Test-Marketing Your Own Seminars
The most labor-intensive way to get paid to speak is to set up your own workshops, independent of organizational sponsorship. But if you want more income, have exhausted the immediate opportunities to speak at other forums, and are not yet ready to join a speakers' bureau, this can be a very profitable way to go. Because a lot of your own time and money is going to be at risk, however, you want to be sure you have a topic and battle plan that is going to work.
Choose a location that is tasteful and easy to get to for your target audience, schedule it when prospects are likely to be able to go (a two-hour business luncheon downtown, cocktails after hours, a full weekend workshop), and price it based on similar courses. You can then try different means of promoting a test seminar, the most common being newspaper ads and direct mail, because these are low-cost relative to radio and TV. Magazines will generally have rates too high for an initial test.
For a business audience, try placing an ad in a local business publication, which will have less expensive rates than the main daily newspaper. A specialized publication that goes to the members of the industry you believe will be most receptive would be even better and less expensive because of its small circulation. You could also place an ad in the regional edition of a national publication, such as the
Color ad prices are much higher than black-and-white and newspapers often have limited color capabilities. You can test a four-color (full color) ad in a magazine, but are likely to be disappointed with the results relative to money spent. You can attract attention and make an emotional connection with the reader without color.
For a consumer program, find a publication whose readers are likely to have a similar demographic profile to one you will be using for the posttest program.
Generally, a quarter-page black-and-white ad (white print on a black background will catch even more attention) is the best bet because it is large enough to catch as much attention as a half-page ad at a fraction of the price. Ask for the upper part of a right hand page, even if you have to pay more for preferred positioning. The business section is the obvious place for business seminars, but unless your topic fits a particular section (such as cars or real estate), the first section of a paper is going to be seen by more readers. Sunday is the best day to run, because more people spend more time with the paper. Naturally, it also costs more than ads during the week.
Use an appropriate mailing list (more on this later) to send a brochure to a small number of people, relative to what you plan for the main marketing push. Ask respondents who call how they heard about the seminar (put a seminar code by the phone number and by the Web site address for those who register that way). You can then change the different elements based on the reaction and based on which medium produced the most cost-effective response. Testing will allow you to pick the right subject, title, and price — or let you know that your plan is way off base and save you from financial disaster.
Getting a 1 percent response to direct mail is considered successful, but not all of those will actually sign up for a seminar. It is, therefore, critical to first test what type of letter gets the best response before doing a mass mailing. You will probably have to test several times to know how to maximize concrete results.
Seminar marketing guru Howard Shenson, in his classic 1990 guide
Time and place
Color and quality of paper
Length of letter
Discount for full payment with registration or installment payments
Limited time offers
Inviting readers to call a recorded message or go to a Web site for more information
Timing the mailing to be received when ads are running
Photographs, illustrations, or no art
Use of underlines, italics, and bold
One, two, or four colors
Offering a gift
Doing a follow-up mailing to the same list
Shenson says that whether to place the marketing emphasis on ads or direct mail depends on a variety of factors, but, as a rule, direct mail is more cost-effective for an identifiable and specialized group for which there is a list (e.g., local subscribers to a bird-watching magazine for your workshop on identifying rarely seen birds in your region). These will often pay a higher price for a course.
Hiring a publicist or doing basic public relations work yourself (see Chapter 11) is a good way to augment advertising and direct mail. One survey showed that publicity is the third most cost-effective method of promoting seminars, just behind direct mail and ads in newspapers and ahead of ads in business magazines.
Advertising is more likely to work best when you want to reach a broader audience that is also likely to read a particular publication (you are teaching a course on cost-effective home repairs and want to reach homeowners who are readers of the daily newspaper). In that event, the seminar should probably be more moderately priced than one that can be promoted primarily by direct mail.
Cable television can be cost-effective for promoting seminars, but the reason the rates are low compared with broadcast stations is that there are rarely measurements of the size of the audience being regularly reached. Another negative of cable advertising is that you generally have to buy a package that includes channels whose viewers are not in your target audience. If it does seem attractive anyway, beware buying the cheapest time slots, since they are discounted for good reason (the same can be said of radio).