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From Small-time Blogger to Professional Paid Speaker: My Journey

This guest post is by Marcus Sheridan of The Sale Lion.

We’re all communicators. That’s what we do. Some of us love the feel of pen in hand. Others find joy as the fingers hit the key pad. But for me, the magic is in the communion that occurs in front of a live audience, a place where I feel more at home than any other.

Like you, I’m a blogger. I’m also a business owner. In fact, I own a swimming pool company. Ten years ago, I started the business with my two partners. The challenges of entrepreneurship were satisfying for the first seven years, but three years ago I knew my time of being a “pool guy” was coming to an end and the next phase of my life would soon begin.

Although I wasn’t exactly clear where I was headed, I knew I wanted to be a professional speaker, and I also knew I wanted to help as many people and businesses as possible to reach their potential.

But to be a professional speaker, it has to start somewhere. You can’t just say, “I’m a speaker” and then boom!—all of the sudden you’re booked up for months and months.

So that’s what I want to talk about today. I want to share my journey and it is my hope that you’ll find some lessons here that you might also apply to your life, and ultimately reach the goals you currently envision.

Phase 1: Kicking down the first door

Often times, the hardest step in professional speaking is getting the initial opportunity. In my case, being in the swimming pool industry, there was one main event held each year at the National Pool/Spa Convention in Las Vegas. But to speak there, I had a few cards stacked against me. The first of which was the fact that I was only 30 years old (meaning I’d be far and away the youngest speaker). The second was the fact that I had very few connections in the industry.

Notwithstanding my low chances of entry, I decided to find out who the head of the event was, and soon learned it was a lady named Tracy. Therefore, when the show came around a little over three years ago and I attended, I found out where Tracy’s office was and, tossing all fear aside, I decided to approach her. Walking straight into her office at the show, I had the following conversation with her:

Me: Hello, you must be Tracy.
Tracy: Yes, that’d be me. And who are you?
Me: My name is Marcus Sheridan, and I’m the best speaker you’ve never had. (With a big, big smile.)
Tracy: (laughing) Really now? And tell me Marcus, what can you speak about?
Me: I’ll speak on anything you want—Sales, Marketing, I’m ready.
Tracy: How about a hot tub sales class?
Me: I’ll give the best Hot tub sales class you’ve ever had. (Again, with a big smile.)
Tracy: Hmmm, and how can I be sure you’re good?
Me: I’ve got a DVD of some videos I’ve made for my company in the past. (I hand it to her.) I think if you watch them, you’ll see I’ll be a good fit.
Tracy: What’s your price?
Me: I’m just asking for a chance. That’s all. If I’m good, then we’ll talk price for next year when you bring me back. (Again, with a big smile.)
Tracy: Okay, I’ll let you know, Marcus.

About a week later, Tracy emailed me and let me know that she was inviting me to speak at the convention. Needless to say, I was thrilled. Since that time, I’ve spoken at all the events for the National Pool/Spa Conference, and I get paid well to do so.

Lesson one: Getting in your first door sometime takes guts. I approached Tracy the way I did because I knew the cards were stacked against me. So dare to be different. Be original. By so doing, you may be very surprised to hear that magic phrase: “You’re in!”

Phase 2: Pushing harder, building momentum

Just a little over two years ago, I started blogging about content and inbound marketing for business, as well as personal development principles on my blog, The Sales Lion. Knowing that I wanted to again break into the speaking realm of my new industry, I did two key things:

  1. I produced helpful and powerful content at least two times a week, without fail, for over a year.
  2. I took the video recordings of the events I’d done in the swimming pool industry and placed them on my site so others could see me in action.

Upon doing this, slowly folks in the blogging and marketing realm started seeing me as a fresh voice and also noticed from the videos that speaking was my passion.

Wanting badly to speak at an industry event, in January of last year, I submitted a speaking application to Blog World to speak at their New York event. As many of you might know, they get hundreds upon hundreds of applications, and have to turn away a very high majority of these applicants.

