Every so often there’s an amazing marketing seminar or business conference coming to town. If you believe the promotions you’ll learn the latest marketing secrets, network with your next superpartner and have thousands of experts ready to help you. If you’re skeptical about claims like this, you should be. Few if any participants get the benefits that are promised or implied.
Having been to a few on the level, and not so on the level conferences I have a little insight into how these things function.
First, understand that anyone hosting a business seminar is looking to turn a profit. There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s also why you’re in business. But this is a motive we always need to remember and we need to consider claims made in light of this.
There are two main ways business seminars make money.
- Offer a free or low-cost seminar to get the room (or stadium) filled up. Hosting a seminar costs money. A favorite strategy of these operators is to present high-profile names or make promises that can be interpreted as personal to your business. The cost to attend is typically low - $100-$300 which covers the cost of the venue, promotion, swag, and incidentals.
The entry fee isn’t how these seminars make their money. The real money comes from a heavily promoted upsell once you are there. You may get the start of something that you feel you can use but then you’ll need to pay more to get the real information. These fees typically jump into the thousands and sometimes beyond.
What’s unethical about this type of marketing is that the hosts know the power of the crowd will provide social reinforcement for the upsell. Odds are, you’ll feel good about going to something because you’ve already shelled out a small fee and now your buying resistance is down. When you show up you’ve added a commitment step and entrepreneurs are naturally more optimistic than the average person - or we wouldn’t start a business in the first place. Getting 10 or 20 percent of the participants to upsell into a program costing $10,000 can provide huge profits for the hosts. The downside is that few programs last long enough to determine if they actually work for clients.
- The second-way hosts make money is by making sure their conference is priced to turn the profit they feel is right. These conferences tend to cost thousands of dollars and there are no VIP or special ticket options you can buy to get better networking access to others.
Full price conferences tend to be more upfront in what will be covered, who will be presenting and what case studies will be talked about. These conferences are a great way to get access to what are essentially marketing or business experiments that other companies have run before anyone else does. Yes, other company owners or key management will be there, but don’t overestimate networking opportunities. While you can learn a lot from a seminar specifically presenting on something your business can benefit from, there are a number of studies that indicate that networking opportunities rarely come out of situations like these.
The plus side is that you won’t be upsold into more expensive programs.
If all you want is basic information on a particular business topic the least expensive way to do that is to buy a $15 book. A book in most cases will teach you more than any low-cost seminar and you can get through it without the emotional manipulation of being in a crowd - allowing you to make more sound decisions about what you are actually learning.
If you want to go a step beyond to develop a plan for your specific goals, hire a business coach to work with you one-on-one. An expert coach will not only teach you the academic knowledge, but they will also work with you in your business so that you build new skills. And just like a sports coach helps talented athletes by spotting flaws they can’t see themselves, an experienced coach will help you correct and avoid mistakes.