How to build a dream team for speaking success

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Looking for practical advice and training from the world’s most successful speakers? The Speaker Lab Podcast features business tactics, tips, and strategies from the world’s most successful speakers. We post transcripts of every episode as resources to help you build your speaking business.

Grant: Hey, what’s up, friends – welcome back to The Speaker Lab podcast. Today we’re going to be chatting with my friend Veronica Romney, talking about hiring and building a business, and building something that goes beyond just you standing on stage and running your mouth. So, really excited to chat with Veronica today —- thanks for joining us!

Veronica: Oh, super excited to be here. I’ve been a big fan of yours and the work that you do as an aspiring speaker.

Grant: So why don’t you give us a little bit of background context. Who are you, what do you do? Give us all things “Veronica.”

How to Build the Dream

Veronica: Well, affectionately I call myself a dream team architect. That is what a former employee of mine called me. And then because my marketing brain is what it is, I went to GoDaddy immediately and was like, yep, we’re going with that. So yes, I’m a dream team architect.

I’ve been a fractional chief of staff for a number of clients. I mostly work with seven figure entrepreneurs who are trying to scale to eight, and I help them architect their dream because you can build a business alone, but you can’t scale it on your own. And so that’s what I help my clients do, where the CEO is doing what they should be doing as founder and not having to play all the roles, be the singer on stage and the band director behind the scenes. And it’s hard. You get to a place where you start capping your own growth, and that’s what I help people avoid.

Grant: Yeah. One thing it kinda reminds me of is I’ve used this illustration before, but in the book by Michael Gerber, he uses the example of a bakery and he talks about how there’s a different skill set in being a good baker and running a bakery. And those are just two different things. And so there’s people that are really, really good at baking, baking bread, cupcakes, you know, whatever it may be. But they just suck at actually running the bakery because those are just two different things.

And the same thing is true with speakers, where there are speakers that are amazing on stage, but they’re running the business and just all that goes into that. The travel, the contracts, the logistics, the accounting, the cash flow, all of that. It’s just a different thing and not everybody is wired for that. So I know that you’ve worked with speakers, you’ve been a speaker — what do you see as some of the bigger challenges that speakers run into whenever they are trying to be a baker and also run a bakery.

Veronica: Well, in the absence of effectively running your bakery, it requires you to bake 10 times harder. Especially when we’re talking about speakers, right? It just means that you’re on the road more often if you can’t figure out the mechanics of generating more revenue off the stage than even on a stage.

And then if you have a family life, there goes your family life. You’re one of those road warriors that picks up cash as soon as you hit the road and it breaks my heart because, I mean regardless of the industry that you are a part of, I think everybody jumps into entrepreneurship for that promise of freedom. Whether it be financial freedom, time freedom, freedom of choice to do what I want with what and who I want whenever I want. Right?

Grant: But then the business holds them captive because it’s all the things that they didn’t enjoy doing. So they thought they could go into business So they could just do the thing that they love doing and they didn’t have a boss telling them to do otherwise. And then they realized, oh I have to do my own QuickBooks. I have to do this. That’s not what I thought this would be, and this is not what I enjoy doing. And so then they try to outsource it or bring people to the party to delegate to and that’s where things go awry real fast. So one big challenge for a lot of speakers and entrepreneurs in general is where to even begin? Because it feels like I need help. I recognize I need help. I’m not sure who I need. How can I afford them?

Veronica: Yeah, it’s a question I get all the time, Who do I bring to my party first? Who do I add to the table first? And I think what’s interesting is, and there’s a lot of great advice out there, whether it be executive assistants, social sellers, social media assistants, like there’s a lot of unicorns floating around that I think a lot of experts would point to. However, I think for me, when I’m meeting with my clients or meeting with somebody who’s struggling with their team management or who to bring to the team, I really just try to meet my clients where they are. So every founder, every CEO is completely unique. Your snowflake absolutely is unique. And so the skills that you bring to the table — to just say everybody needs an executive assistant would be ill-advised. Even for me, I still love to manage my inbox, even at my stage.

What I tend to do with my clients is we do a shed list, a leadership shed list. So you write everything down. This is not time tracking. This is just to dump out everything that you do on behalf of your business on a weekly basis, monthly basis, quarterly basis.

