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Specifying Payment Terms

In some cases, payment terms are fixed by the policies of the engaging organization. This is often the case with public agencies and universities. Sometimes they have policies that require them to pay only after a talk is given, and it may be difficult or impossible to move them on this. And, while payment by these engaging organizations may be agonizingly slow, these public entities for practical purposes always pay eventually. So trying to negotiate payment terms may be futile or simply not worth the effort.

Public agencies and universities will sometimes be willing to pay directly the upfront costs of purchasing flight tickets and/or reserving hotel rooms, and this can relieve you of the burden of carrying these costs from your own funds for the often several months between when such expenses are incurred and when you would be reimbursed.

Other types of engaging organizations (corporations, business and professional associations, foundations, nonprofits) have all kinds of payment policies and requirements. Speakers likewise have all kinds of preferences and priorities for how and when they’d like to be paid. Go ahead and work out whatever mutually agreeable terms you and the engaging venue find acceptable. However…

Some Risks To Consider

The voice of experience cautions speakers to be mindful of two risks: Nonpayment of all or a portion of your fee or expenses, and second, discovering after you have signed an agreement or even given a talk that you were going to be required to fill out complex and time consuming paperwork or jump through other unexpected bureaucratic requirements, or have to pay fees or taxes to some governmental body, to get paid your speaking fee.

While nonpayment is vanishingly rare for U.S. public agencies and U.S. based major corporations, the risks may not be negligible when dealing with small organizations or foreign entities. As a practical matter, legal remedies for non-payment may be difficult or fruitless, particularly in the case of foreign entities.

For this reason, it will often be prudent to require up front fee and expense payment when you feel such a risk may exist. You can require 50 of your fee as well as an expense estimate advance upon signing a speaking agreement, with the balance due before your departure for the venue. If they resist this (“what assurance to we have that you will even show up?”), you can accept the second half payment upon your arrival and before your talk. This can provide some protection, but you’ll need to have thought through your plan of action if upon your arrival they do not in fact have a check (or a bank-to-bank transfer verification) to hand you.

In the end, nothing less than full payment in advance of departure for the engagement provides complete protection against nonpayment risk. Most speakers, it should be emphasized, will accept what they judge to be a small risk rather than allow a negotiation to break down with loss of an engagement.

The second risk mentioned above has a million variations. We’ve seen a major Fortune 100 corporation require a very prominent speaker to personally fill out complicated online forms (registering as, and fulfilling the requirements to be, a corporate vendor). It ended up costing that speaker many hours of frustration and valuable lost time. In terms of unexpected costs, international engagements can mean work permits and related fees, local withholding taxes or submitting paperwork for exemption from those taxes, visa and entry permit costs, and so on. So it is wise to ask about these things before you settle on a fee. If you know about such costs in advance, you can build them into the fee you quote.

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