One of our most covered topics is around speaker bureaus, agents, and management companies.
We’ve talked about how they’re defined, how to build a relationship with one, and how to find them.
But, we’ve never got into the weeds with how the day-to-day works.
So, in today’s episode, we’re hanging out with Amy Tomczyk – an owner of a speaker management company.
We’re talking about what her business looks like, what she looks for in clients to represent, how she manages her clients, and what the inner workings look like.
Since 2013 Amy has run her own speaker management and business development company. She partners with premiere speakers to create their strategy and market, negotiate, sell, and secure contracts AND coordinate logistics for big stage and workshop events. She also coaches entrepreneurs to bring their innovative ideas into marketable products and services.
So it probably goes without saying that this episode’s jam-packed with valuable insights.
Let’s dive in!
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Show Notes 📓
✅ Interested in learning more or working with Amy? Contact her: https://amytomczyk.com
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🚀 And as always, don’t forget about all the mind-blowing free resources at https://speakerflow.com/resources/
Read the Transcription 🤓
Taylorr: Welcome to another episode of Technically Speaking, we’re your hosts, Taylorr and Austin, and in today’s episode, we’re talking about speaker management companies. Now, we have covered this topic fairly in-depth; we’ve talked about bureaus, we’ve talked about agents, we’ve talked about management companies, how they’re defined, how to build a relationship with one, how to find them. But one thing we haven’t done is get a peek behind the curtain of how one of these organizations is, actually, run. Now, as we’ve learned from our previous podcast episodes; speakers’ bureaus, speakers’ agents, and speaker management companies, they’re all slightly different from one another.
And so, today, we are unpacking what behind-the-scenes looks like from a speaker management company’s perspective. Now, we’re hanging out today with Amy Tomczyk, an owner of a speaker management company, conveniently. We’re talking with her about what her business looks like, what she looks for in clients, how she manages her clients and what the inner workings of her business are like. Now, Amy has been running a speaker management company since 2013, and she partners with premier speakers to create their strategy, market, negotiate, sell, and run the entire back office of their business.
But, as we’ll learn in our episode, not everyone is cut out or ready for a speaker management company to manage them yet, and so we’re unpacking, when are you ready for that? And what does that person do for you? And what’s the difference between a speaker manager and a VA for all of the other miscellaneous things you need in your business. This episode, Austin and I learned a ton, and, as always, we hope you do too, and stick around until the end for some awesome resources. See you in there.
Austin: I definitely should not be the person trying to come up with some, sort of, podcast audio intro.
Taylorr: Yeah. I was going to say we should definitely just make your sounds the intro for our podcast, but, yeah, it will dissolve our listeners.
Amy: I wasn’t sure, is that your theme song?
Austin: It might be, though, season three, we might get Austin to do that for us.
Austin: Yeah. Never say never.
Amy: Oh, man, this is good. Amy, we’re live, we made it here. Welcome to Technically Speaking, it’s so good to have you.
Amy: Thank you. Thanks so much, great to be here.
Taylorr: For sure.
Austin: Yeah, it’s so good to have you. We’ve attacked this angle, the bureau agent speaker manager thing in a few different ways, but I don’t think ever as clearly as we want to talk about the speaker manager angle with you today. So, this is going to be awesome, our people are going to be very excited, I am very excited to learn a lot from you along the way, so thank you for sharing your time with us.
Amy: Thank you, I’m excited to talk about it too. It’s a unique position and I, really, love doing it.
Taylorr: Heck, yeah.
Austin: Well, us too.
Taylorr: So, what was your journey like? How did you end up in the space? What we found, at least, is people, they don’t grow up and be like, I want to be a speaker manager one day or work with speakers. So, what was that journey like?
