From the August 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

Anyone who's attended an interesting and informative seminar knows it can be one of the best ways to train staff, keep yourself up-to-date on industry changes and learn new skills. On the flip side, seminars are also a powerful way to build awareness of your company, market your products or services, and possibly create a new revenue stream for your business. Whatever type of business you're in, you probably have knowledge and expertise that others would find helpful--and that might encourage them to use your services. Follow this checklist to make your seminars great:

  • Fee or free? When determining what or if to charge for your seminar, consider two rules of thumb: 1) Most people will attend events for which they've already paid in advance, and 2) the more you charge, the less overt selling you should do. If your seminar is held primarily to showcase your expertise, you can charge higher fees. However, if you're trying to create an environment in which to sell your product or service, you need to charge less or waive the fee. In either case, make sure you deliver timely, interesting and worthwhile content.
  • Partner up. Consider defraying your costs by teaming up with another business that's related to yours. For example, an attorney and an accountant could deliver an informative small-business start-up seminar to attract new clients for both of them.
  • Check your date. Do some homework before you schedule your seminar to avoid competing with other events that could reduce your attendance. Call around to other facilities and find out what they have planned for that day, and check with your colleagues to see if there are any industry events at the same time.
  • Minimarketing. Create a concise marketing plan for your seminar. Include publicity, direct mail, advertising and other appropriate promotional vehicles. Remember, the more you get the word out, the more people will attend your seminar.
  • Oh, won't you stay? Before you determine the length of your seminar, consider your audience, your topic and other related factors. If you're planning to speak to a room full of accountants, don't schedule a half-day seminar during tax season. Conversely, if you have a lengthy, complex topic to discuss, don't try to cram it into a two-hour luncheon.
  • Where it's at. Most hotels and conference centers routinely host seminars and have the process down to a science. If your budget won't allow for such accommodations, check out renting space at a local college or training facility.
  • Require an RSVP. Advance registration gives you a good idea of how many people to expect and how many handouts you'll need. Always ask how the registrant heard about the seminar so you can track your marketing results.
  • Provide good handouts. Handouts are one of the most overlooked tools in seminar marketing. Give your attendees professional-looking materials that support key points in your presentation.
  • Don't be understaffed. Be sure you have enough staff at the event to handle registration, last-minute errands, product sales, distribution of handouts and other event essentials.
  • Capture your attendees. Be sure you obtain names, postal and e-mail addresses, and other important contact information from your attendees for follow-up purposes. You may also wish to develop an evaluation form to distribute and collect to help you make your seminar even better next time around.

Gwen Moran is president of Moran Marketing Associates, a public relations and marketing communications agency in Ocean, New Jersey. She is currently completing a marketing workbook titled Promote Your Business. E-mail her at moranmarketing@erols.com

Talk Isn't Cheap

Creating seminars requires an investment of time--and money. Here's a quick budget checklist to make sure you've considered your main expenses:

  • Location rental
  • Fees for additional speakers
  • Personnel to staff the event
  • Refreshments/meals
  • Fees for shipping equipment and materials
  • Promotion and advertising
  • Decorations, banners, signage
  • Creation and printing of handouts
  • Audiovisual equipment rental
  • Microphone and lectern rental
  • Name badges or tags
  • Additional lighting
  • Travel and accommodations