PSU Insight

Moving from Free to Fee (and Getting Started Right)

50 Ways to Make Money as a Pro Speaker

  • Especially in these unpredictable times, it is vital that you diversify your income, so that if one income stream dries up, you can still stay profitable. Here are 50 ways to make money as a speaking professional. While you can't actually do all of them, you should certainly consider all of them.

According to the American singer-songwriter Paul Simon, there are "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover". Since income diversification is important to a pro speaker's business, it's fortunate that there are at least 50 ways for professional speakers to make money!

person offering credit card

This shouldn't be a problem — most professional speakers are downright eager to make more money. But sometimes they suffer from a lack of imagination. And that’s what this section is written to help with. I’ve listed 50 ways that professional speakers are making money.

This is not an exhaustive list; with a little thought, I'm sure you'll think of even more possibilities. Nor is this a checklist. You aren’t supposed to do every one of these. But looking over this list may spur your imagination to think of new ways of making some extra cash… or maybe even create an entire new profit center.

So put your thinking caps on, fasten your seatbelts, and fire up your imaginations. Here are 50 suggestions for making (more) money as a speaking professional! (Just click on each suggestion for further thoughts.)

  1. Fee-paid keynote
  2. This one is pretty obvious — you’re a speaker, and speakers give keynote presentations for a fee. So this one isn’t a revelation, but I’m providing it for completeness.

  3. Put on a public seminar
  4. Putting on a public seminar — where you market to a broad base of prospects, and you can’t really predict who will ultimately attend — is one of the most difficult ways for a professional speaker to make money. It can also be one of the most lucrative. Consider it.

  5. Conduct bootcamps
  6. “Bootcamps” are technically public seminars, but they’re generally more expensive (with a registration fee of perhaps thousands of dollars instead of the typical hundreds of dollars for a “public seminar”) and they oftentimes extend over a period of several days.

    Bootcamps are usually rather expensive to conduct, but even a relatively small attendance can yield impressive profits.

  7. Conduct retreats
  8. A “retreat” is also a type of public seminar… but with retreats, the venue is usually an important characteristic. For example, Lisa Jimenez holds “Rich Life Retreats” in exotic locations like Paris and Prague. And like bootcamps, retreats are usually more expensive than ordinary public seminars. (And so they can be even more profitable.)

  9. Ask for donations
  10. While we’re talking about public seminars (by whatever name you choose), let’s consider another way of making money from your speaking engagement — asking your audience for donations. Churches do this all the time (although they don’t describe it in exactly these words). This approach works both for “fee” and free seminars.

    Be careful! Audiences need to feel confident that their donations will be spent for a good cause, and abusing their trust is certainly tacky... and quite possibly illegal. But if they trust your appeal for donations, they often respond generously.

  11. Network marketing
  12. Hold on there! I can already hear the boos and catcalls from some of you. Several decades ago, network marketing acquired a somewhat-sleazy reputation that it still holds in the eyes of some people.

    Granted, a lot of people have spent a lot of time and money in network marketing, and they don’t have anything to show for it. But you could say the same thing about self-publishing your own book, and yet you don’t hear people accusing the book printing industry of committing a fraud. So be fair.

    Granted, anyone who promotes network marketing as a “get rich quick” scheme is being deceptive, because network marketing may not make you rich, and it certainly won’t do it quickly. But network marketing has provided a nice residual income for some people, and it needs to be seriously considered.

    For speakers especially, network marketing can (note: can, not will) be a lucrative source of extra income.

  13. Write a book and have it published
  14. Since I just mentioned books, let’s include it in the list. Writing a book and having it published by a big-name publisher can make you money — possibly quite a lot of it. (Consider Chicken Soup for the Soul or The Secret.)

    But to be honest, those are the exceptions. It can be an excellent idea to have your book published (it’s a terrific marketing tool, for example), but it’s unlikely you’ll make much serious money this way. The problem is that there are so many people looking for their “cut” of the profits (the agent, the publisher, the distributor, the bookstore, etc.) that there is oftentimes very little left for you, the speaker.

