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How to Use a Live or Online Event to Draw in New Customers Workshops, webinars and seminars are a relatively easy way to get a lot of new business fast and on the cheap.

By Wendy Keller

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


The following excerpt is from Wendy Keller's book Ultimate Guide to Platform Building. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes

If you have even an ounce of "teacher" or a dash of "performer energy" in your blood, you may enjoy using live events as a way to reach your target market. This can be a fun, relatively easy way to get a lot of new business fast, and it doesn't have to take a lot of money.

Related: How to Write a Great Pitch for the Media

There are several types of speaking engagements that work for small business owners:

  • Workshops -- where people actually engage with the speaker(s) and do something, like build a marketing plan or paint a picture or learn how to use QuickBooks online. This could include a support group, like you'd expect from a therapist or life coach.
  • Seminars -- where one or more people lecture other people (sort of like high school). You might call it a "talk" or a "program" or a "training."
  • Webinars -- a seminar delivered online, usually through the services of GoToWebinar or a similar provider. An unlimited number of people tune into a website URL and listen and watch as you present. In some cases, they can see your face. In others, they can only see your slides. Lots of options, lots of money to be made.

Of course, the trick to success is picking a topic that proposes to solve the biggest problems your future customers are facing. Finding and clearly describing the benefits (ideally in the title) is a big part of getting people to attend live or online. Consider what solutions you might offer to individuals who show up.

The other part of the puzzle is what you can speak about successfully. I've taught more than 8,000 entry-level speakers, and I always challenge them to ask these questions of themselves:

  • On what topics do I have both expertise and passion?
  • Have I established that complete strangers like the way I talk about those topics (usually via blogging, related videos, webinars, media etc.)?
  • How fast is my audience growing? (Less than 10 percent per month? Tweak your topics.)
  • Can any of my topics be adapted for a business audience? That's where most of the money is in speaking!

Warning: If you haven't yet proven your topic and tested that the way you phrase the benefits that you promise are appealing to your public, you're not ready to pursue a live event. Test it repeatedly on social media before you invest copious energy in a live event.

Putting on a workshop or seminar

Once you have clarity about your topic, a bit of a following in the subject matter and you decide that you want to put on a workshop or a seminar with a live audience in an actual location, there are some significant, scary pitfalls ahead. You're going to want to minimize your risk before you start promoting your program. Here are some cautions to heed:

Caution 1: The venue

If you're renting a room, the venue usually requires you to put down a deposit to hold the space. This means that whether or not you get people, sell tickets or sell products, you already paid them a non-refundable deposit. It's not like a hotel room where you can cancel the day before (in most cases). Note that their money is made largely by whatever catering you provide. This is often the most expensive part of the event, and sometimes a venue (event location) will give you the room for free if your catering budget is big enough. If you pre-order lunch for 12, you can't change it if only six people show up. Ask lots of questions before you sign the contract.

Caution 2: Space and seating

If you rent a room for 100 and only 10 people show up, it's going to be uncomfortable and embarrassing. If you rent a room for 20 and 200 people show up, it's going to be a hassle, scrambling to fit them all in, find more chairs and even stay within the fire code regulations.

In major cities, you're unlikely to have a problem if you take whatever number of people RSVP and plan on 50 percent of the people showing up. In small towns, the opposite is likely to happen. Since there are fewer distractions in rural places, it's not unusual to have 10 to 15 percent more people show up than registered. Unless you state it clearly otherwise, people may bring spouses, relatives or friends.

Caution 3: More parts means more problems

When you're starting out, keep it simple. If you're planning an all-day event with catering, multiple speakers and at a venue that's a distance from your home, I strongly urge you to start smaller and practice. If you plan to use a spectacular PowerPoint presentation with embedded video files, internet access and music, you're setting yourself up for problems until you know exactly how to set yourself up. Arrive at least four hours early for a run-through.

