What If No One Signs Up?


Article by C.J. HaydenIt’s the nightmare of every professional who offers group programs. You design a powerful workshop, schedule a date, broadcast your marketing message… and no one registers. Then what?

Let’s assume you have the basics down. You’ve chosen a compelling topic, identified a likely audience, and clearly described the benefits of participating in your program. Even the price is right. You’ve already sent information about your program to a list of strong prospects. What else can you do?

Preventive Measures

First, let’s back up a step. There are several measures you can take early on in your promotion that will improve your chances of full enrollment:

1. Offer your program in house instead of to the general public. Selling your program to a company, association, or learning center with an established base of employees, members, or students can be much easier than trying to sell each seat yourself. You could also partner with an existing organization with a track record of filling programs, and share the profits in return for a full house.

2. Build your prospect list to equal 20-100 times the number of people you want to attend. A typical response rate from a postal mailing is 1-2%. Response to opt-in email is often even lower. (Don’t even consider using unsolicited email.) In general, expect no more than 1% to respond if they don’t know your work and rarely more than 5% even when they know you well. Make it a habit to capture the name and address of every prospect and get their permission to mail or email.

3. Plan to promote on multiple channels. Your promotion plan should include announcements in your ezine or newsletter, a description on your website, posts to your blog or social networking accounts, email announcements, postal mail, a brochure or flyer to distribute, calendar listings, and personal invitations. Don’t rely on just one or two of these avenues — students are much more likely to enroll when they see your program mentioned in many different places. Requesting clients and colleagues to promote your program will extend your reach even further.

Emergency Enrollment

If your program has low or no registrations as the date approaches, here’s what you can do to increase enrollment:

1. Call people on your prospect list and invite them personally. Don’t count on mail and the Internet to do the job. Place a phone call to all likely prospects for whom you have phone numbers, give a brief description of the program, and invite them to attend. You’ll be amazed how many people will say, “Thank you for calling — I’ve been meaning to sign up.”

2. Ask clients and colleagues to help you. Just sending an announcement to potential referral sources isn’t the same as directly asking for their help. Whether or not you asked for help eariler to promote your event, it’s not too late to do so now. Call or email people who respect your work. If they have a mailing list or online following, ask if they will announce your event. Even if they don’t have an appropriate list, ask them to suggest two or three people who could benefit from your program. Then ask if they will also contact those people themselves to recommend it.

3. Make a special offer. Tell the people who are already registered they can bring a friend for half-price. You’re not losing any revenue that way if the space would otherwise be standing empty. Offer a bonus gift with minimal cost to those who enroll — 30 minutes of your professional time, or an ebook, audio, or report you’ve produced. To encourage people to spread the word, offer the same gift to people who refer students to you.

If All Else Fails

In the last few days before your program, if you still have only a handful pre-registered:

1. Hold your program anyway. Invite people to attend for free if necessary to have good participation. Your clients will enjoy the chance to spend more quality time with you; colleagues will benefit from the opportunity to see you work and meet other attendees. Ask people who attend at no charge to write you glowing testimonials and refer paying participants for the next time.

2. If you can’t fix it, feature it. The meaning of this classic sales maxim is that if your product has an obvious flaw, make it a positive selling point. When only six people enroll in your big seminar, convert it to an intimate group experience. If you have only two people for a group, turn it into a success team. Your participants will be thrilled to have more individual attention. Never apologize for a smaller-than-expected turnout.

3. Plan ahead to do better next time. Analyze what went wrong with your marketing and strategize how to do it differently the next time around. Should you have allowed more lead time? Does your mailing list need to be larger? Do you need to factor in more promotion channels instead of relying on mailings or email alone? Do you need to ask for more help from colleagues instead of trying to do it all yourself? Make a list of all the key elements you think are necessary to successfully promote your next program.

Filling group programs becomes easier when you offer them regularly. When students see the same program advertised two or three times, they are much more likely to enroll. Think of all your marketing efforts as part of a long-term plan to make more people aware of your business. If the outreach you do for your workshop introduces your business to many new people, you may ultimately find that result much more valuable than just filling one program.

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