    But it does occasionally happen, and so I need to include it on the list. Just don’t consider your published-by-somebody-else book as one of your more sure-fire sources of income.

  15. Write a book and self-publish
  16. That brings us to self-publishing. Writing a book, publishing it yourself, and selling it through bookstores (whether brick-and-mortar bookstores or on-line bookstores like Amazon.com) can be a good source of income for speakers. (However, like network marketing, there’s a heavy emphasis on the word “can”.)

    Since you’re the publisher, you get to keep the publisher’s cut of the profits. So self-publishing is typically more profitable than being published; the downside is that getting your books into bookstores involves more work on your part.

    But bookstores aren’t the only way to sell your books….

  17. Write a Give-away Book
  18. Another way to make money from your self-published book is to sell it (in quantity) to organizations to give away to their members, employees, or customers. For example, high-level network marketers often purchase motivational books to distribute to their downlines; banks might want to give their best customers a book on developing a retirement plan; bridal shops might want to give their customers a book on planning weddings.

    With advances in POD (print on demand) technology, you can make your book even more desirable by customizing the cover — or even the contents, such as an introduction — for each organization.

    There is generally a very small profit to be made on each book this way; but since you’re selling them in bulk, a large number of small profits can add up to a tidy income rather quickly.

  19. Write a manual
  20. But you don’t have to publish your book as a “book”. There’s a big difference in the perceived value of a manual and a book — even if they both have the same content.

    Manuals are generally lousy marketing tools, but they have enormous profit potential. Speakers interested in alternate income streams should certainly consider writing and publishing their own how-to manuals.

  21. Write a pocket guide
  22. A manual doesn’t have to be big to be profitable. “Pocket guides” are typically sold for only a few dollars, but you’re likely to sell a lot more pocket guides than manuals, so your profit will probably come from quantity sales.

    That brings us back to the idea of “writing a book for organizations to give away.” It doesn’t need to be a book. Selling a pocket guide in quantity to an organization can be just as lucrative as selling a book. Don’t limit yourself.

  23. Produce a poster
  24. Since we’re considering printed materials other than the traditional book, let’s note that selling posters — especially motivational posters — can be very profitable for speakers. Although people usually think of “posters” as a square meter (or yard) or so in size, you can sell people anything from an index card-sized mini-poster to a large, framed wall hanging.

    And, as before, don’t limit yourself to selling them to individuals. Companies may want to buy your posters in quantity.

  25. Produce a calendar (or other dated material)
  26. One characteristic of “posters”, regardless of their size, is their relative timelessness. A motivational poster doesn’t really go “out of date” very fast.

    The same can’t be said for calendars and other “dated” items. Now the drawback to such items is that any dated items that you don’t sell within your “window of opportunity” become worthless, so you have to be very careful with your inventory control.

    On the other hand, the great thing about dated materials is that when they expire after someone has purchased them, your customers are likely to want to buy new ones! This doesn’t apply only to calendars — lots of items, from lists of rules and regulations to technical manuals, can expire quite frequently. Re-sales can be even more profitable than first sales.

  27. Produce a coffee cup, pen, or other knickknack
  28. Your products don’t have to especially relate to your message. For instance, you can put your logo or your catchphrase on a coffee mug or pen; but you can also use a generic motivational phrase (like “carpe diem”).

    While using your own brand is preferable for marketing purposes, if you’re looking for increased income, don’t worry about what you want to say… instead, think about what your customers want to hear (or read). Then put it on something that people need, and sell it to them.

  29. Write special reports
  30. Special reports (sometimes called “white papers”) have been a popular sales item for speakers for decades, and they’re still popular today. Many people are short on time, so they appreciate a tightly focused report on a single topic. Typically sold for $1 to $2 per page (and costing only pennies per page to print), special reports can be a high-profit item in a speaker’s product line.

  31. Write e-ports
  32. If you haven’t noticed, the Internet has changed almost everything. In the case of special reports, the Internet has changed them from a popular BOR (back of the room) item to an instantly-available electronic special report (e-port, for short).

