If you’re looking to grow your business, you’re probably really passionate about speaking.
That’s great. It’s absolutely essential.
But unfortunately, being really good at speaking is not necessarily enough to launch a successful business–no matter how great a speaker you are.
You could have the most inspirational, original message in the world, but if you aren’t consistently measuring and tracking the health of your business, your bottom line will suffer.
If that sounds intimidating because you’re not a “numbers person,” we’re here to help. Together with our founder Grant Baldwin, TSL alumnus, speaking coach, and author Erick Rheam did an entire podcast on the five key metrics to growing your speaking business.
While we highly recommend giving the whole thing a listen, today we’re breaking down the basics of each metric.
In case you’re wondering why you should take our advice, here’s a little background. Erick was an early student of The Speaker Lab program Booked and Paid to Speak. Just a few years ago, speaking was a side hustle Erick squeezed around his day job. Now he makes multiple six figures per year speaking at both in-person and virtual events. He didn’t miss a beat during COVID and has seen his business soar in the last two years.
Well, aside from working with The Speaker Lab, what’s the secret to his success?
*Drumroll* it’s systems.
The five metrics which we’ll go over today are one of the most important systems Erick implemented to drive his speaking career forward. We hope they do the same for you! Feel free to refer to this piece as a guide while you’re getting your systems set up for your speaking business!
Why metrics matter
Becoming a professional speaker requires both gaining momentum at the beginning of your career and sustaining that momentum for years to come. In order to do that, you need to get really serious about recognizing indicators that show whether or not you’re succeeding. In the exciting whirlwind of traveling, networking, and life in general, it’s easy to fall off the fastest path to your goals. One way to stay on that path is to have a dashboard with a few key stats that show you at a glance how your business is performing.
Even if you think your business is going one way, your metrics could tell you something entirely different. Trusting in those metrics is a surefire way to stay on track despite the frequent ups and downs of your career. Tracking metrics can give you hope when you’re in a slow season and feel like you’ll never get paid to speak again. Those same metrics will also raise red flags before you might notice them otherwise–giving you a chance to change things up before you dig yourself into a hole. Those invaluable insights make a difference from the very beginning, so don’t waste any time putting a metrics system into place!
We use a lot of examples and numbers in this piece that come straight from Erick Rheam’s experience. Keep in mind that Erick shared these metrics when he was already several years into his speaking journey. Your target metrics could be totally different based on your lifestyle, speaker fee, desired income, and the types of events you do. Focus on how these numbers are used and what they can tell you rather than the actual numerical values.
Without further ado, let’s dig into Erick Rheam’s five key metrics to growing your speaking business.
Metric #1: Gigs per month
Whether the business you’re starting is in speaking or basket-weaving, you probably have some sort of goal revenue in mind. Especially if you have a spouse, kids, or other family to support, you want to make enough for them to live and eat indoors. Identify your yearly revenue goal and work backwards to how many times you want to speak per year based on your speaking fee, e.g. 40 gigs, at $5,000 per gig, for a total of $200,000.
Now it’s time to break it down by month. Well, you can’t speak exactly 3.33333 times per month. Keeping in mind that certain seasons (e.g. December–January) will likely be slow, you can refine your goal to four gigs per month for ten months with a two-month buffer.
What’s the best way to integrate this goal into your business plan? How far out you book your gigs will vary significantly from speaker to speaker. Let’s say you usually lock down a date about four months out. In January you should be looking to fill May with at least four speaking engagements. Keeping this metric in mind throughout the year will allow you to continuously plan several months ahead on a rolling basis.
Keeping the fluctuations of the speaking industry in mind, you will probably end up booking your busy months further out than four months, giving you some leeway to get a last-minute gig here and there during the slow season. At the same time, if you realize the gigs on your calendar consistently number below four gigs per month, it’s time to hustle.
Your actual rate of gigs per month is what’s called a “lagging indicator.” This metric tells you how far you come as a result of your “leading indicators,” like how often you’re cold-calling clients, or your marketing strategy. A red flag raised by a lagging indicator allows you to adapt and modify your leading indicators to better achieve your goals.
