Marketing live events, when you have no budget, feet pencil and paper

5 things I’ve learned about marketing a sellout workshop (when you have no budget)

If we knew the whole truth about many things – having children, doing a kitchen extension, starting a business – we may never do them in the first place, right? Running a workshop falls into that category for me. Especially the selling-of-the-thing. When Antonia and I started our creative events series Elevate, around 9 months ago, we were so focused on how great our idea was (and it is, that is not in dispute) that we didn’t give much thought to how we were going to tell people about it. Via social media was pretty much the entire strategy. Not really a marketing plan, as it turns out. But we have learned, and we have sold, and we have staged four big events and a few small ones. Here are 5 things I know now.

People really do open newsletters (and other shockers)

It’s true what they say – if you want to sell and keep selling events (or anything) start your own email list. On a really good day on Instagram, I might achieve 9 or 10% engagement on a post (the percentage of my followers who have liked or commented upon it). Our Elevate email newsletter The Edit (sign up here) has an open rate of up to 70% (ok, that’s a stand-out best, but typically it’s 40%). Your subscribers are your people, they are IN. Keep in touch with them and let them know what you are doing. Writing The Edit has become a really enjoyable part of the week. As with all things, we try really hard to make it valuable and worth reading in its own right. It’s not just an email advert.

I’m so convinced about the power of newsletters now that I’ve started a Not About The Kids one (once a month, thoughts, news and things I think you’ll like). The subscriber box is on your right, or scroll down to the bottom of the page if you’re on your phone.

Community is everything (remember that when you book a venue)

I must have read a hundred blog posts or How-Tos about how building an engaged community on social media is what it’s all about (I’ve even written a couple). They tell you that 100 followers who actually read what you post are worth more than 10,000 that don’t. But it’s only since I started doing something more tangible with my social account that I’ve learned to appreciate just how true this is.

Toni and I have good, engaged social followings, through which we attract people to our events. But it’s not enough. We’ve needed to reach further than our own networks. Many venues, especially high profile ones, will have many thousands of followers on their social accounts. But have a look closely at whether they truly have a follower base who read and react to their posts. Also, check when booking whether you can access their email list. Make sure that any promises of joint promotion are clearly understood and agreed to by both sides when you are booking your venue.

I’m always heaping praise on Ade the social media manager at the Thames Lido, check out the Facebook page he runs for them. It sells.

Use Eventbrite

Other ticketing websites are available, and I have no knowledge of them, but I will give a 5-star review to Eventbrite so far.

We initially balked at the 5.5% cut of the ticket price that they take, but really for everything you get, it is well worth it. The system works beautifully, and your attendees can trust it (we don’t receive the balance of payments until after the event has been delivered).

It’s a marketing platform too – people use the Eventbrite site to search it for what they are looking for. At our most recent workshop, someone booked on just because they discovered us there. It has a host of resources that you can tap into to help you organise and sell. They’ve also kindly featured us on their blog in a post about using video in your promotions, thanks Eventbrite.

You have to keep talking about it

Ouf, selling is out of my comfort zone. But so is cancelling events, so I’ve had to steel myself to keep talking about what we are doing. Fight the awkwardness and ask whether anyone would like to buy a ticket.

The big thing to get over is the fear of boring people to death by going on and on and on about your Big Event. The truth is, people aren’t paying that much attention. They definitely aren’t seeing every single blog post or Instagram Story that you publish. So knock yourself out. Keep talking about it.

The great life and business coach Tiffany Han talks about this very thing in her podcast 5 Things I Wish I’d Know, and the Best Advice (!) I’ve Ever Gotten.

And wowser, Facebook is hard for businesses these days

I’ve been a little absent from Facebook in the past few years, but know that it can be great for reaching a local area-specific audience (my Instagram followers in New Zealand probably aren’t going to come to an Elevate event). So it’s here that we have opened our only dedicated Elevate social account so far – come and follow us.

But, holy cow, you typically get barely ANY organic reach on posts from a business account. The FB algorithm is geared up to deliver content from your family and friends. So, in business, cash is required to get your posts seen. Which I guess is fair, ads pay for social users to have free for-fun accounts.  It makes me wonder how long it will be before we see Instagram move in the same direction. I’ll post about it if we ever find Facebook truly worthwhile.

Jump into the comments box if you have any questions, or tips for other budding events planners. Thanks so much for reading.

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What's your View?

6 comments on “5 things I’ve learned about marketing a sellout workshop (when you have no budget)

  1. Neha on

    Community is definitely a big thing and it’s hard to get it going but once there it is rewarding. Some good tips here. I am working with HBC on putting together events and this is going to come in handy

  2. Mackenzie Orrock on

    This is really interesting Helen and I completely get you on the whole Facebook thing. I do understand it but at the same time it’s so frustrating if you’re taking the time to create content that just doesn’t get seen. Hoping there’s still a little life left in Insta for us yet. x

  3. Anna Bowkis on

    Such a great post Helen, I too have given up on Facebook for business and only use it to keep in contact with friends and family. Love receiving your newsletter. I must delve into email marketing one of these days! Anna x

  4. Helen on

    Hey Neha, community does definitely take time to build, but you know – all of this stuff takes time, and persistence, and showing up day after day. There are no short cuts…which sounds very business-motivational but it’s just true! Thanks for reading xoxo

  5. Helen on

    Yeah it can be really hard to see the point of creating bespoke content for it. I posted something yesterday that was viewed by fewer than 20 people! We are going to try and get our head around it as a paid-for ad platform…it’s tricky stuff. Thanks for reading M x

  6. Helen on

    It’s obviously been on my (very long) to-do list since I started Not About The Kids Anna, but it’s just now that I appreciate how useful it can be. You can put links into them for a start, which is one of my big frustrations with Instagram. Give it a go! Helen x

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