And then I take out highlighters because I’m a nerd, usually three colors, and then I try to highlight which of these activities serves which master. And I know that sounds weird, but to me, running a company has three core functions or services, right? You either serve the prospect, you serve the customer, or you serve the company.

And so when I have my leaders dump out everything that they’re doing on behalf of their business, we then take out our highlighters and we’re like, okay, where are you spending the majority of the time? And who are you serving the majority of the time? Is it the lead? Is it the client? Is it the company? And then where you are lopsided? And you also can tell me and identify it if you are lopsided in things that you hate to do. That’s usually where I bring in aid first and foremost. But that depends on the CEO first.

Grant: So — is it worth kind of thinking through the ROI of the role? Because it seems like there’s a lot of different variables that go into which roles make more sense.

Veronica: So I have a different perspective on this. I don’t measure someone’s value to me by their direct ROI. Because there’s lead and lag measures, for example, right? So the lead is like, okay, I’m hiring a social seller or I’m hiring a salesperson. It’s a very easy calculation. Are they selling? Are they not selling? Are they generating business and selling for the company or not? I look at it more on a lag side. So if I do a leadership shed list and I see that you are completely lopsided, where a lot of the bulk of your time is spent serving the company and you’ve marked it as hating these activities and tasks, please make it stop, then bringing on an admin is actually probably the smartest thing you can do. Where this advice goes wrong or where we point the finger at the wrong person is when we don’t replace what we gave to the admin with revenue generating activity ourselves. And that is a lack of discipline on the CEO’s part.

So if you bring on an admin role or a project manager or some of the things that don’t have a directly calculated ROI, the ROI is in the lag. What are you doing with that relieved five hours a week? That’s what the business deserves, that somebody else helped you clear more space.

Grant: What do you feel like from a speaker’s perspective — where should they be spending the bulk of their time?

Veronica: Okay, so for me I think where my heart kind of breaks for speakers in general, or even podcast hosts — basically when you are on stage, virtually or in person, it’s like a moth to the flame. People are drawn to the message, they’re drawn to your keynote, they’re drawn to your perspective, your interpretation of something, right? But then what’s so sad to me is that on the other side of that activity, it’s like a leaky bucket. You filled it up with the thing that you did with that messaging moment, and then it literally poured right out through your fingertips.

Grant: I heard once that people who have their 15 minutes of fame with Oprah, and they didn’t have the mechanics behind the scenes to catch the activity or catch the interest. And so they’re still broke and yet they’ve had their 15 minutes on Oprah.

So what’s the best way for most people? They’re not going to have 15 minutes of fame. It’s going to be a slow, gradual, step-by step process to build something. So where should a speaker be spending time in order to prepare whether the Oprah moment hits or not?

Veronica: Yeah. For the speakers listening, I think you go two routes. Either you’re making very conscious efforts to start building your own stages so that you don’t have to rely on other people’s stages so that you can generate business money from home. Like I put up a stage in Raleigh, North Carolina because I live 20 minutes out.

Or it’s a virtual stage and that way it’s less grind on the road or every time you hit the stage, you’re able to generate more revenue off the stage because of the traction that you gained from the audience that heard you, because you have a funnel to catch it.

Grant: Now for a lot of speakers it’s kind of like going back to the bakery analogy. For a lot of speakers, they’re really good at one thing, speaking. So I’m really good at baking bread, but I don’t know how to bake cupcakes and I don’t know how to bake a five tier wedding cake. And yeah, some of the fundamentals of it may be similar, but it’s just a different deal. So how should a speaker be thinking about that growth or content creation?

Veronica: Sure. So I’m not a big proponent of you outsourcing any kind of product creation. The product is a reflection of the CEO. I mean, it’s your expertise, it’s your thought leadership. So can we slice and dice different ways to package your knowledge? Yes. We can have a whole conversation about whether it should be a course, a membership — I think we get lost in the weeds on that. I think what’s important is that you build a team to help you maintain and also market said expertness, right?

So where I often see a lot of speakers requiring help is in the marketing lane, and this is something that I struggle with this too. I’ve been in marketing for 15 plus years. I graduated in marketing, I worked at ancestry.com, my first job out of school. I’ve only ever really known and thrived in marketing centric organizations. But as proficient as a marketer as I am, I cannot see my label through the jar, and this is what happens. I think with any knowledge expert or thought leader, we are so good or we are so close to the material that actually marketing ourselves is actually freaking impossible.

