How Do Bureaus Make Money?
Since the bureau did the initial marketing and they worked with the client in selecting the best speaker (you) for the engagement, they naturally expect compensation for their efforts. This can occur in two basic ways —
Traditionally, the client does not pay the bureau for their efforts – you do. Bureaus make their money by taking a percentage (typically 20% to 35%) of the amount you normally charge a client. Bureaus prefer this approach because their services are “free” to the client.
However, some bureaus are starting to hire speakers at their normal (full) fee, and then adding their commission to that. (Consequently, you’re not paying the bureau – the client is.)
You might think that speakers would prefer the second method because they get to keep more money. But there are both advantages and drawbacks to the second approach.
You certainly make more money if the bureau adds their commission to your standard fee than if they take a percentage out of your fee. But you run the risk of an unethical bureau promoting you as, to use an extreme example, a $50,000 speaker and so charging the client $50,000 while only paying you your standard fee of $10,000.
You may feel that you don’t care. After all, you’re receiving your full $10,000 fee, right? But when the client is understandably disappointed (as they will be) when your presentation doesn’t measure up to the $50,000 fee that they're paying for you, you end up looking both foolish and overpriced. That’s not the sort of reputation that you want to have.
An ethical bureau won't misrepresent you as being far better than you are, or worth considerably more than your normal fee — a dissatisfied client damages their reputation too. So as long as you’re dealing with an ethical bureau, either approach should work.
Whichever approach you and the bureau use, just be sure that you and the bureau fully understand and agree to the financial arrangements beforehand.