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Should You Run a Virtual Summit? Everything You Need to Know

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Hey Rebels! Today we're talking all things virtual summits, the good, the bad and the beautiful.

In episode 021 of the Rebel Boss Ladies Podcast I’m joined by Krista Miller, who is an online entrepreneur and virtual summit expert.

Should You Run a Virtual Summit? Everything You Need to Know

But today’s format is a little bit different than our other episodes. Instead of a traditional interview-style podcast, this is a conversation that she and I had about our experiences with Virtual Summits. Both Krista and I have hosted successful summits, and today we’re going to put our brains together and let you listen in on our conversation about summit success.

This is the companion episode to RBL020 – My Complete Review: How I Planned & Launched a $16,000+ Virtual Summit. That’s a great episode to listen to if you want a general overview on what it takes to plan a virtual summit and my experience with the Rebel Boss Summit.

Today, you’ll get to hear both of us weigh in on our summit highs and lows, our recommendations, and all of the good and bad of virtual summits. At the end of today’s conversation, you’ll have a much fuller picture about what it’s like to run a virtual summit and whether or not running a summit is for you.

Krista Miller: How She Went From Service-Based Business Owner to Summit Expert

Krista’s story is super inspiring. She started out first in a corporate job, and then as a service-based business owner who hustled really hard to make money off of one-on-one work.

She realized, though, that she could have a much bigger impact on both her audience and her own business through online summits. Her first summit was a huge success – she made almost $16,000.

After that first summit, a ton of people reached out to Krista asking about how she put together the summit. This was when Krista realized she could use her knowledge and expertise to help other people plan their own virtual summits through Summit In A Box.

“After I ran the summit, I had like this step-by-step process.” She turned that process into digital products, and she launched her site Summit in a Box to share her resources with other online entrepreneurs.

Krista’s right in the middle of summit craziness right now – her next summit launches in two weeks. But she was able to take some time to have this conversation with me today, and share some of her advice from all of her summit-planning experience.

Should You Run a Summit? Tip #1: Don’t Let Fear of Failure Stop You from Running a Virtual Summit

Both Krista and I had a lot of limiting beliefs before we launched our summits. Krista didn’t launch her first virtual summit until she was three years into her online business, and she admits that she had a lot of reservations at first.

She was worried she couldn’t do it, and admits that she used to think, “People are going to look at me like “What does she think she's doing running an online summit?””

She joined an accelerator program with an uplifting and encouraging coach, who reminded her of her important skills and the community she had built up online who would be interested in her summit.

Both Krista and I got a lot of benefits, connections and opportunities from our summits. They can open up so many doors of opportunity and a summit just keeps repaying you for your hard work over and over, even if you have a small audience or email list.

Krista and I started out with this because it’s really common to feel afraid of failure. But if a summit seems right for your business, don’t let it stop you from going for it.

Should You Plan a Summit? Tip #2: Timing and How Long You Need to Plan a Successful Summit

Krista and I agree – you need 90 days and no less to plan a virtual summit. Krista says that people ask her all the time how long it takes to plan a summit, and sometimes don’t like the answer.

“At least 90 days no less. If you're on top of the game like if you're real good at sitting down doing the work staying organized.”

The reason she emphasizes you need at least 90 days is because it’s hard to realize how much work it takes to plan a summit. If you’re just starting the planning process and you want to launch your summit in 3 months from now, you should definitely get on that right away.

I personally recommend building in a little bit more time. If you had an extra 30 days, or even 2 more weeks, things would feel a little less pressured. You can definitely pull it off in 90 days, but it may feel tight at the end.

If you are looking for a quick launch, then a virtual summit may not be your best option. But if you have enough time to put the work in, then you’re looking at potential summit success.

Should You Run a Summit? Tip #3: Facing the Highs and the Lows of Planning a Virtual Summit

One thing Krista and I for sure agreed on – there are a lot of ups and downs when you’re trying to plan a summit. While the highs may feel great, you also have to be ready to push through the lows to make your summit successful.