It’s so hard to see our label through the jar because we’re all up in the jar of ourselves. And so even for me, I surround myself with marketers to help me market what I do because I can’t see it objectively, right? And I can’t put myself back in the shoes of somebody hearing my message for the first time, because I’ve now heard this message.

Marketing support is really, really nice to have around you in those early stages, as a speaker you can be focused on the mechanics on stage and your team can be focused on the responsiveness of the audience to your messages.

Why Sales & Marketing Matter

Grant: What about from a sales perspective? Meaning like marketing may be able to help with brand awareness and building your email list and that sort of thing. From a sales perspective, meaning like you have someone who inquires or reaches out or marketing reaches out and you just have a warm lead of, “Are you available this date?” So how does the selling fit into it?

Veronica: It depends. I’ve seen it both ways. I see a lot of speakers or thought leaders drum up their own sales, especially if it’s a high ticket, right? So if you’re selling a $30,000 package or a $50,000 package, you’re probably going to have some kind of application process.

And that’s very difficult to outsource. And that’s usually even a scalable situation where you can validate a lot of people at one shot. And then anything cheaper if you’re doing low ticket, I don’t really see the aid of salespeople because usually it’s the mechanics of the funnel or the website that can convert on its own in good copy.

Grant: What about for a speaking gig? Should the speaker be selling that or should they have someone doing that for them?

Veronica: Yep. So I just went to a speaking event in Charlotte, North Carolina. There was a speaker on stage and literally from stage, not only was he talking and offering five people in the audience his book. But then he very quickly threw the authority to the other person in the room that he brought with him, which is his director of Business Development. So he actually brings the sales team with him, I think if you can afford that, I don’t know if everybody can afford to pay for somebody’s flight in hotel and everything like that, but that was a really good example of somebody actually bringing their sales staff with them to divert and catch as many people in the room.

Grant: Again, I think this is one challenge that so many speakers and entrepreneurs have — is the cash flow part of it and recognizing they need help. They’d love to have someone fulltime and a “high caliber someone.”  But they just can’t afford that while also trying to eat and live indoors myself. So especially early on when you recognize that and the role that you need. How do you determine whether or not you can afford it? How do you determine whether or not this is like a full-time role or a part-time or an employee or a contractor or a freelancer or an agency?

Veronica: You’re right, it is hard because usually the driver of that conversation, or I should say the determining factor is your cash flow situation. I think about my own experience when I went into full time speaking right before the pandemic. What a great time to do that. Good timing. Great timing. So when I went all in on speaking, being a road warrior myself, I had already built up a cash reserve when I sold my marketing agency.

So I could actually bring people to the party a lot sooner and have more of a full house to go and support the endeavors of my speaking engagements so I can generate more offstage than on stage. But if you are starting your speaking career and you don’t have a cash reserve, that’s dicey. That’s where it gets hard because every person that takes from you, you have to be making sure that you replace the hours they took from you with even more strategic revenue generating activity.

So I think this is why big companies that get a lot of private funding, they basically build top down. So if you’re a company and you get a whole bunch of funding, you’re starting with the chief suite, like it’s a chief CEO, COO, CMO, and then you know that you’re bringing in these A players and they’re going to build down, they’re going to bring in their best copywriters, they’re going to bring in their best pro — they’re going to bring in their friends.

When you’re bootstrapping any company, any company at all, you start from bottom up. You start with the doers that help you relieve the tasks. And then once you have enough doers and you have too many chicks to manage — that’s when you start bringing in middle managers, right? That’s when you start bringing in rainmakers — that’s when you start bringing in the support. So you go from having lots of direct reports to only one or two. So it just depends on your cash flow situation, what your CFO wants you to do.

How to Afford Your Team

Grant: Let’s be honest, when we’re thinking about whether or not we can afford certain roles, what are some of the different types of compensation plans that you have seen that make sense, especially when you’re looking for some initial part-time or full-time type roles?

