PP 218: The World of a Speaker with Thom Singer
Quick Show Notes – The World of a Speaker with Thom Singer
After finding himself in a sales executive position, Thom Singer realized he wanted to do something bigger. Listen as Thom shares the story of how he became a sought-after speaker, author and eventually podcaster.
Thom and I discuss the lean, struggle days of our businesses, how the life of a speaker isn’t as glamorous as one may think, how saying “No” isn’t always the best decision, and much much more!@thomsinger and @thekimsutton discuss the lean, struggle days of our businesses, how the life of a speaker isn't as glamorous as one may think, how saying 'No' isn't always the best decision, and more: https://thekimsutton.com/pp218Click To Tweet
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Episode Transcription – The World of a Speaker with Thom Singer
KIM: Welcome back to another episode of Positive Productivity. I’m so happy that you are here to join us today and I’m thrilled to introduce you to our guest, Thom singer.
THOM SINGER: Hello.
KIM: Thom I had to — sorry, that wasn’t meant to go there Thom. We started talking about pushing the record.
THOM SINGER: Yeah
KIM: And then I worried that I hadn’t pushed the record button.
THOM SINGER: Alright, we can start over. It’s all good.
KIM: Well, actually no. Awesome editing team, you can leave that in because, hey, I forget things all the time, and I forget what I’ve just said I’ve done, like, two seconds earlier. Such is life. Thom is the owner of New Year publishing and is a speaker and emcee. Thom, there’s so much more to your story than this including how you got on this path. Would you mind sharing more? And again welcome, thank you so much for being here.
THOM SINGER: Oh, thank you for having me. And you have a great show. My path has been one that has been extremely eclectic. I started off, in sort of, a sales career. I was a fully commissioned, 100% commission salesperson. Worked my way up into sort of an executive marketing position. And all the time, I always thought something wasn’t right. I was very successful but I just didn’t feel I was doing the right thing. I always, sort of, second guess what my bosses were doing. I always felt I should be working for myself but I never knew what that looked like. And back in the, I don’t know somewhere around, you know, a little after the early 2000s, if you will, I started getting fascinated with people who spoke for a living. And that was one of those things that I would go to as a sales and marketing guy, go to a lot of conferences. And I would see these people on stage. And sometimes it was celebrities but often times it was just really talented, motivational people who were sharing their experiences. And I would watch them and think that’s a better job than I have. I want to do what they’re doing. So, I started studying the actual business side of what it was to be be a professional speaker. And I clamored that I wanted to figure out how to do it. I would speak for free at local Rotary Clubs and other business organizations.
And, what happened was, I was on a ski trip with a couple of college buddies. And I was complaining about, sort of, how I want to do this I can’t figure this out. And one of my friends pulled the car over into one of those rest stops and he looked at me and said: “I’m tired of the complaining. Do it.” And I said: “Well you’d have to write a book. You have to do this.” He goes: “What do you need to write a book?” And I said: “Well.”And this was before self-publishing was both easy and well accepted. And I had tried to get a publisher and nothing, it sort of happened. And I said: “Well, I would need some money to be able to produce the book in a high quality level. And I would need an editor because I am the king of typos and grammar screw ups and things like that.” And he looked at me and he said: “How much money would you need?” And I threw out a number. And this friend had been very successful and he said: “I don’t mean to take this the wrong way but that’s not a big number.” But for me it was a big number. And then the other thing was his wife was a business communications consultant and editor. And he said: “I’ll give you the money. And my wife will edit the book. Now you don’t have that to complain about, what are you going to do?” And the next day he and his wife started and I started New Year publishing. And about eight months later, I released my first book. And then I started speaking more and all of a sudden it took a while but one thing led to another. And in 2009, I was laid off during the recession. But I had already written several books. I was already speaking. And I decided after the layoff, that’s it I’m done with corporate America. I am gonna go create my own path in the world and just be a speaker, and eventually a master of ceremonies, and a facilitator. And I haven’t looked back. It’s been eight and a half years.
KIM: And Tom, I was laid off from my job at the end of 20007 same recession, you know, corporate job. But I had been hoping to be laid off, for some time. I had — I was going through my first bout of entrepreneurship and I’m gonna call it about because it was not at all what I should have been doing. But I really wanted to be doing in full time. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be in that corporate job. Were you already hoping that you would be able to leave the corporate job, the sales job one?
THOM SINGER: So, I wouldn’t say that I was hoping to be laid off because I’d actually been laid off several times throughout my career. And by the way I was never fired. I was always doing an okay job, if not a fine job but I worked for a lot of companies. And I’m in Austin, Texas and it’s been tied to the technology economy. And so, the ups and downs of the tech world would bring these companies that I was with, you know, they would come into the Austin market and they would pull out. Oftentimes companies that service the technology companies and I would do the sales. And we would be successful but the company itself would either go out of business or they would pull out of Texas. And so, I found myself out of work several times. So, I was never looking for that to happen. However, I was trying to save up enough money so I could go off and try my hand in this speaking role. And I had a number in my head that I had to have a $100,000 in the bank. And then I was going to take the leap. And when I got laid off, I had about $30,000 dollars in the bank and I wasn’t ready yet. But there were no jobs in April of 2009. So I just had to leap with a little bit of money I had. And I’ll be honest, I ran through that money and I ran through about another 60 or 70,000 more on credit cards and loans from my dad and things like that. That wasn’t easy to stomach before the business turned around and got going. But — So, I wasn’t looking forward to it but I wasn’t opposed to it once that happened.