What were some of our highs and lows in those three months?

Krista says that one of her biggest highs is right at the beginning of the planning process, when she has tons of momentum. I agree – I also felt super hyped up right when I finally decided to commit to running a summit.

For me, I was driving back from a conference when I decided that I was finally going to go for it, and couldn’t stop thinking about the possibilities. Krista loves thinking about the big picture of the event and thinking about the big ideas.

She also says that she hits a low pretty quickly, when she starts worrying about her speakers. “Trying to finalize the speakers I was going to pitch… still gets really overwhelming for me. I always try to have at least 20 speakers, so I have a list of 40 people and I get really down on myself during that time thinking oh my gosh these people still are going to say no.”

Even though the initial decision to plan a summit can be an initial high, make sure you still have the motivation to continue when you hit your lows.

Krista shares another example, when she hears back yeses from your speakers she’s definitely feeling a high, but then she also has to communicate and collect all of the information she needs from them, which can be a low if they don’t want to cooperate.

For me, my biggest low came right before starting to promote the event. I spent a lot of time worrying that no one would actually share the thing that I had spent so many hours creating.

Working through the highs can be easy, but working through the lows can be frustrating and difficult.  While everyone’s highs and lows may be different, remember that there will definitely be lows that you have to push through.

For Krista, it’s all worth it for the high that comes when she actually launches her summit. “Once the presentations start airing, seeing people taking action right away and getting results and getting excited… You're literally changing lives through this event. And like there's nothing that tops that.”

Should You Plan A Summit? Tip #4: Finding and Pitching the RIGHT Speakers to Make Your Summit a Success

The thing a lot of people don’t realize about a virtual summit is that instead of having it be solely your responsibility to promote, you’re relying on other people promoting it to their audiences to get the word out there.

“A summit is you're really marketing it towards other people's audiences, which means the speakers are promoting it for you. If they're not onboard to promote it then you don't really have anything that you can do.”

So what can you do when your speakers don’t promote the summit like you hoped they would?

First of all, remember that it’s not just you. Unfortuately, that’s the way it is. If you have a big speaker pool, there will always be a few speakers who don’t do anything to promote the event.

Next, make sure you think carefully about the speakers that you’re choosing to pitch to. Choose people based on whether or not they will engage with and promote the summit, as well as their audience.

Krista recommends, “it’s so important to pitch speakers based on the value they are going to bring. Don't worry about the size of their social media following or their email list because you can't guarantee they're going to promote.”

Another thing you can do is include promotion in the contract that you send to your speakers. You should be sending a contract out to your speakers, just to formalize the agreement and establish any expectations about sharing and promoting the summit.

I had a contract with my speakers, but I think the amount of sharing greatly depends on the person. “The same people who would have shared would have shared anyway and the people who didn't you wouldn't have shared.”

This is definitely something to keep in mind if you’re wondering about planning a summit. You definitely can’t pull an event like this off by yourself. Are you ready to work with speakers and partners to promote the event? If so, then a summit could be good for you.

Should You Plan a Summit? Tip #5: Be Ready to Put in 100% of the Work

Something that Krista and I agree on is that if you want to run a virtual summit, make sure you’re ready to put in 100% of the work you need to do to make it happen.

Krista learned from experience that if you’re going to put energy into running a summit, make sure you put in the effort to make it a full summit.

About six months after she ran her first summit, she decided to run a second one. But she didn’t have the energy to plan out a full summit.

“I was just like all right I'm going to run like a mini summit. I'm going to do five speakers, one a day… theme days, make it really interactive. And that was a flop.”

Compared to the full-blown summit, this summit had a lot fewer email sign ups and much lower revenue. Her audience wasn’t as engaged, and she admits that it was not worth the energy.

“If you're going to put the energy into running a mini summit you might as well do a big summit.”

After you finish your first summit, though, it can make future summits a lot easier. You don’t need to put in as much energy, because the bulk of the work is already done. Your website is setup, the scripts you need to send are ready, the graphics are already created.

