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Want to run a virtual summit? Then today’s episode of Rebel Boss Ladies Podcast is for you.
Today’s episode is a little different. Instead of interviewing a guest, I’m going to share my own personal experiences running my first ever virtual summit, the Rebel Boss Virtual Summit, which grossed over $16,000. You’ll get a first-hand account of my own experiences and I’m not going to hold anything back.
The very first Rebel Boss Virtual Summit, which focused on providing entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs with the information that they need to both create and launch a digital product this year, was held this February for three days. Sometimes it was difficult and challenging, but it was an amazing learning experience.
Wondering what tools to use and where to spend your money? How to find sponsors and affiliates? We’re going to cover all of those details in today’s solo episode, and hopefully I’ll answer any questions you have about why and how to run a virtual summit.
Today, I’m going to share everything – the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, and ALL of my virtual blood, sweat and tears. My first summit was an amazing learning experience for me, and I want to share that with you so you’ll be ready to run your own successful virtual summit.
Back to the Basics: What Is a Virtual Summit?
Let’s start at the beginning. What actually is a virtual summit?
A virtual summit is essentially a conference hosted exclusively online, which gives participants (and speakers!) a lot more freedom when it comes to timing and travel. It’s a great opportunity to reach a lot of different people and share a ton of information.
A virtual summit gives everyone the opportunity to participate and attend. Attendees can watch when they want, where they want, wearing whatever they want and it’s completely free to attend.
An in-person summit or conference can also be a great experience, but they often have a lot of limiting factors and costs. An online summit fixes this problem, because without the costs and travel involved, you can get a ton more engagement.
So Why Should You Plan a Virtual Summit?
So if the summit is free, what’s the incentive for a business owner to run one? What are the benefits? Why would you put so much work into planning and hosting a virtual summit?
I personally decided to run a virtual summit for a few reasons. First, I just wanted to prove I could do it.
I attended an in-person conference in November of 2018 and honestly, it changed my world and my perspective. I left that conference feeling insanely inspired and motivated. I wanted to take action and do the big scary stuff that has been sitting on my to do list for a really long time.
A virtual summit was one of those things.
It was something I’ve always really wanted to do. I realized that it was finally time – I would never do it unless I picked a date, time, and just decided to go for it. So I did. I knew there would be a ton of benefits, which I’ll get into in the next section, but first and foremost I did it for me.
The Benefits of Running a Virtual Summit
There are a TON of benefits to running a virtual summit that aren’t just about revenue. These were the most meaningful benefits to me after launching the Rebel Boss Summit.
1. Provide Concentrated Information and Value to Your Followers
The biggest benefit to running a virtual summit is that you have the chance to provide a lot of information and value to your followers.
I do what I do because I want to educate and inspire people. I want to give them opportunities to grow their business and evolve. What better way is there to provide a ton of good, high-quality, interesting information than at a virtual summit?
During a virtual summit, whether it’s one day or five days, attendees get an insane amount of value in a really short period of time. I feel like I've received a lot in my business, so I'm constantly trying to give back to the community. A virtual summit is a great way to do this.
2. Networking Opportunities with Other People in Your Space
Another amazing benefit is the opportunity to network. A virtual summit means that you get to work with tons of other experts in your space or in complementary niches.
As a summit host I was able to invite incredible speakers to this event and build relationships with them. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship – I was able to give them value because I’m providing them with a platform to grow their audience and expertise.
On the flip side, I had the opportunity to get to know them better. I was able to build great relationships with the speakers. Maybe it will lead to other opportunities in the future or maybe not, but the chance to build relationships was something that I really was looking forward to as a summit host.
3. The Chance to Grow Your List… A Lot
Another big benefit is list growth. A virtual summit can be like a lead magnet on steroids. You’re basically giving away hours and hours of free content, and not asking for anything in return. So it was easy to promote and people were happy to sign up because they got so much value in return.
In that short period of time while I was running the virtual summit, my list grew by over 3000 people within a few days. The fact that I was able to grow my list so much was huge.
4. A Credibility Boost to Your Name and Business
Credibility is another huge benefit of hosting a virtual summit. If you’re hosting an event with a lot of volume, you’ll definitely gain some credibility as the summit host.
I got a lot of facetime as the host of the Rebel Boss Summit, because I was the person sending the emails, interacting in the Facebook, and opening and closing all of the interviews. It meant more people seeing my name and recognizing me, which meant my credibility definitely went up a few notches during the summit.