Amy: Right. My most recent job, I had the pleasure of working with Dan Buettner at Blue Zones, and the Blue Zones are the healthiest, longest-lived places in the world. So, I started with Dan in 2006, when it was just an idea, he had written a first magazine article for National Geographic and was working on his first book, and so it was just the beginning of a brand. And I was part of the team that went through that whole journey of finding more locations where people were living long and healthy and finding out what was unique and special about those locations and then creating community programs and school programs, workplace programs, grocery store programs, so that we were helping communities make the healthiest choice the easier choice.
As that whole brand was taking off, a big part of our business was having Dan and other people, in what we were calling the Blue Zone Speaker Bureau, go out and proclaim that message to places and appear in front of big associations and big corporations, to just tell people, these are the things that you can do to live longer, to be more connected with all your family and your friends and just to have a happier life overall. When I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur and out on my own, the part that I thought would be most relevant, and easiest for me to do on my own, was to be a speaker manager. So, I did that with Dan for the first year, as I started to acquire additional clients, and now have been doing it for over nine years on my own.
Austin: Man, so cool, you saw an opening, something that you can do to contribute value, something that you liked doing, and you went for it, that’s the ideal entrepreneurial story.
Taylorr: Heck, yeah.
Austin: And so, I just want to understand this Blue Zones business model, so this was, kind of, like a train the trainer situation, where you guys would train other people to teach on your content, or these were people that were involved in the organization that would go speak in addition to, or?
Amy: Yes, I would say 85% of it was Dan Buettner, our founder or CEO, the real voice of our business, and then, as we grew, we had other people, myself included, who were part of an internal speaker’s bureau that would go out and share that message. I got invited myself, to be able to do a TED talk, so it was a TEDx talk in Montclair, New Jersey. So, I did that, quite a few years back now, but it has over 50,000 views.
Taylorr: Holy cow.
Austin: Yeah, I was checking it out; I think it’s up to 70,000.
Amy: Oh, it is, oh my gosh. Okay.
Austin: Yeah, good job.
Amy: I don’t listen to my own TED talk very often, but.
Taylorr: Yeah, we know what that’s like.
Austin: I don’t blame you, every time I see an episode of this come up, I’m like, oh boy, I can’t. Hopefully, it was good originally, because that’s the last time I’m watching it.
Taylorr: Yeah, that’s right.
Amy: That’s right. Yeah. But I like the behind-the-scenes stuff way better than being in front of a whole bunch of people and trying to stay upright and not pass out.
Taylorr: Yeah, fair enough. Yeah, we can relate, for sure.
Taylorr: So, when did you decide to branch out from Blue Zones and go off and do the speaker manager thing, what was that transition like?
Amy: Yeah. So, that was over nine years ago.
Amy: As I said, I had that foundation of Dan having a, really, busy speaking business and calendar and lots of leads coming in. So, it was a, really, easy transition to be able to have that foundational money available to myself, as I gained more clients and, really, got clear on what my business model was going to be, who my ideal client was and where I was, really, going to be able to make the most contribution and also be able to have the highest possible living for doing what I like to do.
Austin: Definitely. So, we have to do this with every episode involving speaker services, we have to ask the definition question. So, from your perspective, what does a speaker manager do?
Amy: Right. So, I have a, really, unique business, in that I am partnered one-on-one with a speaker and I, really, walk the whole journey with them. So, at any one time, I, probably, only have 7 to 12 clients; my load is a little lower now than it had been, just because of the COVID and having events be a little slow to catch on right now. But I partner with people from beginning to end running their business, so, typically, every year we sit down, and we have a big strategy meeting, where we set all of our goals for the year, we also have quarterly check-ins on those, and I’m coaching and holding them accountable, and also, taking responsibility for some of those tasks throughout the entire year.
I handle all of the leads, so all the leads come directly to me, I set those up to have that initial phone call, nurture those leads, hear what that customer is looking for, customize a response for that customer and make sure that I send a follow-up that has an ideal speech description or two or three for them to choose from and then continue to follow-up on that lead. So, I’m the person that’s sending that email every two weeks or so, hey, have you made a decision? I send them updated information, I send them a testimonial, I send them a video link, just to keep nurturing that and closing that lead.