KIM: How long would you say it took before it did turn around and start being income generating?
THOM SINGER: So, I mean, I started generating some income cause I was already speaking on the side. I already had written some books and I had a blog. It wasn’t like I went, you know, from a corporate salary to zero. I actually was making a little bit of money on the side already, but nowhere near what I made enough to support my family. It took about three years where I — My comment is I hemorrhaged to cash for three years. I ran backwards every year. And then I sort of leveled out and for about another three years. And then the past three years has been when I started making money. And was able to pay off the debt that I acquired. So, it really took three years to get going and another three years to pay off the debt.
KIM: I hear that. I officially started this business in 2012. And I would like to say it was 2012 that showed this measly income to the business but I’m pretty sure it was my whole 2013 profit was $5,000. And I was the primary breadwinner of the family.
THOM SINGER: Yeah, I’m the primary breadwinner. My wife works part time but we have two children. At the time they were school age. Ones now in college and other in high school but, you know, they’re expensive. And the life — We did not do a big lifestyle hit. Had we tightened our belt. We might have been able to do it somewhat debt free but we continued to let the kids participate in activities and we continued to take a vacation. And we decided that we weren’t going to punish the kids for me taking a stab at this entrepreneurship. And I don’t know that that was the smartest decision but it’s the decision that we made. And when you talk to a lot of entrepreneurs, they leave out sort of those lean struggle days of their story. Or if you look at them from afar, you just see what they’re doing now. Very few people come forward and say: “I hemorrhaged cash for three years, ran even for three and took another three to pay it all off.” That’s a long run to go eight years before you can really say you’re up and running but I think that that’s part of what it takes.
KIM: Oh, it absolutely is. And I’m not, I I won’t hesitate a second to say I hemorrhaged money. When we met, I don’t know if you were in the room at that time, but I share the story about how our water had been shut off and, we had, on that day it snowed. So, my husband told boys they had to bring snow in so I could use toilet and they could go pee outside but it was just something because we don’t have credit cards. Well we have one that has a $300 limit and there’s only so much damage or good, depending on how you want to look at it, that you can do with a $300 limit on a credit card. So, really if it — when things got rough, that’s just what happened.
And you’re right though, a lot of people don’t share the struggle. And unfortunately for a lot of entrepreneurs and regardless of whether they’re speakers, or authors, or service providers, or any of the above, or even e-commerce, a lot of them don’t share the struggles. And then it leaves their audience and their fanbase to think: “Oh, they’re an overnight success story”. But in all actuality that overnight success story took eight years, ten years, five years, however long it took to get to where they are now. If they’re even still sharing it.
THOM SINGER: There’s a lot of people out there and I call them the Guru class. And they want to position themselves as if magic fairy dust blew out of their butt. But the reality is, to start a business, and there’s exceptions, there are people who start and skyrocket right away. But I’ve interviewed, for my podcast, over 300 entrepreneurs, and whether it’s on the show or whether when we’re just chatting afterwards, everybody always tells me that it’s a lot harder. The advice they always share is it’s a lot harder than anybody told them it was going to be, to start a business. So, I try to be really straightforward about it. In my path, there have been a lot of potholes.
KIM: Oh my goodness. Yeah and I think it’s funny that entrepreneurs leave, a lot of us leave, our 40 hour week day jobs to end up working 80 to 120 hours a week for ourselves. It’s not all about fancy lunches, manicures and pedicures, and golf matches –
THOM SINGER: But I will say –
KIM: – but it can turn into that.
THOM SINGER: if you ask my kids though and I mean I did work 24/7 for all practical purposes.
I interviewed my daughter, one time, on a on a small cast that I was doing. I was hosting a broadcast for the at home audience at a live conference. So, a lot of people now, a lot of conferences will livestream their conferences. And instead of just showing the things on stage, I do a program where myself and another speaker, we host during the coffee breaks. We host like a talk show for the at home audience and one of the guests didn’t show up. And my daughter happened to be at that same conference with me. And it was a conference for the National Speakers Association. So, I grabbed my daughter, put her in the chair and I interviewed her. She was 18, about what is it like to be the child of a professional speaker? She looked right at me and goes: “Well you were gone a lot”. And I thought: “Oh my God, here we go she’s throwing me under the bus”. And then she finished her sentence, she said: “But when you were home, you were home. We were able to have breakfast together. You drove me to school. You could take me if I, you know, come see my dance recitals and things like that.” She said: “You were actually around more than my friends whose parents worked regular jobs because while you would be gone three and four days at a time, the five and six days that you were home in a row, you were right there and you were always available.” And so, you know, while I did work all the time. There are tradeoffs and flexibility that come with that. That I think are awesome. And I do, every single Friday if I’m in town, my college sophomore and I go to Starbucks together before school. And we talk about what’s going on in her life because I travel about 150 days a year. And yet, on Fridays or whatever day of the week I’m home, we sit down one on one and just have a little daddy-daughter time. And she and I both appreciate that. It sort of makes up for the fact that I am gone a lot.