When you’re considering whether or not to pursue a project, don’t just consider the tangible benefits, like how much money it will make.
Make sure to also consider other things beyond the tangible benefits, like credibility. You can't feel credibility increase, or see it increase on an Excel spreadsheet. It's still really important, however, because it’ll help to build your business down the road.
5. Revenue Does Play a Factor
Finally, another big benefit was the revenue.
This wasn’t my driving motivation behind creating the summit. When I calculated the number of hours it took to plan the summit, plus all of the expenses I paid, I basically made minimum wage.
There are a lot easier and quicker ways to make money. The other benefits, like increased credibility and networking connections, played a much bigger role for me.
Even though the revenue helped, the other benefits were what made it worth it in the long run.
Monetization Strategies: How to Make Money with a Virtual Summit
The number one thing people ask about when it comes to planning a virtual summit is about the money. How do you make money and how much do you spend?
I made money from the Rebel Boss Summit in three ways. First, through my sponsors. Second, through All Access Pass upgrades. And third, a launch immediately after the summit.
Some of these strategies worked better than others, but they’re all approaches to consider if you’re planning your own summit.
#1: Making Money Through Sponsors
Sponsorship was a new thing for me. I’ve never really worked with sponsors before, but I decided I wanted to try it for the summit. I figured that if no one signed on it wouldn’t be a huge loss.
Sponsors are great because they can pay for your expenses. This means anything that you make after that is pure profit.
A good way to start this process is by making a list of companies that you feel have products or services that benefit your audience.
Make sure that you love the product you’re asking to sponsor. Promoting something that sucks to your audience can cause them to lose trust and faith in you, which is definitely not worth the payout.
My first sponsor was Deadline Funnel. I LOVE their product and I’ve been using it for years. I was planning on using their product for the summit whether or not they signed on as a sponsor.
There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re getting sponsors. Remember that getting sponsors is hard and can take a lot of work. Also, a lot of sponsors won’t sign on until the very last minute. This can add a lot of extra work on for you as the summit organizer.
When reaching out to sponsors, make sure to just give them the information they need and nothing more. They’re busy, and a lot of time different companies receive a ton of different emails and opportunities. Give them the basic information they need to make a decision about sponsoring you and follow up later if you don’t hear a response.
The goal is to get them on the phone with you. Once they’re on the phone with you, give them the opportunity to tell you what constitutes success for them. Keep in mind their wants and needs.
I was really surprised after having conversations with different potential sponsors, because a lot of times I found that what constituted success for them was not what I thought would be a success. What they define as a return on their investment might be very different than what you think.
This is why it’s essential to give them the opportunity to tell you what they’re looking to get out of the experience and how they can actually get what they’re hoping for. They also want to know how big your reach is and how they’re going to benefit.
Finally, keep in mind that having sponsors adds a lot of stress to an already stressful event. You want to make sure that you deliver to your sponsors and that they're happy and they have a good experience and they see a return on their investment.
#2: The All Access Pass Upgrade
The second way I made money was through All Access Pass ticket upgrades. What is an All Access Pass, and how did I make money off of tickets if the summit was free?
Attendees with free tickets could only access the videos for 24 hours before they expired. After 24 hours, anyone with a free ticket could no longer watch any of the videos or access the content.
Purchasing an All Access Pass granted the attendee lifetime access to the videos. It meant that they could have a lot more freedom to watch the videos on their own schedule, and was good for people who had families, jobs or other commitments. The All Access Pass also unlocked several hundred dollars worth of bonus content.
Before the summit started the pass was $47, and attendees were redirected to a page with a deadline funnel after they signed up to encourage them to sign up.
On the first day of the summit, the price increased to $97. I had planned to increase the pass to $147 after the summit but didn’t end up following through on that because I had a product launch directly the week after. This is something I’ll definitely change for the next summit (and will elaborate more on that later!).
#3: The Launch Following My Summit
Out of the three ways to make money from a summit, this was probably the least successful for me. I won’t elaborate too much because I could do a whole separate post about launches, but I’ll share briefly my experience with trying to launch right after the summit.
Would I launch immediately after the summit again? No, I definitely wouldn’t do it again.
