The Virtual Conference Business Model

image from LTD 2017 virtual conference business model

Anyone who has been following my writing for a while knows that I am an advocate of thinking “beyond courses” when it comes to building a learning-based business. For purposes of this post, I want to highlight one particular “beyond courses” business model. Namely, virtual conferences.

Virtual conferences are top of mind for me lately because my partner and I hosted one recently with very good results. We wound up with more than 250 people registered as well as a line up of sponsors and exhibitors. We also be recorded the whole things, so will have a follow-on product to offer (and to mine for future content and marketing).

Here are a number of reasons I think a virtual conference is worth considering, maybe even in advance of creating a course:

  • Putting one together makes you a “convener” in your niche, someone who can connect the dots and create value. This is a path to being perceived as a thought leader.
  • You get to showcase your own expertise and you get a chance to associate yourself with other experts, which tends to raise perception of your expertise (especially if some of the other experts are already more established than you are).
  • You also get to leverage the marketing power of the other experts you involve to reach a much broader audience than you could reach on your own.
  • You get to move fast in putting together an offering. Many of us struggle with putting together a whole course, but any of us can deliver a online session or two in our topic of expertise – and then leverage others to provide additional content.
  • As already noted, you can record the whole thing, so you end up with both a live event and a product you can continue to promote and sell afterwards.
  • Once you have done it once, it’s repeatable – and it can grow bigger and bigger over time as you attract more attendees. It starts to become a “franchise” that you could actually sell to someone else in the future.
  • Last, but certainly not least, you will learn a ton in the process. Chances are very high that you will be able to leverage at least some of this knowledge into new opportunities.

Of course, putting together a virtual conference may sound daunting, but that is also part of the attraction. A lot of people don’t go this route because it sounds complex. That means those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and do a little work have a great opportunity.

“But I don’t know enough experts who would do this with me,” you may be saying.

I’ll bet good money you are wrong about that. Sit down a make a list. You only need a few, and they don’t need to be rock stars. Even if you don’t currently have a relationship, if you are able to present a compelling story, most experts are eager to find good platforms for broadening their audience. Aren’t you?

“But the technology is complex,” may be another argument.

Again, I’d disagree. Now, we do happen to be using a relatively high-end platform for our conference, but that is because of the nature of the business we are in (which is all about top flight learning technologies) and the relationships we have. A complex platform is not at all necessary. As I’ve written about in Leading the Learning Revolution, Social Media Examiner has built a multi-million dollar virtual conference business using just GoToWebinar, WordPress, and simple e-commerce. And they are far from alone in taking this approach.

Bottom line: virtual conferences can be a great way to move fast, get an offering created, and at the same time, greatly elevate perception of your expertise.

I encourage you to give it some thought as an option. And, if you have already done a virtual conference or are planning one, please comment and let readers know about it.

Jeff

Update: Here’s a complete rundown of what we used for the 2018 version of this virtual conference:

  • Zoom – We used Zoom to deliver all of the live sessions. We captured the recordings for posting in the event community, which was built with:

 

  • WordPress (Free) – This is the core of the site. WordPress is open source, so it is free, but we do pay for very high quality hosting with WPEngine, a company that specializes in WordPress hosting (and provides very good support).
  • BuddyPress (Free) – This is a community plug-in for WordPress – also open source, also free. It is what allows for things like member profiles and activity streams, and it is also the base on which the theme for the site and some of the other key plug-ins are built.
  • bbPress (Free) – This a very popular WordPress plug-in for forums. BuddyPress and the theme we are using (see below) work together to make it more attractive, but the core discussion board functionality is bbPress.
  • Social Learner for LearnDash Theme($179 for a single site) – This is a social learning theme built by BuddyBoss. It is pre-integrated with LearnDash, a WordPress-based LMS. We aren’t using the LearnDash LMS capabilities – they just don’t seem to be necessary at the moment – but may going forward. Mostly, we just really liked the overall look and feel of the Social Learner theme. It is controlling things like the navigation menu you see over on the left as well as many aspects of how all of the items in the user profile area are displayed. In particular, we liked the fact that it had badging built in. We have not emphasized this yet – but stay tuned. It also has WooCommerce pre-integrated. WooCommerce is the leading e-commerce option for WordPress and it is what we used on the LTD site (ltd.tagoras.com). We will use it here going forward to take payment and process registration directly – we just hadn’t made a platform decision back at the time that we first started taking payments.
  • BuddyBoss Wall ($29) – We added this plug-in to the Social Learning theme to make the profile area a little more like Facebook.
  • BuddyBoss Media ($39) – We added this plug-in to the Social Learning theme to make it possible for attendees to be able to upload photos to their activity streams. (Give it a go!)
  • BuddyPress Members Only (Free) – This is the WordPress plug-in we use to restrict access to content in the site to registered members (other than pages we designate). We may move to something more sophisticated in the future, but this simple plug-in does its job quite well.
  • LearnDash ($159 for one site) – As noted above, we aren’t really making use of LearnDash, but we do have it installed and may use it in the future.
  • WP Mail SMTP (Free) – Finally, we are using this plug-in to help increase deliverability of e-mail that gets sent automatically by the site (e.g., registration confirmation). This definitely does not solve all deliverability issues, but it is am improvement over using the native functionality in WordPress.

 

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