KIM: With you traveling so much and I know you just mentioned, I love that you do the Starbucks before school. How do you make sure that relationships aren’t crumbling while you’re away? I mean, no – I mean
THOM SINGER: I don’t know, maybe they are
KIM: – maybe a little bit specifically. I’m looking to travel a lot more, in this next year. This is not meant to be a pick Thom Singer’s brain show but I’m sure a lot of other listeners are wondering too. My husband and I have a really strong marriage. And he is my rock in my business. And I am concerned, you know, when I’m not here as much as I am. And Thom, I’m amazed and you are inspiring. That you were traveling a 150 days a year. I mean, it’s inspiring to know, that you are able to do it and and keep it all together.
THOM SINGER: Well like like I said, I assume I’m keeping it together. I think one of the advantages is is I’m an extrovert. My wife is an introvert. So, I think having a couple of days a week where I’m not there, isn’t necessarily a horrible thing, that it’s quiet around the house. She has some downtime to recharge her batteries but it wasn’t always that way. Early on, when the kids were little and they needed a lot more attention, I didn’t travel this much. But even in a job, if I would have to go to a conference or something, it was stressful. Now — and my older daughter needed a lot more of my attention. She – it wasn’t a bad thing. She just liked a lot more of dad’s attention. The younger daughter, tends to be a little bit more independent. So if I’m around too much, she’s like, leave me alone. So, we just sort of worked it out. But the older daughter left for college two years ago and what we’ve realized, is the three of us have just gotten into a pattern. And my older daughter and I used to talk a lot, on either on the phone, or by FaceTime. My younger daughter doesn’t like to talk on the phone or do FaceTime. So, I have to text her and I have to push her that you have to answer me when I’m on the road. If I text you about how your day was. And so we do that but what she and I have done, is we’ve carved out this Friday morning time. And she opens up and talks her head off on Friday morning. And that’s sort of our special time. And if I’m going to be away on a Friday, we schedule it on Tuesday, or whatever day that week I’m home. And I think ,in two years now, of freshmen and sophomore year of high school, a year and a half, we’ve only missed two or three days where we haven’t done it at least once during the week. With my wife, part of it is, is that she just has to be bought in. That this is the life that we have and we’re now getting close about two years away from where she can start traveling with me more often. So, you know, I speak at conferences and I’m put up in really nice hotels that used to create a lot of problems because you know she would be like: “Oh, it must be nice to be at the Hotel del Coronado”. Or: “It must be nice to be at the W in New York.” Well, I might as well be in the Holiday Inn, in some small town in Ohio. It really doesn’t matter ,if I’m at the conference because I’m inside the hotel. And to be honest with you, all these hotel ballrooms start to look the same. So, she had to realize that I’m not on a vacation every time I fly away. Once she came to realize that: “Oh, that’s his job. He’s at work and he’s in a, you know, hotel and that’s what he does.” Because I’m an extrovert, I like being at the conferences. I like meeting new people. She would hate that. So, she realizes that it is my job. So, the other person has to be fully bought in, in order to make it work. If she was thinking: “Oh he’s just off partying a 150 days a year.” That would destroy everything. But she understands that this is the chosen thing I’ve done to earn my living and I’ve been able to do it. It took a long time but, you know, I now earn at what I’d make in a corporate marketing position again, if not a little more. And we have a ton of flexibility. But she has to be bought into it or it would destroy everything. If the kids or my wife, you know, were resentful that I was gone, nothing that I do would make up for it.
KIM: I love that you brought up how you can be in those fabulous hotels. And you may see the actual hotel room, for what, half an hour when you get up, maybe 15 minutes before you crash, before you fall asleep at the end of the day.
THOM: Yeah and I never see this city. I rarely see the cities that I’m in. Now, sometimes because if I’m speaking or I’m the master of ceremonies, there might be times in the calendar, on the agenda, where I’m not needed. And oh, you still hear me?
KIM: I can still hear you, yep.
THOM SINGER: Okay, something has gone awry on my end but as long as you can hear me I can hear you. So, let me see if I can figure out where I was. All right, well I’ve lost sound in one ear –
KIM: Positive Productivity, I’m not about perfection.
THOM SINGER: It’s not about perfection. But a lot of times when I — In the cities, I’ll have like a free hour or two and I’ll go out. I’ll take some pictures and maybe I’ll post them on Facebook. And for a long time, my wife and a lot of my friends, were like: “Oh, must be nice.” But it’s not like I have a whole day in St. Louis. I just walk outside the hotel, took a picture of the arch, and then I posted a picture of it. You know, from the outside-in, my life looks really glamorous but really it’s not quite that way.
KIM: And the same can be said, I’m sure, for me like a famous rock stars and actors and all the celebrities. They look like they have the glamorous life from the outside but they’re traveling and they’re constantly busy. And it wasn’t until I started doing a lot more myself that I realized, wow –
THOM SINGER: Yeah, I mean
KIM: – there’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes that we don’t have a clue about.
THOM SINGER: Yeah and you get stuck in an airport for nine hours. I mean, that is not at all sexy. I mean, it’s just the way life is. You’re just sitting in the airport, waiting for your flight. And, you know, you’re there for nine hours. And that happens several times a year. And it’s like people say: “Oh, so glamorous.” Yeah, I had peanuts, you know, to eat today while I was on the tarmac for five hours.
KIM: Thom also hosts a podcast. How did your podcast come to be?