In my case, it was no different: Blog World turned me down. Instead of speaking, I hopped in the plane and went to listen instead.

Like everything in life, though, things happen for a reason, and I didn’t allow the rejection of my proposal to deter the enjoyment I had for the event, and my continued vision of what was still possible.

In March of last year, I finally got my first break. Within the course of two weeks, I was asked to speak at two industry events.

The first was the MarketingSherpa SEO conference in Atlanta, Georgia. They had heard my success story of using content marketing with my pool company and asked if I’d be willing to share my message. Just as had happened two years before, they could not pay me for the event, nor could they pay my plane ticket, but it was an opportunity, and I took it.

The other invitation was from another person who had noticed my blog and read about my success as a “pool guy.” His name was Joe Pulizzi, the founder of Junta42, and he was gathering speakers for his inaugural event—Content Marketing World.

Never having seen me speak, Joe told me he could give me 25 minutes to share my message. I knew it wasn’t much time, but it was better than nothing. Once again, I had to pay my way and all of my expenses.

Lesson two: Sometimes you’ve just got to get your foot in the door, even if it costs you money. If you’re good at speaking, it will be more than worth the time and investment, as you’ll now see.

Phase 3: The moment of truth

To make a long story short, the event at MarketingSherpa was a hit. My unique story and presentation style made quite an impression, and a few weeks later the event coordinator asked me to speak at their 2012 Email Marketing Summit in Las Vegas. This time, though, I would be paid, and would also be one of the keynotes, along with Brian Solis.

Although the Sherpa conference was great, Content Marketing World was even better. The event was this past September and I knew going in that many folks I highly, highly respect in the industry would be in attendance.

Just as with the MarketingSherpa presentation, my session went very, very well. In fact, as soon as I was done with speaking, I was immediately approached by Deb Ng, who coordinates all the speakers for Blog World. On the spot, she asked me if I’d be willing to present at their Los Angeles event this past November. As you might imagine, I happily accepted, and was speaking in LA a couple of months later.

But Deb wasn’t the only one who was in the audience listening. That same day, the founder of Social Media Examiner, Michael Stelzner, asked me to speak at his online small business summit in February of 2012. This also led to guest posts on his incredible site and loads of exposure I otherwise never would have received.

Furthermore, another gentleman in the audience who was listening asked me to speak at the MeshMarketing conference in Toronto a few months later, which wound up being the first time I’d ever done an event outside of the United States.

Literally, with these two events alone, my entire career started to snowball. Now, as I look ahead to all the events planned for 2012, I can only smile.

Lesson three: Carpe diem! When the moment arrives, seize it.

Endless possibilities

This year I’ll be speaking at both Blog Worlds, and Content Marketing World as a keynote, as well as multiple other summits and conventions.

That’s the thing about speaking—once the snowball gets rolling, it will roll very, very fast, as one event will open up the door to three or four others. Unfortunately, most folks simply don’t hang around long enough to watch this snowball grow and pick up speed.

I’m not here to say that becoming a professional speaker from your blog is easy. Without question, it’s going to require guts, persistence, and an iron will. But it is possible.

So if this is a dream you have, my suggestion is you go out there and get it. Don’t wait for it to pass on by. Will your future. Walk into the office of your target event and tell the person you’re awesome.

And then, when the moment of truth comes, give the best dang presentation you’ve ever given.

If you liked this article, you’ll love Marcus Sheridan’s site, The Sale Lion. And while there, don’t miss the opportunity to download his FREE, 230-page eBook: Inbound and Content Marketing Made Easy.

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Comments

  1. Ben Norman says:

    Some people seem to have an ability to be successful with whatever they decide to do, just by reading this post I get the impression that Marcus is probably one of them. Some great tips which I hope to use over the coming years, thanks :).

  2. HiepNguyen says:

    Thanks for your sharing. I believe that you’ll become a professional speaker! I’ve just download your ebook, very useful. Thanks again!

