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As a successful business owner or expert, you will be asked to speak for free (or a small honorarium) at local association or organization meetings or at regional or national conferences. Why would you want to do free work? Sometimes, it is actually a good investment of your time and money.

Let me start by discussing when it doesn’t make sense to speak for free. The most popular inducement you will be given is that speaking will give you and your business “great exposure.” Exposure is a function of who will be attending. Most audiences will not contain decision makers that may want to hire you. Some audiences may contain people who might suggest you to someone where they work, but I have rarely ever had that result in a solid lead. Early in your business life it may have made sense to speak to get better known, but now that you have a successful business, the need to get widely known is not as important as getting known by the right prospects.

One reason that you may want to speak for free is if you will be getting in front of the decision makers at organizations in your primary target market. This type of speaking at meetings or conferences is a form of marketing. I have made a number of mistakes in this area, thinking that an audience had decision makers when they did not. I recently did find a couple of conferences that have senior financial executives in the audience. I spoke at one conference about six months ago and within two weeks saw three bookings from people in the audience. Whenever you consider an invitation to speak for free, do research on who will be in the audience. Don’t accept what the organizer tells you. Make sure they are decision makers in the right area.

The other reason you may want to speak for free is to give back to an organization you want to help. I have done this in the past when I spoke at professional speaking or presentation design conferences. I have benefitted from attending and learning at these events early in my career, so I wanted to give back when I had enough experience to do so. It is fine to do this, as long as you realize this is why you are doing it and don’t expect any business from it.

When you do make the decision to speak for free, don’t take it lightly. Your reputation will be impacted by the quality of your presentation. Put your full effort into it. If you are speaking as a marketing opportunity, don’t look at it as a time to pitch your services and products. People don’t like to be pitched. Instead, provide useful information the audience can put to use right away. This will prove the value of your ideas and encourage interested audience members to contact you to get more ideas.