I hosted a training seminar to teach local businesses how to improve the number of leads & sales driven by their Web sites. I charged the 5 attendees $250 each, for an effective hourly rate of $312.50, and I delivered outstanding value to them.
Best of all, this something I believe any freelancer or consultant could do.
But first, let’s back up and talk about why you might want to consider hosting a seminar.
The problem: An underserved market of small fish
If you run a boutique consultancy, there’s a good chance that your services (and your prices) are simply out of local business’s league. Even when these small businesses (1–10 employees) are convinced of the value of your services, they might not be able to justify the investment—even if they could get 10× ROI in the coming years, they simply can’t afford the up-front cost.
This presents an interesting—and underserved—market. Whether your expertise is in software development, marketing, or management consulting, there’s a good chance that when it comes to the “small fish,” you’re either referring the business out or turning it down flat.
That’s a shame, because over the years, you’ve probably accumulated a huge number of these SMB contacts. In my case, through the local chamber of commerce and a handful of networking groups, I was in contact with hundreds of local businesses each month.
My typical consulting services (such as a Web site overhaul to improve the number of leads & sales generated by the site) were out of the question for these businesses. The business development song-and-dance in this market is too time-intensive to be profitable for me, and many of these companies simply aren’t doing enough business through their Web sites to get decent ROI from a full engagement. I know from my discussions with other freelancers & consultants that this pain is felt almost universally.
…But, those small fish do still need help.
The solution: Recurring revenue through training seminars
To serve these small businesses, you need to deliver your expertise at a price point they can justify—local businesses are often more price-sensitive and less value-focused than their larger counterparts. To succeed here, you need to leverage your time through a work-once, charge-repeatedly offering. You need a recurring revenue model. A book, an educational course, or a software tool all fit the bill here, but the solution I’m advocating is an in-person training seminar.
Why a seminar? First, in-person training commands a pretty high price, so as long as you have a big enough contact base to fill your seats, it can be quite profitable from Day 1. You can develop the course material such that the content is “evergreen”—it won’t go out of fashion for years—and thereby open up the possibility of delivering the same seminar once a month or so.
Second, the content for this seminar can act as the seed for other offerings. It will be much easier to write a book or develop an online training course about this content in the future, since you’ll be able to start with a recording or transcript of your seminar. Similarly, video taken of the seminar can later be sold as a standalone offering on your Web site.
There’s another advantage to hosting an in-person seminar over pursuing other avenues for recurring revenue: local visibility. If you deliver outstanding value in a seminar, the people who attend will talk about it with their own contacts. While the same could be said of books, online training, and other modes of sharing your knowledge, many of your customers from those channels won’t be local (and even when they are, you won’t even approach the level of rapport you can build in person!). If your long-term goals include working with high-profile local clients, an in-person seminar can’t be beat for getting the word out.
In my own case, I could have first created, say, a book on my topic, but the overhead is much greater and the return much less certain. If the seminar had gotten a lukewarm response from my contacts, I simply would have canceled it and lost almost nothing. To validate a book idea, though, would have taken a great deal more work—I would have needed hundreds of enthusiastic people each month to make it profitable, but I only needed five for the seminar.
9 steps to hosting your own seminar
If you’re sold on hosting a seminar as a way of selling your services to local businesses, here’s how I suggest doing it.
1. Decide on a topic.
First off, I suggest you choose a non-technical topic—something with broad appeal that a mom-and-pop business could benefit from. In my case, I chose “how to generate more sales/leads through your Web site.” Obviously, this could be a very technical topic, but I made it clear that we would be talking about non-technical aspects (like writing your Web site so that it educates & persuades visitors, and creating content that will grow your traffic).
Why non-technical? Simple! If you want to capitalize on businesses with 1–10 employees, there’s a good chance they won’t have technical staff in your field.
Here are a few ideas for what you could teach:
- If you’re a mobile app developer, teach people about how they can use tools like AppsBuilder or AppArchitect to build an app for their business. (What should they create? What kind of guidelines can you give them for the design? How should they promote it?)
- If you’re a Web designer, teach people the most important things they should pay attention to on their own site—how to avoid common usability issues, how to decide if you need a mobile-optimized site, how to use blogging software effectively, how to get insights from your analytics data, etc.
- If you’re a back-end software developer, you may have to stretch a bit. I suggest teaching people about how they can improve their businesses using free or cheap tools (Dropbox, CRMs, accounting software, etc.). These businesses might not be able to afford a custom-tailored solution, but they can still benefit from streamlining their processes through software you’re familiar with.
Notice that none of the topics above require an expert to deliver them. That means that if you have a team, you can develop the seminar materials once and have your junior staff actually deliver the presentations. This can turn a 1-day commitment into passive income!
2. Decide on a price.
When choosing a price, keep your audience in mind. The micro-businesses in your area probably can’t afford $1,000/day training, even if you could deliver that much value.
At the same time, you don’t want to price too low—even if your primary goal isn’t to make money (e.g., if you want to build a reputation in the area), I suggest not making it free or even under $100. At free, you’re undoubtedly going to have no-shows, and for any price under $100, you’re going to have people who don’t take you seriously.
In my case, I planned a 4-hour seminar and priced it at $250/person. My primary goal is to build a reputation locally, but making a bit over $1,000 after booking the location, catering lunch, etc. was a nice bonus.
3. Decide on a time & book a location.
This part’s easy. Lots of places charge very modest prices for hosting events for local businesses, including public libraries and universities—a local chamber of commerce can probably point you in the right direction.
If one of the attendees has an office with a large conference room, you might consider offering them a discount in exchange for holding the event there.
Wherever you plan to host the event, be sure to confirm they have any A/V equipment you need. It would be awful to spend hours on a presentation, only to have to display it from your 13″ laptop screen!