Veronica: Yeah. So part of the challenge with being a speaker is you have big ebbs and flows in cash flow. So you may have a month or two where you’re making bank and a month or two where there’s nothing going on. So for me regardless of your $0 or if you’re already at seven figures, everybody in the business should be revenue incentivized in some capacity. Period. Especially if it’s a part-time person, so then it’s different, right? Salary, you can set the parameters. If they’re a contractor, they set the parameters, they tell you what their rate is or their retainer is.

I personally like to incentivize people with revenue in all positions. So if they’re in the marketing lane and they’re serving the prospect and nurturing and building the lead, then they’re absolutely revenue incentivized. If I’m incentivizing customer centric individuals, they too are revenue incentivised, but differently than marketers. Those closest to the customer, their job is customer lifetime value. They stretch the dollar from one to two plus, so that’s upselling, cross selling, downselling, retention, all of that too can be incentivized.

And then even with our company centric people, they’re saving us money. They’re protecting it. They’re counting the cash. Like everybody has an eye on the dollar from a different angle from their specialties, whether it’s converting it for the first time, stretching it, or saving it.

Grant: Gotcha. So should people just be on a straight salary or a salary plus some type of incentive? And it sounds like from your perspective everyone should be incentivized in some way, which I agree with. So what should that comp plan look like?

Veronica: Yeah, I think it just depends. Very recently I polled all of the CEOs in my group and asked them, “Hey, what are you paying your rainmakers?” And that can be marketing manager, marketing director, the head of marketing. There’s a lot of titles, but basically runs the marketing lane.

And I was asking them, how much do you pay rainmakers? And most of the CEOs, just to give you an idea, are somewhere between $50,000 monthly recurring revenue all the way up to like $300,000. So that’s kind of the spread of CEO in my group. And I asked them, “How much are you compensating these really critical revenue generating individuals?”

I mean, these are marketing leaders and the average was about $4,000 to $6,000 in some kind of monthly base or retainer. That was the average. And then there was always some kind of revenue cut, and they did it differently. Some people would pay out every quarter, some percentage off net. Some people would do incentives. So every launch they would get a cut depending if they had their good, better, best. Some people would do company milestones. Once the company hit X amount then there would be like a distribution of X percent. So everybody did it a little bit differently, what was comfortable for them, but there was absolutely a base plus performance so early on, especially way before you can afford a full-time person and you’re looking for a part-time person.

Grant: Should that just be hourly or on a contract basis? Or a per project basis. What should comp look like in that situation?

Veronica: Honestly, for me, in trying to manage everything, I’m always way more comfortable with set retainers and I try if I can, and negotiate. It works for everybody. It’s a set retainer. Even now, when I think about my own business, I have my designer who has X percent, or not percent, but X amount in a retainer. I have my support, my customer success, like everybody’s on a set retainer, but then I know where the scale hits, right? So like the set retainer when we’re at 10 members or the set retainer, what that looks like when we go to double 20 members or 30 or 40, I can have those conversations when we hit a certain threshold that are determinant of. Because that’s their responsibility, if that makes sense.

Grant: At what point does it make sense for people to just be contractors, freelancers, part-time vs. at what point does it make sense for someone to be an employee?

Veronica: Well, as soon as you treat a contractor like an employee, now we have a problem. I’m not the lawyer, but there’s the legalities of how you treat somebody and that will really determine what classification you should really have them under. I think it’s always such a surprise to me. Every time I’ve ever gone behind the scenes of some of the big brands that I’ve had the opportunity to work with, I’m always so surprised how many of them are still operating with part-timers or very minimal hour types of individuals.

And I’m like, wait a minute, wait a minute. We are a content house. We produce content at such a level of insanity, but we rely on a writer in Canada that only gives us two days a week. So again, I think depending on the nature of your business and how hard you play when it comes to that content creator machine that never sleeps is really a reflection of the team that needs to support it. But if you are having the company produce on a daily basis, it’s going to be really difficult for you to continue to depend on part-time people. So I think there needs to be, whether it’s a shed list or or a time activity that you’re keeping track of, but you’ll know when you’ve hit the wall where you need more capacity from somebody. And if you’re already at 30 hours with somebody, you might as well just bring them on full time, because at some point there’s a diminishing return where you’re paying them so much that you get further with a salaried person.

So when I work with my clients and we do some intensives, not only do I have the leaders do a shed list, but I have individual team members do a shed list and we can look at a piece of paper objectively, like what’s actually moving the needle.

