The best speakers in the world of public speaking are known and hired because of their expertise. They aren’t simply known for their ability to stand in front of a crowd and speak confidently. They are known for what know. They are an expert on a topic and it’s the competent speaker with the topics of relevancy that get the gigs.

Building a reputation as an expert on a given topic takes some time, but can run parallel to building your reputation as a speaker and launching a speaking career. It takes some flexibility to get started, but once you understand the steps to be taken, and have the willingness to follow these steps, you can effectively launch a career as a speaker.

Speak for Free

Everyone dreams of the gigs where you earn $2000, $5000, $10,000….who doesn’t want to be a heralded speaker that businesses and organizations are willing to pay top dollar for. These types of speaker fees are not unreasonable goals, but its not where things start. In the early stages of your speaking career, you need to be willing to get in front of audiences for free or minimal fees. Until you have built the reputation as both a confident and competent speaker, what people will want to pay you will remain in lower fee ranges. But to get the experience you need to give your career a boost, you can pick up some of the free gigs that present themselves and build on them. Get 10 free speaking gigs will launch you into 10 lower paying gigs and from there you’ll find the momentum you need to continue building your career.

Build Your Reputation through Experience

As you are getting your first few speaking gigs, you’re building your reputation. Audiences will remember you and talk about you with others. Businesses will give you referrals and you’ll build a list of places where you’ve spoken. Keep speaking whenever and wherever you are able and continue to improve your craft and find your special way to connect with your audience. Many years ago after just launching my speaking career, I found myself teaching a group of women about public speaking and developing their expertise and leadership. That all came together because they saw me at a couple of events, and likely would never have happened without those few early gigs I was willing to accept for little or no pay.

Market Your Expertise

You have something to say, but you need the world to know who you are and what your expertise is. Your speaking career isn’t going to be based only on your ability to give presentations, but on what the content actually is. Make sure you have a website that promotes your expertise. And even though your desire is to be a speaker, you need to write through a blogging platform and/or through other opportunities to share your expertise. Anyone can say they are an expert on a topic, but you need to establish yourself as a thought leader in your realm of purpose. While one of my areas of expertise is reputation management, I’ve done more writing on it than speaking on the topic. That said, speaking opportunities have made themselves available because of my writing and coaching on the topic.

Develop a Strong Internet Presence

In addition to having a website, your name needs to be widely known around the vastness of the internet. Take every opportunity to guest on other blogs, podcasts and webinars. Join associations relevant to your expertise and engage in social media where appropriate. If your expertise is in an area of business, you want to build prominence on LinkedIn. if you are involved in politics, Twitter is your place. Find where you belong in social media, and it may be on multiple channels, and begin to build your following. While all the likes in the world do not pay the bills, “popularity” is one element of establishing yourself as a credible influencer. Clearly, the notion of “popularity” is also a bit cringeworthy, but it is necessary to build and grow your speaking career.

Never Stop Marketing

The truth is, everything is marketing and marketing is everything. Whether you’re answering an email or in a conversation in a local coffee shop or meeting someone for the first time, what you say matters because your manner of presentation in every single context leaves and impression. The impressions you leave need to be positive and can be inspiring encounters. Each of your encounters can be positively memorable or negatively memorable. The point is, no matter where you are or who you’re talking to, people see you. Guard your reputation and build on the positive. Control perceptions people have of you by always being likeable and knowledgeable. Literally ever conversation and encounter–every relationship–is an opportunity to build your reputation and your career.

Keep Fees Low to Start

Once you’ve launched and you’re starting to get more regular requests to speak, don’t begin elevating your fees too quickly. By keeping your fees lower, you can continue to build your career and stay in front of audiences. If your fees creep up too high too quickly, the opportunities may wane. Keep in mind the budget of business or organization who is asking for your services. You know who can afford to pay you $500 or $5000. Be willing to be flexible to maintain that momentum you’ve started. At some point you’ll know what you’re worth, but there will be times that you believe the value of being in front of a particular audience is worth more than getting your desired fee.

Be Patient

A star isn’t born overnight. It’s not possible to set up a website and build a career in 30 days. Be patient and build your speaking career like you would build any business. Keep letting the world know you’re an expert in your field and eventually the requests to hear you speak will come more regularly. In the meantime, keep making those YouTube videos, participate in or lead webinars, and do television and radio interviews when opportunities present themselves.

Creative Negotiations can Pay Off

Sometimes in your quest to build a speaking career you will find yourself frustrated because people want you to speak for little or no cost. They know you need the experience too, but experience doesn’t pay your bills. I remember one speaking gig where I was paid by means of donations from around the room and I left with roughly $15 in various bills and coins. That was ok because the next time they invited me to speak I received an honorarium of $350 and was able to ask them to provide me with images and video from the experience. My point is, be creative in your negotiations. If you think there are some non-monetary “gets” that help to grow your business venture as a speaker, pursue those. The long term benefits of the non-monetary opportunities can be astounding.