The thought of a million-dollar business is an enticing one, but, as you likely know already, building a business comes with its share of challenges.
To create a business of this caliber, you don’t just have to master the ins and outs of entrepreneurship. You also have to get comfortable “in the weeds” and become an expert on the ways in which your business runs.
Here to break down this process is speaker, coach, and the author of two books – “A Kids Book
About Empathy” and “Call an Audible” – Daron K. Roberts.
As a former NFL coach and the founding director of the Center for Sports
Leadership and Innovation (CSLi) at the University of Texas, Daron is an active writer on issues ranging from corporate culture to leadership and was honored as LinkedIn’s #1 Top Voice in Sports.
He also knows firsthand what it takes to scale a business to seven figures, and in this episode, he shares how you can do the same.
This is one episode you don’t want to miss!
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Read the Transcription 🤓
Intro: You know those moments when you’re doing what you love in your business, maybe it’s standing onstage or creating content, whatever it is, you’re totally immersed, and time just seems to slip by? This is called The Flow State. At Speaker Flow, we’re obsessed with how to get you there more often. Each week we’re joined by a new expert where we share stories, strategies, and systems to help craft a business you love. Welcome to Technically Speaking.
Taylorr: And we are live. Daron, welcome to the show, man. This has been a long time in the making, super pumped about this one.
Daron: Glad to be on, longtime listener, first time guest, so really appreciate all of the value that you add to the, I know just the knowledge community, but also to speakers in particular. So, glad to be on.
Taylorr: Yeah, for sure, man.
Austin: Thanks for the compliments, man. Yeah. We’re happy to have you here. We just missed you in 3D in San Antonio, but this is, it’s as close as we can get, I guess.
Daron: Yeah, that was actually my first NSA conference to attend, and I live in Austin, which is an hour and 15-minute drive from San Antonio. So, it was good to get down, rub some shoulders with other people who are in the struggle and then get back to Austin, Texas.
Austin: Look at that. Yeah.
Taylorr: Heck, yeah. It was a good event. For sure. So, would you come in on Saturday then? The big day?
Daron: Yeah. My kids had some events on that Friday, so I got up that morning and I’ll tell you what, from the first keynote down to the end of the day, it was really great content. Gave me a lot of good ideas. I’m always looking for, I’ll do 40 to 50 keynotes a year, but I’m always kind of scouting talent and looking to copy paste, not particular content, but styles and techniques. So, it was good for me to get there and get around some people who are doing it at a high level.
Taylorr: Yeah. Kind of get that meta-layer as you’re watching the presenters outside of the content, so you get to learn about the style on top of whatever the content is too.
Taylorr: Must be nerve wracking to be on that stage, though; speaking in front of a bunch of professional speakers. Because they know that they’re getting analyzed from that meta-level most of the time, so respect anybody who jumps on that stage.
Daron: Yeah. Because we’re all doing it, right? And so.
Taylorr: Yeah, right.
Daron: I’m sure they were nervous, but you couldn’t tell. All of them were, obviously, kind of seasoned pros and crushed it onstage.
Taylorr: Yeah. Heck, yeah, man. Well, this is going to be a super fun episode, really excited to get your experience and your background. You’re running an incredible business, so super excited to unpack that. But we like to do our research, a little bit, ahead of the show, of course; get to know you a little bit more, some of the stuff you’ve been doing. Based on what we could tell you wrote a children’s book.
Taylorr: On empathy, I believe, right? That ended up on Oprah’s favorite things list at some point in time. So, how did that happen? How did that all unfold? Why a children’s book? Yeah. Cue us in some context there.
Daron: Yeah, so my first book was a book called, Calling an Audible, which started with my third year at Harvard Law School, and then, sort of, walked people through the pivots that I took to become an NFL coach. And so, I wrote that in 2016. It was in Labor of Love. It was one of those things where I’m sure people listening and watching can identify with having that eternal Google Doc with all sorts of drafts and ideas, and I finally sat down and said, look, six days a week, three hours a day, same coffee shop, same computer, I’m just going to sit down and type.