THOM SINGER: So, I used to write a thing on my blog called Cool Things My Friends Do. I got really tired after years and years of blogging about just writing about myself and things that interested me. So, what I started doing was just highlighting things that cool people, I knew, were doing. And it was just called Cool Things My Friends Do. And I went to a conference and somebody said: “If you ever feel like you’re in a rut, go interview 50 really successful people”. And I was thinking, “Oh I’ll interview them for my blog. I’ll just do an interview series, kind of like, what I do with Cool Things My Friends Do. But I’ll just do it with entrepreneurs and successful people. And about that time, this was three and a half years ago, podcast were really sort of popping. And I thought, well maybe I’ll just do a podcast or I’ll do 50 episodes. And now, 315 episodes or more later, the podcast is still going strong.
So, that’s how it came about. I don’t write so much on my blog anymore cause I do two interviews a week for the podcast and that takes up most of that bandwidth, that I used to have for writing.
KIM: Are you traveling with your podcasting equipment?
THOM SINGER: No, I usually do most of my podcasting from home. So I schedule around my travels. And then if I’m a little bit behind, I do have a microphone that plugs onto my iPhone. Occasionally when I’m on the road, if I have to punch out an episode, I will just record one on my phone, of just me. It’s not an interview one. I’ll just do whatever topic is top of mind that I think is good for my audience. So occasionally, I do some of those from a hotel room but most of the interviews are done via Skype or Zoom. Although sometimes, I use that little microphone and do some imperson ones but normally it’s done from home.
KIM: Thom with how busy you are, did you already have a good system before you got started for knowing what you would say yes to and what you would say no to, or how did you –
THOM SINGER: You think, I’m productive — I have a productivity system. That so cute –
KIM: -or even, you know, with all your speaking engagements over the years or over the year – over the years, how do you know what you’re going to say yes to and what you’re going to say no to? Besides scheduling conflicts.
THOM SINGER: Yeah. Boy, I wish I knew. The real answer is that I suck at sort of attention management and time management. And I just pile a lot of things on but I’ve made it work for myself. Now, a couple of years back, I started saying no to a lot more stuff because I went to some seminar and some guru told me: “Oh you have to say no cause you need to free up your time.” And I started saying no to the little things or some of those free speeches that I thought: “Oh well, I now am an established speaker. I don’t do free”. You know, so I started saying no to a lot of things.
And last year, about a year and a half ago, my business was somewhat flat. I was really nervous that maybe I’d played out the life of who I was in this industry and my wife said something very poignant. She said: “What did you do when you were growing the business. Those first three years where you had very little business to where you got it up to a regular income.” And then, you know: “Even sort of the next three years where you continued to grow it a little bit. What were you doing during the growth times that you haven’t done the last two or three years that you’ve been flat.” And I said: “I said yes to everything.” And she goes: “What do you mean?” And I said: “I was so hungry. I wanted the experience as a speaker.” Because I knew, I read a thing in Speaker magazine which, by the way, is proof there is a magazine for everybody. I read a thing about 10 years ago, in Speaker magazine that said: “You’re never going to be great until you’ve been invited to do 300 speeches.” That wasn’t, you put yourself on a stage. That wasn’t, you speak in your sales meeting work. That was the people invite you to be the featured guest, at least, 300 times. And after you’ve done 300 professional level speeches where you’ve been invited into someone else’s conference. You’ll start, kind of like the 10000 hour theory, you’ll start to get good at things.
THOM SINGER: And so, I said yes to everything. I mean, if it was a Rotary Club, they didn’t have a budget but of course I want to speak at your Rotary Club. You know, if it was — even if it was in Dallas or Houston, if they’d pay my expenses, of course, I’d say yes. And my wife said: “Interesting, where does all your business come from?” And 100% of it, for the most part, comes from word of mouth. Somebody sees me speak or someone they know, has seen me and they said: “Wow.” And my joke is, they say: “He sucks less than most speakers that we’ve had in the past.” And they put me on the short list of people they interview. And I have a sales background, if people really sit down and talk to me and consider me. I close well over half of them. And she said: “So you get on the shortlist because people see you speak. And you’re saying no when you have empty holes in your calendar.” So my wife told me to start saying yes to everything: “Don’t worry about money anymore. You got too focused on money and you got flat.”
And so, about a little over a year ago, I started saying yes to everything, as long as it worked with my calendar. And I’m not going to travel to New York for free. And you can’t book me today, for April, for less than full fee because that’s a busy month. You know, but if it’s August or December and you’re a month out. Yeah, what do you go? You know, and I want it to be fair, it can’t be you’re paying somebody else, you’re not paying me. I have some parameters to make sure I’m not being taken advantage of, but I started saying yes. And I started getting on more stages. This year I’ll do over 80 presentations, in total. And at the same time my income is up by 50%. So there’s some correlation. All these people say: “Oh, you need to protect your time. Start saying no.” And I did that and my business flooded out. All of a sudden I started saying yes and it’s hard work. But all of a sudden my business is on fire.
THOM SINGER: So, you know, to answer your question, I think we spend too much time worrying about who we can say no to. And what I learned in the last year and a half is, how can I find a way to say yes? Because if I say yes and we can have a win-win situation, that might spin off business. If I stay at home, no business gets spun off.
