There is one aspect of speaking that I absolutely cannot help speakers with. That's the speaking contract.
I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV, so I am not comfortable at all consulting with you on what your speaking contract looks like.
However, I know that a speaking contract is an essential piece of your speaking business, so while I'm not an attorney, my guest today is.
Today we are lucky to have Christina Scalera. She is the attorney and founder behind The Contract Shop, a contract template store for creative entrepreneurs, wedding professionals, and coaches, and speakers like you.
Three years ago, Christina found herself dreaming of pursuing a more creative path. She started to look for alternatives to her in-house legal job. She explored everything from teaching yoga to becoming a freelance graphic designer to opening an Etsy shop.
In the process, she ended up coming full circle by creating a business that brought the benefit of her legal training to her fellow creative entrepreneurs. Welcome, Christina to the Rebel Speaker Podcast.
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Christina: Thanks, Michelle. I'm so excited to talk to you today.
Michelle: I'm so excited to chat with you as well. As we were talking before we started recording, you mentioned that a presentation, a speech put you on this path. Can you tell us a little bit about how you landed here through speaking with us?
How Speaking Launched a Business
Christina: Sure. I really always wanted to be a public speaker. I've wanted to be the person up on stage that people looked up to and took notes and came up to afterward and said, “That was so great. I learned so much. My life has changed in X, Y, Z way.” That was always a dream of mine.
It happened a little faster than I was anticipating. I had just figured out what I was going to be doing, really getting more clear on what my business would be, how I was going to mix legal with creative.
Lo and behold, this is how the universe works, I was presented with the opportunity to do the first ever webinar that the Rising Tide Society, which is a group of it's like 70,000 or 80,000 creatives. It's huge.
I was their first speaker, their first presenter on this webinar series. Davy who was the co-founder, bless his heart, he was doing the webinar series and he asked me, “Have you ever done a webinar before?”
This is the little white lie that I told because I was so embarrassed that I hadn't done a full-fledged start to finish webinar. I was like, “I've done presentations to groups. I've done periscopes. I've done that stuff. So yeah, I've done that.” He's like, “Okay, great because there are 1,900 people that are registered for the webinar this week.”
I just freaked out. I had never spoken to a group of 1,900 people. I didn't even have 1,900 Instagram followers. I think the largest group I had ever spoken to at that point was like 20 people maybe online or in person, either way.
When he said that, I was thinking, “Wow, one, this is a tremendous opportunity that I'm going to completely miss out on if I don't have anything to offer them.”
With legal services, it's difficult. You can't really offer that in a fast-action webinar. The whole online marketing thing isn't really geared toward attorneys. In fact, attorneys are really discouraged from creating some fast action offer like it can get you in a lot of trouble.
I thought to myself, “I have all these templates that I've been using with my own clients and I have this separate LLC that I've been distributing the templates though. I wonder if anybody would buy them?” They did. This was my first experience with understanding how speaking can transform your business.
I had always heard stories about people that would make money through their speaking gigs or through webinars and I was like, “Yeah, that'll happen to them, but that can't happen for me.”
I was just completely blown out of the water. It was the worst pitch you've ever heard at the end of the webinar. It was like, “Thanks for listening.” I was very confident in the materials, but then I got very unconfident and I was like, “You can go here and you can buy this and thanks. We'll go into Q&A now.” I sold $3500 worth of contract templates that week, previously I had sold zero.
Christina: Yeah, that was really validating for me, but I won't say that I did a “great” job to 1,900 people because that's really scary. I did a “good” job.
Michelle: I think you're tapping into something, because creative entrepreneurs, speakers, business owners, when they start their business, they usually do not have their legal butt covered at all. I know I didn't at first and then I decided, “You know what might help me? A contract.”
I might need one of those in place to make the boundaries of my relationship with people clear. I don't think there's a lot of people giving that help. You had this great topic that people needed and then they're like, “Yes please, sign me up. I need you.”
When I'm talking to lots of speakers in the Rebel Speaker Facebook group, so many of them do not have their legal butt covered. Why do speakers need a contract?
Contracts Lead to Compensation
Christina: That's a great question, Michelle. The first thing that I recommend any business have, before an LLC, before a DBA, before anything that traditional business books will tell you-you should do in the first chapter is a contract, because you’re not going anywhere if you don't have the money or at least the potential of money right?