So, I got through that one in 16. It was really, sort of, thinking through what the next one would be and then A Kid’s Co, which is a company out of Portland, does a great job. They have a kid’s book about racism, a kid’s book about blockchain, just a lot of these topics that are, I think, topics that parents are unsure of how to really spark with their young people. Background: my wife and I have five kids from ages 5 to 12, so we’re constantly looking for good content and kind of methods.
So, the owners reached out and said, hey, we saw that you had, I’d hosted Brené Brown on the campus of the University of Texas. And they said, hey, see you teach empathy in your courses. Would you like to write a book? Knocked it out in a week. So, it was great. Oprah’s list is always great for sales, at least for the next three to four quarters. It was a good experience.
Austin: So cool.
Taylorr: What a journey.
Austin: It seems like an elite thing to have happened; you know?
Daron: Yeah. It was not as.
Austin: Not everybody gets on Oprah’s favorite things list.
Daron: Yeah. And it was completely, this is not something like, oh, I didn’t know. It was, literally, the owner of the publishing company said, Hey, it’s 11:30 at night. He said, I need to talk to you right now. So, I’m going through all sorts of things like, we’re getting sued for some reason. My whole legal background’s ticking like, what the hell’s going on? He said, dude, the books on Oprah’s favorite things list. I was like, wait, what? He said, yeah. I said, wait, what is that? And he said, she has this favorite things list every year. I was like, oh, that’s cool. And I was like, all right.
And so, I went back to bed, I got up and told my wife, she goes, oh my gosh, do you know what that means? I’m like; I guess she has a list and the books on it. She’s like, no, this is a big deal. She’s like; I buy half of my Christmas presents off of that damn list.
Austin: Oh, wow. Yeah, man.
Taylorr: It’s crazy how natural and awesome sometimes, that’s how the magic, it’s just opportunity and timing coming together. It’s beautiful.
Austin: It’s so true.
Daron: Sounds good.
Austin: So, you touched on this a little bit here, but one of the things that touched us was that you have lived in three very different environments in your professional career from law to NFL coach to professional speaker, and I can see how professional speaker can evolve in a lot of different directions. But the flop between law and NFL Coach blew my mind and just the fact that you’ve even evolved past that point. So, can you just break down your journey a little bit for the people that aren’t so familiar with you, myself included?
Daron: Yeah. It also blew my parents’ mind, to be honest with you, Austin. So, this is how it went down. I was in law school; look, my goal was to be governor of Texas going into law school. A little backdrop, I had applied to Harvard Law School when I graduated from undergrad in 2001 and was waitlisted. I was waitlisted four years and then finally got in. And so, at that time I thought, I want to be governor of Texas, I’m going to practice law, make my way to back to the home state.
And that was the track until the summer before graduation, a high school buddy of mine who was a high school coach, said, hey, let’s go to, he had to work the South Carolina football camp, Steve Spurrier Camp. Asked me to go with him. I go. They ended up needing a volunteer to coach 60 kids, one of these groups. And I was like, I’ll do it. Best three days of my life. The first time I did not have to set my alarm clock to get up. And one of the things I talk about in a lot of my keynotes is notice what lights you up. So, this was one of those experiences where I had no dreams of becoming a coach before being in that environment.
And my MO is, if the spirit moves me in a direction I’m going, I don’t want to wait until retirement. Time is a finite resource, so I went back to law school, called my parents. I said, look, I’m going to graduate, but I’m going to write a letter to every team in the NFL and I want to coach football. And to my parents’ credit, they were surprised but supportive. They say, hey, you know your name is on the loans, right? You have to pay most of it back.
Taylorr: It’s like, do what you want.
Daron: Wrote a letter to 32 teams, 31 said, no. I got the rejection letters from Belichick and Wade Phillips and Herm Edward said yes. And he was the head coach, Kansas City Chiefs. He said, look, you can come in as a training camp intern; I’m not making any promises to you. I went there in 07 right after graduation, I begged him to let me stay on for the season as a volunteer. And then he hired me full-time in 08. So, that led to seven years of coaching and that was not in the journal from high school. Right? And look, it makes me think too, guys, 2023 right now; I have some great friends who’ve been laid off from some really great brands and positions.
