If only it were true.
The hard truth is what your grandparents told you growing up: There's no such thing as a free lunch.
The even harder truth is what I'm going to tell you now: Speaker's Bureaus are not there to help you. They are there to help themselves. They are a business, after all, and if you aren't already easily bookable, they lose money with every minute they spend on you vs. a proven speakers.
The Myth is a Myth, unless...you fall into the following categories:
B. Important - Beyond celebrity, you were/are a U.S. President, war general, or CEO of a large company
C. Successful - In other words, you already get plenty of speaking engagements, and they can parlay your marketing efforts to line their own pockets by helping take over the marketing machine you've already built.
Sounds depressing, I know. The bottom line is this - Speaker's Bureaus won't help you until you don't need their help. New talent is a RISK for them, a LIABILITY. Known speakers give them both higher commissions and a more reliable result for their clients. In Godfather speak, it's not personal, it's business.
The above describes most large, reputable agencies, such as: ___________
(Interestingly, I put out a request for reputable agencies from my Facebook and Twitter friends and followers, and it resulted in only one actual recommendation. I'm sure reputable agencies exist - they just don't seem to be intent on marketing much.)
These bureaus feast on your belief that "if I can just have the right one-sheet, I can get booked!" and "These people only make money when they book me, so they are working hard on my behalf". Umm...NO. They are making money by selling you their 'coaching and advice', their tired graphic templates and exaggerated web presence. And if, by some divine intervention, they book you, they'll still take 25% of your fee. At least.
Stay away from these folks. FAR AWAY.
Awhile ago, I mentioned on Facebook that "Friends don't let friends pay Speakers Bureaus". This isn't entirely true, of course. If a bureau actually gets you a gig you weren't on track to get without them, they've earned their commission - generally 25%. This can help you once you're already known and marketable. If you've got several agencies wanting to ride your coattails and booking you once or twice a month, the time and money you'll save in marketing efforts will make the commission worth it.
But if you're paying a bureau just for the right for them to market you, you're most likely spending good money just to feel like you're marketing. Instead of writing a check and waiting for your phone to ring, try the following tried and true methods instead.
1. Tell Your Friends. ALL your friends. You might be surprised how many people you know that don't even realize you're a speaker. We all have an average of 100 friends (of varying degrees) - and so do they. Let them know if they get you booked, you'll give THEM a commission. Even a referral reward may give them the extra incentive to get you your next event.
2. Pick Up the Phone! Yeah, I hate it too. But it's still a great way to meet people and let them know you're there to help them. Make five to ten calls a day to service clubs, associations, and large event planners, among others. Let them know you exist. Isn't your career worth an hour of uncomfortable calling a day? Just like speaking, you'll get better at it the more you do it!
3. Network. A great excuse to get out of the house and away from your computer screen. Chambers and Business groups are an obvious start. But you can also visit some of the very associations and service clubs you might want to call. You'll see what their meetings are like ahead of time, get connected with the right people, and gather some potential material to customize your presentation when they book you.
4. Email, Snailmail, FedEx. Somehow, get your one-sheets and videos in front of people. Even if they don't hire you, you'll be more familiar to them when you call them or meet them.
These are just 4 methods out of many (we haven't even touched on websites, video, social media...) that will be more effective than trying to convince a bureau, reputable or otherwise, to book you before you've hit it big.
We constantly read about how much money we can make as speakers. Financial success won't come without cost - it will take time and persistence to get yourself known and booked on a regular basis. The Speakers Bureau Myth will taunt and tempt you with its siren song. After all, who doesn't want a shortcut to success?
If you've had success (or have a speakers bureau horror story), please share your experiences. I would hope that someone, somewhere, has been helped by a bureau before hitting it big in their own right, and without losing their shirt in the process.
I just haven't heard of it yet... In the meantime, go grab your next 'gig' - and then Speak & Deliver. Nothing markets you as well as you giving a great presentation that changes the future of your audience.