  3. Dwayne@TWC says:

    The swimming pool industry?! I never thought of swimming pools being a platform for someone to build a speaker’s resume. I love how you came in and TOLD her you were the best speaker though she hadn’t heard of you. I love your confidence, Marcus.

    • Hey Dwayne, and thanks for that. Yeah, most wouldn’t see the swimming pool industry as a speaker’s platform, and most would not have seen the wine industry as a speaker platform until a guy named Gary Vaynerchuck made it such. Now that I’m working in other industries, it’s funny how I’m seeing young stars grown out of each.

      Again, thanks for the kind words Dwayne.

      Marcus

    • me too, how interesting of a swimming pool industry guys have a big change likes htis~

  4. Great post Marcus.

    Reading this whole post, I a, confused. Should I curse myself for not being born and brought up in the US? Or, should I be happy that I was born in one of the most culturally rich countries in the world, India?

    You post is a very good example of how you should put your feet in the door first and grabbing whatever opportunity that comes your way. But sadly, a lot of this is not very practical for people like us. (It’s not very economical for us to travel all the way to US, stay there and be back).

    So the best opportunity for the rest of us outside of the US is to engage with influencers through guest posting. Even that is restricted by some A list bloggers to a close circle of people they know (I recently sent in an application to one such blog and their policy is to allow only people in their circle).

    Anyway, enough with the short comings. I still believe that wherever you are located, you’ll have opportunities. We should focus on what we can achieve rather than what we couldn’t.

    Your story is very inspirational Marcus. Keep sharing :)

    • Adarsh, always love hearing from you bro…and I’ve got to ask– Did the person really say ‘I only offer guest posts to those in my circle?’ Kinda crazy…but then again, that’s their right.

      Tell me though bud– Are there ever any speaking opportunities in your country? If so, find ‘em brother. Kick that door in. If there are speakers in your country, you need to ask yourself why they’ve been able to get to that point and then seek it yourself.

      Let me know how it goes my man.

      Marcus

  5. I really admire Marcus for not getting demotivated by the initial rejections. I guess this positive attitude is what separates success from failure!!!

    Good article for all those newbies waiting to make their own small change in the world :)

    • Thanks for that Akshay. We all get rejected, especially at first. I really think the key is ignoring said rejections and just moving on like we didn’t even hear them. :)

      Continued success,

      Marcus

  6. Ayodeji@News says:

    Marcus, your story about how you became a professional paid speaker inspires me to do what I know how to do best. I’ll take you advice and start approaching those targets. Thanks for sharing :)

  7. Jim Kukral says:

    It also helps that you’re a good speaker who works a room nicely. :)

  8. Mark says:

    Marcus, you’re always sharing valuable, actionable content… In case you’re not aware of this, you’re one of the best resources on the social web for business owners.

    Congrats on this guest post : )

    You rock dude!

  9. Very inspirational. If you really know what you’re after and you are passionate about it, you will do your very best to get it. That is what I take from reading your story, Marcus. You knew what you wanted and went after it through conventional and unconventional ways. Thanks for sharing; I’ll be sure to check out your website.

    • Hi Sharon! I like how you worded that– conventional and unconventional. That’s exactly it. We often times have to dare to be different with this stuff, and eventually, if we do it enough times, doors will be opened.

      Have a great weekend Sharon!

      Marcus

  10. Thiago says:

    Great story, and very inspiring. Sometimes you just have to spend money to make money – and to prove your worth. A lot of people are scared of taking chances, but life isn’t worth living if you don’t. Thanks for the handy tips. I would like to become a speaker myself, but I think I need a lot more experience and knowledge to start. I don’t want to dry up on stage.

    • Thiago, thanks for the kind words man. Here is the key– Learn to be an engaging story teller. If you have that skill, experience isn’t nearly as important…seriously.

      So don’t sell yourself short and make sure to start early with this!

      Marcus

  11. Hooker says:

    I have done quite a bit of public speaking around my town but am hoping that running my blogs will open up some doors. I think I enjoy it probably as much as you.