Related: How to Land a Sponsorship Deal

Caution 4: Spectacular support relieves stress

As the event is about to begin, it's extremely useful to have someone you know and trust running around helping with logistics. What if four extra people show up and someone has to run to the venue manager and request more chairs? Imagine halfway through, someone starts really coughing hard and distracts the audience. If you have someone who can bring them a cup of water, you won't have to attend to them from the stage. Imagine you're going to use a PowerPoint presentation and suddenly, the projector is not working or you did not bring an extension cord long enough for your laptop -- it's good to have help.

Caution 5: Dealing with your nerves

If you're human, you are bound to be nervous -- or at least jittery -- as the event begins. Preparation is critical to allow you to focus on giving the most benefit possible and being as relaxed as you can be. Go over your intended program from greeting to closing at least three times in the days preceding, even if you plan to speak off the cuff. It will improve your flow and improve the experience for your audience, and increase your sales.

The wonderful world of webinars

Everything I know about webinars that works came from Amy Porterfield and her webinar training system, although we've never spoken. Within a month of taking her course at Profitable Webinars, I earned more money than I had in all my previous webinars put together. This woman is a genius!

Webinars allow you to carefully craft your best content, market it and deliver it to a very specific group of avatars. They allow you to serve people at the highest level. You earn money from them in one of three ways: by charging for "tickets" to the webinar, by selling a product or service during it or by using webinars as freemiums or premiums.

Most webinars are 30, 60 or 90 minutes in length. They're most often delivered with a PowerPoint presentation while using a service like The audience only sees your screen, not you. There's almost no cost in doing webinars, which makes them a great way to test your content's appeal to live people.

If you're a natural teacher, warm, personable, friendly, passionate and good at sales, it may take you a few "practice" live webinars to get profitable, but Amy's program works miracles if you apply it.

When to start promoting your event

The time to start promoting for a multi-day event or an event that most people will have to travel to is six months in advance. The time to start promoting a local event that you plan to sell tickets to is three months in advance. The time to start promoting a free live event is two months in advance. The majority of registrations will always come in during the last few days.

Related: How a Contest or Giveaway Can Attract Business Prospects

Here are a few extra promotional strategies to alert people to your live events (or webinars, for that matter!):

  • Put a hyperlink and a call-to-action phrase in your email signature and instruct all your staff to do the same.
  • Put a special announcement form in every bag or box you ship to or hand to your customers.
  • Mail a hand-addressed "wedding invitation" style invite to every client or prospect in the geographic radius -- a nice quality paper and a shiny metallic seal is a guar­anteed 100 percent open rate!
  • Put a banner ad on your website and any other related sites.
  • Put a pop-up invite box on your website.
  • Offer a free (something) to those who attend live.
  • Hold a pre-event, also called a "feeder" event. When I was sponsoring a lot of multi-day expensive workshops for authors and speakers, I would do between three and six free feeder events in California and sometimes Arizona to prompt people to attend my costly live event in Los Angeles. Depending on your topic, you may be able to get other places to give you a free feeder event, complete with an audience. For example, local business clubs, charity groups, library talks etc.
  • Buy a few months of ads on the back of grocery store register tapes or display ads on the carts themselves (depending on the nature of your event, of course!).
  • Ask other companies to sponsor your event, mail announcements about it to their compatible customers or let you hang signs in their windows, especially if it's free and useful to their people.
  • Stick a flier on local bulletin boards.
  • Put it in the calendar section of your local newspapers (this only works if the event is free).
  • Ask the community college and library to sponsor it or to host a few feeder events.

Follow these tips, and you'll get lots of warm chairs!

Wendy Keller

CEO and Founder of Keller Media, Inc.

Wendy Keller is an award-winning former journalist, a respected literary agent, an author, speaker, acclaimed book marketing consultant, and branding expert. She is the author of Ultimate Guide to Platform Building (Entrepreneur Press®, 2016) and got her first job as a newspaper reporter as a 16-year-old college freshman. Since then, Wendy worked for PR Newswire; the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain; as managing editor of Dateline magazine; and as associate publisher of Los Angeles’ then-second-largest Spanish language weekly, La Gaceta. She works with authors, speakers and business experts to help them build and promote their brands. She founded Keller Media, Inc. in 1989.

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