Our Adventures in Social Enterprise: Developing the Speaker Bureau

Getting anything new off the ground is hard, especially a charity. Donations and grant funding is fiercely contested, and if you're a young person with little-to-no street cred or 3-years of trading track record it's even harder.

Having built Inspiring Stories from scratch, I've accumulated six years experience of figuring out what it takes to develop a purpose-driven organisation, build relationships with a range of New Zealand's leading grant funders, values-aligned corporates, government, and generate revenue. During this time we've grown significantly, developed and expanded new programmes, created good outcomes for young New Zealanders, and diversified and increased revenue year-on-year.

Feeling the limitations of our charitable model, we started exploring what it might take for us to develop our own commercial ventures and start operating more like a social enterprise. We started by asking two simple questions:

  1. What assets and/or strengths do we have as an organisation?
  2. Where do we see a market need or opportunity, that we could meet by leveraging our assets and/or strengths?

I love creative process, and there were so many ideas – some crazy, some pretty simple. We'll be developing and launching three new ventures over the next 12 months. The first is the speaker bureau, Inspiring Speakers – representing New Zealand's top young talent for paid corporate events, conferences and graduations ceremonies. Right now we're early-stage, but as we develop I want to share the journey and any insights along the way. This article gives some background on how we settled on the idea, and how we're building it out from here.

Over the past six year's having developed Festival for the Future and the Live the Dream programme – we'd built a network, and not just any network. We'd built a network of some of the most innovative, influential and visionary young New Zealanders. Many of them were confident public speakers, all with stories that needed to be shared. I'd also done a fair bit of public speaking, and when I won the Young New Zealander of the Year award I was getting 5–10 speaking requests a week. It was intense. At the time, the incredible Jo Bailey was my EA, and played a critical role in helping to filter, manage and streamline these requests. We figured that if we could do it for me, why couldn't we do it for others?

About this time I also had a few friends who'd done a fair bit of paid public speaking share that their experience being represented by other speaker bureaus hadn't been that good. The service wasn't great, it didn't feel personal, and they felt the cut taken by the bureaus was a bit high. Could there be an opportunity to try and set up a niche bureau, that offered a great service for both the client and the speaker, and specialised in representing New Zealand's top young talent?

I've now spoken to more than 25,000 people internationally and at home over the past six years. This includes the Social Enterprise World Forum alongside some of the world's leading young social entrepreneurs and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus. I've spoken at small-scale grassroots community halls to being the keynote speaker at Business School graduations ceremonies from both Auckland University and AUT University. It's scary, but I totally love it!

During this time, there's a few things I've noticed. The first is that if you have a unique and inspiring story to share, and you can deliver it in a really compelling way – you can make money.

The second is that there is huge variation in people's speaker fees, from $500 to $50,000+ for a single talk. I've had dozens of paid corporate speaking gigs in the $2,000–3,000 range, and donated 100% of that to Inspiring Stories. I've also done free gigs – usually when I love what the organisation (or group) is working towards, and I know that there's little-to-no budget. Figuring this stuff out can be a really tough thing to navigate if you're just starting out.

In developing Inspiring Speakers, our aim is to represent New Zealand's top young talent. We're starting out by working with young people who we've already got a relationship with, who have street cred, an inspiring story to share, and whom we know can command a speaker fee. We want to support them to develop and grow as public speakers, to get paid and use that revenue to further their efforts, as well as growing the bureau as a pathway to further support the training and development of other young people who come through our programmes. The speaker bureau has an impact model, and a revenue model. The revenue model for us is a simple service fee that we charge once the speaking gig has been successful, and 100% of the profit after expenses goes into helping support the youth development programmes we run.

As far as I know, we're New Zealand's first social enterprise speaker bureau. We haven't officially launched yet, but we have built the brand, the website, and are working with 12 awesome speakers who we'll be representing throughout the pilot phase. And, we've already had more than a dozen paid speaking requests come through the website over the past month. We're fine tuning our process and systems, and are gearing up to launch. Our goal for the 2017 year is to complete 40 paid speaking gigs. It's conservative, but if we get this right I'm pretty excited about the potential for Inspiring Speakers to increase the opportunities for some remarkable young New Zealanders to share their story, get paid, and generate new revenue to support the youth development programmes we run – hopefully, creating win-win-win outcomes!

If you looking for an inspirational young New Zealander to speak at your next conference, event or graduation ceremony we'd love to work with you. Website – www.inspiringspeakers.co