Metric #2: Revenue per gig
Above, we used the example of 40 gigs, at $5,000 per gig as a yearly goal. However, it’s very unlikely that you’ll bring in exactly the same dollar amount for every speaking engagement. That means you can speak for less than $5,000 a few times so long as you have a plan for raising that average over the course of the year.
For example, let’s say you have 16 gigs under contract during the next four months. You average out the amount you’re going to make per gig and it comes out to about $4,800. Should you feel disappointed? Does this mean you’re failing?
Not at all!
Remember, metrics are there to help you stay on track and adapt. If you’re planning to speak 40 times in the coming year, you have 24 more opportunities to bring that average up. If the first five gigs after those 16 make you $7000 each, you’ve shot past your goal! Maybe it’s time to hike prices, or aim for more elite events.
This metric doesn’t just help you calculate when to raise your prices in the short term. If you consistently book gigs above your average target, it might be time to stop taking any less. Overhauling your fee structure will allow you to take fewer gigs per year while still hitting your revenue target. On the other hand, if you are making good money with each contract but struggle to hit your target gigs per month, it might be time to take a few lower-paying engagements here and there.
Pricing your speaking services is really more of an art than a science, so getting this metric right will require some trial and error. Paying attention to the market is key. What are other speakers making at the same events you go to? How much are you bringing to the table in comparison to your competition? Can you add value in small ways that would allow you to raise prices without raising eyebrows? As you experiment, see how the market responds, and eventually you will have a clear price range within which all your gigs fall.
Similarly to Uber surge pricing, you can usually make more per gig during busy seasons when demand is high. Conversely, you should feel comfortable taking a lower-paying gig during a slow season like the winter holidays…when it’s a miracle to get booked at all!
Metric #3: Prospective gigs in the pipeline
Most of the work to hit your target of gigs per month happens months in advance. That means juggling dozens of prospective clients at once. As you keep track of this metric, you will figure out how many you need to have in your pipeline to keep hitting your business goals. This metric tells you a lot about the future health of your business so you can tell if you need to ramp up your marketing or if you have turned into a hot commodity.
On the podcast, Erick details the five “stages” of a client pipeline across which you want those prospects to be distributed. Those stages are:
- Contact Made.
- Phone Meeting scheduled.
- Proposal sent.
- Contract negotiation.
Ideally, about half of your prospective gigs in the pipeline will be in phase 4 or 5–that’s the point where your revenue is almost guaranteed.
With the example numbers we’ve been using, a reasonable goal for this metric is 25. Similarly to the other metrics, the goal is not to have exactly 25 prospects in your pipeline at all times. The number will fluctuate, and as your business grows it should grow too. But if at any point in your metrics tracking you see this number going down consistently, it’s time to devote more time to your pipeline.
How do you track these stages? Investing in a CRM like Pipedrive can be really helpful with tracking prospects and getting even more granular with your data. But an excel spreadsheet meticulously updated with the same data will work just fine. With all your prospect data in one place, you can calculate a “win rate” and “loss rate” to see what percentage of your leads turn into paid gigs. Once you know your win rate, you can adjust your goal numbers based on what percentage you can confidently lock down.
This metric will help you out a little extra when the entrepreneurial lifestyle feels less-than-stable. If your last gig went poorly or you’re at the low point of a slow season, it’s easy to start panicking. But then when you check your metrics and see how many clients you have populating your pipeline, you’ll remember that good times are ahead.
That all sounds great, but how on earth do you get 25+ prospective clients at once? Our fourth metric can help.
Metric #4: Gigs booked from gigs
One hallmark of a great speaker is that when people hear you speak, they immediately want to book you for their own events. If you can book two additional gigs based on your performance at each speaking engagement, you know you are gaining momentum.
That could sound crazy to you right now, but this industry truly is based on relationships. Giving a great talk is the best possible marketing asset for your speaking business. Learn how to tactfully let your event planner and audience know you are a professional speaker looking for business without making every talk a sales pitch(more strategies for that here). This takes time and experimentation, but if you take the time to interface with your audience members, they will start inviting you to speak!