    They’re even cheaper to produce than paper-based reports, and because they’re “shipped” electronically, they’re not limited to BOR sales. If special reports can be described as high-profit items, then e-ports are mega-profit items.

    But the Internet supports more mediums than just text….

  33. Record audio reports
  34. Instead of typing an e-port to be read by your customer, you can record an audio report to be listened to by your customer. For speakers wishing to showcase their speaking voices or styles, this is a perfect product!

    And audio reports lead us naturally to….

  35. Produce video reports
  36. Rather than recording an audio report to be heard by your customer, why not produce a video report to be heard and seen by your customer? Video reports used to require a studio and expensive equipment to produce, reasonably good-quality v-ports can now be inexpensively produced by anyone.

  37. Audio record to a physical medium
  38. But the fact that the Internet is powerful and convenient doesn’t mean that it’s the only way to go. You can record your audio report to a CD or memory stick instead of making it available via the Internet. (Of course, you could also do both!)

    Physical items typically sell better BOR than downloadable electronic items, so it is definitely worth considering burning your audio reports to a physical medium also.

  39. Video record to a physical medium
  40. Of course, if CDs are good for audio, DVDs are good for video. While on-liine video reports are a terrific way to provide visual material to remote customers, DVDs and other physical products oftentimes sell better BOR.

  41. Supply a service to your niche market
  42. Sometimes speakers get so focused on speaking to their niche market that they forget that they can also supply a service to their niche market. (I’m not talking about consulting, which is a separate suggestion.) Whatever skills you are speaking to your audiences about, there’s a good chance that some people may wish to hire you to perform those skills. It’s not only a good income source, but it’s a good way to boost your visibility and credibility.

  43. Supply a service to other speakers
  44. When you stop to think about it, most speakers are experts in at least two different areas — their niche market (such as technology, leadership, or real estate) and they’re experts in the business of speaking. So you may be able to supply a service — speechwriting, voice lessons, writing business plans, etc. — to other speakers.

  45. Back of the room general product sales
  46. Up to this point, you’ve mostly been considering what product or service you’re selling. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that you can sell almost anything that your audience members might need or want BOR — back-of-the-room.

    Back of the room sales can be so lucrative that some speakers will pass on a hefty fee, just so they get the opportunity to sell their products or services at the same time that they’re building a relationship with their audience members.

  47. Sponsored keynotes
  48. There are other ways than BOR sales to make an income from “free” speeches. One way is to get sponsorships. Many companies — from major national corporations to small, local companies — would love to have their name associated with your presentation. (It must be a positive association, of course. Drug companies may be eager to sponsor a presentation touting traditional medicine, but will not be interested in sponsoring a program on vitamin therapy for disease prevention, for example.)

  49. Sponsored training programs
  50. It’s the same thing for training programs. If a company is a potential supplier to your audience members, they could easily be interested in sponsoring your training program (or public seminar or bootcamp or whatever).

  51. Voiceovers
  52. Since many speakers have voices that are enjoyable to listen to, performing voiceovers can be an excellent way for speakers to make money. Whether you’re recording slide narrations, interviewing executives, or even introducing other speakers’ audio CDs — voiceovers are a great way to make money without ever going near an airport.

  53. Conduct a teleseminar
  54. Speaking of not going near airports, another tried-and-true way of making some money from the comfort of your office is to speak to your audience via a teleseminar. Teleseminars used to be complex and expensive, but the plummeting cost of bridge lines makes conducting a teleseminar — basically a public seminar conducted by phone — within the reach of almost anyone.

  55. Conduct a webinar
  56. Webinars are the logical extension of teleseminars. A webinar is rather like a public seminar conducted over the Internet. The logistics can be rather complex to set up, but this can be offset by the lack of travel challenges. And your audience size is virtually (if you’ll excuse the expression) unlimited.

  57. Internet product sales
  58. Since we’re talking about the Internet (again), let’s emphasize the importance of the Internet in product sales. Just as you can sell almost anything BOR (as long as you have a room to sell from the back of), you can sell almost anything via the Internet… no room necessary.