Look, I know not all speaking gigs are completely paid from the start, but if you don't have any compensation let's call it coming in, then you don't have a business. You don't have anything to offer to the public, to your audience, to the following that you're trying to build. It doesn't matter if you can have LLCs all day, but if you don't have something that you can exchange for money at some point, that's not a business. Which is why a contract is so important just on face value.
I think what you're really asking about is about the inside of the contract and some of the things that speakers could consider, some of the things that they're maybe not considering yet.
I've actually put together a list of 10 that I'll give you guys at the end, but there's about three that stand out really, really brightly as if they were highlighted in my mind.
The first one is about compensation because compensation, as you've talked about, as you know, is a really sticky issue.
Are you going to be paid pure compensation just for showing up and you're in charge of your expenses? Are you not going to be paid, but they will cover your room and board and give you some meals? Is everything being paid for? Is this your complete living the only way you're making money is through speaking gigs?
There's no right or wrong answer. There's no bright line rule as to what is acceptable and what's not from a legal standpoint. The important thing is just to memorialize that in the contract and have that written down.
If somebody says to you, “Oh yeah, we'll get to that or we'll make sure that your meals are covered. We'll make sure that this happens to you.” That's always going into the contract.
If it's happening after the contract is signed, at least in an email and hopefully your contract provided that and an amendment could be made by writing and an email is sufficiently a writing. That's what I'm talking about here with compensation.
Know Your Intellectual Property Rights
My actual background is a trademark attorney which brings us to intellectual property. We had talked about this briefly before, but the big thing here is that we're dealing with a couple different facets of IP law.
When you're speaking, you have not only your brand but other things that might show up on your powerpoint slides. You might feature your logo, your sub-marks, your catchphrases, whatever it might be. Those are the trademarks that might be displayed during this presentation.
The actual presentation itself is protected under copyright law. As soon as it is either given and recorded, so the recording is the important part or you have fixed the presentation to the slides or some kind of writing. You've written an outline for yourself.
Whatever it is, the rule of thumb is that basically as soon as there's something that you can hand to somebody else, that's when the copyright is now attached.
In your contract, again, it's not good or bad or different or whatever if you own the copyright or the event that's hosting the workshop or the speaking event that you're speaking at.
It doesn't matter who owns that necessarily from a legal perspective. There's not one that's better than the other, but from your speaker perspective, there is something that's better than the other namely that if you don't have the right to your own presentation, are you going to forfeit the ability to give it in the future?
Are you forfeiting the ability if they're recording the event to show a clip of that and maybe a promo trailer for your brand or your company or a product you're offering?
As you're crafting this contract it is really important to take into consideration the copyright and who will actually hold that. When you're getting started, you're going to be totally fine signing on the dotted line and giving away all your copyrights to everything, because you just want to get your name out there. I wouldn't recommend that per se. Yeah, I think there's a lot of wiggle room there.
I won't get super deep into it. The guide that I'm sharing with you goes a little bit deeper into this if you have more questions. There's a lot of wiggle room that you can have here. You can keep the copyright and you can license it to the person.
It's like when you rent a room in a house, you're renting them that room, so you're still owning the house, you're just renting them that room until you say, “Get out of here.” So, that's important to at least think about.
Michelle: Oh, good. I just wanted to highlight some of that because I think you brought up so many important parts about intellectual property and copyrights.
Speakers, once you get your PowerPoint together, record yourself doing the talk so that you have that record. Christina, when you said, “That's what creates the copyright,” I'm like, “Oh, so we basically have to have the speech documented.” I think you were also showing that if you're relying on an organization to give you the contract, that you have to check who owns the copyright part, because all of a sudden, the speech that you've been giving for a couple of years might not be your own once you sign that document. Two very important points for speakers. Record yourself and always understand who owns the copyright of your speech.
Christina: Yeah and it's a good point you brought up, because most of what I do actually is getting two sides to each agreement to a happy place together, and this is one of the areas where there can be some contention.
A lot of people see attorneys on TV. They think we're really adversarial – that it's one side versus the other. It's not really that way. You both have a common goal, it's just a matter of figuring out how you're going to get there. It's like meeting a friend for lunch. You guys both want to meet at the same restaurant, but one of you is going to take UBER and one of you is going to have a friend drop you off or something.