And then, I negotiate the contract, I handle all of the signatures for that, making sure all of the terms are consistent, how everyone wants them. And then, I coordinate all of the logistics, including invoicing, so, really, my speakers get to focus on the things that they love doing, which is research and writing. Most of them are authors, so they love customizing their talks for the new things that they’re learning about their industry and then going and delivering their talks, and they don’t love the backside and running their business, and that’s what I handle a hundred percent for them.
Taylorr: Wow. That’s so valuable.
Austin: Wow. The real white-glove experience, the expert.
Taylorr: That’s right.
Austin: Being the expert, you doing your expertise and together the business is operational. That’s what it sounds like, at least.
Amy: Yeah, exactly. And I know you guys do a lot of the same things, but I’m, really, the implementer.
Taylorr: That’s right.
Amy: So, a lot of the speakers that I work with, maybe, they just don’t love doing the things that it takes to run the business, it’s a lot of repetition, it’s just working that process over and over and over again. And it’s not their skillset, it’s not what they enjoy doing, and they feel having somebody represent them just provides a bigger vision for who they are in the world, sort of, the quality of what is happening. And then, they don’t have to get personally involved in negotiating things and following up on things themselves, they can hand that off to somebody who has that experience and that savvy and, actually, the interest and passion about doing that work.
Taylorr: Yeah, for sure. Well, it makes everybody more efficient and effective, so people can stay in their zone of genius, which is super awesome.
Amy: Yeah, exactly. Right people and right seats, all the way.
Taylorr: Yeah, that’s right. Heck, yeah. How do you know a speaker is good to work with as a speaker manager? What are some of the things that you’re looking for?
Amy: Right. So, typically, people can, kind of, handle their own leads until they’re about at the hundred K level, I would say. So, once they are, regularly, getting 7,500, $10,000 for an event, they’re getting enough interest in what they’re doing, that they either have too many leads coming in, or they’re just, really, at a tipping point, where they’re ready to partner with me, and they have enough income that they can start sharing some of those resources with somebody else, who’s a proven expert and knows what they’re doing.
So, that’s, usually, the best time, and then, exponentially together, we can, really, take that and make that leap from the hundred K to 200, 250, pretty close to the next year, just because of the volume that we’re able to churn together. What I know about how to optimize a speaking business and how to negotiate, it, really, helps, because a big part of what I do, all the way, is coaching them on how to, really, make sure that they’re presenting themselves in the best possible way to get those referrals from every single event that they do.
Austin: How much of what you do would you say is based off of going out and hunting for new business yourself versus fielding the inquiries that are coming inbound to your clients? And I think the bigger picture here is, is somebody that doesn’t have a lot of inbound a candidate for somebody like you?
Amy: Right? No. Unfortunately, what I have found is, 98% is incoming and, usually, that is from doing a phenomenal job when you were up on stage or in a video, and you have identified your ideal client within that group, who is your potential purchaser for a future event? What are their pain points? What are the things that they need to hear? What are your, particular, solutions in your way of helping them and making sure that they hear and see that, so when you’re done speaking, you’re getting at least 5% of that ideal audience that could be purchasing, coming up to you and handing you their business card or connecting on LinkedIn saying, we need to have you come in and talk to our people, because you know us, you know what we need, you have what we need and we can’t wait to have you in.
And so, that’s, sort of, the target that I help and coach all of my speakers to obtain so that we’re continuing to build that pyramid of referrals. I have done some outbound research and trying to fill out RFPs, and I will always do that if a speaker is interested in my doing that; I say my success rate is, usually, about 1% on that.
Taylorr: Oh, yeah.
Amy: It’s, really, quite low. The only way that those sometimes work, is if you know someone else who has either been a speaker at that event before and can introduce you or you know someone who’s part of that association or knows someone who knows someone or corporation, it’s just like finding a job. That networking and those connections, really, make a lot of difference, but, again, 98% of it is incoming leads, and that’s when I’m, kind of, sitting in that ideal client spot.
