Lilly Walters heads up
Walters says that not until you are earning at least $2,000 per speech should you consider joining a bureau. She lumps together in this category other types of go-betweens, including agents, personal managers, meeting production companies, meeting planners, and brokers who negotiate between buyers and speakers they do not represent exclusively, since much of the advice applies to all of these. Speakers' bureaus typically charge 25 percent of the speaking fee (they may also have a membership charge and require advertising in their catalogs).
Do not pay a large membership fee to join a speakers' bureau that “promises” to get you paying gigs. Until they try marketing you, a bureau has no idea whether it can match you up successfully with buyers.
When you are registered with more than one bureau, you may find several claiming to have set up a particular engagement for you because all of them were called by the buyer and they all gave you a recommendation. Walters generally recommends awarding the commission to the first bureau that calls to ask if you will accept a speaking date, even if that is not the one that is eventually awarded the contract. Bureaus are really working to please the buyer, their customer, so in the long run it pays for them to set up all the contracts they are asked to do by the buyer, even if they are not getting a commission from you.
If a buyer comes directly to you, it is vital to find out if she heard about you from a bureau so that you can turn over the contract to that bureau. If the buyer cannot remember, make a note to that effect and, if you want to get a bureau to love you, send the buyer to your favorite one to handle the contract details.
A bureau can arrange for you to appear at association speaker showcases and may offer a lot of helpful services beyond getting you hired, including presentation critiques, videotape/CD production, and secretarial services when you are on the road (such as sending out packets on request, answering e-mail, and forwarding calls).
If you are new to being paid as a speaker, you may want to affiliate with a young bureau, which will be as hungry as you and have fewer clients to promote. Of course, there will be a trade-off in experience and contacts.
Walters mentions lots of ways to endear yourself to speakers' bureaus, the primary ones being:
Put the bureau's contact information on everything you hand out, indicating they book your speaking engagements.
You are able to clearly explain in one sentence why your presentation is different from other speakers on the topic.
You only call the bureau every few months, preferably outside prime calling hours, and keep the call to the point (also keep e-mails to a minimum).
You return bureau calls within minutes, not days.
You are pleasant to work with and their customers do not complain about your behavior.
You have accurate expense reports that are consistent with the contracts.
You call after an event is set up to report how it went.
You may be able to find a personal management agency that will help promote you, as well, rather than having to rely entirely on bureaus, which serve the buyers' needs. A manager will need to be paid anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars a month as a retainer, plus marketing expenses, and they also take a small percentage of the speaking fee.
Many speakers belong to lead-sharing groups, and helping other speakers is a good way to build up referrals from them. However, do not share leads generated from an event set up by a speakers' bureau. Those leads go to the bureau.