    You do need a website, you do need the ability to accept credit cards, and you probably need a shopping cart. But if you have those things, you can open your own e-store selling almost anything.

  59. Expo product sales
  60. Many Chambers of Commerce, users groups, and other business organizations hold trade expos, and if the people attending the expo are your target market, selling product (where “product” could be a physical resource, a service, or even a keynote or training program) can be very lucrative for a speaker. The key is being sure that the expo attendance is appropriate (both in numbers and the type of person attending) for what you’re selling.

  61. Emceeing
  62. Let’s get back to speaking. Another way to make some money as a speaker is to be a Master of Ceremonies (or M/C or emcee) for an event like an awards banquet. This is a special skill because you must alternate between having the spotlight on you, the emcee, and the people who are being honored at the event.

    Sometimes you can emcee at a conference in addition to keynoting or offering a training program. So emceeing alone can be a nice income source, or you can use it to supplement your other activities.

  63. Conduct training programs at events
  64. We’ve mentioned training a number of times without specifically recognizing it as a way of making money. Many event organizers want to provide ‘benefit’ to their attendees, so they like to provide training programs. Offering training to the attendees of an event can be a lucrative income source for speakers of all types.

  65. Conduct a partner program
  66. Everything at an event doesn’t have to be educational. At many events, partners and spouses accompany the attendees. They may not want to attend the same meetings as their partners, but they also want to be entertained and/or educated. Conducting partner programs at events is a good income source.

  67. Conduct corporate training programs
  68. Although some larger corporations prefer to do their employee training in-house, their HR department may not be up to the task. Going into a corporation and training their employees is an excellent way of making some nice money.

  69. Consulting to your niche market
  70. It’s almost a given — speakers can also be consultants in their niche industries. (The exception might be entertainers and humorists.) After all, you’re the expert. If you know enough to speak to them, you know enough to consult for them.

  71. Consulting to other speakers
  72. Of course, speakers are not only experts on their niche topic, but they’re also experts on the profession of speaking. So if you’re especially good at one aspect of your job, you should consider consulting for other speakers to help them in their jobs.

  73. Coaching / mentoring to your niche market
  74. Being a coach or mentor is not the same thing as being a consultant. Not every target market lends itself to coaching or mentoring, but if your niche market does, you should certainly consider it as a source of alternate income.

  75. Coaching / mentoring other speakers
  76. Of course, that applies to the speaking industry as well. Coaching (especially in platform skills, although you may be able to provide coaching in other skills too) is eagerly sought-after by speakers who want to hone their skills.

  77. Create a not-for-profit association
  78. Speakers who are involved with helping people (in other words, just about every speaker) may want to consider starting a not-for-profit association. Being “not for profit” doesn’t mean that the organization doesn’t make money, it means that it can’t end up with a profit. One of the association’s costs can be compensation for you, the founder.

    However, not-for-profit organizations get preferential tax treatment by the government, so the government demands a high degree of accountability from the organization. Consequently, you might want to consider….

  79. Create a for-profit association
  80. Surprisingly, although many speakers think about creating a not-for-profit association, very few consider forming a for-profit association. The primary advantage of a for-profit organization is that there’s significantly less governmental oversight. The disadvantage of a for-profit organization is that donations to a for-profit organization are not tax-deductible, so you can’t count on making money through donations.

    But if your organization doesn’t provide charitable work, but instead promotes a common interest, a for-profit structure may be the way to go. (Of course, check with your legal and financial advisers for advice and guidance before making any decisions of this sort.)

  81. Organize a fee-paid mastermind group
  82. Mastermind groups are very popular with speakers. Most groups charge only a small fee (if anything) to cover their operational costs. But there’s nothing stopping you from organizing mastermind groups (and they don’t need to be restricted to the speaking industry), with you collecting an income for organizing them. (It’s kind of like group coaching.)

  83. Sell OPP
  84. Selling OPP (Other People’s Products) is a tried-and-true method of making money, and it works as well today as it ever has. The biggest advantage of selling OPP is that there is very little product development time required. Selling your own product is often (but not always) more profitable than selling products produced by other speakers, but it typically takes much longer to produce your own product.

