If you’re a community SQL Server presenter who wants to travel around to regional events, SQLSaturday pre-conference classes can help pay your expenses. I’ve settled into a sales routine that seems to work for me, so time for me to share it with you and keep moving the community forward.
Understand what you can teach in one day. Hone in on your target attendee, define the pain they’re facing, and come up with a list of actions they’ll take as soon as they get back to work. Figure out the fastest way you can teach them how to perform those actions. When building a one-day abstract, it’s tempting to say “I’m going to teach you everything,” but you simply can’t. Attendees are wise to that trick, and they won’t buy.
Write the shortest abstract you can. Communicate the attendee, the pain, and the actions in as few words as possible. Ideally, do it in the session title alone.
Submit the pre-con abstract to upcoming conferences. SQLSaturday makes it easier by sending emails to past speakers whenever they launch an event. I keep my abstracts ready-to-go in a text file so that I can copy/paste stuff in.
Setting the Price and the Revenue Split
Pre-cons are a little different than regular conference sessions: your ability to draw attendees and bring in revenue is a key part of making the conference successful. Organizers need revenue from your session to offset the costs of running the conference.
Agree on a ticket price. One-day classes generally cost $99-$199 depending on the popularity of the speaker and the topic.
Agree on a revenue split that works for everyone. The conference organizers have to pay for the venue and the food, plus they need profits to help pay for the conference. The speaker needs to cover travel, hotel, and a day or two of lost work. To make accounting easier, I use a flat rate: I pay the conference $66 per person in my pre-con. That way, I can run discounts, give coupons to past clients, or invoice my current clients for groups of seats.
Agree on payment method and schedule. Some organizers want Paypal on the day of the event, some want checks leading up to the event so that they can buy conference supplies. Be aware that if your event is canceled for some reason – like your travel goes awry or the conference is canceled – you may be on the hook for refunding tickets, but the event costs may not be refundable.
How to Sell Pre-Con Tickets Yourself
This is a big step, and it takes some work. It really only makes sense if you’re going to travel to 2-3 conferences per year, and especially applies if you’re building your own personal following to sell consulting or training over time.
Sell your own tickets with WooCommerce. Most one-day classes use EventBrite because it’s easy, but if you’re going to be doing this for the rest of your career, it’s time to put a little infrastructure in place. On your WordPress blog, install the free WooCommerce plugin and start managing your own online sales. Here’s what my setup looks like.
Accept credit card payments with Stripe. Most credit card processors are painful to set up, but not Stripe – they’re legendary for their ease of use. You can get started in minutes by registering for a Stripe account, and then installing the $79 Stripe WooCommerce plugin.
A few pro WooCommerce tips:
- Each pre-con title should be a variable product, with a variation for each city. Sure, you’re only going to speak once at first – but six months or a year from now, you’re gonna run the exact same session, and it’s way easier if you can just add another variation rather than set up a new product from scratch.
- If you’re a non-EU citizen selling to EU attendees, use the EU VAT Compliance plugin, and register as a UK VAT Mini One Stop Shop. This way you can file taxes in just the UK, yet be compliant throughout the entire EU.
- Use the Zapier plugin to automatically add attendee info to a Google Doc or send to the SQLSaturday organizers. This way they can follow up with attendees for meal preferences or make sure they’re registered for the SQLSaturday itself.
- Show the number of seats remaining – especially when space is running out. People will react with more urgency.
- Give the SQLSaturday organizers access to the attendee data. Build them a report so they can see who’s coming, and make sure they’re also registered for the SQLSaturday itself.
Doing all of the above is about a week’s worth of work, so again, this only makes sense if you’re going to sell 2-3 pre-cons per year, and keep doing that for a while. For more details, check out my 2017 post on the WooCommerce plugins I use.
If you’re selling a training video product, you can even offer bundles. For example, the pre-con is $99, and you can get both the pre-con and a recorded online version to watch later for $149. This helps drive your average transaction price up.
How to Market Your Pre-Con
Make no mistake: this matters whether you’re selling your own tickets or not.
At large conferences, you may be able to sell a good number of pre-con seats without doing any marketing yourself. People register for the conference, and then just check a few boxes to add on a pre-con session. In that environment, your topic drives the sales more than your brand.
At local and regional conferences, you’re going to have to work harder to fill seats:
Offer an early bird discount. When you launch the event on your blog, social media, and your mailing list, include a very time-limited discount, like $50 off to register within the next 72 hours, or for the first 10 buyers.
Leading up to the event, send a monthly email to your MailChimp list. I strongly recommend that bloggers use Mailchimp for their email subscriptions because it’s so easy, and it’s free to get started. As soon as you’ve got your e-commerce set up and your presentation accepted, start sending monthly reminder emails to your list to let them know about your upcoming speaking event. Use your short-but-sweet title and presentation abstract as the email.
As your email list grows, you can start sending segmented emails:
- One email to people who live within X miles of the event, talking about how it’s super-cheap local training
- Another email to people who live within Y miles of the event, but who didn’t get the above email, talking about how it’s a short drive and giving them a list of hotels
- An email to people who didn’t fall into either group, and just talking about all of the events you’re going to attend over the next several months
You can even stage these emails a day apart, and that lets you adjust your pricing and discount strategy. You may offer the early-bird special to locals initially, and if it sells out those 10 discount tickets right away, you can offer a different discount (or none at all) to subsequent buyers.
Use Buffer to schedule social media promotion. Once a week, on different days & times each week, schedule a tweet/FB-post/LinkedIn-update about your upcoming pre-con.
Market the conference too. Local organizers need your help reaching more people – especially new people that they haven’t been able to reach before. In your emails and social media, encourage folks to attend their local SQLSaturdays even if they don’t go to your pre-con.
Putting all this together is a win for everybody.
When you can offer this complete all-in-one content/e-commerce/marketing solution, everybody wins:
- Organizers get higher attendance and more revenue for their event.
- Attendees get a better chance of seeing the material you worked so hard on.
- And you get a better chance of getting your pre-con abstract selected.
Wanna see how it works? Check out my upcoming classes, and if you’re organizing an event, let me know what I can do to make your job easier for you.
That’s great stuff. I have not seen many folks covering buffer, Zapier, mail chimp etc. All of those are so much better at enhancing workflow than trying to do that stuff manually.
I’ve got my church working with Zapier extensively, but I have not figured at mail chimp out for blogging yet. Will have to revisit
Yeah, those services are invaluable as you start to scale.