The first difficult thing is launching after a summit can take a big emotional toll. Launching by itself is really hard and stressful, but launching after a summit exponentially increases the stress of both the launch and the summit.
Both a summit and a launch require a lot of focus. Dividing your attention between the two can be extremely difficult. Looking at the numbers, I don’t think it was worth it for me to launch directly after the summit because it took so much out of me.
If I were to do it again, I’d wait a few weeks or months instead of just jumping right into the launch. I’d use the summit as a pre-seeding for a launch, and then directly after the summit focus on selling more All Access Passes and work on nurturing my audience. Then I’d probably launch around a month to six weeks after the summit ended.
How to Promote A Virtual Summit: Affiliates
One of the most important considerations when getting ready to launch a virtual summit is how you’re going to promote it.
Remember, you don’t just host a virtual summit for your own audience. If you want to grow your list and your credibility, you need to get the summit out in front of other people too.
What’s the best way to get other people promoting your summit? Affiliates.
For my summit, all of the speakers were affiliates. I also had some other affiliates as well. Every time someone upgraded their ticket to an All Access Pass through an affiliate link, my affiliates made a 40% commission. If they were able to make 15 sales, their 40% commission got bumped up to 50%.
This strategy worked really well, and a lot of affiliates worked hard to promote the summit. The affiliates that got over 15 sales ended up getting a nice chunk of the payouts, and for some of them it was pretty easy because they have big email lists and a huge audience.
I wasn’t paying my speakers to participate in the virtual summit. I was paying them in affiliate commissions. They got paid for their time by promoting the summit and many of them also were able to promote their own products after they spoke at the summit.
Having your speakers also be affiliates is a win-win. They help you promote the event and they get a higher payout the more they contribute. An event like this is easy to promote. It’s high-value, so it’s an easy sell.
Using Ads to Promote Your Virtual Summit
Running any kind of ads can be terrifying, especially if it’s your first time, and especially if you’re spending a lot of money on them.
If you’re considering running Facebook ads, remember that you want to break even on your spending for advertisements.
No one wants to lose money on Facebook ads. Some good ways to avoid this are tracking which ads make money, how they make money, and how many leads you get from them.
You may be asking yourself what’s the point if you’re just going to break even?
Remember that the purpose of ads is to generate leads, not necessarily to make money. The main thing is you don’t want to lose money. But if you can get a lot of subscribers and convert them into customers, this is way more beneficial in the long run.
Even though I’ve never really used advertisements before, I did want to give it a try. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time or money figuring out how to make Facebook ads manager work, so I decided to find someone else to help me.
Brian was great to work with because he constantly went above and beyond. I told him what I wanted to do with the summit and he took over from there. He told me what I needed to give him and his communication was great. I didn’t even need step into my Facebook ads manager once during the summit because he did such a great job.
The lesson I learned was to outsource. Ads were something I knew I personally wouldn’t be successful at. Don’t be afraid to hire someone to help with things that you’re not 100% comfortable doing yourself.
The Best Technology for Planning a Successful Virtual Summit
There is a ton of different tech you can use for a virtual summit and I learned a lot from my experience. The best tech for you will depend on your needs and wants.
I used ClickFunnels as my main software for the Rebel Boss Virtual Summit. It let me have everything I needed all in one place.
I wanted the membership site for the All Access Pass holders, the software to have the actual order form, the email and the website all in one place. ClickFunnels was able to accommodate that. Overall I had a great experience using ClickFunnels.
The downside? It’s a bit glitchy and it’s super expensive. I don’t think I would use it again, because I ended up spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars every month on it.
I also didn’t like every aspect of ClickFunnels, such as their membership site, so I ended up using different products for those features. This meant I was paying for those other sites as well as ClickFunnels every month.
After the summit, I felt like I had enough knowledge and expertise to do exactly the same thing using WordPress and ThriveCart and the other tools I already have.
For future summits, I’ll use my other easier and cheaper tools – WordPress, Deadline Funnel, ThriveCart for payment and the affiliate program, and Access Ally which is my membership site.
I purchased ThriveCart after the Rebel Boss Virtual Summit. There are a lot of great things about ThriveCart and it has a lot of flexibility to fit your needs.
It has great functionality and a beautiful order form. It also has a flexible affiliate program for any or all of your products, and you can use it on any or all of your sites.
While I liked the functionality of ClickFunnels, I didn’t really like the way their membership site looked. I ended up using Teachable for the Rebel Boss Summit membership site.
If someone bought the All Access Pass they created a Teachable account to access their stuff. I loved the way Teachable looks and think their software is great, but it’s an additional cost on top of ClickFunnels.
Other Helpful Tech
My first virtual summit was definitely a learning experience. I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work, and got a lot of exposure to some new tech and software. Here’s my rundown of all the other software that I used or would use in the future.
As I’ve described already, I love Deadline Funnel. I used it to expire my pages which worked really well for the Rebel Boss Summit. I will definitely continue to use them in the future.
I’ve used ConvertKit for a while, but when I closed my ClickFunnels account I moved all of my emails over to my ConvertKit account. In the future, I will definitely continue using ConvertKit as my email manager.
For the summit videos, I used Vimeo. It was easy because I already had an account because that’s what I use for my membership site. I did end up having to upgrade the account for additional storage and upload parameters, but I will continue to use them in the future.
I also had to use Zapier, to connect from the order form to teachable. If somebody signed up for the All Access Pass, Zapier would immediately and automatically enroll them in a teachable course so they didn't have to do anything manual.
Zapier was a great tool, but that was another unexpected expense. I needed to pay for because I didn't consider it when I decided to use Teachable.
Finally, the other tool that I had to use was Send Grid. With ClickFunnels’ email function you need to connect to an SMTP service. If you have a ConvertKit or a MailerLite you already have what you need, but ClickFunnels doesn’t have an SMTP service.
Send Grid just added on to the tech expenses I had to pay every month. In the future, I plan to just use the technology I already have and am paying for to do the same things as ClickFunnels.
Finding Speakers for Your Summit: How to Successfully Reach Out
Finding great, knowledgeable speakers for your summit is an essential part of its success. It’s not as difficult as you may think, because there are a lot of motivating factors for speakers who participate.
A good way to start looking for speakers is making a list of all the topics that you want covered. If you know people who can cover those topics, start with them. If you have a topic that you want covered but don’t have an idea of who you could ask, reach out and ask for recommendations. Use social media, or search for speakers on Google and Pinterest.
Next comes outreach. Send out emails to your list of possible speakers introducing yourself (if you don’t already know them) and explain the summit. Don’t forget to include the details of the event, including the dates, the audience and the goal for the summit.
Ask them if they’d be willing to be a speaker and give them some ideas on the topics that you want covered. Apply this to their expertise and suggest topics that you think they’d be really good at speaking about.
Finally, make sure to emphasize the benefits of participating in your summit. I also included a one-page info sheet that had more information about the Rebel Boss Summit.
In my experience, most people either immediately replied yes or said yes after a one-week follow up email. A few folks said no because they were already booked for something or were busy. Only about two or three people just never replied.
Once a speaker has agreed to participate in your summit, send them a very simple contract to sign to confirm they’re onboard with the event. This is also a great time to collect the important information you’ll need before the summit and have your speakers sign up for your affiliate program.
I sent my speakers a questionnaire to collect all the information I needed. I asked them for their topic, their bio, their headshots, their presentation title, and their social media handles. This was a great way to get it all in once place and collect this information way in advance of the event itself.
I was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to get speakers. People know how much value they get out of speaking at a virtual summit, and they’ll be motivated if you’re providing a high-value event and can sell it well.
Communicating with Your Speakers: An Essential Part of Summit Success
Once you’ve signed on a group of speakers, make sure you continue to follow up with them the weeks before the event. Inboxes are crazy, so send your speakers updates about the summit and reminders about what they need to do.
I made a segmented list in ConvertKit with all of the speakers so it would be easy to keep in touch with them and send email blasts with all the information they needed.
Every week for the four weeks leading up to the summit, I sent my speakers one to two emails with reminders and all of the exciting news about the summit.
Always keep in touch with your speakers about things you need them to do. Remind them to promote the event and tell them when they should be sending emails or sharing posts on social media.
In my emails to my speakers, I always included the images, the swipe copy, and everything they would need so that they wouldn't have to go out of their way to find it on their own. I tried to be as helpful as possible to maximize participation.
There are a lot of ways to make your communication as helpful as possible with your speakers, and the more creative the better.
