Alastair Humphreys: Make a living doing what you love

Figuring out how to make a living doing what you love is one of life’s biggest challenges. But Alastair Humphreys has made it happen — and he’s our guest today.

Alastair calls himself an “adventurer” — a title that makes me oh-so-jealous. He has biked around the world, an expedition that took him four years. Completed the Marathon des Sables, a 150-mile race through the Sahara Desert. Canoed the Yukon River. Walked across India. And more.

Alastair Humphreys: adventurer, author & speaker

Alastair, who lives in Britain, has written three books about his experiences. (He self-published, but one book has since been picked up by a traditional publisher.) Yet he makes most of his money through public speaking, giving motivational talks about his adventures and inspiring groups to challenge themselves. The reason I invited him here for a Q&A is because I think many of us could make money by speaking like he does, and I wanted to learn more about how Alastair makes that work for him.

Great to have you here, Alastair! You talk about making a living doing what you love. How have you managed to do that?

The key thing is to do what you love and do something interesting. Worry about the money-making afterward. I have managed to make a living out of traveling by:

a) doing interesting things
b) documenting them well (I hope) through my blog and books
c) working hard at marketing myself
d) doing a good job when people pay me to do something for them.

From this a positive reputation can slowly begin to grow.

What kind of audiences do you speak to? Do you seek out most opportunities or do they come to you?

I speak to a lot of schools and some corporate audiences. The talks come about through a lot of hard work, cold calling and occasional spamming! I seek out the majority of my talks. However, with time, I am now starting to find that some people come directly to me, mostly through the effort I have put into in making my blog good and current.

What do you talk about? How do you keep it fresh every time?

It depends what the client wants. The essence though remains the same: exciting adventure stories and good photographs. The relevant message varies, from geography lessons to religious studies to corporates wanting to learn what difficult really means, setting high goals, etc.

Alastair cycles in Sudan

Are you naturally a good speaker? If not, how did you learn?

I would say that I am naturally articulate. But I am not naturally self-confident enough to stand up and speak to large audiences. I have gotten used to this though. The knowledge that I am the world expert on my subject (“me”) helps give me confidence. And once an audience laughs in the right place you quickly relax.

I spend a lot of time studying other speakers and trying to improve. The TED talks are great for this. I have also started doing some Pecha Kucha talks — they are very unforgiving!

How do you know how much to charge? Did you start out speaking for free?

I started for free, and then crept my fees up over a few years until I reached a level that both the client and I were happy with.

You’re a big fan of print-on-demand. Can you tell us about your writing journey? Do you sell your books when you speak?

I had the usual round of rejections from normal publishers so I self-published my book. I sold it on my site and at talks (a large advantage I have over some POD authors). On the back of a few positive reviews a mainstream publisher came along and asked me to work with them.

The biggest difficulty of becoming an author is not writing, or even publishing your book. It is selling it. Marketing and distribution are so hard.

What tips do you have for authors looking to grow their audience, promote their books or make money by speaking?

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