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Meet Jean-Noel Bassior of Speaker Services in Wilshire

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jean-Noel Bassior.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Jean-Noel. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Twenty-five years ago, my friend Susan Levin and I got a radical idea: Why not start a Speakers Directory that featured experts willing to speak on any subject? But here’s the rad part: We wanted to put each speaker’s contact info out there so event planners could contact them directly. In those days, the way you got booked as a speaker was through an agency, and ordinary people who happened to be experts in their field weren’t considered ‘real’ speakers. Our Speakers Directory (a pre-internet print publication) changed all that. It was a radical idea that someone could just contact a speaker directly instead of going through an agency or middleman. We did it, and our Directory took off like wildfire. We had authors, business owners, auto mechanics, therapists, health and beauty experts—anyone eager to share their expertise with an audience. Some were experienced speakers; others wanted to build a speaking career. Then came the internet, and we were one of the first 1,500 businesses to jump aboard. Susan ran the company because I was a journalist doing celebrity interviews and not much good as a business partner. Instead, I wrote all the speaker profiles for the Directory.

Fast forward to 2011. Susan and I had two internet TV shows where we interviewed speakers, authors and experts, and we’d combined my media savvy and her speaking know-how into coaching sessions that showed speakers how to find gigs, make friends with the media, and build or boost their careers. And then, suddenly, in 2013, Susan got sick and passed away after a brief illness. It was a shock to everyone she’d mentored over the years, and I had to decide if I wanted to take over the business. Fortunately, I’d burned out on interviewing celebrities (an occupational hazard), and I’d just written a book about early live TV that showed me that I’d rather be an author than a reporter. The timing seemed right, so I made the decision to take over the business. (You can read more about how we started and see a tribute to Susan here: http://www.speakerservices.com/founder/.)

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The two biggest challenges I faced when I stepped into Susan’s shoes were learning about the speaking profession and how to actually run a business. My background as a journalist helped, because I knew basic PR and how to reach out to the media—good skills to know if you’re a speaker or entrepreneur.

But before becoming a journalist, I’d been a musician, so I had zero business experience. I studied everything I could about the speaking biz, including hundreds of pages of material Susan had gathered over the years. Then my reporter’s instinct kicked in and I decided to ask speakers who were making a living at it for their advice. Over and over, I heard the same thing: When they first started out, they spoke anywhere they could, whether or not they got paid. It reminded me of my musician days, where some nights you’d play for five people in a bar. It seemed like the bottom line was loving what you do so much that you can’t wait to speak anytime, anywhere.

Another struggle has been time management. I love tech and all the apps and programs that make running an online business much easier these days—if you have time to learn them. So managing time in a way that allows me to innovate while still getting everyday tasks done is a constant challenge. And finally, I struggled with the website—a ‘Frankensite’ stuck in the mid-1990s that desperately needed a makeover. Though we were known in the biz and had thousands of visitors each month, the site didn’t match our reputation. It took months to rethink, reorganize and rewrite all the pages and create a new format. But once I did it, a web developer caught the vision and transformed the old, dark, cluttered site into one that makes me feel good every time I look at it.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Speaker Services – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
What we do is give you a web presence as a professional speaker. This is important, because many event planners use Google or other search engines to find a speaker instead of going through an agency. When you list with us, your profile comes up on Google if a planner uses keywords that match what you do. The planners also come to our site and search by topic, location, or other criteria. If they’re in a rush, we offer a ‘Let Us Find Your Speaker’ option where they can let us know exactly what they’re looking for; then we suggest some speakers who fit the bill. The thing I’m most proud of, and which sets us apart, is our commitment to mainstream, journalistic style. Many sites post whatever copy you give them ‘as is’ without even checking for typos! Like me, our writers go nuts when they see a typo. Now, we don’t catch everything, because typos seem to breed in cyberspace, but we try our best to give you the kind of write-up you’d get from a good PR firm. Here’s what a listing looks like: http://www.speakerservices.com/dalia-macphee/.

Another thing that sets us apart is that we don’t act as a middleman. We publish our speakers’ contact and social media info so event planners can reach them directly. That’s our main model, but if a speaker or planner wants us to act as an agent, we’ll do it for 10%, which is incredibly low for the industry.

The third thing that makes us unique is that every listing comes with 1-3 private coaching sessions with anyone on our team. We have experts who show you how to find more gigs, make friends with the media, get sponsored (paid!) for free or low-paying gigs, and improve your online and traditional promotion. I decided to include private coaching with every listing because when I took over Speaker Services, I realized how important it is to understand the business side of speaking. During the last decade, self-publishing drastically changed the industry, and today, there are thousands of authors and experts who have books and are hungry for speaking gigs. But there are things you can do to stand out from the crowd—and I don’t mean cold calls. By being just slightly proactive (even an hour a week), you can do a lot to build or boost your speaking career.

What role has luck (good luck or bad luck) played in your life and business?
Actually, ‘luck,’ to me, is another word for Law of Attraction, and though I’m strongly conditioned to struggle and ‘make’ things happen, I seem to have more luck when I meditate and then take inspired action. It’s still a struggle to let go of struggle and allow the right people, circumstances and events to unfold, but I try to remember that ‘doing business’ is just part of a larger, spiritual journey.

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