So, I do think that, and I think about AI, the confluence of all of these forces. We have to become very comfortable with reinvention, as thought leaders and as knowledge creators. And so, whether you’re speaking or writing or creating digital products, the more you can kind of hone skillsets that are adjacent to your core work, I just think the better off you’ll be in the long-term.
Taylorr: Yeah. Well, what a good takeaway.
Austin: That’s so true.
Taylorr: So, I just have to unpack this just a little bit. So, you did the kids’ camp for coaching. So, did you have a background in football previously? Did you play in college? Did you play in high school or was it fairly light?
Daron: I was a fighting mount pleasant tiger. I was one of those 5’10” and a half, 161.3 pounds, I weighed myself every morning. I’m eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and protein shakes, trying to get my weight up.
Taylorr: The good life.
Daron: And it was one of those things where I never had any illusions that I was going to play past high school.
Daron: But I loved the sport so much. In Friday Night Lights, east Texas, small town of 12,291 people, you grow up with these guys and we were good, went to the semi-finals, in the quarterfinals back-to-back years. And I ended up being an all-district strong safety, not because of my athletic talent, but just because I had to know every play and make sure I could put myself in the best position to play. And so, that was, sort of, it was lingering there in the background and the camp just forced it to kind of come into the forefront.
Taylorr: Wow. So, the reason why I asked that question is because I had a feeling that was the case, but I just have to note the tenacity, you just went out there and got after it. You wrote 32 letters to NFL teams, having taught the kids’ camp, and it’s not like you coached college football and did it forever, and now you’re moving up, you just went, dude, it is an awesome story. The tenacity to go off and do that is beautiful.
Daron: No, I appreciate it, Taylorr. And I think one thing that I found, I taught at the University of Texas for eight years and I actually taught a class on rejection. And the research that we found shows that once you get past the fourth rejection in a certain category, your body gets accustomed to the blow. Right? The first rejection’s life shattering, it’s all over. Once you get to number four, your body says, okay, I thought I was going to die, but I’m still alive. And so, it was a really good experience for me because the first rejection letter I got was Bill Belichick from the Patriots. And I remember sitting in my apartment thinking, what am I doing? It was one of those form letters; I was like, oh, gosh. And I said, okay, I have 31 to go.
And they started rolling in; Dungy, I have Dungy’s letter still, but I got the call from Herm, and I think that’s what’s important. And even kind of thinking about speaking, you need one yes. Right? It sounds like a cliché and cheesy, but the right opportunity in front of the right crowd can catapult your entire business model. And I think a lot of people kind of sit and wait for opportunities, but in this business, I’ve found that that’s what you need if you want to go from mid-five digits to six, mid-sixes, sevens, that’s the, sort of, tenacity you need in order to scale that ladder.
Taylorr: Heck, yeah.
Austin: That’s so true. There’s nothing really to be said about just taking action too. That in and of itself is a differentiator, right? Because there are a lot of people that’ll think about doing it, but there are vastly fewer that will actually go and take action, and so just by willingness to give it a shot, I think you’re already positioning yourself to have good things happen. Because most people won’t, you know?
Daron: I talk about it, it’s one of Amazon’s, I can’t remember what number they have of one of their core principles, but one is massive action. And I love that phrase. It is, you essentially want to bombard the market with your ask. And there is, look, if people really sit and examine all of their experiences when they put themselves out there, it’s very rare that you go o-for, right? If you do it enough, somebody’s going to say, this Taylorr guy, I don’t know, this is weird, but let’s just give this kid a shot, right? Let’s just give this guy a shot.
Taylorr: Oh, I remember the day.
Daron: Yeah. Yeah. That’s just the way I approach life.
Taylorr: Yeah. Heck, yeah.
Austin: Hey, man, you inspire me. So, fill us in, what does your business look like today?
