A lot of speakers have questions about speaker contracts…especially when starting in the speaking industry so in this post, I’m going to answer a few of those questions and give you a little behind the scenes look at contracts and their purpose.
Now you might be thinking that purpose of a contract is so nobody screws you and if they do, you sue them.
But not really.
Unless your speaking gig is for a huge sum of money then very rarely is it worth spending the time and money it’s going to take to sue someone.
So what’s the purpose of a contract?
The purpose of your speaker contract is to just remind all parties of what was agreed upon. And when you do it right, you’re going to have all your money before you even get on stage to speak.
First things first…
You only want to do business with people who you feel like they won’t screw you over in the first place. If you get the feeling like you need a contract because you think this person is going to screw you over then you better not do the deal to begin with.
That’s just common sense.
But here’s how you structure your contract…
First, you need to get all the important information about the event into the contract. You need to know what you’re going to be speaking on, how long you’ll be speaking, what they’re paying for like the flight, hotel, and that stuff. And you also need the contact information of the person hiring you just in case you need to contact them.
Now the way your contract should be set up is to get a 50% non-refundable deposit to secure the date.
When someone calls me up to hire me, we agree on all the information and I always get a 50% deposit. If they don’t send a 50% deposit then I don’t do the gig, it’s that simple.
Even if someone called me up and wanted to hire me for next week and didn’t have the time to mail the deposit, I would take a credit card over the phone with the Square app or even just PayPal.
If I can’t get a 50% deposit then I don’t do the gig.
The contract also states that the deposit needs to be received by a certain time. The max I’ll give someone is 14 days to send the deposit and if I don’t get the deposit within that time then I’ll let them know that the date will be given to someone else when they call.
It’s important that you include this part into your contract because if you don’t then they’ll delay on sending you your money.
I learned this the hard way.
I was contacted about an event, we agreed to everything, and I sent them the contract asking for the deposit but there wasn’t a specific date to send it by. A couple weeks went by and I sent an email asking about the deposit and they said they’re going to send it.
A month goes by, still no deposit, so I send another email. This time they respond back by saying the company president actually got a different speaker because he was a lot cheaper.
About a month and a half passed without the contract before I got the email saying they got a cheaper speaker and it was my fault for not getting the money fast.
As a side-note, I actually found out that they didn’t like the speaker and then they hired me for the next year but they paid even more because I tend to increase my fees all the time.
If I would have given them a deadline then I would have gotten the money within 14 days and the gig would have been mine…which leads me to another very important point…
The gig isn’t yours until the money is in the bank.
I don’t care if they sign a contract and send it to you. I don’t care if they promise to hire you for several gigs. I don’t care if you have an incredible relationship with them. I don’t care about any of that. The gig isn’t yours until the money is in the bank…and their check clears.
I can’t tell you how many times speakers have thought they sealed the deal because they got a contract signed or whatever, and then the client cancels. Their contract might state that the client owes them money but are they really going to waste time taking the client to court…probably not.
The gig isn’t yours until the money is in the bank.
So what happens is you send the contract to the client and it has a specific date for when they need to return it WITH the deposit because if they don’t, then you will give the date to someone else. This creates a natural urgency which gets people to take action.
Now there are some places that might say they can’t give a deposit because that’s how their business operates and you have to make a decision…will you give into their business or stand strong on how you operate your business.
I’ve only given in one time and that’s when I was just starting to get really serious…just because I didn’t know any better.
It was with a college. They wanted to hire me, we agreed on everything, and I asked for a deposit but they said that they can’t do that. They have to talk to some department and they have to send the check later. And I’ll receive it within 30 days of doing the gig.
I was told that this is normal with colleges so I agreed and figured they wouldn’t screw me…and they didn’t screw me. I got the check within 30 days but if I had to go back, I would have done it different.
The one thing I found is that is they’re serious about hiring you, they’ll figure out how to get you your 50% deposit.
I’ve done events for other colleges and they said the same thing. They said that they can’t send the 50% deposit and I just said, “Then I’m sorry, I can’t do the gig. I can only do the gig with a 50% deposit.” Low and behold, they figured out how to get the deposit.
Several companies might say that they can’t give you the deposit because of accounting or something but if you stick to your guns, they’ll figure out a way if they’re serious about hiring you. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said that they can’t send a deposit and when they realize that I’m willing to drop the gig, they figure out a way to get it.
This will definitely happen with speaker bureaus.
Almost all the speaker bureaus I’ve worked with have tried to keep the deposit. They say that once I do the gig then they’ll send the money and I tell them that if I don’t get a deposit then it’s a no deal.
I actually did this with one of the biggest checks I was going to get for a speaking gig.
The speaker bureau was talking to a virtual assistant who represented me and I told the assistant to make sure they send the deposit. Well the assistant comes back and says that the speaker bureau will send all the money AFTER the gig. And I say, “Hell no.” I told her to send the speaker bureau an email that I need the deposit by x date and if I don’t have it then I’ll give the date to someone else.
And of course they sent the check.
Don’t ever let anyone keep your money. I don’t care if it’s a bureau, client, whatever. If the money isn’t in the bank then you don’t have the gig.
There are so many things that could go wrong if you don’t have the deposit.
And the second part of your contract should state that you receive the other half of the money BEFORE you get on stage to speak. The contract says that you get the other 50% upon arrival at the event.