You're both getting to the same restaurant, you're both getting to the same goal. You are just trying to figure out the best way to get there that fits both of your schedules, both of your needs.
With the copyright, it’s important to look really carefully especially if the organization has provided the agreement to you. Because again, we have to think about it from our best interest versus theirs. Our friend might be like, “No, you should totally come with me. We'll pick you up.” You're like, “No, I have to take UBER.” Your interests are in conflict and again, moving towards that common goal. But it’s in your best interest to look and see if they are trying to keep the copyright.
Of course, you want to use your presentation again, and it might be nice to have a video of the presentation to use for future speaking pitches or something like that. Just being mindful that just because there is a great organization or they have a philanthropic message or they are just wonderful people or you've known them since 3rd grade, whatever it is, it doesn't matter if the copyright provision in that contract isn't written in a way that benefits you and whatever benefits you are looking for. That's something very important. I'm glad you highlighted that Michelle. Yeah, I could talk about this all day.
Michelle: I love it. We've talked about compensation and we've talked about copyright. What is the third essential thing you were going to talk about as far as speaking contracts?
Negotiation isn’t Over Until the Contract is Signed
Christina: The third essential thing I would say is that there's a lot more room for negotiation than you think there is. It's interesting, when you think back to your college days, the traditional place where we had our first contract was our lease agreement for an apartment.
If you're anything like me, it came from some big box corporation that had apartments all over the country and this was just one of them. It was really interesting because even back then, I remember being so scared. I'm looking at this in college and saying, “Oh my gosh, I can't change anything.” But I did, I went through and it crossed out things that weren't beneficial for me, things that I didn't like.
I went back in and I talked to the leasing agent t who had authority to sign the contract on behalf of their company said, “Okay, that's fine, but that parts are not okay.” I was able to negotiate what I really needed, what I really wanted, because we take it for granted that okay, they're like the big dog, right?
This organization knows what they're doing. They do this all the time. They've got X, Y, Z who's the other speaker in here and I want to be like them. We just sometimes sweep it under the rug that we're not worthy of the changes or the negotiations that we could make. There's no reason not to present that.
They are asking you to be a speaker for a certain reason. I have never seen a situation where someone is like, “Whoa, you just have way too many changes and you're being a total diva,” because I don't think most of the people that are listening are like that.
This is really reasonable stuff that you can ask for. Things like money, things like a place to set-up, things like a projector, things like licensing, like keeping the copyright to your own presentation. That's something reasonable to ask for, especially if, and this is the key point to any contract negotiation, especially if you can frame it in a way that is or feels beneficial to the organization. Oh, I'm going to record this presentation and I'll give it to you afterward. Then you guys can use that for promotional materials, but I'm going to keep it.
Now they have something that they wouldn’t otherwise have because they don't have a videographer, This way you get to keep the copyright to your presentation and you also have this video that you can use for future pitches. Thinking about negotiations in a way that it will benefit the other person, or party, or organization that's approaching you or giving you the contract and just really driving that home if they do have any problem that negotiation is always a good tactic to use when you're looking at these contracts together.
Michelle: I love that because I think a lot of speakers actually feel negotiation ends after they figure out what the fee is or whatever the compensation will be.
It's like, okay we figured out what the scope of work is. I'm going to do a presentation and I'm going to do a breakout session. This is how much I'm being paid and you're going to buy X amount of my books. Then they get the contract because most of the time they're getting it from the organization and they don't realize that there are things they don't like in the contract that they can say, “Yeah, let's talk about A, B, and C. I'm not okay with this. Can we do blah, blah blah instead? What do you think?”
This is going to sound horrible. I think some people are so grateful sometimes to have a speaking gig that they just want to sign the contract and make it formal. They don’t read it thoroughly and make sure that it is a mutually beneficial contract. That's an amazing ah-hah to give to people. Negotiation isn't over.
Christina: It's not. No, ask for what you want for because that's the only chance you're going to get.
Michelle: Yeah, I love it.
Christina: You don't get to go back and say, “Actually you know what? You seemed really fast to accept that without any money or you seem really fast to accept that a thousand dollar speaking fee. Can I actually get paid $2,000 because that was really what I meant.” You have to be reasonable, but yeah, you only get one chance at negotiating, so don't be afraid to put it out there. The worst they can do is say, “No, that's not going to work for us.”
