Most of us dream of having an online business
We are led to believe it's fine to just start up a blog and the audience will show up. Reality is a lot different. It takes time for an audience to appear. And when they do appear, it takes time to trust you.
So how do you speed up that process of client acquisition and trust? Welcome to the land of offline events. In this episode we'll see why you should have the event and how to get the right people to sign up.
I don't like Microsoft Excel. However, my wife, Renuka does.
She can spend hours, even days tinkering with that “weird” program and come up with some statistics that are plainly astounding. One day as we sat down to lunch, as we do every afternoon, she announced the results of her morning escapade with Excel.
“Guess what percentage of our income is derived from workshops and offline events?”
Before I could answer, she revealed her statistics. The income we earned from offline events was barely 2% of our income. This tiny percentage wasn't terribly surprising to both of us, because we knew that conducting international events was an expensive exercise. Even so, I was a bit ambivalent at the thought of putting in so much work and getting a return of just 2%.
That's when Renuka revealed her ace, “Guess how much of our income comes as a direct result of those events?” she continued. And mercifully I didn't need Excel to answer that question, because I've done the hand-raising ceremony at our live events. What's the hand-raising ceremony, you ask?
At workshops, I will ask how many clients have done one online course with us, and at least 50% of the hands go up. Then I ask them to keep their hands raised if they've done two courses and few hands, if any, go down.
Three courses? The hands still stay up. The courses at Psychotactics are not necessarily cheap. While some start at around $900, the hands-on courses can cost as much as $3300.
If at this point you think that it's the online courses that lead clients to come to the in-person workshop—it's the other way round.
Clients that meet us in person, tend to sign up for the online courses, and then just for good measure come back and attend an in-person event as well. It makes perfect sense to you, when you think of it in terms of dating, doesn't it? A relationship can be formed online, but to make sure you're not picking the wrong person, you and I, we both have to do the offline thing: we have to meet.
The exciting bit about the meeting is that it doesn't always have to be a big event
At Psychotactics, we've had three-day, four-day, even seven-day in-person workshops. At other times, we've had a presentation for between 20-45 minutes. But there have also been situations where we've just spent a few hours in a meetup, given answers to client's questions and then gone for an extended lunch or dinner.
In every case, the results are similar. Clients that get to know us don't bother to go to the sales page with a fine tooth comb. When we offer a product, workshop or course, they sign up instantly. They have met us offline, they get to know us well, and they trust us. When you see and meet someone in the flesh, you can often make a pretty accurate assessment of whether to go ahead or not.
Which is why despite the meagre 2% income from workshops and events, we continue to run offline events.
But what if you're just starting out?
You may not have any books or products to sell the clients who attend your event. You aren't likely to have an online course or training system.
Is it still worth it? Without a doubt, it's one of the best ways to get started, no matter what you're planning to do for a living. In most cases, a workshop will get you to interact with clients, you'll find out what interests them, and you'll get instant feedback. Plus, if you do your budgeting well, you're likely to make more than just 2%.
When we did our very first workshop back in the early days of Psychotactics, we were rewarded for our audacity.
I was part of a networking group, and I cajoled several of the members to show up and bring their friends along. The fee was $75 for the evening. The cafe owner offered to rent us the place for no cost and even provided the coffees free of charge. That event netted us $1500 because 20 people showed up.
But it didn't stop at that point. It's a well-known fact that the hardest sell is the first one, so I'd prepared myself to sell recurring events just like this one. How did we go about this task? And how do you do something similar?
Let's look at three things we should consider planning an event—offline
- 1) Where to get your clients
- 2) What's the first step to finding an offline audience?
- 3) How to get people to sign up.
1) Where to get your clients
When I was just about eight or nine years old, I had a job on Sundays.
Not every Sunday, of course, but around the months of late May and most of June was when my father needed my brother and me to pitch in, in the family business. Since my father ran a secretarial college, admissions would start in July, which meant that we had to stand outside churches and hand out a leaflet. After reading those flyers, many young women would then sign up for the year-long batch that started in July.