And depending on what bank you have, you can scan the check right there with your phone app and the money gets deposited into your account.
This is why it’s literally impossible for you to get scammed with this process.
You technically get all the money before you get on stage.
Lets say that you agree to pay for your flight because you’ve added it into your speaking fee. Well don’t pay for the flight the second they agree to hire you. Wait until you get the money, which should be within 14 days, and then pay for it with the deposit.
There shouldn’t be a single dime that leaves your bank account.
I remember not too long ago someone tried to scam me by asking to hire me for an event in South Africa and it was a church event. The event was about 6 weeks away which was the first clue that something was wrong because people don’t leave it that late to hire speakers. So we agreed to $15,000 for the 60 minute presentation and they pay for flight, hotel, food, all that stuff.
They also agreed to send the 50% deposit with the contract.
But remember, the gig isn’t yours until the money is in the bank.
So then they send an email asking me if I have a green card to work in South Africa. And if I have one then they would need me to scan it and show them. And I was thinking, “I don’t need a green card to speak at an event in South Africa.” So that’s what I told them but they said I need one and they would help me through the process.
Of course the process costs money.
So I send a text message to another speaker who I knew just spoke at an event in South Africa like a few weeks before and he responds by saying no you don’t need a green card.
Then it hit me, this is a scam.
So I just replied and said that they need to send the 50% deposit and then I’ll get the green card. I mean, if they send $7,500 and the green card cost a few hundred, so what. And of course they never responded. Later I googled everything and found out it was a scam.
But if you go by my process then you’re basically scam proof.
You get all the money before you get on stage.
And lets say you agreed to $15,000 and they send you a check for $16,000, then ask you to return $1,000 because they overpaid. Well if that ever happens then you could send them an email before you try to cash it and let them know that they overpaid and you’ll give them the $1,000 when you arrive.
That’s another scam by the way. They overpay with a bad check and because it takes awhile to clear, you send them your real money and then find out that their money was no good in the first place.
But that’s a whole new topic.
The purpose of your contract is to really just remind you of all the details of an event, get the person’s contact information, and get the deposit, then the rest of the money before the event.
You don’t need an attorney to create a long contract for you.
My contract just gives the basic information and says that I can use video footage and all that stuff for my marketing materials. Other than that, it just says what we agreed on and it just has it in writing so everyone remembers.
What you’ll find is that the more you charge, the better your clients get.
When you start charging $5,000 or more, clients get really cool. They give you everything you need, they help you with stuff, and more. You never have to chase them down for money, they will just come up to you and give it to you. They don’t mind if you use video footage in your marketing. They’re just really cool.
And that’s why your contract doesn’t need to be this 5 page thing.
If your contract looks serious then you can actually delay the process for getting hired. What’s going to happen is the person in charge of hiring speakers will get the contract and see that it has all these technical terms because it was drafted by an attorney and they’ll see it’s several pages long.
And the event planner won’t want to get into trouble so they’ll send it to their legal department to look it over before sending it back and it just delays the process.
But if they just see it’s a two page agreement that just has the basic information with a little more about how you record and use it for your marketing then they won’t care and just sign it.
And one other thing…
You might have heard that you should call it an agreement instead of a contract but in reality, it doesn’t matter what you call it. People know what it is and just because you call it an agreement over a contract doesn’t change anything. People aren’t dumb. They know that they’re paying you a certain amount to speak.
Oh…and one other thing.
The cancelation clause.
Your cancelation clause should be simple. Basically, if the client cancels within a certain amount of the event, say 30 days, then they still owe you the entire fee. The reason for this is because you might have turned down another gig and when they cancel, you lose out on that other gig.
However, if a client does cancel, you’re not going to sue them for the full fee or even ask for it.
What you want to do is ask when they want to reschedule and you can tell them if you’re available and you’ll put them down for that date, no extra cost.
This basically creates a ton of good-will in your favor and you’re more likely to get repeat gigs and referrals.
And the contract also states that if anything happens and you can’t make it for any reason, you’ll return the full fee including the deposit…that’s only fair.
Now your contract will also vary depending on the type of event.
Like if you’re a seminar speaker and you’re selling products then it’s going to be more detailed because the promoter will want 50% of product sales and that stuff.
Just don’t agree to anything you won’t uphold.
If they say that they want you to sell your product but you’re not allowed to give the same presentation for 60 days or that they’re going to handle the product sales and give you the money 45 days later…if you don’t want to do that then just tell them.
You have to know what your walkaway point is.
If you’re just cool about it and you let people know why you want something in a contract changed then they’ll be cool about it.
I know a speaker bureau that put in their contract that any gig I get within 90 days of the event was theirs…even if it didn’t come from the gig itself.
I just told them outright, no. I said I’ll give them all the spinoff gigs I get from that gig itself. But any gig I get as a result of the marketing I’m doing, there’s no way they’re going to get a percentage off that, that’s just dumb. Now I didn’t say it like that but I told them to change the contract and they did.
If you don’t ask for it then nobody will do it. So just think about what’s fair and do it. Make sure you know your walkaway points like the deposit and that stuff, and keep it simple.
Speaker contracts aren’t meant so you can sue people, it’s purpose is so you know the details of the event and everyone can keep track of it.
And if you want a copy of my contract then just go to the SpeakingLifestyle.com member’s area and download a copy.