KIM: You just blew my mind, in multiple ways and I’m gonna share a little backstory. I don’t spend much time on Facebook at all. If listeners, if you message me on Facebook, you may not get a response for several days, if not a week. In less that I was looking through somebody’s feed and the person said: “I have a new package that I’m offering. It’s 2500 and you will be invoiced after you asked me if you could pick my brain.” It’s sort of got underneath my skin a little bit because I — for two reasons. One I understand how a lot of these pick — can I pick your brain for a moment. Questions like those can really add up but at the same time I have built up amazing relationships with people. Who I have gotten on a short phone call with, for the pick my brain session. Actually I don’t call it the pick my brain. I call it a virtual coffee. So, I love that you brought that up. You’re making me re-evaluate. While there are things that I need to say no to. Maybe there should be a little bit more leeway for the SS.
THOM SINGER: Well and here’s the thing with the pick the brain thing.If you go back and read my blog, several years ago, I got all caught up in the whole idea of: “Don’t, oh, say to pick my brain. I’m a consultant. I charge people for my time.” And then I realized how many calls am I really getting? And this was even years ago before the say yes to things. I’ve always said yes to people who want to learn about being a speaker or whatever. Now, if they want to meet me in person, they’ve got to do it at 7:30 in the morning at the Starbucks by my house. And I’ve had people go, that’s too far away. Well that’s too bad. That’s when I’m available. I mean, I’m not bending my schedule. I’m not driving across town. You know, you pay me if you want me drive across town but I’ll always make time on the phone. It might be early. It might be later in the day. Today, I’m talking to somebody, you know, and the time that worked out for me was after 7:00 at night. And they were like, great.
But the reality is, is that so many people get caught up in finding ways to say no. That I think they’re short changing themselves. And I think, especially for people, it’s one thing if you’re famous or your phone is ringing off the hook. But I talked to a lot of people who have no business. They’re not making money. They’re not making a $100,000 a year, much less a million and they go: “Oh, I have to protect my time from these people who want to pick my brain. I have my IP.” Well, you’re not successful yet. So, if someone wants to pick your brain let them pick your brain. You know, I may change if I became famous tomorrow and that’s not part of my business plan. I might have to change this, if my phone was ringing ten times a day. But I talk to people all time who I know, aren’t doing what I’m doing. And they’re like: “Oh, I get so many calls.” And I’m like: “How many a week?” Now like: “One or two.” Like, you don’t have time for one or two calls a week. You know, I think people are flattering themselves in false ways. So, this is something I become very passionate about. That I’ll help anybody as long as they’re not a jerk.
KIM: Yeah. Amen to that. Today, I’ve been blown away. My calendar has six to eight calls in it. I am not an extrovert Thom. I am very introverted. So six to eight calls, leaves me exhausted at the end of the day. But if I know that there’s value out of any of those and now, especially with the podcast. If I know that there’s value to be shared with the listener’s then I love doing it. What would be your number one resource, for somebody who was looking to start their speaking. Yet — Clearly I could use this help too. Their speech, speaching, I’ve tried three. I’m available for hire as a speaker. What would be your number one piece of advice for somebody who is looking to start their speaking career from scratch, today?
THOM SINGER: So, I was given this advice. I don’t know, more than 10 years ago, and that was get involved with the National Speakers Association. Now, they have rules around who can join. Meaning that you have to have done so many speeches and you have to earn so much money. It’s just sort of a benchmark to make sure that you’re legit in the business but you can attend their events as a non-member.
And I talk to people all the time and they’re like: “Oh, it’s too expensive.” Like, people asked me: “What should I do? I want to become a speaker.” And I said: “Join the National Speakers Association or at least get yourself for the next two or three years to their national summer conference.” And then, I’ll see these people three years later, and they’re doing nothing with their speaking business. Now: “Oh, it’s hard. It didn’t work out.” And I’m like: “Did you ever go to two or three National Speakers Association national events?” And they were like: “No, it was too much money.” Or: “I didn’t have the time.” Or: “Someone else told me that there’s a bunch of wanna be beginners that there are in essay.” And I’m like: “Well, what the hell are you?” You know, what do you mean there’s too many beginners? Meet other people who are beginning and grow up together in the industry.
THOM SINGER: I never would have been successful in this business. And I’m not making a million dollars a year but I’m making a legit income. That I, you know, I don’t need to tell it or brag it but I’m making money that people make in a corporate setting. You know, if they have a good corporate job and maybe a little more than that. And I never would have gotten here, if I hadn’t joined and gotten extravagantly active in the National Speakers Association. And I go nuts about this because if you’re a plumber, you would damn well better be a member of the National Plumbers Association. If you’re a locksmith, get to the National Locksmiths Association. And people go: “Oh, I don’t really like my trade association.”
Well, if you don’t have friends in the business who are successfully doing what you want to do. I don’t know how you do it because from the outside looking in, the speaking business looks like something. Like, if you’re not a speaker and you want to be. And you look at all these people on stage, you fill in a lot of the blanks in your head of how they’re making money. And you make a lot of assumptions. And there’s really like 10 or 15 different speaking businesses and none of them are better or worse but the business models are all different. And if you think they’re all the same, and you start churning your business out to look like Bobby’s business. Well, Bobby’s business may not work for the type of topic that you have, or the type of audiences you want to get in front of. So you need speaker friends and I don’t know any other place that you’re going to find them than the National Speakers Association. And the next piece of advice is, don’t go try to buddy up to the people who are making a half million, or a million dollars a year, or who are famous because they don’t need you as a friend. Go find the people who are just like you but who are ambitious and grow up together in the business. And eight years later, you’ll look back and say: “Whoa.”