Keep that in mind if you’re thinking about planning a summit. The work commitment is huge, but it can be worth it in the end. And putting in the work on your first summit can make it a lot easier to prepare for future summits.

Should You Run A Summit? Tip #6: Thinking About Revenue and How You Want to Monetize

A huge part of a virtual summit is the revenue. So what should you expect in terms of revenue off of your virtual summit?

Both Krista and I had initial goals going in of how much money we wanted to make.

Krista says her original goal was very low – only $3,000. “I was like, no one's going to sign up, people probably aren't going to buy, if I make $3,000 I'll be happy. My super stretch goal was $5,000, but that was like super super stretching.”

Her actual number? $15,890. She says that when the money started coming in, she was absolutely shocked. She decided to set herself some much bigger goals for her next summit.

I based my goal off of other people’s results from their summits (including Krista!). I eventually exceeded my goal of $15,000. Sometimes I’m still not sure how it happened, but I think two factors were a good attitude and a lot of positive energy.

If you want to run a summit, you definitely need to consider how you’re going to monetize it. Krista and I used a few different ways to monetize for your summits.

Thinking About Revenue: How to Monetize Your Summit Through All Access Passes

Krista and I had different monetization strategies, but one thing we did in common was having the option for the attendees to buy All Access Passes.

There are a few good ways to make this work for you. First, make sure your registration is free. Krista recommends this, because “that's just going to get so many people in the door, so many leads for you, whether it's leads for the summit or leads for your products.”

Then, make sure you’re pitching an up sell right after your attendees register. This is a strategy that both Krista and I use to get our All Access Passes out there.

What’s included in an All Access Pass? This depends on you, your resources and your speaker’s resources.

At its most basic level, an All Access Pass gives lifetime access to all the presentations and resources included in the summit. This format has a lot of value, because when the presentations expire after a few days, those attendees with All Access Passes can still access them.

Krista also includes free resources from her and her speakers in her All Access Passes. These can either include free or paid resources, and can be great bonuses to include in the Pass. This is definitely a strategy I’m going to work on for my next Rebel Boss Summit..

There are a lot of ways to get creative with marketing and selling an All Access Pass. Pitching the passes during all advertising for the event, like Facebook lives and emails is a must.

One great strategy is to offer discounts 15 minutes after the attendee registers, or in the days before the summit. This converted really well for both Krista and I.

For example – in the days before the summit, I offered the All Access Pass for $47. During the summit I upped the price to $97, and then after the summit the price went to $147.

Choose a price that feels right to you, based off of the value of the presentation and the value of speaker bonuses. Remember that this can also be a great way for speakers to market their own products, because an All Access Pass has so much more value.

Thinking About Revenue: How to Monetize Your Summit with Sponsors

Another way to monetize a virtual summit is through sponsors, which is something that I did for the Rebel Boss Summit.

I had two big sponsors, and they were great because they covered my expenses and helped to fund the summit. But working with sponsors is also stressful because I wanted to make sure the sponsor got all of the value for their contribution.

So what does it mean to work with a sponsor? Sponsors pay regardless of the return, and you don’t have to pay them anything.

Monetary returns may not be the most immediate result of a sponsorship.

“When a company agrees to be a sponsor they need to recognize that with an event like this the value isn't always the immediate return on investment. It's a lot of exposure.”

When I talk to sponsors, I often ask them how much they pay for ads and what their ads usually convert at. It’s also a great idea to ask what they pay to get in front of an audience of this size.

A lot of times, they may get a higher return on an event like this because it’s already targeted for them. They don’t have to pay for a local audience or targeted Facebook ads, because you’ve already curated the audience of their potential customers. It’s a great opportunity and much more beneficial for them in the long run.

Working with sponsors that I loved, and whose products I believed in, made the stress a lot easier for me. But working with a sponsor can ultimately be a bit like working for a boss. You want to make sure they’re happy in the long run and you have to make decisions not just based off of your needs, but also their needs.

