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20 YEARS – Looking Back, Moving Forward

Sept. 27, 2018, Vol.16, Issue 5

“If it doesn’t work out, you can always wait tables.” That was the advice doled out to me twenty years ago when I decided to go out on the skinny branches and start my own speakers agency. Thank goodness it’s been successful because, twenty years later, waiting tables is just about the last thing this body wants to do.

Yes, I’m celebrating 20 years in business as of this month! It doesn’t seem possible. When I moved to Oregon from Michigan, I had something else in mind, but when it didn’t work out, I sat myself down and came up with a plan. That was to promote just a few speakers whom I knew well and loved.

When I made those first cold calls, I could never have imagined the speakers I’d meet, the events I’d get to help plan all over the country, and the relationships that would develop as a result. Not to mention the ups and downs of running a business through world events like 9/11, the 2008 market crash, and my own health challenges — 2 new knees and a hip. Oh, and personally, dating and getting married — well, everyone needs a distraction from working too hard.

Me with some of my original speakers in 2003, clockwise from upper left: Jana Stanfield, Zonya Foco, me, Deborah Kern, Karen Wolfe, and Holly Stiel. They’re still among the best.

I started that first day with dial-up Internet access, no website, three speakers, and no clients. On the up side, the branches weren’t all that skinny as I had confidence in the speakers I was promoting, a little bit of business savvy, some sales and marketing experience, and probably my strongest suit, creativity. Nonetheless, it did feel risky. Just me, my brand new Mac, and empty file drawers waiting to be filled.

And I had the phone (land line, of course – remember when we had to pay to make long-distance calls?) to make those cold calls — all long distance at the time.

I’m happy I survived it all. Additions like websites, smartphones, texting and social media have changed the landscape, but some things remain the same — trust, transparency and clear communications still reign supreme. Today, many clients, including some I gained from those original cold calls, come back year after year for speakers for their annual events. That’s one of the factors that has fueled my growth and constant quest for new speakers that fit their needs. Every time one of you comes back, I am pleased that I have done my job the year before.

 

LOOKING BACK

People often ask me what drew me into this business. After all, I’m not a speaker. In fact, my knees knock just thinking about getting up on a stage — although I have done it.

The answer lies in the effect that inspirational speakers had on me at a dark point in my life. Before that I had not had any exposure to people like Wayne Dyer, Leo Buscaglia and Marianne Williamson. They were the ones who helped me see the world from a new perspective. Their wise words brought me out of my funk and gave me the confidence to believe in myself again.

Once awake, I discovered that there’s a whole business of conferences and meetings, and there are speakers who love to speak but don’t necessarily like promoting or booking themselves. I had a background in marketing and promotion (and a degree in Communications), experience in sales, and, hey, I had been a waitress in college — that’s where I learned how to scramble, give the customer what they want, multi-task, and run my buns off.

I also made a very conscious decision to specialize. Rather than a speakers bureau representing hundreds of speakers on zillions of topics, I decided to focus on promoting health and wellness — an area I felt strongly about — and to market just a few excellent speakers each of whom I knew very well. The only faulty part of this idea was the limited number of speakers. I quickly learned that every client wanted a different speaker the next year — and I wanted to keep those hard-won clients.

Zonya Foco, high fiving
Speaker Zonya Foco connects with audience member at women’s wellness event.

Secondly, I started attracting more speakers, who heard about what I was doing. There were quickly a dozen speakers, and . . .

Fast-forward, and four website incarnations later, we have about 150 speakers on the website, and many more in the wings. And I have connections to get any speaker a client might want, including celebrities. I’m always on the lookout for speakers who are a good fit for our market – primarily women’s health events and conferences, breast cancer and cancer survivor celebrations, heart health events, healthcare associations, and events for nurses’ education, leadership and appreciation.

 

MOVING FORWARD in GRATITUDE

I’ve been writing this newsletter/blog for 16 of those 20 years — reporting on speakers, client events, healthcare developments and some fun stuff along the way. I often think it is too long, but I’m usually providing a backstory that can’t be told in sound bites. The editor, my husband, Jim, helps keep me on track. In fact, he’s made me a better writer, as now I sometimes anticipate his questions. So, thank you to the editor — every writer should be accountable to one. Being married to one is optional, but a nice perk for both of us.

Speak Well Being Group
At long-time client North Dakota Women’s Health Conference last year, left to right, meeting planner Anita Hoffarth, Reach Partners; Angela Gaffney, speaker; Rachel Asleson, Reach Partners; and me.

All I can say at this point, is a great big THANK YOU, to all of you speakers who had faith in me and to you clients who have trusted me with finding and connecting you with your keynote speakers. I have the greatest respect for the job that you all do — putting all the pieces of the puzzle together to make a conference, a meeting, or a special event run smoothly and to make an impact on both the attendees and the sponsors.

As to the future, I hope all of you speakers and all of you clients will continue to work with me. You are the two arms that meet at the heart of my service. In return I promise you that I will continue to serve you to the best of my ability. That means I will do my best to:

  1. Answer your inquiries promptly and fully.
  2. Seek the best speakers, matched for each event, and provide my clients with choices among them, often reaching out to suggest speakers you might not find while searching on your own.
  3. Promote every speaker as best I can and in situations where you will shine.
  4. Recommend speakers with great attitudes – exceptional devotion to keeping their commitments, meeting clients’ needs, and giving their best to audiences.
  5. Follow up with contracts and arrangements that are clear and complete.
  6. Pass to you speakers all I can in the way of information about the audiences, the locations, and the equipment you will encounter so that even as you clients find your speakers prepared and focused on the needs of your audience, you speakers will know how to prepare and can avoid surprises when you make your presentations.
  7. Handle all the details of contracts, payment terms, and collections so that both sides can focus on the message and the delivery – and leave the background work to me.

If those promises fit your needs – and you know by now that I mean them – I hope I can go on serving you. I value our relationship, and I love working with you to increase your success. That’s why I can still say, “I love my job.”

Until next time, take care of yourself for your well being and those you love.

Yours truly,
Barbara

For Your Well Being is published with the intention of bringing you insider speaker reports, exclusive stories about special events around the country, meeting planner tips, and fun stuff from the worlds of health and well being. Be well and be in the know!

The Speak Well Being Group is a specialized speakers bureau, focusing on speakers for hospital-sponsored community events, healthcare organizations, nurses, conferences and women’s groups. Our speakers are hand-selected. They are not only experts in their fields, they connect with their audiences while bringing them life-changing information, smiles of recognition and ultimately a sense of well being and hope.

Finding the perfect keynote speaker for your special event or conference is my personal passion, not just once, but year after year. It brings me great joy to know that your audience was delighted and moved by the speaker we selected together. I’m committed to making the process easy, pleasant and fun.

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