THOM SINGER: So, I am an extrovert and I’ve been blessed. I’ve had some very cool people in my life, forever. I just spent Thanksgiving weekend with my best friend from kindergarten. His wife and daughter — My wife and my youngest daughter and I, stayed at their house for two nights and spent three days in Los Angeles just playing around. And he and I, have been friends since we were five years old and we were roommates in college. So I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had a lot of friends in my life who have been friends forever. I mean, I call them forever friends. And I have a whole thing I speak about, do you have forever friends and why it’s important?
But if you were to say Thom, who are the 10 best friends you have right now, in your life. Five of them would be people I know from the National Speakers Association and I’ve only been a member for eight years. So, that means that five people who have been great friends have been somehow, you know, I don’t keep score, but somehow they’ve been demoted because five of the closest friends, I’ve ever had, are people I’ve met in the last 40 years through the National Speakers Association. And what we do is, sort of, form these little mastermind groups and these friendships. And there’s people you can call and you can say: “Hey, I got this type of a client.” If you’re making it up in your head, you’re either leaving money on the table or you’re never going to understand how the business works.
THOM SINGER: So I get asked that question a lot. I get very passionate about it. If someone’s listening to this and they think, “I’d like to be a speaker.” Realize it’s going to take you three to five years before it’s going to be established. It can take a lot of work. And if you don’t join the National Speakers Association, and if you’re not famous, famous people have an entirely different business model, if you’re not famous, I don’t know how you’re going to do it. Now there’s exception, there’s people who are working a lot whose never set foot in it or set foot in it and hated it. And that’s great. But I don’t know. You’re asking for my advice, I don’t know any other way to do it. Than to get around people who are living the life you want to live. And in this case, the only place you’re gonna find a lot of them is the National Speakers Association.
KIM: I have to say, I actually joined myself in September, at the end of September, early October and actually joined, I think, they call it the academy.
THOM SINGER: What city are you in?
KIM: I haven’t — Outside of Dayton, Ohio.
THOM SINGER: Okey at Ohio they’ve got some great, they’ve got a good chapter in that area. And there’s some good people. You know, it’s kind of where you live if you’re going to be able to have some local stuff because not every chapter is going to be great. But, you know, the academy, both on the local level and the national level, can be fabulous because people are gonna show you just some of those short cuts. They’re gonna peel back that onion and show you the core, just a little bit.
KIM: Oh absolutely. I mean, I’m within a couple hours of Cincinnati and Columbus. So that’s great. I may within a couple of hours of Indianapolis, even better. And I’m only five hours from Chicago. And when it comes to that, that’s close enough if it advances me. But the academy — I will double check the name of that listeners, but there will be a link at the show notes if you’re interested at thekimsutton.com/pp218. The academy is for the people who haven’t had all the speaking experience like Thom or any of the, you know, that level speaker. It’s for the nubes. I’m just going to put it that way, it’s for the nubes.
THOM SINGER: And I didn’t go through the academy, I could’ve. I probably should’ve but it wasn’t my path. I just sort of jumped into the deep end and started, you know, started doing what I was doing. But the people I know who have done the academy: a. They’ve learned a lot. But, that’s how they’ve made those friendships. And not everybody who you get to meet in the academy is going to succeed in the business. But I look back at, you know, five or six or eight people, who over last eight years, we’ve grown up together in the business. And now, you know, we’re all established speakers. That’s the way you’re gonna do it. If you try to do it as a lone ranger, there’s a lot of weird pitfalls that you’re gonna find. So, you know, again there are people who will listen to this who will be like: “Yeah, I want to be a speaker but I’m not going to take his advice.” My answer is, good luck. When you’re really successful, come and tell me that I’m wrong. But in five years if you’re not a working speaker, don’t say I didn’t tell you.
KIM: Right. I like how you also brought up mastermind and I’m going to throw on to their accountability. Maybe already brought that up. So if you did, I apologize. But I’ve realized that I’ve had great masterminds and I’ve also had not so great. There are people who are definitely different timelines as me. And when you — if you are looking for an accountability partner or a mastermind, make sure they’re at the same level at the same pace. Because when you find somebody who’s not working as hard or as fast, and Thom if you disagree please chime in, but I found that I was holding myself back. Because I had such ambitious goals that I was almost slowing down by seeing the progress that they wanted to make from one to the next. Maybe that’s not keeping myself accountable but when I did find people who were trying to be at the same pace as I was, oh my gosh. It was like lighting a fire under my butt to keep on moving. You know, just to keep up.
THOM SINGER: So four years ago, I was invited to join to join a mastermind group by another speaker who was putting together a group at the time it was five people. Four years later, there’s four of us, still still together. And she had been a part of another mastermind group and the problem was every time they would meet. They would talk about what they were going to do and there was one woman in the group who kept saying: “My goal between now and the next meeting”, which was six months away: “was I’m gonna clean off my desk.” And after a year and a half, she’s like, that desk, just throw the whole thing in the fire. You know, come on, what’s the problem?