Daron: Yeah, so first speaking gig, I finished coaching in 13th with the Browns, got kicked to Austin. I get an invitation from a local non-profit, Hey, can you do a leadership talk? I’m like, yeah, sure. I do the talk. At the end, they gave me an envelope and I take it home and it’s a $50 Starbucks gift card. And I give it to my wife. She’s like, oh, this is great. She says, people get paid to speak. I said, what? She’s like, yeah, it’s a whole industry.
So, my approach always when I meet something like this is to go into a cave for two weeks, get as many long-form articles, YouTube videos, podcast episodes, the best books. And I literally went into the speaking industry for two weeks and I came, I remember walking up from the basement and saying, what the hell? I had no clue just how wide this market was. And that was the day I decided, okay, I’m going to make this a business. Started my LLC the next week, DKR Strategies. And I just said, look, sort of like with football, I just want to get as many reps onstage as possible.
So, I call it the animal circuit, right? The Elks and the Lions and every other one, all of those clubs, I’m like, I just want reps. And I got a really good piece of advice early from an older speaker who was at an event. He said, look, man, get as much content, get as many photos and videos as you possibly can. And I did that, and it got to a point to where I had a full-time job as a professor at UT, the University of Texas. I was running a center for sports leadership. And I told my wife in 2019, I think one thing that I find from speakers is that we’re not very vigilant when it comes to our own metrics.
So, for me, I have an Excel sheet with tabs for every year, and I have 37 different columns for each engagement, right? Industry title, day of the week, quarter, price point, beginning price, negotiated price. I really want to know everything I can so that each quarter I do a quarter-by-quarter analysis of, sort of, where I am. I told my wife, I said, look, if I can meet or beat my salary in two consecutive years, then I’m leaving. I’m doing this full-time. She’s like, great. 2020 hits. And when March hits, I said, okay, this is it. Let’s just write this year off. But as you guys know, the inverse happened in which now I’m doing three to four digital keynotes. There’s no check baggage and there are no Ubers. And I said, wow. So, I left my full-time job in 2022 and I’ve been all in this industry for a decade now. So, that’s, sort of, my arc. Yeah.
Taylorr: Wow. Massive action.
Austin: So mind-blowing. What a crazy story, man.
Taylorr: Yeah. Holy crap.
Austin: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Taylorr: For sure.
Austin: Oh, okay. So, how much of your business is composed of speaking specifically versus other revenue streams? Do you have courses?? Do you do consulting? Is there coaching? I’m just trying to get a sense of what the makeup is of this seven-figure business.
Daron: Yeah, no. So, first thing I want to say, I want to give you guys a shout out. I love your annual industry report. I think that it’s the most in-depth, sort of, analysis of where people are in the industry and kind of what that pie looks like. So, for me, 70% of my revenue is purely from talks. And I’m 40 to 50 and I keep lowering that total number of targets of talks per year. But those are going to be to corporate clients or associations. And that’s 70% of the bucket. The other 30%.
It’s interesting, about a couple of years ago, I heard a guy talk about the bundle, right? You’re never pitching talks. I think this is the, if people out there who are listening to this, if you don’t remember anything else that I say. You’re not pitching keynotes, you should be pitching bundles, you should be pitching the keynote, you should be pitching the leadership dinner with select leaders the night before. You should be pitching a six-month drip sequence that you trickle out to their members, kind of validating and reinforcing content that you produce. It should be, we look at the speech as the end of the engagement; for me, it is the wedge to get into the organization.
And so, the rest of that 30% looks like, I’ll tell you this, everyone will say, hey, if you’re coaching, if we’re speaking, you should coach. I don’t like one-on-one coaching, and I found that out after two years of it. And I said, I don’t care what the price point is, I’m not doing one-on-one coaching. I’ll do group coaching. So, the rest of that pie is primarily group coaching with organizations that I’ve spoken to. Because, for me, writing is really my first love. And so, speaking really helps me to buy the minutes that I can use to write. So, that’s that 70-30 split. There’s a small 5% sliver of book sales, but that’s the way the economic pie looks like for me.
Taylorr: Awesome breakdown and great point about the bundles.
