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Motivational Speaker Kelly SwansonMaybe Your Product Just Isn’t Worth It

Is your speech too expensive? I chose a nice picture to include in this post, so you can print it out, hang it on the wall, and throw darts at it. Why? Because some of you are going to HATE what I have to say.  Why? Because you’ve spent years feeling like you aren’t good enough, living under a limiting belief mentality, and feeling like you are worth more than you have been charging – and I’m about to tell you that maybe you’re not, and you’ll look at this as a set back. How dare this motivational speaker tell me I’m not worth it?

Some of you are going to say that I am pushing my own self-doubts on to others and letting down my gender by encouraging them to play small.

Some of you are going to say that in order to get big results, you have to play big.

And some of you people giving this advice are not getting booked yourself. I know this for a fact.

I have now officially lost count of the number of “10k” speakers who can’t get enough business. I have also lost count of the number of speakers at 5k or under, who are absolutely killing it and laughing all the way to the bank. I know because I’ve been there.

Does this mean we should all lower our fees?

Of course not.

Does this mean that there isn’t any business at 10k and over?

Of course not.

Does it mean that you are entitled to put your fee wherever you want?


Does it mean you’ll get it?


How This Played Out In My Business

For years I have been booked as a “funny motivational speaker” to encourage, motivate, entertain, and delight an audience.  I perfected my product (a speech, about an hour long) and priced it in a way that fit the markets I was attracting and selling to. My calendar was full. My peers were urging me to raise my fees. I was already easily a six-figure speaker at this point. In fact, some of those years to this day were my highest grossing years so far. I was making more than many of the ones giving me advice to raise my fees. But I held strong and kept my fees lower. Yes, I had to work three times as hard, but there were a lot more opportunities knocking at my door.  Since my business was driven by word of mouth, I was also doing a LOT of marketing and seed planting that is still paying off to this day. (When you only take ten gigs in a year,  your word-of-mouth pool is a lot smaller than when you do 70.)

After a while, I began to craft a new area of expertise.  Strategic Storytelling.  It just happened naturally. It has always been my gift, people were asking me how to do it, and the market was presenting itself without me really trying. Suddenly what I could teach people in business was even more powerful, and had a bigger return on investment. The experience was the same (funny, motivating, etc.) but the take-home value (IN THEIR EYES) was even higher.  One day a client is calling me to end their association conference on a “light note” and the next day a client is calling me asking me to teach all their scientists in research and development how to craft product stories to sell internally and externally. When I began to study the lasting value, suddenly my fee (for these scientists) seemed too low compared to the value they perceived in my product. Without hesitating, I set a higher price on this product.

I know. It’s weird, right?  I have one fee for this need, another fee for this need, and yet in both cases I may just spend an hour on site.

To make it even more confusing – the moment I became a cast member of a TV show, my value went up.  SAME SPEECH. Higher value.  I almost HAD to raise my fee for it to make sense to the buyer. Did I deserve more money just because I had now been on a TV show? Yes, BUT ONLY IF THE BUYER KNOWS IT. Let’s pretend that I was on a TV show but nobody would ever know. Well, being on a show doesn’t matter to my value if the client doesn’t KNOW I was on the show. See? Value in THE BUYER’s eyes.

This is important, so pay attention here.  I doubled (almost tripled) my fee  – because the perceived value of my worth in the client’s eyes changed.

And THAT is what matters when it comes to setting our fees. At the end of the day, what we think we are worth doesn’t matter as much as what THEY think it’s worth.

The reason some 10k speakers aren’t working (other than poor marketing) is because the buyers just don’t think the speech is worth the price.

Understanding Your Value To Your Buyer

This isn’t about how much you think your worth. This isn’t about loving who you see in the mirror. Let’s leave that post for another day.

This is about understanding what you’re selling, who is buying it, and their perception of your value to their bottom line.


Our speech is our product.

So where do we go from here?

If you are getting booked consistently at your fee, great, ignore everything I said. It doesn’t apply. But if you aren’t getting enough business and you’ve been trying for quite a while, then at some point you have to take an honest look at whether your product is too expensive. Maybe they just think what you are delivering is not worth the price. When you stand in front of that new outfit at the store and hold that price tag in your hand, you are wondering the same thing – is this worth the price they are asking?

The good news is that you don’t have to give up. Of course not! Just figure out how to:

There are plenty of markets out there that won’t ever be able to afford a speaker above 5k. Period.  Lots of clients out there.  It doesn’t make you less of a speaker to charge less. Sometimes positioning yourself lower on purpose is actually kind of brilliant. Shoot, some people speak for FREE because they want to sell online training or consulting.

Sometimes Your Fee Is Too Low

I hate to even bring this up, because this is what got so many speakers in trouble in the first place. We all tend to think we’re the greatest speaker who ever existed.  But it needs to be said. Sometimes we set our fee too low.

Let’s say I’m looking for a new hairdresser. This is a BIG DEAL for me. High value on my hair. I’m just saying.  You recommend one who is right down the street. If I call them up for pricing and they say all their haircuts are ten dollars, I’m not going. Period. If it’s only ten dollars how good could it be?  Yet my husband would think that’s a great price, and he’d be there in a minute. Different buyer, different perception.

If a big corporate client calls me for a price for an event in front of ten thousand people, and I say my fee is 1500, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get the gig.

This is a tricky area, and you can’t make an important decision like fees be determined by one client, or even two. You have to also be careful of getting advice from your peers. The way they made it work isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution either. You need good solid sound information about your industry and your market. You can’t be persuaded by groups of people who don’t know your business at all, yet are shouting at you to raise your fees and dream bigger. Really? Is the “raise your fee you’re worth it” advice applicable to all?

I don’t think so – and you know it.  Not every speaker on the planet can work at the highest fee range possible. Let’s be realistic. Think of the worst speaker you have ever heard. That speaker is also hearing the mantra of dream bigger, charge more. Yeah. We know where that will get them.

It’s Still the Greatest Job I’ll Ever Have

While being a speaker is the hardest job I’ve ever had, it’s also the greatest. I love my work. I love it so much that I don’t really care what my fee is, as long as I get to speak. I love speaking just as much for $500 as I do for $5,000.  Of course the bigger check is cooler. Yes, more money is more fun, and I will always work to make more money. But if I make it all about the money, well, I lose. Being booked to speak is a gift. An honor.  My words in one hour could change a life forever.  If I make it about who gets more, I lose.  If I compare myself to what you charge, I lose.  If I walk around in a cloud of shame because my fee is low, I lose.

Sometimes, being okay with charging less will actually make you even more.

A dear friend and mentor in the business once told me, “Don’t be so proud that you overprice yourself. There’s no shame in being the Walmart of this business. Last time I checked, they’re doing pretty well.”

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