A fledgling accountant once advertised a free 90 minute lecture at my local community center on how to claim your child tax credit. In flocked lots of paycheck-to-paycheck parents (myself included) hoping to learn how to file independently and ultimately earn the elusive $1,000 per child government credit. The accountant showed up early, set up his flip charts and slides, and painstakingly walked through the process – step by step – with the note-taking audience.
He charged nothing.
He pitched nothing.
He marketed nothing.
He sold nothing.
He wasn’t even particularly charming. He is an accountant, remember.
Yet – lo and behold – he earned three new clients that night. Why?
The accountant had accomplished two things:
The crowd responded positively to his valuable offer of free advice, especially considering he delivered exactly what he advertised, with no strings attached. I dislike a sales pitch as much as the next guy, and all of us were able to gracefully avoid any such unpleasantness, thanks to the non-charming accountant’s decidedly un-salesy delivery.
He catered his presentation to an audience with little knowledge of tax preparation (me!) and came prepared. He capitalized on the opportunity to demonstrate his expertise to a niche audience who clearly not only needed assistance, but were actively seeking it. His patient demeanor only added to his credibility.
Most attendees that night returned home and prepared their tax returns, myself included. I was curious, though, about his strategy – so I called him a month later to ask if the stunt delivered any real productivity.
Apparently, two attendees that night felt overwhelmed by the information even though he had walked everyone through it. They approached him post-lecture, admitted “tax defeat” and took his card. They hired him to prepare their tax returns within three days. The third took his card and emailed him the following day. While he was comfortable with his personal tax return (thanks to the valuable information the accountant espoused) he needed assistance filing his business taxes, and needed a knowledgeable expert he could trust. Bingo! Client #3.
Yes, sometimes it’s worthwhile to give it away for free.
Why give away the very thing that you sell? That’s basically what you’re doing (or should be doing) with your blogs and social media effort, right? You’re giving away tips of your trade to assist others seeking advice and direction.
Speaking engagements are no different. It’s worthwhile for you to identify volunteer speaking engagements and go after them. You may need to pitch your topics to those managing the venue you’re targeting, but that should be clear, easy and un-salesy as well.
No, it need not be a 90 minute presentation (it can be intimidating to speak, uninterrupted, for 90 minutes if you have not made a career of public speaking), but let’s be honest – you are talking about the topic you know best. You did go into your field because you’re both passionate and knowledgeable about it. It’s not as if you are being asked to ramble on about a topic you have never addressed before (scuba diving? Raw food diets? Rabbit hunting?) This is something you could speak about in your sleep.
Make a list of physical places your audience already frequents. Now, expand this list to target places people gather. Community centers, houses of worship and shared work spaces are ideal targets.
In addition, some trade shows, fairs or brick and mortar stores would welcome a free speaker. Stores are competing with other local providers and prefer not to compete simply based on price (who can compete with the likes of Walmart, anyway?) Should you offer them an evening of free content, for the cost of some coffee and cookies, they can draw a crowd of potential clients to their store, who, in turn, could become potential clients of yours, as well.
Get in touch with those who manage these places, and it doesn’t have to be anything formal. A simple phone call can do the trick – managers of non-profit venues are often volunteers and not exactly “corporate types” – you are not pitching a government defense contract here. There is no due diligence and there are no deliverables. Relax – you are in a buzzword-free zone. You are simply offering a valuable service to an audience who actually wants or needs the information, and you’re doing it for free.
Keep track of the places you are targeting and pitching, and the topics you’re offering. Make sure they’re current and relevant. That way, when you get feedback that sounds more like “I think we might have room for something like that in March” than “Sure, come on down next Tuesday,” you’ll know exactly when to follow up, and with whom. Since you do not want this effort to monopolize your time, document dates, targets and interactions so everything can be efficient and streamlined.
If you offer strategic, gratis speaking engagements filled with real, genuinely valuable takeaways to an audience in need of the information, everybody wins.
Your name (and the fact that you’re trustworthy and knowledgeable) gets out there, and your target audience not only takes your card, but also spreads the word on your behalf. Testimonials, personal accounts, and recommendations always go a lot further than advertisements, as you know (last time you were seeking a professional, did you look in the Yellow Pages, or ask around?) As long as you stay away from sales pitches (which will damage your reputation) an evening like this is absolutely worth your time.
Submitted by Hilary