Also, make sure to plan for whatever meals coincide with the time you’ve chosen. If it’s in the morning, plan to bring something like bagels & coffee. Likewise, if the seminar time will overlap with lunch, plan to cater. (In any case, you’ll probably want to be clear with attendees about what’s provided—if your seminar begins at 1 pm, for instance, will you be providing lunch?)
4. Decide on the max number of attendees.
When deciding how many people you’re going to have at the seminar, consider:
- the capacity of your location (obviously!),
- the degree to which you want to tailor the course material to the attendees (the more the course meets their exact situation, the higher the value to them, but this is hard to scale), and
- the degree to which you want to create urgency in asking for signups (“3 spots remaining” is a lot more likely to drive someone to sign up now than “30 seats available”).
I wanted to give my attendees extremely personalized, instantly actionable advice, so I limited the seminar to 5 people.
5. Start accepting sign-ups.
You’ll probably want to create a page on your Web site (and maybe a pamphlet to hand out to people in person) with information about the seminar and instructions on how to sign up.
Key components of this page include:
- a description of the topics covered (and motivation for why your readers should care!),
- the time & location for the seminar,
- your credentials (why you’re qualified to teach this),
- responses to objections you anticipate, and
- instructions on how to sign up.
Note that Gumroad makes it trivially easy to accept payments on your Web site (no SSL required!), and they even have a WordPress plugin so you don’t ever have to touch your site’s code.
6. Promote the heck out of it.
Call or email anyone and everyone who could reasonably either a) attend the seminar themselves or b) tell their contacts about the event. Ideally, you know of a small handful of “key connectors” in the local business community. Sit down with them, explain the value you’re providing, and ask them to inform their x,000 local contacts about it.
7. Prep your materials.
I suggest preparing the following at the minimum:
- A presentation or other visual aid for the seminar material
- An outline of what you intend to cover (so that people don’t have to scramble quite so much to take notes)
- A questionnaire or feedback form to learn where you can improve
- Be sure to ask for testimonials that you can use in promoting future incarnations of the seminar!
- You may also want to ask for email addresses from the attendees so you can stay in touch via your newsletter.
- A way to distribute your course materials (including the presentation, outline, links to Web sites you discuss, etc.), such as a password-protected Web page
8. Practice & fine-tune the presentation.
If the seminar you’re hosting is longer than an hour or so, you probably only want to run through it once or twice ahead of time. (I only practiced my 4-hour seminar once.) Since your topic will most likely be pretty basic for you, this shouldn’t be too difficult. I do recommend timing yourself, though, so that you can be sure you won’t go too long (or worse, too short!). Make sure you’re accounting for all the time that will be spent in discussion, too. (See my “lessons learned” below for how I failed in this area!)
9. Do it!
At this point, you should be completely ready to go. On game day, get to the location at least a half-hour early to set up, distribute printed copies of your outline, etc.
Remember to relax and speak slowly, and be sure to check with your audience once in a while to make sure you’re doing okay. (Micro-tip: Phrase this question as “Am I explaining this well?” rather than “Do you understand what I mean?”. You’re much more likely to get an honest answer because it puts the fault on you, the instructor, rather than the student if the answer is no.)
When I hosted my first in-person training seminar with an audience of 5 local business owners, the “Selling On Your Web Site Bootcamp” covered
- writing Web pages that educate & persuade (ultimately selling your offering),
- capturing & nurturing leads from your site, and
- getting more traffic in a long-term, sustainable way, and
- using social media productively in small business marketing.
At $250/seat, this still wasn’t cheap, but it was certainly affordable for any business that might get value out of their Web site.
Why only 5 attendees? I limited the number of seats because I wanted to offer very personalized advice to each of them. So, at the end of each section (about 6 times throughout the seminar!), I pulled up each person’s Web site, and we all brainstormed how the ideas & techniques we just discussed could be put into practice on their site. This was a huge win—by far the high point of the seminar—and it meant that each attendee left with a full-page list of ideas that they could implement immediately.
As my first seminar, this served as a tremendous learning experience for me.
There are a handful of things I learned related to simply hosting an event. For instance, I catered lunch, but forgot to order drinks (luckily the company hosting the event had water & soda on hand). Similarly, I forgot to plan for bathroom breaks! About 2 hours in, a couple of people abruptly got up and left for a few minutes, leaving me baffled until I figured out why. The first thing I did when I got back to the office was inserting “bio break” slides after each section.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned was about timing. I had practiced the seminar ahead of time and had everything timed out to about 3 hours. With some discussion about each section (including brainstorming action items for each person’s Web site), I thought, that makes about 4 hours total, right?
I was way, way wrong. About 3 hours in, I realized we had just finished the first half of the presentation. (Eeek!) By continuing to present during lunch and cutting out a lot of elaboration, I was able to still get through all the material I promised, but in the future, I’ll budget way more time for discussion. The presentation that was 3 hours when practicing on my own could easily have filled 5 or 6 hours with an audience.
Finally, there was one area I didn’t take advantage of that I really should have. Next time, I’ll submit the event to local event listing directories around the Web. For instance, my local newspaper, the Kansas City Star, hosts an events site with a domain authority of 90/100 according to Moz, and they give out followed links to submitted sites. The same goes for a couple of local newspapers & magazines. Now, SEO is not a big part of my business’s marketing strategy, but when it comes for free, I’ll take advantage of it!
Where to go from here
What can you offer the small, local businesses near you? Get started with an outline of the topic, and talk it over with some of your close contacts. Is this something people would pay for? If it is… make it happen!
This post was written by Tyler Young. In his day job, Tyler works as a Web marketing consultant. His expertise is in turning technical skills—like SEO and copywriting for conversions—into business goals. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.