  85. Being an affiliate referrer
  86. The Internet provided a new wrinkle to the selling-OPP method of making money — being an affiliate of someone else. The great-granddaddy of affiliate programs is Amazon.com, so let’s use that as an example.

    Once you register with Amazon as an affiliate, you can put special links in your website (or your emails, blogs, or other Internet communications). When one of your visitors / readers clicks on that special link, they’re taken to Amazon… but a record is made noting that you sent them there. If your visitor makes a purchase from Amazon (based on your recommendation), you receive a commission.

    Note that we're using Amazon as an example, but there are an almost limitless number of affiliate programs which you can join.

    The advantage of affiliate programs over OPP is that you don’t have any inventory to maintain, no money to collect, and so on. This disadvantage is that your visitor isn’t added to your customer list. Some commission payments can be quite hefty, so this can be a good source of income for speakers.

  87. Be part of an anthology
  88. Being part of an anthology is somewhat like writing a book, without having to write the entire thing. You write one chapter, and other speakers write the other chapters. You split the printing costs among yourselves and you all end up with a book to sell. (It doesn’t have to be a book. This technique also works for CDs, DVDs, and other media.)

  89. Publish an anthology
  90. Publishing an anthology (whether or not you are a part of it) is also a good way to make some money. You charge people to include a chapter in the book (or whatever); you pay the printing costs, and whatever’s left over is your profit. Basically, you’re a specialty book publisher.

  91. Sell advertising on your website
  92. If you have a website (and you have visitors to your website), another way to make money is to sell advertising on your website. This can be done directly, where a business (that is not in competition with you but is interested in your visitors) simply purchases ad space on your website.

    The entire process has been automated so that you simply sell some ad space to a broker (like Google’s AdSense program); the broker automatically supplies ads whenever your page is displayed, and pays you a commission accordingly.

  93. Host your own radio or TV talk show
  94. It probably requires more money, time, and planning than many of the other ideas listed here, but don’t let that stop you from considering the merits (including an additional income source) of hosting your own radio talk show. Internet radio is in its infancy, but is already revolutionizing traditional broadcast radio.

    If you can achieve it, hosting your own TV talk show can be very lucrative. (Hosting your own TV talk show probably works best if you’re a celebrity.)

  95. Endorse a product or service
  96. If you’re a celebrity speaker, you can also make money by endorsing products (for a fee, of course). Athletes and actors have done this for years; professional speakers are starting to discover the enormous potential income that product endorsements can bring.

  97. Be a spokesperson
  98. But what if you’re not a celebrity? Companies may not pay you for your endorsement, but they might want you to be a spokesperson for them.

    Companies have long recognized the power of having a spokesperson. Fictional spokespersons (such as Betty Crocker) have their advantages, but they can’t appear in public. But pro speakers can not only appear in public, they’re comfortable doing so!

  99. Run a membership site
  100. A membership site is a website whose content (some or all) is accessible only to registered members. (Finders Speakers is an example of a membership site. So are Amazon, Google, Facebook, and countless other websites. In fact, these days membership sites are commonplace.)

    You can make money from your membership site by charging a fee for people to become members, by selling advertising targeted to your members, by selling advertising shown to non-members (in which case, an advantage of membership can be getting access to content which is free of advertising), by making your membership list available to other vendors (but only with the permission of your members, of course!), and many other ways.

    Membership sites are often complex to set up and run, but they're usually easy to scale (that is, they can grow in size) and so become extremely lucrative. Professional speakers should definitely consider hosting membership sites to bolster their incomes.

As I said at the beginning, this is certainly not an exhaustive list. Technological advances (especially involving the Internet) open up new ways of making money all the time, so keep current with new techie opportunities. But whatever you do, quit thinking that there are only one or two ways of making money as a speaking pro — it's fair to say that your income as a pro speaker is limited only by your imagination!

Jim Barber
Head Barber, The Barber Shop
Creator, Finders Speakers