Events: Free vs Paid

Live events has become one of the most powerful ways of generating leads and making sales both on the day and the future for almost every business model and niche — from real estate to ecommerce, marketing to self help.

In recent years several different event models have emerged and become the norm when it comes to live events:

  1. Free one day events — 5–6 hours of education with an upsell in between
  2. Paid three day events — sold at the free one day event
  3. Shorter 2–3 hour free events

However as with everything, these norms will soon change as people get too used to them — and there is already a lot of evidence that says people are all to used to the standard free one day event format now, making them less likely to be interested.

But my motto is test, measure and optimise. Not to simply copy what other’s do, and what seems to work. So let’s take a blank canvas and go over the pros and cons of both free and paid events, so you can make your mind up which model is best for you and your business.

Ultimately though, you want to try them both and let the results tell you what works for your audience.

Free – The Pros

  • Lots of interest i.e. leads. Because it’s free, there’s no real limitations for somebody to sign up to attend. So you’re going to get a lot more registrations, possibly 3 or 4 times more than a paid events registrations.
  • Can focus on getting lots into a room and strutting your stuff to sell. This model means you shouldn’t have to worry about getting a sufficient amount of people to attend as you’ll have lots of registrations. This leaves you to perfect your sale and sell as much as possible on the day.

Frees – The Cons

  • Leads not of high quality — anyone can sign up regardless of how interested they are in you and your services. And even if they do attend, the attendees are typically used to get something for nothing, like they did with everything you teach them at the event. So they’re harder to sell to.
  • Less turn up — You can expect no more than 20–25% of your overall registrations to attend. Because it is free, they have nothing to lose if they don’t come. So if something comes up in their life, or they have to go to work etc then they just won’t show up. There’s so many other reasons for this too. The weather, traffic, having a cold — all of these reasons just take supremacy over the attendance of a mere free event. As somebody who has spent over £750,000 ($948,000) on Facebook Ads into clients events in the last 3 years, this % hurts! Getting 1,000 people to sign up for the event, only to have about 200–250 turn up on the day is painful.
  • High cost before the event starts, with no guarantee of any income to at least break even — By not charging to register/attend, getting signups will be a major cost for you. On average, you can expect to have to pay between £15-£20 ($19-$25)PER REGISTRATION. That’s right, that is expensive! And on top of that, you have to pay for the venue, the time you and your team are at the event, accommodation, travel, parking — the list goes on. And all of that cost is sat there before even the first person turns up to your event, with no guarantee that anybody will turn up, and anybody will even buy your stuff.
  • Can’t accurately predict attendance — whilst 20–25% is the average attendance rate at a free event, it’s not that straight forward. As I’ve already listed, there is so many reasons why somebody won’t turn up to a free event. And as a result of not really knowing attendance rate, you may end up paying for a venue too big because you expect/hope for more to actually show up. And it works the other way too — you may end up getting a smaller venue, only to have too many turn up and having to turn them away!
  • People are too used to this format and expect to be sold. Free events, in particular one days, are overused right now in every industry. So people are well aware that if they go to a free event, they will 100% be sold to. Plus, people will ask “what’s in it for you to host a free event?” — the answer is obvious, you want to sell to them.

Paid – The Pros

  • Lead quality is high — compared to free events, the quality of the registrations and attendees are much higher because they’ve had to give something in return for the pleasure. And because they’ve already paid you a sum, they’re that bit more likely to buy your upsell on the day. This concept which I call the ‘open wallet’ basically means that somebody is more likely to buy from a seller who they’ve bought from before. It’s just simple psychology.
  • Attendee rate is high. With free events you expect 20–25% of registrants to attend because it is exactly that — free. But with paid events, you can expect about 75% attendee rates, and easily higher. This is because they’re already invested, they’ve already given money in return for the event. So some excuses/barriers which would normally deter somebody from going to a free event, like having a cold or bad weather, won’t stop somebody who’s paid. Obviously there are other more major barriers which will stop even somebody who’s paid, but that is a much smaller number of people.
  • Get some of your money back — Paid events is a great way of reducing your overall deficit before the event even starts. Depending what you charge, you’re able to cover a lot of your costs such as the venue, travel, accommodation etc — and if you’re lucky, even the cost of getting the registrations in the first place. This is an amazing position to be in, as it makes it a lot easier to make a profit as there is a lot less cost to recoup first, and combined with the previously mentioned likeliness in somebody buying your up sell at a paid event means you should be able to come away in a major profit.
  • Can more accurately predict attendance a — as with free events this is not an exact science, but you’re more likely to be able to accurately predict how many people will attend on the day if you’re running free events. This means you don’t pay for a room too big, or get a room too small. Plus this saves you in many other ways. If you know how many will more or less turn up, you know how many of your team to take with you to support you, how many giveaways you need etc — saving you from tonnes of issues.

Paid – The Cons

  • Less overall registrations and leads — Whilst you will definitely get a higher attendance rate, you will end up with a lot less registrations for your paid event. And the reason is obvious — people are less likely to sign up for your event if they have to pay for the pleasure!
  • Culture of something for nothing — this is the last but most interesting point I’m going to be making. In 2019, there is a major culture in first-world countries across Europe, the US etc where many (not all) people are too used to getting something for nothing. This is a bit controversial, but the foundations are really embedded in the way people are brought up as children. If their parents give their children pocket money without asking them to do chores for example, those children are more likely to grow up expecting more things for nothing. Again, it’s not a scientific fact and absolutely doesn’t include everybody at all, but is something worth considering…

So there you have it — the pros & cons of free events vs paid events. I hope it helps you compare your options. But again, try them both out and see what kind of results you get!

Dan

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