There are four reasons I might turn down a speech. And only one is truly problematic.
So here goes.
Money. Write for people who have money. Seems obvious I know. But Ph.D Candidates rarely have any so you don’t want to be helping out on their oral dissertations. Wedding/reception speeches often fall under the same category. The give-away is when the prospective client says “you want how much for a five minute speech?” Not that you can’t get well paid for a wedding speech – just pick a client with more money than you.
The biggest red flag of all is when the prospect starts with “we don’t have much money for this project.” When they say that, believe them – they don’t. There are negotiations that you can still enter into – like working on a project cost rather than a per diem or hourly rate. That might make the money issue less of an issue. But generally speaking if they want to skimp on their speech costs – it says something about how much importance they place on this form of communication.
The good news is that money is rarely an issue for clients who travel the senior corridors of private and public power. Why not go after them? Someone has to write their speeches and it might as well be you. For these clients it is time you are saving and they are willing to pay substantially for that precious commodity. Think of what your hourly rate is – and what they get for the same time expended…well you get the idea.
Speaking of time, the next deal breaker involves exactly that – only it is your time we are talking about. One of the banes of a freelancer’s life is that we are so often faced with a feast or famine syndrome and we never want to turn down a first time client. So, if you have to move heaven and earth to take on the new assignment do so – as long as you won’t be short changing anyone, including yourself. It is folly to jeopardize your relationships with a long term client for the thrill of taking on what will be a short term new client. So although it is true you often don’t get a second chance to turn down a first time client, if you explain why you can’t take them on this time – they will appreciate your professionalism and perhaps come back at a future date.
The third factor concerns expertise. As a freelance speechwriter you will have to come up to speed very quickly on all sorts of topics. And in this you are much like the print journalist who also has to be a jack of all trades with really good research skills and the ability to write to tight deadlines. So I am never concerned about a lack of knowledge of a particular topic. Usually the client provides some background material. Add your own research via interview and the Internet and it is not difficult to get the basics covered.
That said I am much more concerned about my knowledge of the corporate culture of a new client, a culture where I need to know their specialized knowledge and vocabulary. I very rarely turn down work and when I do it’s usually because of the culture issue, particularly where I am asked to write a speech for a very specialized internal audience. Where you have an expert speaking to experts. Not only do you have to come up with the right research you have to know the right questions to ask. But you don’t know what you don’t know and when the language of the specialty is so unique to that particular culture it can be a very tricky proposition.
The last deal breaker is the most critical of all. It is the matter of messaging. I harp on this again and again because it is so important. If you take on a job where the client and you have not signed off on the messaging it will inevitably end in tears. You can walk them through the messages, or you can even make them up for them – but do not agree to provide them with a speech until everyone is on the same page. If you just let this slide you will give them the speech they don’t want.
And lest you think that this happens only with new clients, be very careful. Some of your tried and trusted clients could put you in the same boat. This is one area to put your foot down. They will thank you for it – eventually.
So there you have it. Money, messaging, cultural expertise, and time. Pay attention to these four potential deal breakers and you are ready to take on just about any job under the sun.