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.
My company, Tagoras, has hosted a virtual conference since 2017 – well before the current surge – and it has become a core part of our business. Through it, we’ve attracted hundreds of new customers to us, raised awareness with thousands of future prospects, and developed stronger relationships with our most devoted followers.
And, of course, we’ve recorded everything, creating a range of opportunities for new products and content marketing.
Why to Consider a Virtual Conference
In addition to the reasons I just highlighted, here are a number of other 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 clear path to elevating your expertise and 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 – and the relationships you create – into new opportunities.
Implementing a DIY Virtual Conference
Of course, executing the virtual conference business model 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.
When we ran our first virtual conference in 2017, we struck a deal with platform and service provider who helped us do everything. That was great – and we were able to do it at no cost because of our industry status – but we quickly realized we could take the reins ourselves.
Since 2018, we’ve run the whole event with a combination of a WordPress Web site (here), a standard e-mail platform (currently Mailchimp in our case), and Zoom. In fact, here’s the whole run down of what we currently use:
- 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 promotional site and the community site for the event. 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 some of the best support I’ve ever experienced).
- Keynote Theme – This is the theme we use with WordPress on the promo site. It’s great for highlight sessions and speakers, and it integrates well with WooCommerce, which is what we use to take registration payments.
- BuddyBoss – We have an ongoing community site that we also make use of to support the virtual conference. For that, we use BuddyBoss, which is a very full-featured theme that allows for discussion boards, user profiles, and a variety of social media-like interaction tools. This is also the site on which we post all of our recordings. We use MemberPress in tandem with BuddyBoss to control access to the recordings and other protected content.
- MailChimp – We already used MailChimp for our e-mail lists, so it made sense for using it to communicate with conference attendees. You can use whatever platform you already use. For most major e-mail platforms there are existing (free or low-cost) plug-ins that will automatically add users once they complete a WooCommerce transaction (and this can be easily done with most other e-commerce platforms as well). We post links to to conference sessions in our community site but also send them out to registrants with Mailchimp.
One other element I’ll mention is that we did get a contractor to help us with day-of support for the conference. We found someone through Upwork who was very good and very affordable.
That’s pretty much it. Leaving aside the e-mail platform – which you probably already have – all of the technology above costs less than $500. Our event takes place over multiple days, so we tend to spend around $300-$400 on the contract support. Considering that our registrations fees average around $400 per individual, we cover those costs with a couple of registrations.
Of course, I should note that there are now a range of affordable platforms – like, for example, HeySummit – that can pull together all of the virtual conference pieces for you.
In general, I’m betting all of the above is well within your capabilities, or can be with just a little extra contract help. So, I encourage you to give the virtual conference business model some serious 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.
- How to Host a Virtual Conference
- 20 Virtual Conference Tips for Success (Leading Learning)
- A Why-To and a How-To: Virtual Conferences in the COVID-19 Era (Leading Learning Webinar Recording)
- Engaging Learners in Virtual Conferences: What You Can Try Online (Leading Learning)