Sponsors do want some kind of return on their investment. Make sure that you sign a contract with any sponsor that states the obligations for both sides.

I included a few basic elements in my contract to protect both sides. For example, if I cancelled the event my sponsors didn’t have to pay. I didn’t guarantee anything to the sponsors but did agree to do certain things to make sure that they got the exposure they deserved.

When pitching sponsors, make sure to reach out to companies that are obviously in your niche, but also think outside the box for companies that would want to get in front of your audience.

For me, this meant both companies that related to selling digital products and also companies that could be interested in getting in front of an audience like mine. Think about other sponsored events like running races, not all of the sponsors for those types of events have to do with running.

There may be lower conversion rates with companies that aren’t directly tied to the niche of your summit, but it can be a great opportunity for them to get their name in front of a different audience.

Thinking About Revenue: Should You Use a Virtual Summit to Sell Digital Products?

Another option to increase your revenue is to sell your own digital product during or after the summit. If you’re thinking about doing this, there are a lot of different things to consider before you go for it.

The first is your energy level. Remember that hosting a summit can be exhausting, and trying to launch a product during or directly afterwards can add to the stress of the event.

I’ve made that mistake – after my first summit I decided to launch my product. I had scheduled two webinars and an entire launch sequence for after the summit, and felt SO drained.

This can work better than trying to pitch during a summit, but may turn your audience off. Remember they’ve just received a ton of emails from you during the summit, and may need some inbox distance for a while.

The second consideration is to read your audience. Trying to pitch your own product during a summit can sometimes feel a bit “gross,” as Krista puts it, because it just feels like you’re marketing the whole time.

Constantly spamming your product during the summit attendees may make them feel like you only want them there to buy your product, instead of to participate in the event.

Krista’s recommendation? “To me it makes just so much more sense to give people a really amazing experience during the summit, give them that up sell and then if you have a funnel that converts, put them in that funnel afterwards or do you do your launch if you have the energy to do that and you know make use of all of your new leads who clearly need what you have to offer.”

I learned a lot from trying to launch a product after the summit as well. Next time, I’ll use my summit as a pre-seeding for a launch that would happen a few weeks later. My launch was actually pretty successful, and the new members on my membership site are great, but it was too draining.

Krista and I agree that this course of action is better. This way, you also have more energy to invest in other parts of the summit, like selling the All Access Pass. Give your audience a break between the summit and launch and send some nurture emails.

Then use a tested funnel or launch plan that you know will convert. Make sure you prove your funnel or launch on your current audience, so you’re not testing a new funnel on all of your new leads.

Should You Run a Summit? Tip #7: Be Ready to Put a Lot of Effort into Something that Looks Effortless (and Deal with Negative Feedback)

“Somebody told me something once that one of the most frustrating parts of entrepreneurship is that you sometimes create something that looks effortless. And so people treat it like it's effortless but there's really a ton of effort that goes into it.”

This is how I feel about summits. As an attendee, you don’t see the hours and hours of work that goes in on the part of so many people to make the summit happen.

This can be super frustrating. As the host, you’ll definitely get a lot of customers who only want the free stuff – they want everything for nothing.

Krista has dealt with this a lot. “I did my own promo last week but the speakers are just starting this week and even now I'm going to emails from people like yelling at me for charging for the All Access Pass.”

You may get a lot of complaints about little things, which can be draining.

A great way to avoid this mental strain is to put a barrier between you and these types of complaints. Krista has her VA field these emails, because they take a lot of energy to deal with.

It’s also important to remember that 99% of your attendees will be supportive and loving. But there will also always be a few people who are haters in any event or launch.

Krista sums it up well when she says, “we're just so good at listening to the haters. It's funny how we can have a hundred super amazing things said, but then I lost sleep the other night over one email… How many people love this that we just listen to the bad ones.”

Should You Run a Summit? Tip #8: Do You Need a Specific Niche to Run a Summit?

Krista says no, that as far as niches go, none of them are better than others when it comes to virtual summits.