Austin: A good makeup. Yeah. And the bundling thing is genius. It’s makes it so much easier too because now you’re not talking about one specific thing, because it’s a bundle, you have so much more leverage in the negotiation and it’s really like it becomes a thing of what do you value it yourself and not a, this is what this person charges for it because you’re not comparing apples to apples anymore.
Taylorr: It’s not a commodity anymore.
Austin: It’s a differentiator.
Daron: Eventually we talk about monetize your message. A fellow speaker, Will Baggett, he does incredible work in this space. And he and I launched Monetize Your Message four months ago. And as we’re working with some of our clients, listen, you take your keynote, and then one exercise we work with them through is, what would it look like for this to be a six-week, five minute per week, video drip of you reinforcing the keynote. And just start there. What does it look like for it to be; maybe it’s purely email-based, right? Maybe it’s a six-week drip via email of content tailored for your client.
And when they’ve been able to present the bundle to the organization, I’ll say, even for me, rarely will the organization take all five pieces of the bundle, but they may take three to five, two to five, that final negotiated number is always higher than the individual keynote would’ve been. And you’ll find that the marginal cost of effort for the other elements of the bundle is not as high as you would think. Right?
Taylorr: Yeah. Well, especially when it’s systemized, you can just rinse and repeat over and over again. Yeah, you might tweak your keynote a bit, you might tweak the six-week thing a little bit. But if you do the video thing, chances are you can, at least as a starting point, make that broad enough to work with any client who buys it on top of it. And then, if you feel like customizing them along the way, that’s fine. But, yeah, once it’s just a rinse and repeat process, it’s cake to deliver. It’s no extra work for the extra value, you know?
Daron: You’re speaking my language, man. Yes.
Taylorr: Hell, yeah.
Austin: Well, it’s funny too because I think a lot of people are already using some of those elements; like going in the day before to meet with the executives for a dinner. A lot of people do that anyway. So, list that as a line item, use that as a leverage point while negotiating, don’t just ignore that and then do it afterward. You can as extra value, never wrong with going extra value, but if you want to increase your fee, point out the things that you already do to make the customer experience amazing.
Daron: To that point, Austin, what I’m finding, especially in a post 2020 climate, because I look at the speaking industry, it is like, B C A D, it’s before 20 and after and I think that’s going to be the dividing line for a long time. Any opportunity to get you in front of key members of their team that they want to keep; there is so much value in the marketplace. Think of this less as an event. This is a retention experience and that’s the way I sell it. I say, look, I know you have six to seven folks who, at any day, you could get the email saying they’re headed to the other company, right?
Let’s just have a jeans and we’ll do it in a very laid back environment, we’ll get some wings, I just want to be able to really support them as leaders. And every time I’ve pitched it, companies have said, yes, we have five folks; I’ll send them the invitation now. So, that’s the sort of, I think that’s the seven-digit speaker mentality, which is I’m not here to share wisdom and jump back on the plane to Austin. I’m here to coach people through a difficult time and I don’t see this ending in the near future. So, I’m here to coach key members through a difficult time and add value beyond the stage.
Taylorr: For sure. It’s the thing; man, we’ve touched on this just briefly as we’ve been talking, but it goes from you being a commodity; a brand on a shelf next to other brands, to being truly standout. You can’t compare this to anything else because it doesn’t exist. It’s not just a keynote fee and they’re benchmarking a keynote 5, 10, 50. It’s like, no, you’re getting a whole experience. And yeah, it’s the way to stand out from the crowd. Yeah, for sure.
Daron: Scott Adams, the Gilbert cartoonist, he talks about the talent stack. And we think about, sort of, our core work, right? As speaking. And we say, okay, well there’s not much that separates me from every other leadership speaker out there. But if you think about all of the parts, I think about a hamburger, right? So, you have the buns, and you have some lettuce and tomatoes and jalapenos, if you’re me; every aspect of your value-add creates this level of uniqueness that then can’t be compared. Right?
