I market professional speakers and corporate entertainment to SA’s Blue Chip so that their events are flawless, seamless and memorable. I also assist emerging speakers with guidance and business coaching, which my book SpeakerSavvy is all about.
Who’s your target market?
On the one hand, anybody in Corporate South Africa who is planning an event, conference or gala dinner, and on the other hand anybody in the world who feels they have a message to share and the drive to succeed in the often cut-throat industry of Professional Speaking.
What problem of theirs do you solve?
For my clients: we help them find the perfect messenger for the message they want their delegates to hear, or the perfect business or celebrity MC to hold their event together with panache and professionalism. For my speakers: I help them learn about and navigate the sometimes daunting and treacherous waters of starting their speaking business, or else taking their existing one to the next level.
What makes your product/service/business different?
I don’t have a job, I have an adventure. I only represent people I genuinely admire, like and trust, so I have no hesitation in recommending them to my clients. I think that that sense of enjoyment and reward spills over into everything I do, and I think that’s what makes Speakers Inc different from the few other agents in the country. I don’t do what I do for the money, so I am not desperate to make a sale, and therefore my client’s needs come first for me.
Why do you do what you do?
Shew, that’s my signature story. A lot of people ask me that, and most of them assume it’s for the money, and when I say it’s not, I often get a knowing wink or a “Uh-huh … sure!”. And then I tell them this story: One day long ago, I had the enormous privilege of driving Alison Botha to do a talk for the advertisers in the Yellow Pages *she writes, giving her age away*. The delegates were not our usual corporate white collared individuals, instead they were plumbers, electricians, locksmiths, pool guys etc. I had seen her speak a few times before, so I was able to focus on the audience, and in the whole hour that she spoke, no body had a sip of water, or opened a sweet. They were riveted. After her usual standing ovation, I helped her sell her books and pack up. We were walking to the door with the event planner (who was over the moon with how her delegates had loved Alison), when a man who had been lurking at the side of the room, sidled up to a us. Literally sidled. Like a crab. He cleared his throat and said very quietly, ” Alison, last year my 13 year old son stood on a bridge and was going to jump. But he said he thought of you, and decided that if you could do it, so could he. So I want to thank you today, for saving my son’s life, even though you’ll never meet him”. Even as I write this, I have goosebumps from the crown of my head, all the way down to my toes. It was in that moment that I knew my purpose was to do everything I could to put my speakers (or my Messengers, as I call them), in front of those who need to hear them.
What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner & how did you overcome it?
Hmmm. I would have to say learning how to handle cash-flow, honestly. I basically work on a nine month year, as the months with school holidays in are generally a write off, and it took me a good few years to get the knack of managing cash-flow. Also, given that I am essentially a dreaded middle-man, which everybody and their poodle seems to be out to obliterate, the advent of Google was a personal miracle, but a monumental business challenge. Now every speaker who has access to the internet has a website up, quite often making outlandish claims about being “SA’s Number ONE Speaker!”, and every event planner who has a cell phone and wi-fi can google these guys and book them directly. I did have a mild panic about it, but in the end, this particular challenge crystallized my value to my clients and speakers for me. My value as an agent is to know my speakers and help my client make the best choice possible for their event. The agents know who is really busy, who is really good, and who is just full of their own PR. So while it was a challenge, the upside was that I realised my own value in this industry. (See, annoyingly optimistic!)
What advice would you give other business women, either starting out or already in business?
My first answer would be: follow your heart. Do what makes your heart sing. But then, I think that that doesn’t apply to all of us. Sometimes, we have to do something we really don’t like, because we have mouths to feed, school fees to pay, credit cards to settle. Sometimes, our dreams have to wait a little. So what would my advice be? Work hard. Work your butt off. Find out what your competitors do better than you, then work even harder to beat them at their own game. Be ambitious. Don’t settle for mediocre. Even if it’s two in the morning and mediocre would be okay for the client, push yourself. Deliver excellence. And because so few of us do that, it will set you apart and make you exceptional.
What would you do differently if you could start your business again?
I would have trusted fewer people. I have learned the hard way that just about every person is motivated by their back-pocket, and they will do whatever they need to, just for the money. And I would have walked away from those people earlier.
What’s next for you and your business? What’s your big dream/goal?
Hahaha – ask anybody who knows me, and they’ll answer, in unison, “GLOBAL DOMINATION!” But seriously, I am in the middle of a few negotiations now that will change the face of my industry, so that’s Big and Scary for me. And then my ultimate goal is to have an agency in the USA (where the market is HUGE), earning lovely US Dollars, so that I can buy a camper van and tour the planet with my husband and little girl, working mornings only, wandering into the nearest village to buy freshly baked bread and some gorgeous local cheese for lunch. And wine. Of course.
What was your expectation for the photo shoot?
Awkward, fake, uncomfortable, generally as unpleasant as every other photoshoot has felt.
What was your overall experience of the actual photo shoot?
I was amazed at how quickly you put me at ease, and I landed up actually having fun.