It’s one of the most frustrating hurdles for anyone who wants to be a paid consultant or professional speaker: you can’t get hired to speak at the event or consult for the company just a few miles from your house, even when you get paid a few thousand dollars to fly across the country and do the same thing.

I’ve had this problem for years. Ever since I started on the professional speaking circuit, I’ve been frequently asked by people in my hometown to give a free talk, even though someone else has offered to cover my travel and pay my speaking fee. I’ve actually had to cancel a free talk because someone else offered me a paid gig on the very same day.

And yes, I do speak for free sometimes, when I believe in the mission of the group that asked, or when being in front of that particular audience is going to have a bigger payoff in the future. Of course, I have to juggle that decision with whether that free talk is going to cost me money, so there are times I just say no.

The problem is, you’re never going to be an expert in your own hometown. I’ve known large companies in Indianapolis who will fly in a consultant from 2,000 miles away, when an equally-qualified consultant lives 20 miles away. I’ve seen companies that gripe and complain that they’re not supported by local customers, and yet refuse to hire local vendors and contractors themselves. Even my old university would hire marketing consultants or industrial organizational psychologists from other universities, rather than asking for help from the nationally-recognized professors they had on faculty.

It’s one of the most maddening things about being a professional — you’re a professional everywhere but where you live.

You have three choices in the matter

1) Get a second mailing address and Skype number from another city. Tell everyone you moved three states away. This will make you instantly smarter in their eyes, and the local offers will come flooding in. (While I’m mostly kidding, there is some validity to this. In the months before I moved, I couldn’t get a single job interview in my about-to-be new hometown. So I bought a Skype number for that area code, and got three interviews in two weeks. Who knows? It may work in reverse.)

2) Start focusing on nearby cities. This is going to mean LinkedIn and Twitter networking, and day trips to attend different business networking meetings to build up your reputation in those other cities. You’re basically going to have to rebuild your reputation in that city as if you had moved there, but it can also make people in the city start recognizing you by name.

3) Suck it up and do the free talks when you’re asked. Oh sure, ask for money whenever you can get it, but don’t bank on it. There are two times I’ve been paid to give a talk in my hometown: once when the organizer was actually from another state, and once when I pointed out to the organizer that they had just paid another speaker from out of town to speak to the same group. All the rest of the times, I just sold copies of my books.

There are exceptions to the rule, and I’m still stubbornly optimistic enough to hope I’ll find them one day. And if I find that magic bullet to actually getting those paid talks, I’ll let you know. But if you’ve learned any tricks, or coping mechanisms, leave a comment and let me know.


Erik Deckers is the owner of Professional Blog Service, and the co-author of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing.