[354] How To Sell Out A Live Event Or Workshop (Even If You Have A Tiny Audience)

Live workshop Nick James

Do you like the idea of hosting a live event but worry you don’t have a big enough audience to sell enough tickets?

Perhaps you’ve tried hosting a live event or workshop but struggled to get enough bums on seats?

If any of this sounds familiar you’ll love this podcast interview with business coach and Expert Empires founder Nick James.

He fills large conference spaces with up to 1400 delegates and, in this episode, he shares practical tips and tactics on selling out your first live event, including how to identify the people who are most likely to attend your event (plus how to get them to buy a ticket).

He also talks about how to find joint venture partners i.e. people who have a similar audience to you who are willing to sell tickets on your behalf. Plus he shares bonus tips on how to land speaking gigs at other peoples’ events.

Nick relies heavily on email marketing and text messaging to promote his own live events, so you might be surprised at some of the advice he shares in this episode. But it is some of the best (and most honest) advice I’ve ever heard on this topic. He shares some priceless advice on building relationships in your industry (and why you need to).

{Click on the player above to listen to the podcast episode and/or read on for a detailed overview. Scroll down to the bottom to read the show notes including all the links mentioned in this episode}

How to fill live events

If you’re interested in running your own live events, Nick’s advice is to start small but think big.

“In my experience, people dramatically overestimate what they can achieve in a year, but underestimate what they can achieve in ten,” he says.

So instead of starting with an event for hundreds of people, try putting on a small event for just 10 to 15 people. As you get more experienced, you can always go bigger.

He speaks from personal experience; just eight people attended his first event in 2009. A more recent event attracted over 1400 delegates.

When it comes to filling your first event (or an online course or programme) it’s always best to start with your hottest leads. These are generally people you know - those you’re working with right now or have done in the past. Which means personal outreach is likely to be far more effective than social media or email marketing.

And the more personalised the better. That’s why Nick favours picking up the phone, sending a WhatsApp message or a voicemail message on social media over email. In fact, if you need to fill an event or programme - and do it quickly - be believes email should be your last resort.

Nick uses both email marketing and text messaging in his marketing, but he still believes that personal outreach is the most effective way to fill an event or programme - particularly when you’re starting out and/or need to bring money into your business quickly.

“Generally speaking, observe the masses and do the opposite,” he says. “What everyone else is doing is sending blanket messages and emails. So, doing something like a voice note...will instantly make you stand out.”

If you’re worried sending personal messages will make you look desperate it’s probably because that’s how you feel. Which is all the more reason to invest time in personal outreach, as this is far more likely to bring money into your business quickly. Strategies like social media and email marketing are effective but typically take much longer to generate leads and sales. “It’s far too easy to hide behind your laptop,” says Nick. “You post can post loads of content, and videos out on Facebook, and LinkedIn, and that’s all very nice…but if it isn’t actually getting anywhere you need to change what you’re doing.”

How to use joint ventures to sell out your live event

Teaming up with people who already have an audience you’d like to get in front of  - otherwise known as ‘joint ventures’ - can be a great way to sell out events, courses and online programmes when you’re just starting out.

But there is a right and a wrong way to approach joint ventures, says Nick. First off, a joint venture has to offer a fair exchange of value for both parties. So if you’re just starting out in your business, approaching someone with a massive audience and asking them to promote your products/services is unlikely to be an effective strategy.

Nick suggests starting with existing relationships. Who do you know who already has your audience, or has people in their audience that would be a good fit for you or products or services? What could you offer them that would represent a fair exchange of value for introducing you to their audience?

It’s worth remembering that for someone who already has an audience, money (offering affiliate payments for example) may not be enough. You have to ask yourself why they would promote your products/services when they could be promoting their own (and making more money for doing so).  This is why there is no substitute for relationship building before you even thinking about launching an event or programme.

“There really is no substitute for good, old-fashioned relationship-building,” says Nick Time in the saddle, building your reputation, building those connections over a long period of time.”

The first question he asks any prospective affiliate/joint venture partner is ‘how can I help you?’ - rather than the other way round.

How to land speaking opportunities

If you’re interested in speaking at other peoples’ events, relationships are equally as important, says Nick. He is frequently approached by people he has no prior relationship with asking if they can speak at his events.

"And I’m like...well, okay. So, I've just spent £200 000 on this event, and now you want to come, and speak on my stage. And what exactly is it that you're doing for me?" Because I'm spending a fortune here, and I'm putting a lot of my time, and energy, and my team's resources into doing this event.”

For Nick, it all comes down to relationships. If you want to speak at a particular event or attract a particular joint venture partner, start by thinking about what you can do for them.

This might include:

  • Buying a ticket to their event so you can meet them in person and get a feel for the event (it also shows you have skin in the game)
  • Investing in one of their products/services
  • Inviting them onto your podcast/Youtube channel - so they can benefit from getting in front of your audience
  • Spreading the word about them on social media

And relationships win over money every single time, he says. “There are plenty of people that I would happily JV [joint venture] with, promote their products and services, for zero financial gain for me. And then there are more people that I would never promote, even with financial gain. So, it doesn't come down to the commercial deal... the relationships will outweigh the commercial value of the partnership every single time.”

Podcast shownotes

  • Nick's business story (02:52)
  • Where to start with live events and why you should start small (5:19)
  • How to fill a live workshop or event (and why personal outreach is the best way) (9:08)
  • Attendees (15:43)
  • How to find the hottest leads for your events and stop hiding behind your laptop (18:53)
  • Tactics for building relationships for event joint ventures (22:58) 
  • Why good old fashioned relationships are your biggest asset  (25:25)
  • The first question to ask when approaching a partner for a joint venture (29:33)
  • How relationships are key for choosing speakers and sponsors at your event (32:32)
  • Why the success of an event stems from good relationships (36:28)


Nick’s website Seriously Fun Business

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[300] How to Build an audience and why you need to  (podcast) 

[ 334] How to build a large audience without paid advertising with Callie Willows  (podcast) 

[343] The three audiences you must build to create a successful online business (podcast) 

How I chose the speakers for build your audience live  (blog post)

How to add captions to your video using Kapwing and Rev.com (blog post)

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