Highlights

Two major changes were made: First, a new business and pricing model was implemented.

Second, completely new promotion and advertising approaches were developed. These approaches combined benefits-oriented messaging with multiple touch points.

With no changes in how the chapter dealt with selecting topics, recruiting speakers, arranging venues, or in actually delivering a seminar, they went from losing money to a $30,000.00 profit on the next seminar.

This wasn't an accident. Four other profitable seminars have been run using this model, reversing a decade-long decline in attendance.

Profitable Seminars

Many professional and technical organizations run seminars. There are many reasons for this, including education, a service to their members, and fund raising. Profits from seminars are often the main source of income for the group.

Unfortunately, it has become more difficult to get enough people to register for the seminars to be profitable. This was the case with the Boston chapter of a national computer society. Although the group had been presenting seminars for over 40 years, attendance had been falling off. In fact, the last few seminars had lost money.

I became involved with the chapter, offering marketing and business skills. Interestingly, these seem to be unusual skills in many technical groups... Since the old ways of doing things weren't working, the group was willing - even enthusiastic - about trying new things

Two major changes were made: First, a new business and pricing model was implemented.

Second, completely new promotion and advertising approaches were developed. These approaches combined benefits-oriented messaging with multiple touch points.

The benefits-oriented messaging was completely new. It has been said of technical people that they would promote sushi as "cold raw dead fish". Unfortunately this is true...

The major changes were to develop marketing copy for the seminar the focused on benefits as well as giving the facts, packaging this information in multiple formats, and getting the information out in many ways. A Web site was developed for each seminar, postcards were created and mailed, flyers were handed out at meetings, and email blasts were sent.

The promotional web pages for several of these seminars can be found under "Seminars" in the left hand menu.

Marketing and advertising studies have shown that it takes an average of seven "touch points" to get someone to make a decision. Technical people tend to believe that you only need to tell someone something once...

The new approach has proven very successful. With no changes in how the chapter dealt with selecting topics, recruiting speakers, arranging venues, or in actually delivering a seminar, they went from losing money to a $30,000.00 profit on the next seminar.

This wasn't an accident. Four other profitable seminars have been run using this model, reversing a decade-long decline in attendance.


Seminar Planning

There are two key elements to a successful and profitable seminar: the financial model for the seminar and the overall seminar project plan.

Financial Model

It is absolutely vital to have a good model of costs and revenues. The Seminar Financial Model spreadsheet captures revenue, fixed expenses, and variable expenses. It also performs a sensitivity analysis of the biggest variable, namely the number of attendees. This shows the impact of more or fewer attendees that planned, and shows the range of profit (or loss).

From a revenue standpoint, the main variables are price, discounts (and breakdown of discounts) and number of attendees. The spreadsheet allows you to set the base price, discounts, percentage of attendees at each discount, and number of attendees. By changing the price, discounts, or number of attendees you can easily see the impact on revenue.

Cost is broken down into two categories: fixed costs, which are the same no matter how many people attend, and variable costs, which change depending on the number of attendees.

You use this spreadsheet by entering the cost data, pricing, and attendance. The spreadsheet will show both the baseline profit (or loss...) for the plan as well as the cost and profit for different numbers of attendees.

As a general guide, a seminar should be planned so that it is profitable if the attendance is 20% less than planned. It is very desirable to have it at least somewhat profitable it the attendance is 50% less than planned.

In working with the financial model, you will discover that having as much cost as possible as variable expenses minimizes losses for low attendance. While moving costs from fixed to variable expenses often has the result of increasing costs at the planned attendance level, it also minimizes losses if attendance is substantially lower than expected.

Seminar Planning Guide

The Seminar Planning Guide gives some background on plannining professional seminars. It also provides a template for a seminar project plan and a timeline for seminar preparation. This guide focuses on promoting the seminar - organizations which have been presenting seminars will know how to actually run the seminar, but often don't appreciate the planning, marketing, and promotional activities needed to ensure a good attendance.