How to Start a Seminar Production Business

Marketing

No matter how thrilling, informative, life-affirming or business-rescuing your seminars are, nobody's going to know about them unless you advertise. As a seminar professional, a great deal of your resources will go into designing and implementing advertising campaigns to take your sales to the limits and beyond.

Unless your featured presenter is somebody really big like Elvis ("direct from the Other Side!"), you can't rely on a marquee blazing with neon and arc lights, so you'll need to devise other methods of getting the word out. Your best bets are direct mail, personal contact and word-of-mouth. Venues like radio, television, magazines and newspapers--which can work wonders for other types of entrepreneurs--don't make much of a dent on the psyches of potential seminar participants.

Direct Mail

Most seminar professionals agree that direct mail is the method of choice for advertising to unsolicited sources. What exactly is direct mail? It's another way of saying mail order and it can take the form of sales letters, brochures, postcards, or any other printed material you send to potential seminar customers.

Direct-mail advertising can be extremely effective, but it's also expensive. By the time you pay for the paper, envelopes, printing and postage for a major campaign, you've spent thousands of dollars. So before you pop those 50,000 sales pieces in the mail, make sure you've thoroughly considered what it is that your niche market wants or needs and how your seminars will satisfy that desire or need.

The first thing to do when you start your advertising campaign is to take a figurative step back. Revisit your market research. It should include the following:

  • Who are my potential customers?
  • How many are there?
  • Where are they located?
  • Where do they now find the information I want to provide?
  • What can I offer that they're not already getting from this other source?
  • How can I persuade them to attend my seminars?

Look over the answers to these questions; then ask yourself some more:

  • What knowledge and skills do I offer?
  • What image do I want to project?
  • How do I compare with my competition and how can I be better?

Once you've answered these critical questions and you know exactly who you're targeting, with what, and why, it's time to devise your direct-mail piece.

You can use any direct-mail format that works for you, from a letter introducing yourself and describing your seminars to a one-page flier to a multipage brochure. Denise D.'s company sends brochures to potential new customers and letters to past participants; Larry S. in Omaha, Nebraska, relies exclusively on brochures; and Jerry O. in Arkansas City, Kansas, sends fliers for his occasional direct-mail forays.

Experimentation, testing and--always, always--market research will tell you which format is the best for your company.

Promotional Kits

Although unsolicited brochures or letters can work wonders, they're not the only way to go. Some seminar professionals--particularly those who do private corporate seminars rather than public seminars--never use unsolicited material at all, relying on referrals from past participants, speakers bureaus and other sundry sources to garner initial interest. Then, when potential clients request information, they swing into promotional mode.

"I hardly send any prospecting letters/contact sheets out," says Gail H., the leisure specialist in Fredericksburg, Virginia, who does only private seminars. "I prefer to send quarterly newsletters and some postcards in between with a handwritten note (the effective Chinese water torture method). Postcards are quick and easy and get your attention without having to be opened, and with an attention-grabbing photo, they really work."

Free Advertising

Yes! While, in the words of the old clich�, there's no such thing as a free lunch, there are some terrific things you can do to get free advertising. Of course, you have to put forth effort, intelligence and creativity, so it's not "free" as in you-don't-have-to-lift-a-finger, but that's OK. The rewards are worth it.

So what are these free advertising opportunities? One, as you know, is word-of-mouth. Another is print media. Take advantage of the thousands of magazines and journals out there by writing articles for publication.

That's what Gail H. does. "People won't look at ads," she says, "but they will read articles." Your credibility as an expert soars--if you're in a magazine, you must be a pro, people reason--and as your credibility takes wing, so does your desirability as a speaker. And the benefits don't stop with the reader. People won't tear out an ad, but they'll tear out an article and pass it along to friends and relatives, so you get the word-of-mouth effect even in print.

PR is another terrific source of free advertising. There are all sorts of low-cost techniques you can use. Try some of the following:

  • Local groups are always looking for guest speakers. Offer yourself on a free, or pro bono, basis to local associations or clubs that match your target audience. Remember that word-of-mouth is a powerful advertising tool and get creative!
  • Join any organizations that match your target audience and volunteer for things that will get you and your company recognized--and appreciated. Most people respect volunteers within an organization and consider them experts in the organization's area of interest, which heightens your credibility.
  • How about going live on the air? Volunteer yourself for a local radio station's chat show. You can discuss your niche and listeners can call in with questions. When they talk to you--on the air!--they'll be interested in enrolling in your seminars. And remember word-of-mouth. They'll tell their friends and relatives.
  • Offer free enrollment in your seminar or pricier (therefore splashier) BOR products as prizes for charity events.
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