Being a professional speaker is something of a strange job. By most people’s standards, anyway. Some months I make pretty good money and some months, not so much. There’s no holiday pay or sick pay, no set hours and no financial guarantees of any kind. There’s also lots of planes, cabs, hotels, airport lounges, delays and waiting around. There are certain times on the corporate calendar when I’m more likely to be busy (this month, for example) and other times when I seem to be watching way too much UFC and having way too many coffees with friends (last month).
At the moment, I am represented by ten different speaking agencies and I regularly fly interstate to do just one hour of ‘work’. Most weeks, in fact. Which is why my parents are still waiting for me to get a real job. There have even been times when I’ve flown to another country to deliver a single presentation. Last year I flew to Fiji and back in twenty-four hours. I spoke at a conference for forty-five minutes.
Like I said; strange job.
As a speaker, I understand that people are essentially ‘buying’ me. Specifically, my time, my knowledge, my skills, my experience and my brand – whatever they perceive that to be. Which can all be a little daunting if you don’t have a healthy self-esteem and complete confidence in your ability to deliver what people are expecting and paying for. In many ways, I’m a product; something that people will put a price or value on. So are many of you.
At a certain price, some companies will consider me to be a ‘good investment’ of their money and their team’s time. Add twenty percent to my price and they might consider me to be a bad investment. Take ten percent off my price and they might consider me a bargain. Take fifty percent off and they might believe something is ‘wrong’ with the product. Fickle creatures, consumers. When it comes to the matter of good or bad value (what people will pay vs. what they get), it largely comes down to (their) belief and perception.
For example, why would somebody pay five hundred dollars to do a one-hour workout with a trainer (happens more than you might think) when they could get the same workout (and therefore, the same physical benefit), in the same gym on the same equipment with another trainer for less than a hundred bucks? Because somewhere in that reasoning centre between their ears is a belief that says “yep, this is a good way for me to spend five hundred bucks.” And for this consumer, in this moment, that’s all that matters.
Value is largely about perception and belief. And quite often, logic doesn’t come into it.
If people believe something is worth ‘X’ and they want it enough, they will gladly hand over the cash. No matter how irrational that choice might seem to others. Somehow, the trainer in the above example has created a perception and an expectation of quality, excellence and value. Even at five hundred dollars per hour. Why else would people pay so much?
If you have the best product or service in the market place but people (1) have never heard of it (2) don’t know how good it is or (3) don’t believe in it, you’re going out of business fast. Yep, what makes people hand over their money is not so much the products and services (themselves) but rather, their personal belief in those things. For example, one of my friends uses a moisturising cream that costs more than two hundred dollars per bottle. I think she’s being totally scammed. She thinks I’m an ignorant male.
Of course, it ain’t about the product. It’s about the individual (her, me) and our unique perception of value.
It’s fair to say that she believes in the product. She’s like a skin-care evangelist. On the other hand, my moisturiser costs ten bucks and sometimes, I buy it in a one-litre dispenser. It’s a man thing. Or, maybe it’s a Craig thing? Nonetheless, we have different beliefs about skin care and what constitutes an intelligent purchase. Her expensive product may well be twenty times superior to mine but (1) I don’t know that (2) I don’t believe that and therefore (3) I ain’t buying it.
Money in Mowing
I have (yet) another friend who operates a lawn-mowing business and charges about double what most people in his industry charge. Despite his steep fees, he has a waiting list and is always in demand. Why? Because he’s built an amazing brand for himself. People believe he’s the best and therefore, they’ll happily pay. He’s reliable, ultra-professional, clean, efficient, polite and has great people skills. I know some of his customers and they all love him. In reality, his grass-cutting skills are almost irrelevant. If you think people choose a lawn guy just because he has a mower and a business card, you don’t understand how or why the majority of people spend money.
One of my (wealthy but slightly irrational) friends pays over a thousand dollars a week for a woman to stay in her house and look after her dogs when she’s away. The woman’s ‘job’ is to walk the dogs twice a day and feed them once. Despite the fact that there are much cheaper dog-minders around, my friend considers this to be a very worthwhile investment because this particular woman is “incredible with dogs”. Apparently.
Good grief. For that kind of money, I’d want her to be magic.
Which Brings Me to You…
What are you selling?
What is your core product or service?
Do people know about it? You?
Why would somebody buy what you’re selling?
What separates you in the market place?
Why would somebody recommend you?
How do people perceive your products, services, skills?
What is their impression of you?
The above questions are relevant for everyone from the guy with the fledgling home-handyman business and the girl trying to break into the entertainment industry to the world-renowned architect and the fashion designer who charges (and gets) twenty thousand dollars for a single dress. Yep, we’re all selling something.
Once upon a time, being good at what we did was enough to ensure a thriving career and/or business.
Those days are gone.
When it comes to the matter of professional success, sometimes, what we’re selling is not nearly as important as what people believe they’re getting.