Whereas, my friend would make a list of 10 things and she would get them all done. And other people in the group are like: “You’re making us feel bad.” She had to quit that group because you can’t be in a group where your success is making other people feel bad. So, she formed a group with people who were not her friends. I mean, she barely knew any of us. She looked for people who scared her a little bit, but who were ambitious, and weren’t necessarily her competition. And I would say, all four of us have totally transformed our businesses in the last four years. And not all the credit, but some of the credit goes to the group.
THOM SINGER: One of the guys went from, you know, a minor six figure income, where most of it was consulting and a little speaking, to over a half million dollars a year. All in speaking fees. And, you know, he used us as a sounding board and an accountability group to be able to to push his business forward. Two other people in the group have totally transformed their topics and their audiences. And are relaunching into a much higher speaking audiences. And levels of what they’re doing. And then, I have really matured my business through the advice these people have given me. And so, getting involved with a group where you can be committed.
And the trick we did, was we had to be, everybody had to be committed for a year. We did a monthly zoom call and then twice a year we rented a house somewhere in the country and we would move into it for two days. And we would just go deep into the business. And I talked to a lot of people, who are like: “I just want to do the phone call one.” Well, putting the time and the money into each other, is how we’ve built the relationship. And my — I have a couple other mastermind groups I participated in, but this main group, those people are like my siblings. I mean, we could stop meeting and they will always be part of my life. Those three other people are as, I’m as close to them as I am to my natural brothers. My kids think of them like extra aunts and uncles. We’ve stayed at each other’s houses. You know, we’ve shared, you know, more personal stuff than you’d share with your average business associate. And if you can find the right group and you can create a real commitment. And where you get excited when the other person excels, not jealous.
THOM SINGER: So many groups are undermined because somebody in the group starts to climb out of the box and the other people want to be like lobster’s and pull them back down. Don’t let them out of the box. Grab him with their claws. When one the guy in our group started to really excel, we stood on the sidelines and cheered, because we knew that he wasn’t leaving us. He was just forging a path that we could follow. And so, you have to get in a group with people where you have, you don’t necessarily have to be on the same level financially, or the same level of the ladder. But you have to be on the same level of the commitment and the purpose of being there. That when any boat rises, the whole tide goes up,
KIM: Thank you for saying that so well. See, that’s why you’re the speaker. I may be an introvert but I don’t get speechless very often but you just left me there. So, yeah, I’m selling myself as a speaker right now, aren’t I Thom?
THOM SINGER: Well, let me tell you, a speaker’s — half of the speakers out there are introverts. Don’t kid yourself that, you know, people who can be wizards on the stage. Oftentimes, one on one, or in other situations, you know, can be socially awkward or just more of an introvert or just quiet. So, I always laugh when people go: “Well it’s easy for you to be a speaker because you’re an extrovert.” No, there’s, I don’t think that has anything to do with it. It has to — It has a much different thing with just how do you use the stage as a way to share a message.
KIM: Oh absolutely. Thom I have to confess, I was scared of speaking for the longest time because – not because I was afraid of losing my words. Coincidently, considering I just lost my words. However, I was actually scared of tripping onto the stage or falling off my shoes.
THOM SINGER: Well, I’ve done that
KIM: Have you?
THOM SINGER: And I don’t even wear heels and I’ve fallen. Yeah
KIM: However –
THOM SINGER: I haven’t fallen off the stage but I’ve tripped.
KIM: – Well the podcast has been amazing because as I’ve progressed to this journey and gone through bloopers, I mean, I’ve had bloopers in this episode already and sharing the bloopers. It’s just part of life, you know, and I’m not scared about it anymore. Hey, I’ll give them something to remember. So, what’s more important to me now is sharing the message. And if I can be a little bit entertaining, I mean, I’m not going to go and purposely fall off my shoes because well, I’m not coordinated enough to do that. I have two left feet. So, even if I tried to fall off it just wouldn’t happen. But if it does, so what? I’m really not worried about it. So, you’ve just given me so much to think about and I wasn’t even planning on talking this much about speaking. I don’t know why, as listeners know me, every podcast episode is non-script here on Positive Productivity. So, thank you. You have filled me. You have filled Chronic Idea Disorder, which is a dangerous thing in itself. So, thank you.
Oh, actually I do have one last question for you because I’m sure a lot of listeners are thinking or asking or wondering the same thing. Is having a book, before becoming a speaker, essential in your opinion itself?
THOM SINGER: So, the person who I told you, is making well over a half million dollars a year in speaking fees. He did a presentation at the National Speakers Association about what they, in air quotes “ T-H-E-Y”, what they tell you, you have to do to be a speaker. And he dismantled all of the rumors because he doesn’t do any of them. And one of them is: “Oh, you have to have a book.” He hasn’t written a book. You know what he’s done? He’s written a workbook, which is just a three ring binder with Some Things People Do and he sells it for, like, $500. Then he asks people, “What do you sell your book for?” “21.95.” Cause you have to sell a lot of those to get to $500, don’t you.
So, no, you don’t have to have a book. Does it help? Sure. Does it help if it’s published by a massive New York publisher and you hit the New York Times best seller list? Yes, it does. My books are published by the publishing company that I own and they are not best sellers. Although two of them have sold over 20,000 copies. Which, you know, if you could sell over 20,000 copies that would make any publisher at least somewhat happy. So, some of my books have sold well but they’re not on any New York Times bestseller list.
