Do All Bureaus Charge a Commission?
There’s another way that some speakers bureaus make money — they charge speakers a “marketing fee” to send the speaker’s information to their clients.
Traditionally, bureaus haven’t done this. The way it’s usually worked, the bureau doesn’t make any money until they get you a speaking engagement, and then they take their commission (25% or so) out of your standard fee.
So working with a traditional speakers bureau doesn’t cost you anything out-of-pocket; they don’t get paid until you get paid.
It sounds good, but the downside is that these bureaus generally aren’t interested in working with you until they can make enough money on their commission to make the arrangement profitable for them. Since bureaus typically charge 20 – 35% for their services, many bureaus aren't interested in working with you unless you are making at least $2,000 or so per engagement. They just don't make enough money on your speeches to make it worthwhile for them.
This can leave beginning speakers with a problem. When you’re first starting out, you need all the marketing help you can get so you can make the big bucks. Yet many bureaus aren’t interested in representing you until you’re already making big bucks!
Enter the “fee-based” bureaus. These bureaus will typically work with you, regardless of how low your fee is. They can do this because they charge you a fee up-front, anywhere from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. (They also typically charge you a commission on any engagements they arrange for you.)
On the face of it, this is a good deal for the beginning speaker. You get to work with a bureau before you’re making the “big bucks.” The problem is, the bureau is guaranteed an income — your up-front fee. But the speaker isn’t guaranteed any bookings, so the speaker’s income isn’t assured. So it isn’t an equitable arrangement.
This isn’t a problem… as long as the fee-charging bureau is ethical. Unfortunately, there are some “bureaus” that make their primary income from speakers’ fees, not from the commissions they get when their speakers are hired… and that just isn’t right.
So before you pay a bureau to get engagements for you, be sure to investigate them and determine how legitimate they are. Paying a bureau is like buying a used car — it can be a good deal, but you have to be careful that you’re not cheated by a bureau misrepresenting what they’re going to do for you.