As you track your prospects, it’s essential to explicitly connect leads to their sources in your data. Let’s say six months from now you look at the next event on your calendar. You cannot afford to scratch your head wondering…Where did that come from? Was that an event planner I met at a conference, or did a friend introduce us? If you’re asking yourself these questions, you’ll miss key indicators, like which events are your most lucrative source of gigs. Don’t overthink this aspect of metric tracking–it’s as easy as adding a column to a spreadsheet.
Metric #5: Percentage of gigs that are repeat customers
There’s a common perception in the speaking industry that you can’t get hired back by the same client. The reasoning goes that they want someone different every year or their audience members will get bored!
However, Erick Rheam has found that many event planners want to work with a “known commodity” who they trust to be legit and deliver the value they need. This has great ramifications for the sustainability of your speaking business. If 70% of your gigs come from previous customers, you only have to work on the remaining 30% (which will hopefully come from audience connections, making up metric #4).
Building toward this goal takes time, but if speaking is your long-term passion, it will pay off to establish those strong client connections that lead to repeat gigs. Many of your prospects likely organize multiple different conferences per year. The same big association could have an engineering conference, a customer service conference, and a leadership conference. Each of these entails a group of attendees that haven’t seen you yet, allowing you to bypass the concern of “boring” your audience! If you make a great impression with one of these clients at your first event, they will likely ask if you have anything to offer for their other audiences. Be ready with answers! Have a pitch for your leadership presentation ready if you are a big hit at the customer service conference.
Don’t limit this category to repetitions of the same type of engagement. A great repeat customer could mean you do one big keynote and then several small-scale workshops with the same organization. Those workshops in turn could turn into contracts for individualized consulting projects. And as you get older, you might value the opportunity to travel less for keynotes and focus on consulting or other ventures that blossom out of those client relationships.
If your clients aren’t organizing multiple conferences per year, you might have a hard time headlining their event consecutive years in a row. But what about every three years, once the audience and the event have evolved? Many of these events are planned so far in advance, it’s not at all unreasonable to have repeat gigs on a multi-year cycle.
Remember: event planners are in the risk mitigation business. They don’t want to put a speaker on stage who will embarrass them or be a pain to work with. Sure, some gigs will be one-and-done. But cultivating an attitude of helpfulness, of gratitude, and of trust goes a long way. Many speakers are total prima donnas! Be amazing to work with both on and off stage, and you’re well on your way to securing loyal customers. Always express your gratitude to clients for trusting you to speak on their stage. Maintain openness to feedback and being the best you can be for the audience you’re hired to speak to.
These are just a few ways you can take extra worries off your client’s plate and open the door to a repeat gig. Next time they need a speaker, they’ll think of their favorite person to work with–you! What time you used to spend cold-calling will be spent fielding requests.
Building momentum to the point where you’re at this level of high demand can take years, but you can plant the seeds early on. Start by reaching out to a few former clients rather than cold-calling new contacts. Over time, the snowball effect will take hold and your metrics will start inching toward great milestones (like 100% of your business coming from repeat customers and gigs booked from gigs)!
It’s important to keep all these granular metrics in perspective. The goal of putting these programs and metrics and measures in place is helping you do what you love. If you are serious about being successful, you will put in the work to stay on top of the numbers. In a solopreneur field like speaking, giving your all in every area of the business is a non-negotiable. If you don’t track your metrics, you’ll end up wasting time staying on top of things and miss out on key indicators that inform how you’re progressing toward your goals.
While these five metrics got Erick Rheam to where he is today, you might find one or more not on this list that add insight into your business specifically. Find the four or five that really work for your goals and stick to them. Maybe you’re in an industry where booking repeat customers isn’t really feasible…find another metric that can help you optimize your business goals and start tracking it. Trust us…future you will be grateful!
You can listen to the whole scoop on these five metrics on our podcast with Grant and Erick here.