How to Make Excellent Money in a Volatile Economy

Weiss Advice Issue: 125, February, 2014

People have been complaining about the economy for quite some time. I entered professional speaking in 1985 and they were complaining about it then. I understand the Pharaohs were somewhat concerned about financing the pyramids, but that was slightly before I was working on my own.

Fifteen trillion

The United States has about a 15 trillion dollar economy at the moment, the strongest in the history of the world. That, of course, is post-Katrina, post-oil crisis, post-Iraq, post-recession, post-Washington gridlock, and post-Lady GaGa. The economic outlook in most of the developed world is quite positive at the moment, with a few exceptions.

They may not be the best economies in history, but they are pretty good ones if you know how to market and creatively establish fees. This is the time to raise fees and directly pursue real buyers.

Our buyers are those executives who “own” and sponsor initiatives. There are catalysts and middlemen (I can’t bring myself to say “middle people,” which sounds like “middle earth” and requires a Hobbit.)

So, step one: Focus on people who can directly authorize a check for your value.

Ready: Prepare to raise fees

We often make the mistake of selling a commodity—ourselves, for a time period. So there is a fee for an hour’s keynote or a half-day of training, or a month of coaching, or a consulting project

This is silly and disastrous.

Think of yourself as an expert who can convey that expertise in a variety of modes and forms depending on buyer need (including need you create). Don’t restrict yourself to arbitrary methodologies and try to force everyone into them.

Your value is in the client’s improvement, not your “deliverables” or technology. Don’t read on until you really believe that.

Now, raise fees

The president of a major high tech firm, while introducing me, asked his senior officers what they thought my fee was for spending six hours conducting a session for them on site. None came within $15,000. Then he said to them, “You’d better listen up!” He was telling them that I practiced what I preached and that he was getting the very best.

No one is paying for your time. They are paying for the alchemy of your experience, talent, expertise, and judgment. Picasso knew how to paint in a way that drew people to admire and want to possess his work. No one asked how long it took him and paid on that basis.

What do you believe about yourself?

Let’s be very clear about something: Money is never a resource issue. It’s always a priority issue. That is, there is always money—the lights are on, the mortgage is being paid, the advertising is being placed. The question is, how is it being allocated? Are you making a sufficient case for your value so that a true buyer is willing to allocated the funds for you? When someone tells you, “We don’t have budget,” they are either not a real buyer or they don’t choose to spend the budget on you.

Choose your colleagues carefully

I’ve heard people state that the economy is horrible and to be blamed for poor business and lack of success. And many in the audience commiserate and applaud. But some of us know better.

Are you listening to people who are negative and see an adverse economy and society all around, or are you dealing with people who are optimists and see challenge and excitement wherever they look? I’ve been to professional meetings where people are talking about cutting back and finding bargains. The discussions should be about aggressively marketing expertise. No one grows a practice through cutbacks.

I remember meeting a woman once whose husband was rarely around, spending 220 days on the road to speak 110 times for $1200 per session. “Why doesn’t he double his fee and halve his schedule, so he’d at least be home more?” I asked.

“Oh, he could never get that much!” she said. If that’s what they both believe, then they’re right.

Focus on your real value

Don’t be sidetracked by trying to sell your book. The book is simply a means to an end. You’re not in the bookselling business.

Focus on your real value, which is meeting the buyer’s objectives. The true buyer, not HR or training or someone’s pet goldfish.

If you want unconditional love, get a dog, not a briefcase.

If you view this business—and it is a business if your intent is to earn money in return for value—as a “gig” for which you are paid for being present and addressing a group, then you’ll work very hard for whatever money you earn, and will probably be telling the same stories at the same junctures until you’re too old to remember them.

But if you view this business as an opportunity to provide value to people who can improve their professional and personal lives, then you won’t be in the labor intensive rut of charging based on being somewhere. You’ll be able to charge for helping others get somewhere.