But why churches? As it turned out, most secretaries at the time were almost exclusively Catholic.
In Mumbai, India, masses are held on Sundays, on the hour from 6 am, and then all the way until 10 am. Which meant that we'd often be giving out hundreds of leaflets to everyone coming out of the church.
Some of whom would either become secretaries or would pass on the leaflet to a friend or relative. In effect, to start up any business, you need to show up and make yourself known in places where your future clients congregate.
If you've been brought up on the goodness of the internet, you might think the best idea in the world is to sit behind a computer, write a blog and the clients will come rushing in. In several cases that method of creating content is valid, but it could take a lot of time, money and energy to get that kind of business model off the ground. Which is why you may as well take a deep breath and go offline. Scary as it may seem, it's time to do an in-person event instead.
Which raises a very pertinent question: Where do you get clients?
The answer is not apparent and for a good reason Let's say you wanted to start a cooking class. Let's say you're no champ at making Michelin starred meals, but you're no slouch at cooking either.
Where would you go? Do you randomly post leaflets into your neighbourhood boxes? That's one option, but there would be a lot of waste as it's unlikely that everyone in your neighbourhood is suddenly going to be interested in investing in a frying pan and heading to your class.
Instead, go looking for a problem that needs solving.
When you look at the leaflets being distributed outside the church, it seems like a scattergun approach, doesn't it? However, as we already noted, there was a method to the madness. The girls were out of school or college and back in the early seventies, those were among the only jobs available to them.
It enabled them to get more independent and earn a reasonable income. When looking for your audience, you too need to look at the problem you're solving and not focus on just the solution. The problem you're likely to address is: unsure of how to make meals that kids love? The answer is “how to make meals that kids will eat in minutes”.
And where would you find kids? Right, you figured it out, didn't you? At the playground, in schools—even in doctor's waiting rooms fighting those millions of germs they seem to attract.
But what if you're selling a product instead, like a microphone?
Again, we don't necessarily start out with an audience, but tackle the problem, instead. What problem does the microphone solve? The Rode Podcaster, for instance, combines broadcast quality audio with the simplicity of USB connectivity, allowing recording direct to a computer without the need for an additional digital interface.
Suddenly finding kids and their parents for a cooking class seems a lot simpler, doesn't it? However, you're more likely to find a group of podcasters that meet locally. If you look up a site like MeetUp.com, you're more than likely to find all sorts of different groups.
But what if you looked long and hard and not a single podcast group shows up? Well, let's go past the technology problem and see what problem a microphone can solve. It helps a business owner record podcasts, or just have better-sounding screen recordings or screen videos for their business. The business owner can simply plug in the microphone, and they're well on their way to recording without needing to get muddled up with digital interfaces.
2) What's the first step to finding an offline audience?
Every product or service is going to solve a problem
Sometimes you can find clients in an obvious place.
For example, we were able to find clients at our networking group. However, we also went on to meet with a group of coaches who held their weekly meetings not far from where we lived. We found dentists who needed marketing advice.
I know this sounds bizarre, but we also wrote and got paid for articles in an alpaca magazine. We didn't get to do a workshop or in-person event with the alpaca folks, but the example is designed to show you how to look beyond the obvious.
In some cases, your audience is likely to be pretty narrow
Kelly Q lives in Australia, and her audience is a relatively tiny niche of “supply teachers”. Know what happens when your kid's teacher can't make it for the day? They get a temporary teacher, don't they? They're called “supply teachers” or “teachers for the day”.
Kelly writes a book that helps them work out the issues that plague supply teachers, and her business has started to take off. Where did she find her audience?
Not offline, but online in teaching groups and Facebook groups. In her case, the Internet has come to the rescue and enabled her to sell her book. Yes, it's not an offline audience, to begin with, but over time every audience whether you find them online or offline can be engaged within a real setting, in a real place, and drinking real coffee.
How do you find an offline audience?
