doing something for God, it should be free. And He may be calling some of you to speak for free, or to speak on faith! But I do think it’s okay to charge. If you are dedicating your time to speaking, you need to also make a living out of it. Few families can afford to have someone driving all over the place, gone for long amounts of time, without generating an income.

So if you need that income, here are some ideas:

Multiple Income Streams work best

I once heard a career coach say that it is easier to make $100,000 by making $10,000 from 10 sources than by making $100,000 from one, and I think she’s right. If you’re aiming to make a living speaking, you’re probably looking at wanting to make around $40,000. It’s easier to make $10,000 from 4 sources than to make $40,000 from one source. So what are those sources?

You may be able to come up with some other ones, but in general, those are the four biggies. So let’s look at each in turn.

Fees

It’s hard to make $40,000 from fees alone without burning yourself out. Even if you charge $2000 for a weekend retreat (which only a few speakers can manage, and only in a few geographical areas), you’d be looking at speaking 20 weekends a year. That’s almost half of all available weekends, if you subtract Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, etc. Few of us would be willing to give up all of our weekends. And if you only charge $1000 for a full weekend, which is more the median fee, you’d have to speak for 40 weekends. Pretty well impossible.

You could do a combination of weekends/weeknights, of course. If you charged $400 for a weeknight, and $1000 for a weekend, you’d have to do 20 weekends and 50 weeknights. That’s ten full weeks of speaking each and every night.

Those who manage to do this tend to speak in bunches: they’ll speak every weekend and a bunch of nights in October, or they’ll be on the road all through April. They tend to get their engagements through a booking agent.

It can work, but it’s very tiring and it takes you away from your family a great deal. Fees alone will not take you to a reasonable income. You need to supplement with something else.

2. Book Table Sales

In general, I make more from sales at my product table than I do from speaking fees. And products can be very useful for the kingdom! If people like what you have said, and if they have felt God’s presence, they want to continue that. If they can buy a book, a CD, a Bible study, or a workbook that takes them deeper into your message, they’ll get great benefit from it.

So don’t think of it as “selling junk” (and please don’t sell junk!). Offer products that are useful and that expand on your message. The cheapest to produce would be:

  1. CDs of your talks
  2. Bible studies on the subject of your talk (publish them in a binder with an insert for the cover)
  3. Workbook with charts, lists, or Bible verses that help them work through your talk

More expensive ones would be:

  1. DVDs of your talks
  2. Self-published (or royalty published) books

But the sky is the limit! Listen in to a teleseminar on how to create and sell these products here. It’ll give you so many ideas your brain will be working overtime!

3. Writing

Once you have gained some recognition, you can write columns or articles in your denominational magazine or newspaper, or in local newspapers (my column is published in secular newspapers, but it goes out to a few hundred thousand homes every week). You already know how to communicate by speaking. Learn how to communicate by writing, too! Attend some Christian writing conferences to network and get some ideas. Sally Stuart’s book Christian Writers’ Market Guide 2010is very helpful when it comes to breaking into magazines and newspapers. And don’t forget that many websites are popping up that pay for content!

In general, magazine and column writing will pay more than book writing, if you do it regularly. Unless you become a best-selling author, selling short pieces tends to make more money. So don’t dismiss these short pieces! Do your research, and see if you can turn some of your talks into articles!

4. Internet Sales

If you’ve been following along with my Use Your Words radio program, and reading this blog, you know that I’m a big believer in having a web presence to get speaking engagements. People want to check you out online before they take the plunge and hire you. So you need to set up a good blog or website. And you need to be engaged in Facebook or Twitter or other social media sites.

So you’ve done that. You’ve been writing high quality blog posts. You have readers. What do you do with them?

It is not enough simply to write. If you have the readers, you have to give them something to buy so they can take your message to the next level. Offer audio downloads of some of your talks. Create e-books of devotionals, or collections of your best blog posts or articles. Create reports on how to parent better, discipline better, pray better, or anything! If you speak on organization, sell a collection of reproducible charts or lists. Sell a collection of Bible verses people can cut out that speak directly to your topic! The list is endless. And as these downloadable products are purchased, the buyers get them immediately without you having to mail a thing. It couldn’t be easier!

If you’re confused about how to set this up, or you want to explore this idea further, this talk takes you through the steps.

You can also turn your internet customers into members by creating a membership site. Regular viewers can see your blog posts, but if they want access to articles or special videos, they have to pay a premium. It doesn’t have to be very much, but each little bit adds up, especially since it doesn’t mean any more work for you!

If you work steadily at each of these areas, you’ll soon find that you have little bits of money flowing in from different directions. And little bits can add up to a healthy income. Best of all, you’re enlarging the kingdom by reaching people in all different ways. So don’t create junk; create quality talks, products, and posts, and you’ll find that if you combine all of these aspects, you can indeed make a living by spreading the message God has given you!

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