And I think what’s often so shocking from a CEO’s perspective is when they say, “I had no idea this person was doing this stuff. I didn’t even know. Why are they doing that stuff?” The lack of awareness of what your people are doing or how little things creep onto their list is always so shocking. So having your entire team be cognizant of what they’re doing and having it documented in the shed list, and then reviewing those shed lists to see what you can clean up instead of cleaning up 10% of your staff, cleaning up 10% – 20% of the non-needle moving activities that they’re doing on their list would be a more efficient use of your time.

Taking Referrals and Building a Team

Grant: Gotcha. Let’s talk about sourcing for a second. Where do you find all of these amazing people whether you’re hiring that very first super part-time person or you’re looking for a high caliber executive type person to help you grow the business. Where do I find these people?

Veronica: So I’m going to give you advice that is ironically even not how I came up in my career. All of the jobs that I have ever had have been cold. Like I worked at ancestry.com cold, I got my job as Director of Marketing Suite Products at Intrada cold. It’s just the irony of it. And yet when I was chief of staff and I’m now bringing people to our clients or the employers that I was chief of staff for, I would not advise you to do it cold. So here’s what I would advise. This is where I have been the most fortunate and have had the longest standing team members ever, like years and years they have been with me first and foremost. Referrals are phenomenal, but can I add a huge asterisk to that? And I don’t like classifying people as A or B or C, but just for the sake of communicating this point, A players recommend A players and B players recommend B players. So when you’re taking a referral, be very picky who the referral is being sourced from.  Because if I consider myself to be an A player, I’m very picky about who I recommend because whatever experience you have with that person is a reflection of my brand.

And I take that really, really seriously. So if you’re going to take a referral, just be picky about the source of that referral more than even just the fact that it came from a referral. That’s number one. Number two — I’m biased.  I tend to look within before I look without. So I like to develop talent. Quite frankly, it is less cumbersome on my part from an onboarding perspective if I can just train up because I’m not taking somebody from the outside that has bad habits that I have to rewire.

So I love that in all the other companies I’ve worked at and or that I’ve initiated, I would have partnerships with the local universities and we’d have internships. So we would take somebody from an intern position and build them all the way up to a director position, and they were so grateful because you were just pouring into their human capital left and right.

And to me, there were no bad habits that I had to get out of the way versus somebody that had a really great acumen on their resume. So if you have talent within, then develop that talent because you already know them, your rapport with them, there’s trust with them, and they’d be so grateful and they’ll stay with you for a really long time because of that generosity on your part.

The third place, I would say is sourcing from your own students, clients, customers — it’s basically converting a walking testimonial into a team. They’ve already, hopefully even consumed the product. So talk about really cutting your onboarding in half, if not more, because all that you’re really doing is making sure that they’re comfortable in the position that you need them. But all that other foundational stuff that a lot of people don’t get in their onboarding, they already got it. So those are my three go-to places that I always source.

Grant: Veronica, we’ve covered a lot of ground here. Anything we’d miss? Any final words of wisdom just for hiring, and building a team for speakers?

Veronica: Yeah, I think I just want to empathize with anybody who’s listening to this podcast and they’re saying, I’ve done this and it’s not working. I will say, I mean, like being a parent, when you’re responsible for other human beings, it’s not easy. And they don’t come with manuals and everybody wants to do their best. And there’s a lot of relationship dynamics. That’s hard. Like are you the friend kind of manager? Are you too tight of a manager? Are you the palm tree that’s willing to bend in a storm? Are you like the oak tree in North Carolina, like it gets uprooted with 25 miles per hour wind.

So I understand and I just want to express my empathy. Team scaling, team building is not easy. And I find that regardless of how much training that you’ve had in becoming a manager, or the lack of example shown on to you, the greatest thing that will ever serve you is just your affection and love for the person that you’re serving.

So for me my go to leadership quality is — do you actually enjoy these human beings? Do you stand taller thinking that you make other people stand taller? That’s your guiding compass. If you don’t know the little nuances of one situation to another, because there’s so many things that could go when managing other people in their lives, but I think for me it’s the result of this conversation whether it needs to be corrective or not, that they stand taller and they know that I’m giving it to them because I want them to be better.

Grant: Very cool. Veronica. We appreciate the time!

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