Taylorr: Yeah, for sure. Do you find, because from our experience working with speakers, they often speak in front of different audiences, some will, occasionally, have corporate, some will have associations and that’s, obviously, a gold mine for getting referrals and things. Do you find that it can be difficult to generate referrals, depending on who they’re speaking to, or should it always be a rule of thumb that you should be able to get referrals from any business that you are speaking in front of?
Amy: Yeah, I agree that there are certain audiences that people should strive to be in front of, because of the likelihood of spinoff business.
Austin: Right. So, that’s the ones you want to prioritize.
Amy: Exactly. And sometimes people need to be aware that they may want to adjust their fee in order to be in front of that audience, so I would never say, you want to reduce your fee more than 20%, I don’t believe in a race to the bottom just to be in front of certain people. But sometimes you’re at a large company event and 90% of the people there aren’t going to have a way to refer you to anything else.
But I also believe in the powers of the universe and that if you make a big enough impact that those people also have connections, so many individual contributors have other people that they know; I heard this phenomenal speaker this week, when they’re talking with their friends over the weekend, or they know someone who is sometimes looking for something. And so, the power of referral still works, but you’re right, there are better audiences for that than others.
Austin: Yeah, that makes sense.
Austin: Yep. Do you find that there are some audiences that you could see as a pattern? We’ve seen that associations, typically, aren’t great for spin because they’re made up of other companies that can hire you, but what other audiences have you, maybe, seen that tend to lead to spin more frequently than others?
Amy: Yeah, it, really, depends on the speaker and where they are a thought leader, right? So, one of the things that I, really, believe in, is to find your smallest viable audience. So, to think that you’re a speaker who speaks on leadership and change management and how to navigate the unknown, well, join the list of a bazillion other people who say that that’s their thing. You need to have something that’s, really, unique about themselves, so I work with a woman named Chris Heeter at The Wild Institute, and she uses her experience in dog sled racing and trucking, as well as, canoe guiding, to, sort of, create this whole theme of the things that she talks about.
So, she has amazing stories, she’s very memorable, she, occasionally, brings a dog onsite, she talks about how each of the dogs have a different personality. And some are a little lazier, some are, really, ambitious and ready to go, but you can’t rein them in and they’re, kind of, wild. And so, her stories about dogs, really, transfer to workplace teams, but she becomes so memorable because of the analogies that she connects that she gets a ton of referral business, because she’s taken those ideas of inclusivity and leadership and bringing your whole wild self and people, really, relate to them.
Taylorr: Yeah. So, part of it’s just discovery, so a little bit of trial and error it sounds too, with the audiences that you’re in front of, and I would imagine doubling down on the types of events that are producing the most spin for you to then get more leads.
Taylorr: Yeah. That makes sense.
Amy: There’s a strategic plan, I would never encourage anyone to say, yes, to everything, right?
Amy: To be more intentional and choosy about the types of work that you want to do, what your rate is; that just sets you apart as a professional.
Taylorr: For sure.
Amy: And to be able to raise those expectations as you move along in the speaking business is everybody’s goal.
Taylorr: Yeah, definitely.
Taylorr: So, that was super helpful. I have a question regarding a little bit more around the logistics of your work with clients. So, specifically, what I’ve found is that sometimes there can be a gray area between a speaker manager and a VA almost, expectation-wise of a speaker, where because you do so much, you’re able to take leads, follow-up with them, do the invoicing, the contracting, the negotiation; is there a line that gets drawn between the other things that, maybe, can seep into some of that work?
Some things that come to mind are managing an email list and sending out emails in bulk and just some other things that tend to fall under the VA category. Is there a line that gets drawn there or is it all of the back office, can you help us understand that a bit more?