Sit down with a couple of friends or someone who knows your business well and write a list of the problems your company solves. Once you have the problem, or problems worked out, you can find out the audience that needs your solution. If you're still struggling a bit, try going to a site like MeetUp.com.
For Psychotactics, I had no luck with volleyball teams, or with potters, but that got me to think of volleyball coaches who might need marketing advice or pottery companies. With a little bit of brainstorming, you should be able to find several groups or at least ideas for where to get started.
But what's next? How do you go about getting people to sign up for your event?
3) How to get people to sign up for your event
You know the phrase that says, “Think Big”?
Well, the way to get people to sign up, is to get rid of the idea of thinking big. And I stumbled upon this “think small” idea quite by mistake. When we started out, I'd always compare myself with more prominent marketers, and somehow extrapolate their numbers to my own.
If they had 5000 people at their event, I automatically assumed that 150 people at my to-be-event were entirely feasible. Then I ran into a friend of mine, Kushla Martin, excitedly told me about an event she was attending and that she'd paid $75 for the event.
Two things struck me at once
The first thing I realised was that it wasn't some elaborate event that I was always dreaming about. It was a simple speech that would take an hour, possibly a couple of hours. Kushla was more than happy to go out, get inspired and pay $75 for the advice.
The $75 was the second point that stuck in my head. When you have to make a decision that involves hundreds or thousands of dollars, there's a lot of decision-making, fund-checking to be done.
With a $75 event price, it was relatively easy to decide to go. Even though my business was relatively new, I too had been to at least two or three events that ranged in the $50 to $75 range.
But how do you get people to sign up for your event?
You merely announce the event, the venue and put a price on it. Remember that clients aren't coming to your event just to support you, though a few friends might just do that. They're there to learn something so that they can use it in their own lives and business.
So ask yourself: what will the clients get as a result of attending your event?
Sachie's Kitchen in Auckland, New Zealand started with a simple goal in mind. Run by Sachie Nomura who's Japanese and her husband, Nick (who is Kiwi-Chinese) their goal was to take the most helpless cook and turn him or her into what they call a “black belt of Japanese cooking” in a single 2 ½ hour session.
A cookbook store called CookTheBooks, also in Auckland, turned their backyard shed into a kitchen of sorts teaching (and serving) Sri Lankan, Moroccan, North African, Spanish and other cuisines. The clients that come to their events know exactly what result they'll get. In Sachie's Kitchen, it's a masterclass on Japanese cooking.
In CooktheBooks, it's a bit of knowledge of the cuisine, but it's a great fun evening out and hence it attracts office groups and friends along.
Should you consider having free events?
You could, but it's hard to get people to show up to free events. Remember those series of sessions we did back when we first started? Those were paid sessions, and you could safely say that between 80-90% showed up month after month. Several years later, we decided to give back to the community and host free monthly sessions of one hour each.
For over a year, participants turned up, and the room was always packed with 40 people, but it was never the same people. When an event is free, it's easier to stay at home if it's a windy, rainy day. We found the same with our meetups worldwide. When we'd announce a free meet up in a city, people would turn up, but not in force.
The moment we started charging a modest fee of $30 or so, everyone turned up. Free events are harder to market and even harder to sell. It's better to restrict your free goodies to something online or also something you can give away at the event itself. By and large, you'd do well to avoid free events.
What do you do next?
Depending on how you publicise your event, you can put details on sites like Eventbrite or EventFinda. Those are event sites in this part of the Pacific. You'll have some event sites on your side of the world.
If you're meeting with a group of people, for example, a group of volleyball coaches, you can get them to sign up and often pay through a mobile device. Finally, don't forget to print a few leaflets that talk about the results you're going to get the clients. If you just want them to meet and have a great time, make that the focus of your leaflet and marketing.
If you want it to be deadly serious, that's fine too. I've been to watercolour classes, photography sessions, dancing lessons and even bought a couple of houses as a result of offline events.
P.S. Go ahead and plan your offline event.