THOM SINGER: And by the way, anyone who says: “Oh, I’m an Amazon bestseller”. That’s BS. Anyone of us can be an Amazon bestseller by having your grandma buy, like, four copies at three in the morning. And then you get the screenshot where your number one in your category. That is useless. To be a bestseller, you have to hit the New York Times bestseller list, the USA Today bestseller list, and maybe there’s one or two others. So — But why lie? Why say: “Oh, I’m a bestseller.” When, you know, why, I’ve written a book. That’s fine. And does having written 12 books open doors for me? Yeah it does. Do I think that it makes it easier? It’s a box checker, nowadays. I think when I started, it was more of a necessity. Nowadays because everyone can write a book, everyone has. So, it’s no longer the differentiator.
I think the thing you have to do if you want to be a paid professional speaker, who’s working and getting booked, and getting rebooked by the same client over and over. That’s, you know, that’s another thing is, it’s one thing to get booked once. Another thing for them to redo their agenda, to put you on two years in a row. You have to be really good on the stage. And I hate to say that because then people go: “Oh, you’re bragging. You’re saying, you’re really good. I don’t know if I’m really good or not.” But the people I recommend and I refer speakers like there’s no tomorrow. I refer every single client if I’m booked directly. If I’m booked through a bureau, I don’t do this because that’s not my client. That’s the speaker’s bureaus client. But if I’m booked directly, which most of my bookings are direct, I tell every client: “Let me refer you one or two speakers for next year. Now that I know your audience.” And I get a ton of people, actual paid, high dollar business. Not a lot, but I get a ton of people.
THOM SINGER: I mean, 10 or 12 people a year that I refer probably get booked. And here’s the deal, people are like: “Oh why do you do that, maybe they’ll bring you back.” They’re more likely to bring me back because I’m trying to help them make their conference better next year. They’re like: “We should have you again.” But I only refer people, who I think are freakin great. Like, “Whoa, blow my socks off.” I have a ton of people who are like: “ Oh, I’d love you to refer me to your client cause we speak for the same type of people.” And I’ve either never seen them speak or I’ve seen them speak and I’m like: “They’re really kind of good.” So, I refer people where I say: “Wow. Kapow, my shoes just flew off my feet.” So, if you want to be a business just get on stage a lot. You know, give more than 300 speeches. And watch the video of everyone. And study it. And learn how to be good. And learn how to get an audience excited and share that enthusiasm because if you’re good, you’re going to get booked. Whether you have a book or not.
KIM: Thank you for all of that. Listeners, stay tuned for future episode on why it doesn’t matter if you’re an Amazon bestseller or not. Thank you for bringing up that point because I am fully aware that you can go to an obscure category and get number one by selling one copy.
THOM SINGER: The people in the know — Here’s the other thing. People — I’ve talked to people who say: “Oh, I’m a bestseller. I’m an Amazon bestseller.” And they say: “Yes but most people don’t.” Like, I talk about the fact, that we all know, that you can scam that system by buying 50 books in the middle of the night. And they’re like: “Yeah but the average person, the person in the audience doesn’t know.” Yeah but the meeting planners do. The people who are booking the higher paid speakers, they know the difference between, you know, that. So, I mean, I’m just honest. Yeah, I own New Year Publishing. Yeah, I’ve written 12 books and people say: “Are they any good?” I say: “Read one, here I’ll give you one. If you like it, good. If you don’t, that’s okay too.” I’m just, I’m really straightforward about who I am. I know who I am. I’m comfortable with my skin. I don’t have to pretend, I’m something I’m not. You know, I’ve written some books and, you know, people seem to like them but I don’t have to pretend that I’m a best seller because I’m not.
KIM: Authenticity and honesty, there you go, Thom just summed it up.
THOM SINGER: Thank you
KIM: Thom, this has been an amazing conversation. Thank you so much. You’ve fed my brain in so many ways. I’m gonna have to bottle it up and save it for later. Chronic Idea Disorder, I have to focus on one thing at a time. Where can listeners find you online and connect to the and get to know more?
THOM SINGER: I’m on all the regular places. You can find me on Twitter, on Facebook, etcetera but the easiest place is my website. It’s thomsinger, T-H-O-M-S-I-N-G-E-R, .com
KIM: Fabulous. Thom, what is one last piece of parting advice or a golden nugget that you can offer to listeners.
THOM SINGER: Be slow to anger and fast to forgive. So, often people are, like, so quick to think someone’s screwing them over. And they get so mad. And they point fingers. And they gossip. And they bitch. And they complain. The other person wasn’t really even thinking that much about you. You get so mad, thinking you’ve been wronged. When in reality, the other person is just going through life. And maybe it was a one, maybe you were wronged in a one and you turned it into a ten. Be slower to anger. Realize other people aren’t thinking about you, nearly, as much as you think they are. And don’t get mad at every little thing that happens until you have all the informations. It doesn’t mean you can’t get mad but don’t get mad fast. Do a little research. Let it sink in. Study it, then decide if it’s worthy of being mad. And the second thing is, be fast to forgive unless somebody’s done something horrible. And there’s been a lot of horrible things in the news, lately. You don’t have to forgive everybody but in cases where it’s a friend and they’ve, you know, gossiped a little or they forgot to pick you up for lunch or whatever. Just write it off, as that’s part of being human and just forgive them quickly. And I’ll tell you what, if you’re slow to anger and fast forgive. You’re gonna live longer.