Amy: Yeah, thanks. Right. I don’t specialize in social media or sending out the emails, I do help with content development on the emails, but, usually, my speakers also have a VA that, sort of, handles their calendaring that doesn’t involve speaking, their marketing and email lists, as you said, and then doing all of their social and their posting on LinkedIn. So, I help and, often, proofread or sometimes even write a first draft for a lot of content, but I’m not doing the ongoing social posts on a four times a week basis.
The other thing, what, I think I, really, add value to is, some people think that they can hire a VA and just ask that person to follow-up on a lead, because all the client is asking is, are you available and what’s your fee? Well, it’s a much more complicated question than that, right? Every single time. If you are getting that warm of inquiry; that needs to be handled in a, really, specific way with somebody who knows the speaking business, as I said before, can listen to what the client needs, customize a response to them.
I, often, use the same terms and the same jargon that I hear that client using, so that I’m parroting back to them that I, really, am representing the speaker that will do a great job for them and setting up those expectations from the very first contact. I, really, don’t like putting fees in an email, I will always ask for a phone call and try and get them to share a budget number before I would ever write down a number or provide a number for them. And so, it’s just the nuances of that, and also, being able to have a conversation and see what else might be helpful for them, so things that we’re adding a lot now are a promo video, maybe an interview or a podcast or something ahead of the event.
Then also, doing social posts when that speaker is at the event, doing a follow-up article or a follow-up video if we don’t get to all the questions at the end of the keynote, and so we like to talk about now providing keynote speaking packages that, really, give multiple touches that can help reinforce that message over and over again. And sometimes, we even can provide multiple months’ worth of content that, again, helps that organization or association have multiple touches with their people and reinforces the messages from that keynote over and over again.
So, it’s not just a one and done, and then you’re on the next plane out of there, but you, really, developed a relationship with this organization, where they’re almost creating a whole theme and a journey forward with these new ideas and sharing that enthusiasm for this new way of looking at their challenges based on what they heard in that keynote.
Taylorr: Yeah, I love that.
Austin: Man, you are, truly, an expert.
Taylorr: Yeah, for real.
Austin: Something that, I think people forget about is, this is, for one, a relationship-oriented business, but for two, it’s a very consultative business, the best, most successful speakers out there are the ones that are able to make recommendations and suggestions and, really, help drive home the points and solve the problems that they’re being brought-in to solve. And I think it’s easy to think that anybody could just plug into this process of, hey, are you available, what are your fees?
Because they think of it as selling tickets or something to your calendar, but it’s totally not that, if you, really, want to create an impact, and also, be as lucrative as possible while doing it; it takes this consultative selling approach. And so, it’s clear why having somebody that’s specialized in this space could be so valuable relative to hiring a VA or whatever to do the job.
Amy: Yeah, Austin, that just reminded me of something that we did with one of my clients quite early in on COVID. So, early spring, 2020, we made a checklist of all of the things that you need to do before a virtual event, so the day before, when you’re doing the tech run through, the day of tech check, and then, what are the roles of the host and how do you use chat? And we just had this list of, literally, 35 things, because so many of our clients had never done a virtual event before, but we had gotten 5 or 10 under our belt, and we were seeing these stumbles happening over and over again, and to create a, really, much more meaningful experience, it needed to have such nitty-gritty detail.
Hardwire into your ethernet, you can’t rely on WIFI if you have three other adults in your home that are also trying to work from home or do school or whatever was going on, and so that became such a value add to all of our clients. So, again, it’s seeing the need, coming up with something that’s going to be, really, meaningful and impactful and helping make the event a stellar experience for everybody; that, really, helps with the spinoff business, because then the event planner is talking to other event planners, people who attend are like, that was far and away so much better than anything else I’d ever seen. And it just creates a better brand experience for everybody.
Taylorr: Yeah. Man, that makes so much sense. Amy, you can tell you’ve done this for a while. As Austin said earlier, a true expert and man, your speakers are lucky to have you, for sure. One question I get all the time regarding speaker managers, for those who haven’t worked with a speaker manager before is, what’s the expectation of the working relationship? Does that person have an email under my domain? Do they plug into my existing systems or does a speaker manager have their own systems that they’re using behind the scenes, they’re not inside of our systems?