So, if I’m adding these elements to the bundle and incorporating my life story, I wake up every day a hundred percent confident that no one can copy paste that. And I think that eliminates a lot of the chase that I see from speakers, and I’ve been in this boat, like 2013, 2014, 2015.,I was trying to copy paste everything that I saw and I said, wait, let me really go back to my narrative, incorporate myself into the content such that forever it’s going to be a unique value proposition.
Austin: Something that’s tangentially connected to that too is that really, when we’re talking about a bundle, I think it’s easier to point out that we’re not even selling a thing; we’re selling a solution to a problem, right? Because we build the bundle around the things necessary to help the person solve the problem, and that’s ultimately why somebody’s hiring you as a speaker. It’s not because; well, maybe it’s because you’re the best person they’ve ever seen onstage, but for the vast majority of the market, it’s because you’re an expert in something and you can solve a problem for somebody, and somebody needs that problem solved and they’ll pay for it.
And if you have a bundle, now we’re addressing all of the various ways that we can help them attack the problem. And that gives them confidence in it being a solution, which makes it easier for you to make the sale. It goes even beyond increasing fees.
Taylorr: The repeat business.
Austin: Yeah. It’s such a good strategy.
Daron: I was eavesdropping on, one of the things that we do is, Will and I, my co-founder, we will sit in on negotiations between speakers and event planners. And I see this time and time again in which on the discovery call, the speaker immediately wants to ask questions like, how many people in the audience, how long is the talk? Who’s going to be speaking?
Daron: And I said, look, in the first five minutes, if you’re not asking about pain points or problems, you’re not doing your job. There should be many more questions around what are the pain points of their organization? And you’re taking copious notes around those pain points and in the back of your mind drawing connections between your content and those pain points. And I think that it’s easy to, sort of, have this copy paste method, but every experience that I’ve had as a speaker, it really should be a separate speaker. A separate experience, right? And you’ll see some recurring things pop up, themes pop up, but the event planner should feel like they’re getting a curated experience from working with you. That’s what it should feel like.
Taylorr: Yeah. And it all starts with that first conversation.
Austin: Yeah. I love consultative sales.
Taylorr: Consultative sales, that’s right.
Taylorr: Yeah. Coming in as an expert. And there’s no better way to build trust. Because, again, at the end of the day, you’re not pitching a thing, you’re pitching a solution to the problems. And when you can relate back, you draw connections to how your content fits into the world, that builds an incredible amount of relatability with them. And then they’re going to quickly realize, wow, I’ve never had a conversation with any of the people that we’ve lined up for this talk like this one, so why wouldn’t I go with Daron to solve my problem?
Because no one is thinking this way as it relates to the entire experience. And the experience doesn’t start after they buy, it starts before they buy, you know? And you’re consultative in that nature before they’re obviously willing to put money on the table because now you’ve solved all of their problems.
Daron: And really, and I may be jumping the gun here, but really if you’re looking at this the right way, I see this as a marriage. I see this as; I just did my 440th keynote.
Daron: And I know that when I sign the contract, I’m sending annual thank you gifts to event planners from 2015 December. My virtual assistant knows. There is this period right after Thanksgiving where we are taking a large mailing list and we’re sending physical thank you gifts to everyone who has hired me during the course of my career, right? And so, I know when I sign the line, they may not understand it then, but I’m wedded to them, and what happens is that people obviously will move. So, I’m sending tokens of gratitude to folks who’ve been in three more organizations since, but now they want to bring me into the current company from this six-year relationship.
And then look, Paul Graham, the Y Combinator founder, has a great article that I always recommend speakers to read, which is, it’s online, his blog; do things that don’t scale. So, he talks about, for startups, early on, you need to be in the freaking weeds, you need to be living the pain points on a day-to-day basis. Because once you’re able to then zoom out, you have such a good macro-level view of how the systems fit, but you have to stay in the weeds for a pretty good chunk of time to get it before you can build the systems. And speakers’ kind of want to copy paste and then move on to the next scale. No, you need to get in here and figure out where the pain points are in your model, then you can create the solution, buy the solution, partner with folks on a team in order to alleviate those problems and then scale up.