Q: I was scheduled to teach an adult education class related to my homebased business. I thought it would be a good way to get visibility and possibly new customers, but no one showed up for the class. I don't want to wash out again. Short of not giving any more classes, what should I do?
A: Many factors go into determining if you'll get good attendance for an adult education program. Some you may have little control over, like the weather, other events being held at the same time, or the location of the sponsoring organization. But others you can influence, like the topic you choose, the title and write-up used to promote the program, as well as the type and amount of publicity done beforehand. Here are some steps you can take to make your next offering a success:
1. If you haven't given the program before, test interest in the topic, title and write-up beforehand with prospective attendees. Try to get a few commitments from people yourself before actually scheduling the workshop, so you know at least three to four people who are interested in attending. You might even check what days or nights of the week would be best for your cadre of recruits before you negotiate scheduling your programs.
2. Do publicity yourself. Don't leave your success 100 percent in the hands of the organization sponsoring your class, as they usually have many other programs to promote. See if you can get a media interview, send postcards about the workshop to your mailing list, post it on your Web site, and so on.
3. Arrange with the sponsoring organization to take reservations so you know beforehand how many people have signed up. Set a minimum enrollment. If there are fewer enrollees than your minimum, start calling colleagues and contacts, and make personal invitations. If you don't get enough preregistrants, cancel and try a different time, topic or title.
4. Arrange to invite a few "complimentary guests." If you get just enough sign-ups but are worried about having too small a group should a couple of people not show, as inevitably happens, have a few complimentary guests as your backup. This can assure that you'll have a critical mass even if some preregistrants don't show. Complimentary guests should be people whom you know would love to see what you do.
5. To help prevent no-shows, arrange for the sponsoring organization to require payment upfront. Another option for encouraging commitment is to offer multiple prices-a low price for early registration, a somewhat higher price for a later preregistration date, and an even higher price for signing up at the door.
If you've taken steps like these and find that your workshop is still not filling up, it's time to go back to the drawing board. First, rethink your topic and title to be sure that you're addressing a strongly felt need. Have you actually heard your target audience asking for or complaining about needing the kind of information or assistance you'll be offering? What are the needs they're expressing? What words do they use when they describe what they need? Refocus your workshop on these needs, and use their words in your title and promotion.
Next, rethink where you're offering the program, through what means, and how you are promoting it. Are you actually reaching the people who most need the information you will be providing in your workshop? Are you offering it in a way that is attractive and feasible for them? Do they have time for a workshop, or would they prefer another vehicle, like a teleconference or an online workshop?
Finally, reevaluate whether a workshop is the best medium for connecting with your potential clients. Explore how they usually go about deciding on services like yours, and consider reaching out to them in other ways.
Authors and career coaches Paul and Sarah Edwards have written 15 books, including Working From Homeand Finding Your Perfect Work. Send them your start-up business questions at www.workingfromhome.com or in care of Entrepreneur.