How I Got My First Paid Speaking Gig as a Scholarly Entrepreneur

how i got my first speaking gig the scholarly entrepreneur

Here's how I got my first paid speaking gig based on my scholarly expertise!

A Quick Intro: Why Did I Want to Start My Own Business?

It was summer, and I was sitting in a staff meeting surrounded by four other colleagues and my boss. We were making all the plans for the upcoming fall semester.

At that time, I was working full-time as the director for graduate teaching programs. I was responsible for planning all of the professional development workshops to teach graduate students and graduate teaching assistants how to teach in the college classroom.

I enjoyed the job, helping the students, and working with my colleagues. But, I'd been doing that work for the past five years, and something was changing. I was starting to feel like I'd "outgrown" it.

As I looked at my list of topics for the upcoming fall semester, I remember feeling "blah." I love (LOVE!) to plan, organize, and create things. But, this time, something was different. I wasn't excited anymore. 

I felt like I was going through the motions. The spark was slowly starting to fizzle out. I knew I had to make a change. I just wasn't sure what to do or how to start.

(If the pop-up box doesn't work for you, contact me and I'll add you to the list.)

What Kind of Business Could I Start?

Entrepreneurship has always been part of my world. My parents bought and re-sold collectibles at auctions (before eBay!) on the weekends. I ran my own after-school program for kids while I was an undergraduate student in college. My husband had his own baseball card shop when we were in high school, and he's been selling collectibles on his eBay store since 1998.

Looking back, I realized I've always been surrounded by people who were coming up with new ideas and making things happen on their own terms.

As I reflected on this, I realized that I needed to get back to that place where I could create what I wanted to create and do what I wanted to do. I thought about my skills and how I could turn those into a business.

That's when I realized that I wanted to take the work I was already doing full-time and expand it to serve faculty and graduate students beyond the walls of my university. Same audience, broader scale.

That's when I decided to put myself out there as a writer and a speaker. I realized I could build a business based on my scholarly expertise.

The First 3 Things I Did

I didn't know exactly what my business would look like or where it might lead, but I knew I could start by putting my name and my work out there for others to see and share.

Here are the first three things I did that led to my first paid speaking gig:

1st: I created a VERY simple website.

I used the free version of Wordpress, uploaded my picture, and wrote brief bio (my "about") page. Then, I added a "speaking" page where I listed the types of topics I knew I could present without feeling too overwhelmed. And, I created a "contact me" page with my email address (all the social media sites didn't exist then).

It was simple, to the point, and it didn't have all the "bells and whistles" you see on most websites today. But, it was a place I could send people to who wanted to learn more about me, what I do, and how they could contact me.

If you're curious, my first Wordpress site still exists. You can see it's not very fancy, but I have expanded on it a little more and I update the content a few times a year.

2nd: I wrote a guest blog post for a site with an existing audience in my niche.

After my basic website was complete, I started looking for ways to connect to people beyond my campus. I had been following Faculty Focus and The Teaching Professor throughout my career, and I knew they had an existing base of readers who might be interested in what I do. 

I reached out to the editor and asked if I could submit a guest blog post about how to help students engage with the syllabus. This was a general topic that I thought would be relevant and helpful to the readers. I didn't get very many comments, but I replied to all of them and it helped me build my confidence.

Then, I started seriously thinking about my business name, purpose, and services. I knew the next time I wrote a guest blog post, I wanted to position myself as a someone with a business who had something to offer to the readers. I needed to focus.

You can see in my bio at the bottom of that blog post how I was all over the place with my description, and I didn't even list the name of my business (because I didn't have it yet!).

3rd:  I wrote another guest blog post for the same site and audience. But this time, the topic related specifically to my business.

A few months later, I submitted another guest blog post for the same site and audience. But, this time, I had my business name (Flip It Consulting) and a more focused website where I expanded on my speaking services. And this time, I specifically wrote the article based on what my business was all about. 

This blog post focused on the "flipped classroom" and what I call "flippable moments" and this is the article that landed me my first paid speaking gig. (Notice how my bio at the bottom of this article names my business and positions me as a consultant.)

A couple of weeks after that article was published, I received an email from a director of a teaching center at a campus in Indiana. She wanted a keynote speaker for their fall teaching institute and she wanted to the topic to be the flipped classroom in higher education. Now people realized the type of information and value I could bring to their audience. 

Four months after that guest blog post was published, I was on my way to kick off my speaking career speaking in front of a group of 250 faculty. It was my first time on an airplane, my first time speaking and sharing my own work in front of a crowd that large, and my first time getting PAID to speak!

My Advice To You As You Think About Starting Your Own Business

If you are thinking about starting your own business (or maybe you already have!), I hope my story inspires you to go ahead and take those first steps. 

No matter how small you think those steps are, take action. Small steps lead to big opportunities. 

If you don't already have one, go set up a website for yourself and/or your business. A free website is fine when you're just getting started. Think of it as a virtual business card. Share the basics (who are you, what problem do you solve for clients, and how can they contact you).

You can add blogs, videos, and all of that stuff later. But, you need to have a place to send potential clients when they want to know more about you, your work, and how they can hire you. 

Once your website is launched, go find your audience and figure out what problems you can help them solve. Start finding answers to questions such as:

  • What are they struggling with?
  • What are their needs?
  • What do they want?
  • What are they willing to pay for?
  • What do they read?
  • What podcasts do they listen to?
  • What events to do they go to?
  • Do they need a speaker?
  • Do they want someone to conduct research for their grant proposal?
  • Do they want to hire a writer?
  • Do they want a consultant to help with a new program? 
  • Do they have the budget to pay you?

Once you know who want to serve and you know more about what they need, you can leverage your scholarly expertise to help them solve those problems (and hopefully make a little money too). 

When you get your website ready, send me a link! I'd love to see what you are creating and what your first steps are as you get started on your new business idea.

If you already have a website for your business, send me the link and tell me YOUR story. I'd love to share your journey on this blog to help inspire other scholars who are looking for something more.

What were your first three steps? How did you get your first client? What advice would you like to share?

Email me at or leave a comment below!


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  • Thanks so much, Barbi, for sharing how you got started on your entrepreneurial journey. Would you be willing to share that 1st approach email you sent to the editor of Faculty Focus? If not the exact letter, then maybe a follow-up blog post on how someone starting out, could structure a cold email like that so that it gets noticed?
    Thanks again.

    Andrew Davies
  • Thank you, Barbi, for this inspiring article and giving me some courage to go out on my own. I’ve been in higher ed for close to 20 years and feel it’s time to break free. But it’s scary! I also really appreciate the previous comments.

  • Barbi,
    Thank you for sharing. I am in the midst of starting my own educational based business after 24 years in higher education and really appreciate hearing from someone who has successful made that journey.

  • Great article Barbi – I really liked the discussion around focus and letting people know how they can work with you. Excellent!

    Bailey Bosch
  • This is such great advice—focused, not overwhelming, and immediately doable. I’ve read so much advice that makes getting a first paid client so overwhelming and so far removed from the kind of person I am (not a manic go-getter!) and the way I want to work day to day (not glued to and blowing up social media every day!). Thank you so much for writing and sharing this advice. I’ve learned so much from you already, and this helps put it all into sharper focus.


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