For example, after my speakers signed up for the affiliate program I embedded their unique affiliate link in a ConvertKit custom field. Then every time I emailed this list of speakers, it reminded them what their unique link was. This made it really easy for them to promote so they didn’t have to go logging into their affiliate program or hunt down the link. Instead, they were able to access it easily every time.
I got great feedback about my communication. I also think it definitely contributed to the success of the summit because it made my affiliates more active. The more you communicate with your speakers, the more they can promote and get their audience onboard with the event.
The Numbers of A Virtual Summit: The Budget and the Revenue
So what was my budget and the overall revenue for the summit?
My entire spend on the summit, with affiliate commissions, was just over $6,000. That includes the $1000 I paid for Facebook ads. I also spent over $3,700 on affiliate commissions and hired an event planner for $300.
When it comes to tech, I dropped over $700 on ClickFunnels. I also paid for SendGrid, upgraded my Vimeo account, and paid for a one-month account for Teachable Pro, which all came to just under $300.
For this being my first time, this felt pretty good.
The summit made just over $16,000, with a net profit of just over $10,000. I’m pretty damn proud – not bad for my first time running a summit.
Outsourcing: Why You Shouldn’t Do Everything Yourself If You Want to Run a Successful Summit
Looking back, I am really proud of what I accomplished. The website and graphics I designed looked great and I did everything myself. Everything that you saw if you attended the summit was 100% me.
That was also huge mistake.
I shouldn’t have done everything myself. What I did worked well once, but it isn’t smart or sustainable. I also spent a lot of time doing little things, which could have been time better used elsewhere.
Next time, I’ll hire a virtual assistant to help me do all the things I wish I had done if I had more time. With a VA, I’ll have a lot more time to get more affiliates, do more revenue growing strategies, respond to more customer service requests and be more active in the Facebook group.
Next time, I’ll have someone to help do a lot of the organizational stuff that I shouldn’t be focusing on as the leader of summit. That way, I’ll have time to clear my plate and be able to focus on the stuff that really matters.
Future Improvements: My Goals for My Next Summit
I'm really pleased with how the Rebel Boss Summit went down. But honestly? I'm even more excited about how I can do a better next time.
While the summit was happening, I was so crazy busy that I could see all the things I wanted do differently, but I just had no time to actually implement them.
It wasn’t possible to fix them so I made a list of all the things that I would do differently and better. Now I get to sit down and really take action on all of those things and make those changes.
First, I need to do better at reaching more affiliates. It’ll be easier the next time around, because I have the positive experience of this first summit and the numbers to help promote the next one.
Other goals are to double down on the value of the All Access Pass and get more speaker participation. Getting them to contribute more of their own products to the All Access Pass and doing more interviews will give it even more value.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about ways to build the All Access Pass even more, through increasing up-sale opportunities. Add-on options for the All Access Pass, like notes or mp3 downloads, could increase what the people that are already buying the All Access Pass can get. Even some kind of physical gift or merchandise could be a cool option.
One thing I definitely need to improve on is building social buzz during the summit. I’ll focus more on hashtags, promotion and give-away opportunities before the summit even starts. I’ll also work on nurturing emails between sign up to summit time so people stay interested and give them opportunities to upgrade to an All Access Pass.
Advice for Anyone Who Wants to Run Their First Virtual Summit
If you're thinking about running a virtual summit, I hope that this helped you and that you learned something from my experiences. I wish that I had something like this when I was running my summit for the first time.
One huge piece of advice before you start planning – don't give yourself any less than 90 days to run a virtual summit. There will be days that you feel like you have your shit together, where you feel like everything is going super well, and then there will be days that you feel like your world is crashing down on you.
If you give yourself less than 90 days, you're doing yourself a disservice and you're doing your registrants a disservice because it’ll be hard to run a successful event.
If you're like me, you're impatient and you just want it to happen. Long timeframes for projects are not exciting for you. You just like to do stuff, take action and get it done.
But from one impatient person to another, give yourself at least 90 days to make it happen.
Want more resources or help planning a virtual summit? I want to give a huge shout out to my friend Krista Miller at Summit in a Box. She has an amazing resource that I purchased prior to the summit.
I couldn't have run the summit without it. Krista created a list of all the things that you need to do when you're running a virtual summit with a 90-day timeframe. It was so helpful and I can’t recommend it enough.
If you’re not sure you’re ready to pull the trigger yet, Krista also has some amazing free stuff you can download. Definitely take a look at that as well.