Small Business Marketing: Should you conduct webinars?

by Robert Lerose.

Webinars, or online presentations, are a cost-effective way to generate revenue, build brands, demonstrate products and services, provide leads, and position your company as the authoritative source that customers turn to first. “A lot of [my clients] see 70-percent or 80-percent return on investment and sometimes more,” says Leslie Davidson of Davidson Direct, a longtime consultant and provider of webinars and audio conferences.

Prices for setting up and executing webinars vary. Even though it might seem counter-intuitive, many businesses can come out ahead by outsourcing the operation instead of managing the process internally. For example, Davidson gives a price break for volume contracts that can make it more worthwhile for budget-conscious businesses.

Before putting on a webinar, Davidson recommends the following:

Select a timely topic. The best topics are those where there’s a new law or regulation from the government that your customers need to know about and apply to their businesses. “So-called nice-to-have topics work well, too, as long as they’re something of interest to your readers.” Davidson cites “Cybersecurity Best Practices: Reducing Risk Across Your Enterprise” for IT departments as a recent example of this type of topic.

Find speakers who really understand the topic and are appropriate. “If you don’t have anyone [on staff] who has contacts in a particular industry, start with an Internet search.”

Market your webinar with a good email list. If you don’t have an email list, Davidson recommends partnering with associations that have members who would be interested in your topic in exchange for a member discount. “You can add [these names] to your list and use them going forward.”

Earn money with sponsored events. If you offer the webinar for free, try to get someone else to sponsor it. After the session, follow up with a phone call to try to sell your product.

Send a lot of emails in a short time. “Webinars and audio conferences are impulse buys,” Davidson says. “You’re going to get 30 percent to 50 percent of people signing up in the last week before the event. I usually start three weeks out, sending one email a week, followed by two to three emails in the days leading up to the webinar.”

Offer combo deals for extra revenue. Selling the webinar as a CD or DVD can usually add another $50 to $100 to the original sale. Webinars can also be used as premiums in other promotions or sold as audio downloads.

Follow up with a survey. “[On my survey, I’ll ask them to] give me the names and email addresses of everybody in the room,” Davidson says. “I’ll send them a free transcript or another incentive. It helps me build my email lists and also find out what people are interested in seeing in the future.”

Outside speakers boost a company’s credibility

Business Valuation Resources (BVR), a provider of products and services to the business valuation profession, puts on about three webinars a month. On average, they get 100 people for their paid webinars and between 300 and 400 for their free sessions.

“Within the first 90 days of a free webinar, we’ll convert about 5 percent of them to paying customers, which is really good for us in this market,” says Lucretia Lyons, president of BVR. Free events have helped sell their immense product portfolio—from guides and sourcebooks to searchable databases—with an average sale of about $1,500. Some of their webinars soft-pedal a particular product, while others could feature many products related to the webinar’s theme.

Maintaining relationships with the thought leaders in their profession has been key to finding good speakers. BVR will get an outside expert to present on their products or services. Then, the names of those who registered for the webinar are turned over to BVR’s internal sales force.

“We’ll tap into a short list of experts for the webinar,” Lyons says. “We don’t want to make it a 100-percent pure sales play. Our market is savvy enough to know that, of course, we’re marketing a new product. But they also have enough trust in us that they know they’re getting one of their peers to give their take on this new product.”

BVR has been experimenting with webinar pricing, dropping it from $249 to $139 for a 100-minute session in an effort to go for larger volume. They’ve also had success with series-driven programming for topics with recurring content, which has led to a steady stream of revenue. One of their fastest-growing products gives unlimited access to all of their webinars for only $995.

Customized webinars generate revenue

Business owners are also using webinars to provide value-added services for their existing clients. Du-All, an environmental health and safety-consulting firm, tailored a training program to meet one client’s specific needs.

“We might do a one-hour or two-hour webinar on warehouse safety hazards. If we have a national client, we can reach all their locations and provide some kind of remote training,” says Joe Moulton, manager of environmental services. A one-hour class might cost $450 to $650 depending on the number of attendees.

Du-All has just started rolling out with a second webinar series to generate new clients and new revenue. These webinars inform decision makers about new rules coming out and how to comply with them—and then pitch Du-All’s services at the conclusion as one way to comply.

The webinars are free and last no longer than 30 minutes. Subject matter specialists host them, followed by a short sales pitch at the very end.

Low overhead, the ability to reach a large audience and increased revenue make webinars well within the reach of almost every business owner. Or, as BVR’s Lyons says, “Webinars offer the chance to really showcase your company in sort of a three-dimensional way and get people from a distance on board.”

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