Michelle: I've had so many clients who have said, “Oh, I'll do it for a thousand dollars.” They're like, “Yes.” Then they find out later that the keynote speaker the year before had been paid FIVE grand! Maybe then the contract is a good time to bring it back up. I realized they might say, “No,” but it's worth asking.
Should You Hire a Lawyer for Your Speaking Contract?
Michelle: Christina, One last question. Do I need to hire a lawyer to draft my speaking contract?
Christina: Great question. I don't think you do and this is coming from somebody who makes money off of people paying me for my services.
I think there are three levels of business. The first level is you're a brand new baby business owner, you're brand new speaker, and you don't have any money at all. You're just trying to go on the internet and put together this Frankenstein duct tape together contract. You really, really hope, cross your fingers that you're not going to have a problem, maybe stay up late at night. I sent that out, should I send it out? That's level one.
The second level of business is if you do have a couple hundred of dollars to invest in your speaking career. I think a contract is one of the best places to invest some money. Like I said, a contract comes before an LLC, before a website, it comes before everything because it allows you to do things with clients.
You can do things with people that are paying you through your speaking. You can't do anything with the website that no one's going to. A contract for me really is one of the beginning points.
If you want something that's at a lower cost, my contract template shop actually does have a speaker template that's crafted for the benefit of speakers with instructions and guidelines about how to approach different organizations and events, because I actually do a lot of public speaking now, so I have a lot of personal experience as I crafted it.
I also have the insight from my friends who are conference organizers just to keep things fair but obviously coming at it from an angle of being the public speaker in that template. You can find that at thecontractshop.com and just search for a public speaker or speaker contract, speaker template, any of those will get you there.
Then the last thing is if you have gone to couple different events, you are making a decent amount of money on public speaking or in your business, but you feel like public speaking will be the key to making more money with your business, because it's a great tool to do that.
Then that might be time to hire an attorney to look at your agreements. I love offering our products to the template shop, because most of the time, people buy that. They take it to their attorney and they have seriously minor tweaks that might be made because the work has already been done. We're saving people time.
They don't have to spend a bunch of time finding an attorney to do this if they just want to use our template, but then also we're saving them a lot of money, because attorney hourly rates can reach anywhere from a $150 to $550 typically if you're going to a big firm in New York, expect to pay a lot more than that, but typically that's what you're looking at.
We're a normal contract review. I spend about three or four hours on that and my hourly rate is 350. You guys can do the math and figure out that a template is substantially cheaper and of course starting with that, that cuts out about two hours of work for me.
Anyway, I think it just depends on what level of business you're at and if you are making literally all of your money on speaking and you've been doing this for a year or two. It's a great idea to have an attorney, look at your contracts at that point, but if it is just kind of something that you're doing to supplement your business, it's not something that you do all the time, it's probably not worth putting the money aside to spend on an attorney just yet when there are resources like my templates or like I said the Frankenstein method works. I'm not sure how well it works, but it does work. And it’s free. I think it just depends on what level of business you're at.
Michelle: Yeah. I think there's something for me about when you really are stepping into the role of speaker, you want to have your ducks in a row. If you know that you're pursuing speaking more, that it's going to be one of the drivers of your business or your main business.
Even if you're just starting out, there's something about saying, “I'm going to get my legal stuff taken care of. I'm going to get a speaker contract done now,” that really empowers you to step into that role of speaker and to go out and pitch and market yourself and do all of the work and so I love that.
If you are looking for a speaking contract, please go check out Christina. Christina, you mentioned you had a resource for us, so tell us where we can find that and where you hang out online.
Christina: Sure, I'd be happy to. I have put together this resource for you guys. It is the ten things to put into your speaker contract or actually, the official title is “The 10 things your speaker contract needs to have.” Plus the one magic phrase that I have used to take my gigs from free to paid. You guys can find that at BIT.LY/SPEAKERCHECKLIST. You can also just go to thecontractshop.com and search speaker checklist and you will find our blog post on that and you won't have to do much digging.
Michelle: Awesome. Thank you so much, Christina, for laying down the law quite literally. I know that this is a helpful interview for speakers because they've had so many questions about it and I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much.