    Congrats of your success. There is nothing like getting paid to do what you love :)

    • Very cool that you’ve been speaking around town. Tell me, have you been recording your speaking engagements? If not, that’s a huge key. And once you do, upload it onto Youtube and be sure to show it on your site. Good luck!

      Marcus

  12. kid blogger @ http://www.cameronpalte.com says:

    Hey so I am 13 years old and as Ben Norman said you seem to be successful at everything you do. Right now I am still in the small blogger stages yet I am inspired by what you did and said. I just have a few questions. At what age did you first start blogging? When you first started blogging did you ever imagine this happening? What advice would you give too young kid bloggers like me?

    • Cameron, completely impressed with what you’re doing at your young age. That’s awesome, and you’re going to go big places if you’ll keep this up and not get distracted by some of the things of this world.

      I didn’t start blogging until I was 31. Today I’m 34. I didn’t realize when I started blogging for my pool company where it was all headed, but when I started The Sales Lion, I did have a pretty strong feeling it would lead me to some special places.

      As for recommendations: Use your age to your advantage. Start speaking wherever you can. Being 13, folks are going to invite you out sooner than they would a 21 year old with your same ‘experience’. Being so young makes you very unique, and gives you an opportunity almost no one else could even fathom.

      If you ever need further advice, don’t hesitate to contact me directly Cameron!!

      Best,

      Marcus

  13. Ryan Hanley says:

    Marcus.

    You Inspire.

    Ryan H.

  14. Anshul says:

    Hi Marcus, It would be interesting to learn how you got over the initial stage fright before your first speaking gig (or may be you didn’t have one?).

    I am just getting ready for my first speaking gig (mainly because of my IM blog) at a small event so would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

    • Actually, when I was 16 Anshul, I was deathly afraid of public speaking. To this day, my mom is shocked every time she watches me speak to a group because I was so scared of anything like that when I was younger.

      To be honest, I learned 2 main keys to all of this speaking stuff:

      1. Embrace being nervous and excited. It means you care. Take it as a good sign. Don’t dwell on it, but embrace it.

      2. Learn to tell stories. Lots of stories. For example, that’s all this guest post was and that’s all I write and speak about– personal experience. Telling stories is so much easier on any speaker and audience…

      Oh, and I’ll throw in a 3rd key—-Learn to ask lots of questions!!!

      Much thanks,

      Marcus

  15. It’s so true that becoming a paid speaker is a process. You’ll usually have to do some free gigs at the beginning, but if you’re good at what you do, the paid engagements will come faster than you might imagine.

    Marcus, in your post you mentioned the importance of getting your foot in the door.

    But I hope that readers will also pick up on the fact that you chose to attend the *right* events. That is, the events at which you could get in front of key people in your industry (first pools, then online marketing).

    Then, once people saw you were the real deal, they invited you to speak at their own events, thus starting the snowball effect.

    I experienced something similar in my former career as a speaker and blogger about race.

    In the beginning I spoke (for free) at a lot of regional student conferences. I was able to get in front of students from many different colleges. Those students then invited me to speak (for a fee) at their respective schools.

    After cutting my teeth on the college circuit, I was able to expand my client base to non-profits, government agencies, and corporations.

    As you point out, pursuing a speaking career takes perseverance.

    Thanks for giving us this behind-the-scenes glimpse at your speaking career, Marcus! It was fascinating to read. :)

  16. Hi Marcus,

    Sensational inspiration here.

    Luv your note of knocking down the door. I experience this again and again, when starting anything new. I need to keep moving into uncomfortable areas with a calm, assured confidence, and sometimes when the energy shifts a bit I have to kick the door down with real force.

    The Universe responds to your predominant vibe. If you move forward with confidence, you get what you want. You get what you believe in. If you act with timidity, you do not get what you want. You cower, and your goal flees.

    The outside is just a reflection of the inside. You became a success in multiple areas because you went for it in each area, with conviction. Awesome.

