Good Question: How do I start charging for something I’ve always done for free?

A couple years ago, a friend encouraged me to speak at an event. People responded to my story very strongly. Pretty soon, I was getting phone calls to speak at other venues.
Since then, I’ve delivered talks in three different countries. All free. I’ve never charged a fee for my speaking gigs. But I’m ready for that to change.
I know I’m a rockin’ motivational speaker. I know my words impact people. But how do I start charging for something I’ve always done for free?

Dear Fatima,

How do you start charging?


You start charging.

I know. Easier said than done, right?

The key is to communicate with total confidence and clarity.

(This goes for all kinds of scenarios — not just charging for public speaking engagements.)

If you lay out a clean process for your client / customer / event producer — with a confident, uber-professional “This is how I roll” attitude — then they will roll right along with you.

If you communicate vaguely or display uncertainty or hesitation (“Oh, it’s OK! I can waive my speaking fee. No problem. Or we can negotiate. Or whatever. Whatever works for yoooou!”) then people won’t trust you, believe in you, or feel eager to pay you.

Blunt, but true.

Let’s talk logistics.

The next time someone reaches out to you to say, “Hey, would you speak at my event?” you could respond by saying:

Thanks for reaching out to me, [person’s name].

[Name of event] sounds amazing! Thanks for inquiring about booking me to deliver a talk.

Before I give a resounding “YES!” I’d love to learn a little more about you, your event, and your audience.

Here are three quick statements for you to fill out and send back to me.

Hit “reply” to this email with your responses, whenever you’re ready:

– “The people in the audience at my event want ______________, love ______________, and are struggling with ______________.”

– “I’d love to book you to share a story that will [motivate / inspire / urge / persuade] the people in my audience to ______________.”

– “My #1 goal for this event is to [create / bring about / change] ______________.”

Thanks, [person’s name]! Excited to see your responses. Have a terrific day!

[your name here]

Then, based on the responses you receive, you should be equipped to decide if this event is going to be a good match for you or not. If it’s a “YES,” send back an email to say something like this:

Hey again, [person’s name],

Whoa. I LOVED your responses. Thank you.

[Topic that they mentioned] resonates strongly with me and I would be honored to appear on your stage.

I’d love to move forward.

Here’s my process:

1. I will email you a list of potential topics for my talk. You tell me which topic feels like the best fit for your audience.

2. Then, we’ll both sign a one-page agreement to confirm my speaking appearance. (I’ll send this to you.)

3. After that, I will send you an invoice for my speaking fee, which is [dollar amount] plus reimbursement for travel / accommodation. (All the money details will be laid out in the agreement I just mentioned. No surprises.)

4. On the big day, I get onstage and rock the mic.

5. We celebrate afterwards with champagne, hugs, and huge smiles.

If all of that sounds good — and if my speaking fee is within your budget — then hit “reply” to this email to say “LET’S DO THIS!” and I will take it from there.

So thrilled to connect with you, [person’s name].

Until soon…

[your name here]

PS. If you haven’t already done so, you can click HERE to visit the ‘speaking gigs’ section of my website. On that page, you will find video clips of me onstage, audience testimonials, my official bio, and all that good stuff. Enjoy!

See what I just did there?

By laying out a process for your client (“Do this, hit reply, tell me this, etc”) you are taking charge of the situation.

You’re saying, “This is how I do business” not “Um, hi, how should we do business? I’m flexible! You can pay me or not, whatevs?”.

Huge difference.

You’re also getting your client EVEN MORE EXCITED about booking you, because you’re inviting your client to think deeply about his or her intentions for the event and why they want YOU, specifically, to be there.

You’re getting your client emotionally invested in the idea of hiring YOU and only YOU.

You’re demonstrating, already, at this early stage in the relationship, that you’re a pro and you’re worth every penny.

Now, it’s possible that certain clients will write back to say, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t afford to pay you. Is there any way you could speak for free?”

At that point, it’s your call. You can say “yes.” You can say “no.” You can negotiate. You can barter. You can propose an alternative scenario.

Personally, I would recommend giving a clean, simple “no” — with no explanation, justification, rationalization or back-story behind it.

Just “nope, no can do” — plus a generous surprise to reinforce, yet again, that you are such a freaking PRO.

Something like this:

I’m sorry to hear that I’m not within your budget.

You asked if I’d be willing to speak my free. My answer is a respectful “no.” That’s not something I’m able to do.

If you’d like to share my story in a different format, at no cost, I’d be more than happy to donate [one hundred copies of my latest e-book, e-course, or some other awesome resource that’s easy and cost-free for you to give] to the people attending your event. It would be my pleasure to contribute in that way. Let me know if that sounds good.

Many thanks,

[your name here]

No matter what happens next, you will have made a phenomenal first impression — and who knows?

This very same person might be circling back to you one week, month, or year from today with a paid speaking gig offer that delights BOTH of you. One thing’s for sure: they will respect and remember you.

Hope that helps, Fatima.

Rock the mic and change the world.

I know you will.

Good Question is an advice column about writing, communication, creativity, and how to be a decent human being in a complicated world. Looking for past columns? Go here.