How a recession can benefit your speaking business

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Do you have a plan to protect and grow your income during the impending recession?

With a recession on the horizon (if not already here), now is the perfect time to diversify your income with paid public speaking gigs. With more and more people getting worried about the economic outlook, you would do well to start getting your public speaking business off the ground as quickly as possible. But how can you do so? How can you use a recession to build and grow your income?

Grant Baldwin grew his speaking business in the wake of the recession of 2008. He discussed with Erick Rheam the opportunities and challenges of building a speaking business during a recession. Erick is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He spent five years as a Military Police Officer, nine years working for two municipally owned utilities, ten years in software efficiency sales, and two years as the Director of Student Success for The Speaker Lab before becoming a full-time professional speaker and author. Erick travels the country speaking to men and women about how to cut through the whirlwind so they can rise above the chaos to discover their significance and live in peace.

Ready to learn how a recession can benefit your speaking business? Read on!

What is a recession?

A recession is defined as a period of temporary economic decline which is marked by decreased industrial and trade activity, and is identified by a fall in Gross Domestic Product in the span of two quarters.

As Grant Baldwin said, “Typically we don’t find out until after the fact whether or not we’re in a recession. In fact, I learned recently there’s actually a committee that determines after the fact whether or not we are in a recession. So, we may be in a recession right now. Maybe not, it’s tough to say.”

How event organizers typically respond to recessions

Whether you are in a recession at any given point or not, there are three key ways most organizations respond. Erick Rheam went into detail as to how they do so.

“What I’ve seen from my perspective is there’s three ways in which organizations are going to respond,” from a speaker’s perspective. Erick Rheam outlined. “The first is organizations that are really directly affected by the recession. There are just some industries that are going to be hit by it, you can’t avoid it. And so what happens during that time is they shrink their business operations. They make deep cuts, usually laying people off, cutting down operational expenses, and just try to get through it.”

The second way organizations respond is they fear the recession. Such organizations, like the first type, may be inclined to cut back on discretionary spending, delay hiring or even lay off employees in order to reduce personnel costs. They may cancel or postpone major events, which they would have hired multiple speakers for. These steps can allow organizations to preserve cash, which can help them ride out the recession. finally, organizations may focus on the areas where they can maximize efficiency and reduce costs, such as leveraging technology, streamlining processes and standardizing practices. Such actions can help organizations to remain competitive, but they take a toll on speakers who rely on them for income.

The third type of organization is made up of those that want to make sure that they’re not putting themselves out there for criticism. “So they may think, well, is this the best time to be sending our leadership team to Las Vegas when maybe our stockholders or shareholders are focused on the impact of the recession,” Rheam said. “So just optically, they’re going to make some decisions and they’ll cut back on expenditures just to avoid criticism.”

These cuts usually affect travel. So revenue for the conference declines and that gets passed down to the speakers. However, speakers who have existing partnerships with event planners “tend to thrive,” according to Rheam, “because what I’ve found is event planners tend to lean into what they know and like. So when things get tough, they want to go to what’s predictable. So if you’ve got existing relationships, you tend to thrive better.”

One way Rheam mentioned that those relationships can pay off is through training gigs. While cuts happen during a recession, training budgets often stay relatively intact.

5 ways recession can benefit your speaking business

In March of 2019, Erick Rheam became a full-time speaker and eventually also a student of The Speaker Lab. Then 2020 and a global pandemic hit.

Rheam recounted, “literally my business was a test…And not only did I survive, but thrived as a result” of the pandemic. Rheam went on, “a lot of what it takes to survive when the economy goes south and a global pandemic stress tested my business and [will test] your business and a lot of speakers’ businesses.”

There are 5 key ways that you can thrive as a speaker in a recession, Rheam said. Here’s his list:

#1: Invest in yourself

Your individual skill set is the most important asset for your future economic success. “So,” Rheam said, a pandemic, recession, or other crisis may be the time “to make yourself more attractive to potential employers or event planners by upgrading some things that are involved in your business.”

Some things you can do to invest in yourself include:

  1. Upgrade your marketing assets like headshots, demo videos and websites
  2. Freshen up your abstract and testimonials
  3. Update your references
  4. Expand your network by attending free events and seminars
  5. Optimize your LinkedIn profile
  6. Find mentors who can give you guidance and advice
  7. Create niche-specific portfolios/case studies to showcase your skills
  8. Master a new skill or craft to give yourself a competitive edge
  9. Learn the latest tools and techniques that are relevant to your area of expertise
  10. Read and engage with industry-related articles, books and websites

As Grant Baldwin pointed out, in a recession, some videographers and photographers may do something for you for a discounted or lower rate. This may present an otherwise-impossible opportunity for your business!

