So You Didn’t Sell Out Your Event...Now What?
The “struggle show” of marketing and selling tickets for an event is one that I work through A TON with my clients. We create detailed budgets and project plans, and usually, we aim to sell about 50% of available tickets in order to break even. Sounds simple, right?
But MOST of the time, clients tell me “but, really, we want to sell out an event. How can we do that?”
I’ll be honest with you, unless you have a really strong marketing engine working for you already, or you’re event is really small, sellout is a hard goal to attain. It takes a ton of marketing work, reaching out to affiliates, asking for lots and lots of help from your speakers...it’s doable but it takes a TON of partnerships and even more ASKING.
Which is SO awesome...and...not always achievable.
Which is totally fine! And it’s exactly what I want to address today.
If you’re hosting an event and you struggle with marketing, this post is exactly for you. It’s for the people who say “I’m done hosting events because I have such a hard time marketing them!”
It’s for people who LOVE teaching and LOVE engaging their communities, but they struggle getting anyone to show up.
It’s for people who are in the middle of that mind-vampire crisis. You know, the one that says “you didn’t sell nearly enough tickets for your event...you must be terrible at what you do.”
Today, I want to address the BIGGEST challenges when it comes to event marketing AND I want to give you some strategies you can use TODAY to help fill more seats at your next event. Below are the FOUR main reasons events don’t sell out, and what you can do about it.
1. You created an event for YOU and not for your audience.
This one is the hardest one to fix after you’ve already launched your event, because you have to sort of change directions in the middle of the event marketing process. Usually, that’s almost impossible to do, but at the end of this section, we’ll talk about some ways that you can reframe and still save your event.
The Problem: You wanted to go to the event that you’ve created...but you didn’t bother to find out if anyone else wanted to go to it, too. MOST of the time, it’s not that your topic is a bad one (most every topic on the planet is something that SOMEONE wants to learn about) it’s that you didn’t create the right format or the right marketing message to get people on board with your mission.
How to fix it in the middle of marketing: This one is tough, because sometimes you can’t tell if people don’t resonate with your message, especially because you won’t be able to tell if that’s the reason why people aren’t signing up. BUT, if you feel like people aren’t buying tickets who you KNOW would be a perfect fit for your event, reach out and ask them! Ask them why they don’t feel like this event is for them? Listen to their feedback (timing, topic, etc.), and then ask “Okay, if I were to create an event 100% for you, what would you want it to be about? What are you struggling with? How can I, in all of my infinite expertise, help you become a better version of yourself?”
If you do have an idea about what you’d like to change about the event, I’d recommend starting with the FORMAT of the event, and seeing if that helps people get more excited about being a part of it. Change the format from all teaching to networking and individual hot seats. Or limit the amount of tickets you’re selling even more to niche down to help a very specific group of people.
The bottom line here: don’t be afraid to change directions in the middle of the event, especially if you have a long planning timeline. Changing the topic is harder, because if people have already bought tickets, then you don’t want to confuse them by changing the content piece of the event.
How to fix it for next time: If you even get ONE signup, you need to treat that person like your best friend. Host the event (heck, take them out to lunch and do a personal 1:1 training with them), and then GRILL THEM FOR FEEDBACK. The biggest mistake people make here is being too embarrassed that they don’t think they did a “good enough job” at marketing and selling the event, so they just cancel and hide under their bed (trust me, I’ve been there).
DON’T DO THAT. Part of being a good event host is figuring out HOW TO HELP YOUR STUDENTS. If you’re not interested in figuring out how to help people more, then events are not going to work well for your business. Events and content creation are all about helping your customers AND future customers. It can be fun, of course, but only if we’re keeping our customers in mind and continuing to serve them.
So, that said, HOST that event and get that critical feedback you need so you can CRUSH your event the next time.
2. You only did impersonal advertising.
One of my students in Events That Convert sent me a personal email about an event she is hosting, here in Bozeman, on Thursday night.
Of course, I’m going. Not only because she’s a student of mine, but because she knows me, she said “Hey, I think this might be for you” and personally reached out to mention it to me.
Sure, I might have seen it on Facebook or in a mass email...but this person? She knew enough to reach out and invite me personally...and it worked! I’m going! (it’s also one of the strategies I teach you about in Events That Convert because it’s SUCH a good one to use!)
SO many people tell me why they can’t reach out to their good friends, business buddies, work acquaintances...because they wouldn't feel good about "selling them." They say that their audience “can’t afford it” or they “don’t feel comfortable asking people they know.”