    The snowball effect is spot on. It’s like success momentum. There appears to be a drought, then BOOM! The floodgates open. Hill speaks about this in Think and Grow Rich. The lean times or tough times are followed by such abundance it can be mind-blowing. Yep, people actually do go from super poor to super wealthy in a short period of time, but these folks kick the door down like a beast and create a success momentum that is simply overpowering, due to the levels of their belief and the absolute searing power of their desire-fire.

    So many lessons jam-packed into here Marcus. I could comment all week on it, but will exit stage left ;)

    Thanks for sharing your insight buddy. Keep up the great work.

    Ryan

    • Dang Ryan, this comment was like poetry combined with a little Wayne Dyer and a little Jim Rohn. You’re awesome bud, seriously, thanks for this and hope you’ll continue to will success into your life in 2012 :)

      Marcus

  17. Raymond says:

    I would be interested in knowing how well you get paid. Excuse me for being upfront, but really, that is what I am interested in.

    • In 2012, my speaking fees will range in the 2.5-7.5k range Raymond. Notwithstanding, there are a few events I’ll do for free as well….but it all depends on the opportunity and the residual benefits that can come with the event. By next year, I expect I’ll be in the 10k+ range for many events.

      Is that basically what you were looking for Raymond?

      Thanks!

      Marcus

  18. AfroBritish says:

    Marcus, thank you for this inspiring post! Thank you for giving other bloggers on the web these kind of insights and how they can climb the ladder. Thanks!

  19. Not everyone dreams of becoming a paid presenter; however, as we labor over a speech we have all had that thought that started something like “I am NOT being paid enough for all that I do.” Considering how many people are terrified of public speaking, if you can do it and do it well, why not give some thought to “turning pro?”

  20. Rio says:

    Inspiring – sometimes it needs guts to really make a difference.

  21. joshgun says:

    I share the same background with this man…the only difference i did not start from blogging…seizing the moment is a challenge especially for those that have failed many times before…but it is worth it.

  22. Annie Andre says:

    Marcus,
    Congratulations on your continued success Marcus. I really enjoy seeing your story unfold. Such a trail blazer.
    Plus, It’s nice to hear stories like yours because they are not only inspiring, they also confirm that there is more than one way to have success. No one teaches you in school to be a go getter, you have to watch and learn and then go after it.

    • Hey Annie! That’s so very kind of you to say. :) It has been a great ride for me these past few years. At times, I felt like Fred Flinstone, pushing the car myself. But other times, I’ve felt like I was in the seat of a Camaro.

      An interesting ride it has been. :)

      Thanks so much for caring Annie,

      Marcus

  23. Archan Mehta says:

    Marcus,

    I have been following your work for the longest time. You always inspire me by communicating stories based on real-life examples. This one, in particular, sent my spirit soaring in the sky: it was a value-added post, to be sure. I have had a similar experience with an editor of a publishing house. There is nothing like putting yourself out there and no substitute for face to face communication. You have to get to know real people and tell them what you have to offer and what you can do for them. You are selling your skills to make life easier for other people, which is the essence of marketing. Thanks for sharing.
    I believe you are one of the best writers in the blogosphere. I wish you all the best. Cheers to your life.

  24. Being a speaker isn’t something that interests me but there are some great things to learn from your story Marcus.

    • Thanks Jamie. You know, speaking like this isn’t for everyone, like you said, but great communication I think is also a lesson from these 10 points, and that is something we can all work on.

      But thanks again for commenting bud,

      Marcus

  25. Marcus, thank you for sharing your story so generously! It was really inspiring to hear about your “I’ve got nothing to lose” mindset. So many people write their success stories well but will still not help others feel that it’s doable for them as well.

  26. maleeha Fida says:

    Marcus Its really too much inspiring story and there are many things to learn from this that helps me in many ways.

  27. Katina says:

    Hello Marcus! Your article was very inspiring! I really want to become a speaker!!!! I always thought that my desire was just a pipe dream! I amm gonna keep striving!

  28. care plans says:

    This is just what I was looking for. I did not expect that I’d get so much out of reading your write up! You’ve just earned yourself a returning visitor