Most full time public speakers don’t start out as speakers. Most speakers start out as ordinary people with mundane day jobs who slowly find themselves taking on more and more speaking engagements. Maybe it started out as a way to make extra cash, but now you’re looking forward to that time on stage more and more each time. Or maybe you thought it was just a one-time thing, but your friend in the audience told you about the unmatched passion and enthusiasm they saw in your face.
Maybe you had no idea full-time speaking was even an option.
Surprise! It totally is. And empowering professional full time public speakers is exactly what we specialize in at The Speaker Lab.
If you love picking up an occasional gig here and there but haven’t made the leap to full-time speaking, this piece is for you. We’ve put together this three-part guide to becoming a full-time speaker so you can take that leap to success with no regrets.
Speaking on the side of your day job will make sense for a while. But eventually, if you’re consistently bringing value to audiences with your message, you’ll come to a crossroads.
Is it time to go all-in?
How do I even do that?
Today, let’s find out.
We can’t offer you shortcuts to the grind that’s necessary at the start of your speaking career. But we can help you find leads, create your digital assets, and learn how to run a 6-figure speaking business. Learn how here.
5 reasons to become a full-time public speaker
There are five major reasons that speakers realize it’s time to take their speaking from part time to full time. We know it’s hard to see the forest for the trees in these situations, especially when your full-time job takes up so much of your time, so we’ve broken them down as simply as possible. We recommend evaluating yourself according to these five factors if you aren’t sure how speaking fits into your future. If they resonate more than you expected or you realize why you’ve felt pulled in too many different directions, it’s probably time to go full-time!
- Travel. Heavy travel is both a major pro and con of speaking even once you’re full-time. Before that, it can become very grueling to juggle it on top of full-time work. Unless you only speak in your immediate locale, taking the occasional speaking gig will probably burn through a lot of your vacation time. If your early speaking engagements are related to your day job you might be lucky enough to work out a deal with your boss, but eventually your colleagues will start to notice you’re gone all the time. Even if you try to keep your travel limited to weekends, that drain on what should be your leisure time will negatively impact your performance in the office.
- Flexibility. Even beyond the frequent flier lifestyle, a day job often fails to provide the flexibility necessary for building momentum as a speaker. If you’re speaking to audiences in the same industry you work in (e.g. at company-wide workshops and seminars), those events are probably happening during your 9-5 too. Even if you work remotely, it’s difficult to find a full-time job that can accommodate the sudden extended absence that might come from landing a last-minute speaking opportunity. Tip: if you can’t stand to lose your entire income, switching to part-time work can help provide the flexibility necessary to set up the foundations of your speaking business.
- Time. Building a speaking business takes time. Aside from the hectic schedule of speaking gigs, laying the groundwork of a speaking business takes time. Creating your digital assets, researching and contacting leads, and negotiating contracts all happen months in advance of your first paid speaking gig. The sales cycle of speaking is a long one, with many opportunities for deals to fall through. Building your client pipeline such that you have a full calendar could take well over a year, and even longer if most of your day is taken up with another job. It’s very difficult to commit the necessary time for laying the foundations of a speaking business if you don’t treat it like a job. So why not make it your full-time job?
- Branding. Even if you have the most flexible employer in the world, that job could detract from your personal speaker brand. Speaking is by nature a solopreneur business. The most effective branding strategy for a speaker is to connect everything to your authentic, honest self rather than to a detached business. Speaking as an employee of someone else will ultimately limit your possibilities. If you want to make a name for yourself, you want it to be your name alone attached to your message. And if your full-time job resists your attempts to build a separate brand…there’s your sign.
- Pay. This one might be hard to wrap your mind around because…isn’t the full-time job where most of the pay comes from? Here’s the thing. If you speak as a representative of the company you work for, event planners won’t necessarily see you as a speaker who needs to be paid. After all, isn’t your company sending you to give all these talks? Shouldn’t they cover your airfare, hotel, and speaking fees? Once you market yourself as an independent professional speaker, you will be able to demand speaking fees commensurate with your worth. And once you start getting paid those fees, your speaking business will become a money-making machine.
We have two episodes on the TSL podcast with speaker Melanie Deziel from before and after she quit her job to pursue speaking full time. Episode 202 covers these five tips in detail if you want to learn more!
What to have in place before quitting your day job to become a full time public speaker
Many speakers worry that they don’t quite have enough traction to make the leap to full-time, even if they’re successful. The truth is, you cannot gain that traction if you’re still putting in 40 hours a week to your old job. There is no perfect time to quit. You can’t fully realize your potential of becoming a full-time speaker until you do. Sure, there’s a lot of risk involved. But if you already enjoy speaking, you know that a bland 9-5 is not for you.
At the same time, you don’t have to go blindly into the void. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some essentials to get in order before you become a full-time speaker.
- A niche. To succeed as a full-time speaker, you need to have narrowed down a problem that you solve for a particular audience. This is so important it’s the first step in our SPEAK framework. Don’t quit your day job if you don’t have a solid idea of the audience you want to reach.