I think some folks don’t, really, understand the dynamic of working with the speaker managers, as it relates to their own internal workings, could you help me understand that some more?
Amy: Right. Yes. So, for the way that I work, I definitely have an email under all of the domains of the speakers that I work with, so I look like I am very much a part of the team, and I am an integral part of that team. And I do have, probably, daily, if not multiple times a week contact with all of my clients. So, we’re just constantly in communication, we also share a lot of documents and files, so I have some clients that are on a Google system, some use Dropbox, some use Microsoft 365, but there are multiple shared things so that they can check in on what is the status of all of the leads? Where are we with the details?
And so, any question that they have is always available within their own folder system, to be able to know the answer or they can just email or text me and I will immediately give them the answer too, if they don’t want to dig around for it.
Taylorr: Heck, yeah. Well, that’s good.
Austin: Man, focused on making your people’s lives easy, I like that.
Taylorr: Easier. That’s right.
Amy: Well, yeah, really, one of the best compliments that I ever got, was pretty early on; one of my speakers said, you know who values you the most? I, really, value you, but my wife, really, values you the most, because I am available for two more hours every day. So, from four to six every day, I used to have to follow-up and send my bio and send my photograph and answer this thing or that thing and just having me be part of that team freed up two hours every day, where he didn’t have to do that, kind of, work that he didn’t enjoy and was taking time away from the things that he, really, wanted to spend his time doing.
Taylorr: Heck, yeah.
Austin: Yeah, man, I respect the work that you do. You change of people’s lives. I just can hear, Taylorr, I’m sure you can too, just the hundreds of people that are like, if somebody would just do this stuff for me, my life would be so much better. And Taylorr and I’s response is always like, well, that’s not us, we support you, but we can’t. So, I’m, really, happy that there are people out there like you that are willing to just get their hands dirty and help these people so that they can do the stuff that they feel called to do, and everybody wins in that scenario, you know?
Amy: Yeah. Well, you guys have a phenomenal, the Zoho one setup that you’ve created is incredible, but it still takes some following-up. Somebody has to send those emails out, they’re not going to get sent out themselves, somebody has to do the contract and figure out where there are things that were not aligned up and iron those out and negotiate those out. And as great as all the systems are that you’ve created, there still is somebody who needs to understand that system and execute on that system and know that process from beginning to end and make sure that none of those details get dropped, so that it’s a, really, great experience and that the client doesn’t need to ask.
That’s another thing that, I think is, really, great about working with me is that I am always anticipating because I know what the client’s needs are and I’m getting them things before they even need to ask for them.
Taylorr: Yeah, that’s right. That’s what everybody needs.
Austin: Well, that’s what makes you referable.
Taylorr: That’s exactly right.
Taylorr: Yeah, totally. Man, Amy, what a cool episode. Thank you for dissecting all of this with us, I don’t think we’ve gotten a chance to talk about the workings of a speaker manager business like this, so thank you for providing all of that insight. If people want to get in touch with you, they want to learn more, connect with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Amy: Right. Both on my website, as well as, on LinkedIn, it’s Amy, A M Y, Tomczyk, which is T O M C Z Y K. So, I’d love to connect with people and answer any questions that they have individually, set up a call to learn more about their business and their goals, and I just thank you so much for the time today, it’s, really, been a pleasure.
Taylorr: Yeah, for sure. Well, we’ve learned a ton and there’s just nothing better about running a podcast and Austin and I being able to not be so stupid anymore, so thank you for helping out with that. Alright, guys, all of the links to Amy’s website, LinkedIn profile, as you know, it’s in the show notes, and if you like this episode, don’t forget to rate it, like it, subscribed to it. If you want more awesome resources like this, go to speakerflow.com/resources.
Austin: Bye, everyone.
Amy: See ya.