The Problem: The reality is that ASKING PEOPLE WHO ALREADY KNOW, LIKE, AND TRUST YOU is the best way and one of my signature strategies for getting people to attend events, especially ones that are at a higher price point. People want to feel like you are exclusively creating an event or an experience FOR THEM, so when you reach out individually to ask them BEFORE tickets even go on sale, it helps to create exclusivity, urgency, and a better invitation experience than just relying on email and Facebook marketing.
How to fix it in the middle of marketing: Sit down and make a list of 10 possible friends or business acquaintances that would be the PERFECT student or the perfect event attendee. Send them an email that hypes up your event -- tell them WHY you created the event, and WHY you think they'd be the perfect fit to attend. Don't worry about "bothering" them -- usually the people who love and respect our work are excited when we're excited, so at the very least, they'll be excited that you're hosting an event, even if they can't attend. And if they can't attend, ask them if they know someone who can. Ask for recommendations or referrals. I promise that you're not bothering them.
The bottom line here is that you need to ASK, ASK, ASK!
How to fix it for next time: Draft a personal email to those same 10 people (because now you have a "prospect list") and reach out to them two weeks before you even launch ticket sales for your event. Ask them if they’d like to attend the event AND offer them early bird pricing before anyone else. If they say no, ask them WHO ELSE you could invite. And if they don’t respond, follow up at least once, and maybe even ask them to help you promote using pre-existing social media copy and images. They’re busy people and I promise that you’re not bothering them.
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3. You didn’t create a “spread the word” campaign with your closest besties.
Do you have business friends that love what you do? Former students who think you’re the bee's knees? Speakers who are also presenting at your event? Clients who would go to the ends of the earth to tell people how great you are? If you have even ONE of those things, and you didn't have a somewhat structured method of asking them to help you spread the word, then you missed a huge opportunity.
The Problem: Much like the scenario above, we often think that the "attendees" who are going to attend our events are brand new people that we've never met before. And so we rack our brains trying to come up with innovative new ways to find them. We spend money on Facebook ads and email marketing campaigns an our numbers reflect the fact that these things don't work all the time. Attendees often don't go to events unless they a) want to learn about the topic being presented or b) trust the presenter implicitly.
And do you know how you get someone who has no idea who you are to trust you? You have SOMEONE ELSE that they DO trust tell them how great you are!
How to fix it in the middle of marketing: So if you haven't reached out to your potential partners and business besties BEFORE your event launches, now is the time. Come up with a quick 2-3 sentence email that says you're SUPER pumped about the event you're hosting and, oh hey, would they be interested in doing a little promo to their community for you? With some pre-created social media copy and beautiful images? Start asking 1-2 people to help you spread the word, follow up with them weekly to let them know how sales are going and what their efforts are doing / how they are making an impact, and maybe even give them a discount code so that you can track how well tickets sell through their audiences (so that you know for next time).
How to fix it for next time: Identify 3-5 people that you can reach out to to help you promote your event. This could definitely be known as "influencer" marketing, but in reality, you're just asking people whose audiences may be similar to yours to help you. You can even make it fun by doing joint webinars, joint livestream events, or podcast interviews to help build a bit of a relationship with their audience before they help you promote your event.
4. You didn’t create enough urgency to get people in the room.
The name of the game here is urgency and momentum...those two things can sell enough tickets to put your event in the black, but sometimes they can be hard to come by if you don't know what you're doing. Most people at LEAST have an early bird and a regular ticket price for their events (and if you don't start there), but there are some other ways to create urgency and momentum.
The Problem: A lot of people are worried that by creating urgency, increasing the price, selling out at a low amount of tickets...they're going to exclude potential customers. That's completely the OPPOSITE of what will happen.
How to fix it in the middle of marketing: If you haven't done a price bump, do it, and maybe do another one after that first one. To create urgency, you have to give people a reason to buy, and nothing creates urgency like the prospect of having to pay more money. At the very least, I'd add a price bump and if that doesn't encourage people to buy, I'd work on creating a discount code for a specific audience to help sell tickets quickly and create that momentum that is also key.
How to fix it for next time: Pre-sell tickets! BEFORE the event launches publicly, my clients and I often work to create momentum by pre-selling tickets to a small group of their highest end customers. If you don't have a large customer base yet, I'd work on keeping your event small and pre-selling 20% of tickets at a "break even" or drastically reduced price. Telling people when tickets open to the public that you've already sold X amount of tickets creates a huge sense of urgency (which in turn will create momentum) and that, combined with some price bumps will pack a 1-2 punch in your event marketing plan.
So, there you have it! Now it's your turn. Comment below to tell me your FAVORITE marketing strategy to help create both urgency AND a waterfall of sales for your events.
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