Many freelance and self-employed professionals use workshops to build expertise, and develop new clients. But creating a workshop that works takes time, effort, and the right resources. Find out how to plan a successful workshop that people will actually attend, and what to do to make sure to get a return on that investment.
Why Workshops Work
When I was first starting my law practice, I knew I needed to get my name out there in the local community. As a young, solo lawyer, I needed my neighbors and local business partners to know I had the knowledge and training to handle their cases. I wasn’t going to be able to compete with the advertising budgets of big firms that buy billboards and dominate Google AdWords. Instead, I needed to become the local law expert. I did that with workshops.
I paired with the Ferndale Area District Library to offer a series of workshops that explained different areas of the law and gave people a place to ask their (not case specific) questions. Over the year lecture series I covered everything from Custody and same-sex marriage (a trendy topic at the time), to gun control and students’ rights. Sometimes, I was talking to 6 people. Other times, we packed the house. And over time I learned some important lessons about how to plan a successful workshop that people will actually attend.
Your First Workshop Will Probably Fail. That’s Okay.
If you are using your workshop to build your brand reputation, that means you’re probably not very well-known. That can mean that not many people will want to show up to your first meeting. You may even end up canceling or rescheduling if no one is registered to show up.
By offering a series of workshops, you can build momentum. The few people who come to your first one can spread the word to their friends, and you can grow your audience over time. You should also work with your venue to promote your event through their social media contacts, so you can reach a broader audience and develop your following.
Reuse the Same Content
One thing I wish people had told me when I was doing those seminars is that you don’t have to come up with a new show every night. You may want to test out different presentations to see what is popular or attractive. Then you can reuse the same presentation, or repurpose the same content in a number of workshops. Just make adjustments for what worked, or didn’t work, or possibly retool your presentation for different audiences that you want to work with. That will save you time and effort, and give your audience a way to tell others how to get in on the information you can provide.
Free Means Worthless – Charge Something for Your Time
This one took me a while to catch on to. Free workshops, lectures, or classes, are seen as worthless, and not worth setting aside time for. I will often joke that on a Facebook event “Going” means “Interested” and “Interested” means, “I’m not going, but I want my friends to see this”. If your venue allows (many libraries won’t), charge a small admission fee for your event – even $5 to $10 – and require them to order tickets in advance through an event ticketing site like Eventbright. It will improve the quality of the leads you generate and give you a better idea of who will actually show up. Depending on which site you use, you may also have access to the emails of everyone who ordered a ticket, which you can use to follow up after the event (Eventbright does not release user emails to event hosts).
If you’re nervous about charging, remember, it’s taking you time and effort to put your presentation together. You are a professional, and your time is valuable. By charging people to attend, you are inviting them to pay you for that time and treat you as the professional you are. So be confident and charge something for your time.
Spin Your Workshop to Popular Topics
No one wants to attend a legal seminar at 6:30 on a Wednesday night. That sounds boring to me, and I’m a lawyer. But when the talks I gave touched on hot topics of the day, like same-sex marriage, medical marijuana, or guns in schools, that’s when I got the crowds. No matter what you do, there are ways to spin your workshops to connect with the news of the day. Find a way to connect with popular topics, and then use those hashtags in the marketing for your workshop to increase attendance.
Market Your Workshop
You can’t just schedule an event and hope people show up. Even if your venue is publishing the event on their social media feeds, you should still be aggressively marketing your workshop yourself. How you market depends on your industry and your existing marketing strategies, but it could include:
- An email newsletter to existing clients
- A Facebook events with specific invites to friends, business contacts, referral sources, and clients
- A blog post shared to your social media feeds
- Advertising through Facebook, Meetup, or Eventbrite
Consider giving your workshop series a hashtag and inviting people to share your event using it. They can also live-post during your workshops, which will help drive interest in the next event. There is a lot more to successfully marketing a workshop than can be covered here. Talk to your marketing professionals about any workshops you are planning, to make sure they build them into your content marketing plan.
Give Them Something Branded to Take Home
If people are paying for something, they want to get something. Whether it is a worksheet that they have filled out along the way, branded swag like pens or coffee cups, or a glossy how-to guide, make sure each person who comes to your event walks away with something with your business name and website on it. They’ll feel like what they got was more worthwhile, and you will have sent your contact information home with each person, so they can follow up with you and turn a workshop into a working business relationship.
Follow Up With Attendees
When the workshop is over, treat yourself to a celebratory drink or a nice bubble bath – whatever is your version of self-care for a job well done. But then, get back to work! Follow up by emailing each of your attendees (get their emails from your event hosting site or have them sign in when they show up). Thank them for coming out and tell them how they can get even more help with their problem. You probably included this in your presentation, or at least you should have, but tell them again! And invite them to come back to your next workshop and bring a friend. A successful workshop isn’t the final product. It is the start of a business relationship. But only if you do the work to build that bridge and make it easy for them to say yes to working with you.
Pick the Right Venue to Feature Your Work
Where you host your workshop can make a huge difference in how well it is received. By picking a professional venue with the right amenities, you can demonstrate your professionalism, and make it seem like you are an established business (even if you are just starting out). Partner with a coworking space like the PatchWork Collective. We have three different conference rooms to suit different size workshops from 6 to 60. All our workshop rentals include optional projectors and coffee service, so you can put your best foot forward with audios, visuals, and drinks for your guests.
Ready to create a successful workshop series that will take your business to the next level, use this link to schedule a tour with one of our facility managers to check out our conference rooms and plan your next event.