At the same, a friend of mine sent me a copy of Fortune Magazine. In the magazine was an article about the largest lecture agency in the world. The author of the article recounted how the owner of the agency had just signed Alexander Haig (White House Chief of Staff), Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State) and Gerald Ford (President of the United States) as clients to speak after they left office. Near the end of the article, Henry Kissinger is quoted as questioning the high commission rate that the owner wanted to charge, saying “Why don’t I sign with one of your competitors?” The owner’s response, “I have no competitors.”
I took the magazine home and left it on the coffee table. A few days later when I came home from work, my wife asked me, “Have you seen the article? They have no competition.” So she sat me down as said, “You know you come home several days a week complaining about the bureaucracy of university life, and I don’t think you will ever be happy unless you can make decisions on your own.” So over a period of weeks, she pushed and prodded me to quit my dream job, and we started a lecture agency on our own.
We didn’t have any plan, any experience and we had no money. To start our new company and to have money to live on, we put a second mortgage on our home. Even then, we didn’t have enough money to rent an office, so a friend offered to rent us his stationary closet.
To give you an idea of what it was like in our closet, in order to leave the closet for any reason we had to wait until our friend’s meetings were over, because you see, to get out of our closet we had to walk through his office and then out. We had no experience, so we would sit in our closet and think of famous names to represent. We would try to get a telephone number or an address.
No one ever returned our calls and our letters were returned by lawyers saying. “My client (this famous person) is represented by another agency and don’t write them again or we will sue you.” You see there was no internet back then and for the first time we discovered there dozens of agencies in addition to the agency in the magazine article. The agency’s claim of “no competitors” was nothing more than a strategic boost.
I used to sit in the closet late at night with my head in my hand and say to myself, “What have we done?”
Twelve months passed and nothing had changed. We didn’t represent anyone. There was competition that we did not know existed when we started. We were still in a closet. The only thing that had changed, we were about out of money.
About the Author: Bernie SWAIN is one of Your Monthly Mentors, the founder of the pre-eminent lecture agency in the world, Washington Speakers Bureau. Over the last thirty-five years, Washington Speakers Bureau has represented three US Presidents, four prime ministers of Great Britain, countless American and world leaders, business and economic visionaries, authors, media personalities, and sports legends. In 2016, Bernie released his new book, What Made Me Who I Am. Today, Bernie remains Chairman of WSB and travels with Paula, his wife for 41 years, and spends time with their 3 children. Bernie also speaks and writes extensively. Read More…