#2: Write a book based on your signature message

Every aspiring speaker should aim to write a book at some point in their career.

“I’ve had some veteran speakers, multiple times tell me that if you look at some of the best speakers out there, the ones that are commanding really good fees, they all have a book on their signature message,” Rheam said. “My book really helped elevate me, and I would recommend looking at self-publishing or hybrid. It’s the way to get your book out there quickly and that helps elevate your credibility.

Few things provide more credibility than being an author, even compared to PhDs. When you read somebody or meet somebody who’s written a book, that elevates them. Why not take advantage of that credibility for yourself?

#3: Upgrade your credentials

Erick went on to recommend getting speaker credentials, whether from the National Speaker Association, or other certifications. He also recommended hiring a coach or going through a training program, which can help you answer any questions you have about speaking, finding gigs, charging more, how to get started, how to find leads, or anything else in your speaking business.

For more information on speaker certification or speaker training, check out the links for our blog posts on those topics. Or take a look at the free live speaker training from The Speaker Lab!

The Speaker Lab’s free 45 minute LIVE training is a speaker training where you can learn why paid speaking is the perfect way to protect and even grow your business during a recession. You can learn the same 5-step system Grant Baldwin used to grow his speaking business to over $2 million in revenue during the recession of 2008. Furthermore, you can glean tips on how savvy speakers are charging higher fees. There is also an opportunity for a Q&A where you can ask any of your speaking business questions (also known as free consulting). Sign up here!

#4: Go virtual

According to Grant Baldwin, “We’ve seen a ton of statistics that prove there’s been massive growth in the virtual market and virtual speaking opportunities. So it’s definitely something that the world is much more accustomed to now than they were even pre-pandemic.”

What does that mean for a speaker in a recession? As per Erick Rheam: “If you go virtual, you’re gonna separate yourself from other speakers. The bottom line is there’s some speakers that just don’t or aren’t [going virtual] for whatever reason. And I think it’s a mistake. They’re not embracing it. So if you can come to an event planner with virtual as one of your skill sets it just opens up a lot more value that you can add to an event planner.”

Going virtual does a few things, Rheam went on:

  1. Keeps you in the running for gigs, even when they have to go virtual
  2. With a virtual studio, you can do a lot of things with video – more options! Online courses and more!
  3. Going virtual gives you time BACK – less travel and logistics, and more time for family.

By 2030, virtual speaking is projected to be a $6.57 BILLION industry, Rheam said. In 2022, it was a $1.39 billion industry, and the North American market of that was 40%, he said.

“Training budgets don’t go away, travel budgets do,” Rheam said. “There’s still a desire to get training, and if you’ve got the virtual way of doing that, you can add value with people not having to travel with you to remain viable during the down economy.”

#5: Develop partnerships with event planners

Erick said that over 63% of his business comes from existing clients. In order to stay solvent during the down economy, he leaned into his prospects and reached out to his former event planners for solutions to the most relevant issues.

By being consistent and asking for referrals, and specific names of people who could benefit from their solution, Erick was able to further grow and scale his speaking business. He found that event planners were more than willing to oblige as they enjoyed their partnership with him, and wanted to provide a referral. By actively asking, Erick’s business was able to survive and thrive. For your speaking business, proactively asking and offering solutions in times of need can absolutely move the dial, even in tough economic climates.


So you’ve now learned how a recession can benefit your speaking business. Want to go deeper?

The next step would be to do check out the full podcast episode audio with Grant Baldwin and Erick Rheam. During the episode, Grant and Erick talk about how to lead your business through a recession with confidence rather than fear, why you must invest in marketing and yourself, and why you have to take the leap and go virtual. Erick talks about where you need to flex and when standing firm is okay. Whether you are just beginning to build your business or you’ve been at this for a while, this episode will equip you for what’s next. Erick’s experience, expertise, and transparency will provide practical steps to recession-proof your speaking business — no matter what happens. (Listen to the full episode here.)

Still want more? Grant and Neen James had a live stream about how to diversify your speaking income, and covered issues such as the impact of COVID-19 versus the 2008 recession, how uncertainty presents a unique challenge, and how to keep your head in the right space. They also explored the contrast between a services and sales mindset, defaulting to positivity and generosity, and the difference between making money during a crisis compared to from a crisis. Check that resource out here.

Depending on the type of speaking business you are starting, you may need to look for different types of resources. You can start by checking out our blog post on how to find paid speaking opportunities in any industry. Happy speaking!

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