- Digital assets that speak to your market. Try to up your speaker website (with professional photos, testimonials, and a way to contact you) and demo video (with recent footage of you speaking) before you start marketing yourself as a professional speaker. These assets are essential to have on hand for your client outreach. When someone googles you, they should be able to figure out exactly the type of speaker you are (and what your niche is) right away. If you need help setting these up, we can help! Get in touch here.
- Time management skills. Before you go full time, you should already be making the most of the little time you have to dedicate to speaking. If you already use those evening hours, early mornings, or lunch breaks for the most efficient, effective action items, you will see huge rewards as soon as you give them more of your time. If you haven’t already mastered good use of your time, going only full time will give you more hours to waste.
- A full pipeline. Don’t quit your day job if you don’t have any upcoming speaking gigs. Get on the phone with event planners and lock down some contracts to populate your calendar. This will guarantee some level of cash flow so you can build on that momentum once you dedicate more time to speaking rather than starting from scratch.
- A financial safety net. This is not a one-size-fits-all and depends on your comfort level, risk aversion, and family situation. If you have a family, this might entail a year’s worth of savings or paying off any debts and mortgage. If you don’t have a family, an open ticket to return to your parents’ basement might be enough. Some speakers move to a cheaper city to afford their new entrepreneurial lifestyle. Others just cut back on expenses and live more frugally for a while.
- A support network. Speaking is a lonely road. You are the product, the salesman, and the brains behind the operation all in one. Make sure you have some friends and family in your corner cheering you on. If you have a partner, children, or other stakeholders in your life decisions, make sure they are on board. It is worth the extra time to establish the safety net we refer to above if it gives peace of mind to those who rely on you. Friends and family can be unlikely sources of speaking gigs, so keep them informed as you launch your speaking business.
Our founder Grant Baldwin interviewed speaker and philanthropist John Vroman about how he came to the realization that it was time to become a full-time speaker. Listen here.
Action items to tackle when you become a full time public speaker
Moving your speaking business into a full-time venture doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark. Making intentional and calculated decisions will help you maintain professionalism and accelerate you into success even faster. If you’ve evaluated the reasons in section 1 and feel you have section 2 covered, here are a few action items to tackle next.
- Make a financial plan. Figure out how much money you need to make. Reverse engineer based on your speaking fees, schedule, and projected engagements to figure out how many gigs you need to book at what rates. Cash flow is a lot different as an entrepreneur, so establishing these goals at the very beginning of your full-time speaking journey is key. This piece can help you with crunching the numbers. And yes, that means making a plan for taxes right away.
- Be ready for the long game. Your first couple years might be very lean. Building your pipeline of clients and events will take months. Building the momentum to keep your calendar full could take years. Often, it takes up to 3 years for your speaking career to really take flight. There will inevitably be a point where you look ahead at a couple bleak months and think…well, it was good while it lasted. But don’t stop there. The most successful speakers are the ones who kept going when they reached that point. If they could do it, so can you.
- Build your network. Once you decide to become a full-time speaker, you will need all the free advice you can get–from the right sources. Building a network of people who can guide you along this journey will help you avoid rookie mistakes. Successful speakers and potential mentors are more likely to give you free advice if you ask very targeted questions. It will be much easier to ask specific questions (like “do you know anybody looking for a speaker in my niche) if you already have the essentials from section 2 in place.
- Monetize other skills. Being a full-time speaker doesn’t mean you don’t make money doing anything else. Most speakers do a fair amount of coaching and consulting in addition to speaking! If you already have skills that are well-suited to freelancing and complement the fast-paced speaking lifestyle, they can really help you establish financial stability after you quit your day job. Seek out opportunities that contribute rather than detract from your speaker brand.
- Quit. It’s time to become a full-time professional speaker. So be a quitter–of that other job that’s holding you back from your dreams!
If you’re a speaker on the fence about going full time, we hope this guide can help you take the plunge when the time is right. A lot of the work that goes into becoming a full-time speaker isn’t necessarily difficult, but it does take time. Creating a website and demo video, populating spreadsheets with leads, and cold-calling potential clients…these are all time-consuming tasks that are essential to launching a sustainable speaking business. If you haven’t spent time on these fundamentals, you might not be ready to go full-time.
But at the same time, remember, every speaker’s timeline is different. Don’t waste time and energy comparing yourself to someone who looks like they “made it” faster than you did–for all you know, there were years of unpaid gigs and fruitless cold calls before their big break. Everyone has different demands on their time. One speaker could go from weekends to full time with just 12 months of intentionally laying the groundwork. Another speaker with a demanding 9-5 and a family to support could take three times that long to have everything in place. And that’s ok.
In the end, there’s no perfect time to take your speaking full time. But when you hit a point where you realize this is as good an opportunity as it’s going to get. We hope that with the help of this guide, you can confidently make the leap when the time is right for you.
While the initial launch into the deep end may feel like an endless series of hurdles, full-time speaking isn’t a shot in the dark. Other people have succeeded at this because they use proven, goal-oriented systems and you can too! If you want a guide for that systematized process, check out our Booked and Paid to Speak Elite program.