The most important thing is to make sure that your summit has a niche. No matter what niche or industry you’re in, or what size your audience is, you should make sure you differentiate yourself by having a specific niche and focusing your summit on a specific problem.

This is especially important if you only have a small audience. Krista’s first summit is a great example of this. “For me, I started my first summit with an email list of 500 people. If I was marketing to all online business owners I would have gotten nowhere is doing that.”

Krista suggests that you should even narrow your regular business niche more for your summit, and then focus on one big problem in that niche. “Rather than just a general summit for your niche, make it a summit that solves a specific problem for your niche. And then you're golden.”

The Best Types of People to Run Virtual Summits

Virtual summits definitely come with a lot of business benefits, but they’re definitely not the best strategy for everyone. Krista and I broke down the best type of person to run a summit, and some recommendations about who should use other methods.

First, running a virtual summit takes a lot of dedication and commitment. We mentioned how long you should give yourself to plan a summit – at least 90 days.

As Krista says, “if you’re someone who attempts to start things and has trouble finishing them, or gets overwhelmed with a long task list… I would say this is not the right thing.”

Second, running a summit means that you have to be okay going outside your comfort zone. A lot.

Someone who likes to try new things may be really good at planning a virtual summit. Krista admits that organizing an event like this “takes a lot of getting outside your comfort zone.” You definitely have to be ready to push through things that you’ve never done before or don’t really like to do.

Do You Need to Have a Big Audience or Huge Email List to Run a Summit?

A lot of people reach out to Krista wondering if they can still run a summit even if they have a small audience or email list. Her response?

“Heck yeah you can.”

Expectations are important here – if you have a smaller audience you may not get huge results, but if your content and niche are good and you’re connected with people in your industry, your results will still be relatively good.

Connections can also be really important here. Remember, you’re not just marketing your summit to your own audience, you’re marketing it to other people’s audiences as well.

If you can connect with a bigger name, or connect with a lot of different speakers, those connections will help to make the summit that much more successful.

Final Considerations: Timing, Planning and Being Flexible

Krista and I have a few other important tips for anyone considering tackling a virtual summit.

First, definitely make sure you have a plan going in. A virtual summit requires a lot of planning, and is definitely something you don’t just want to wing or throw together.

So many steps depend on previous steps being accomplished. If you’re not planning ahead, you may miss crucial steps or get really behind in the process.

Also, related to planning, make sure you give your speakers time to make their presentations. Give them enough time between the pitch and you needing the presentation that they don’t feel pressured and have time to do it well.

Krista says, “I've heard of speakers like getting pitched and needing the presentation done like the following week, do not do that. Give your speakers let's go to a month to get their stuff to you.”

Another important tip is to make sure you plan in time for your speakers to be late. Set a deadline way before you actually need the materials, so if a speaker is late you still have time to get everything done.

For me, one of the most important things is to be flexible, and remember that you will never be able to get everything done. Keep your first summit simple, and don’t try to do too much.

There are going to be a lot of things you want to do, but you’ll have to pick and choose which ones are the most important. And then be okay with letting the rest go. You’re only human, and can’t do everything. But you can be aware of what you want to improve for future summits, and keep working towards bigger and better.

Existing Resources So You Don’t Have to Plan Your Summit Alone

The most important thing to remember if you’re thinking of running a virtual summit? You don’t have to do this alone, or reinvent the wheel. There are a ton of resources online to help you plan your summit.

When I decided to plan the Rebel Boss Summit, I decided to look online and see what resources were out there. That’s how I found Krista.

I signed up for her webinar and then downloaded all of her free stuff. I would definitely recommend doing that – Summit in a Box is a great resource for anyone thinking of running a virtual summit.

Krista says, “when I was planning and planning my summit, there were no blog posts… So I am publishing all kinds of blog posts and content on that.”

She also has a great freebie – Twelve Secrets to Hosting Your First Profitable Online Summit. You can find that and more on her site, Summit in a Box. If you’re seriously considering running a summit, I highly recommend taking a look at her excellent resources.