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On a Mission To Charge!

I want to start a conversation with the BizNik Community. Do you hold free seminars/workshops? If you do, I'm going to give you some reasons why you shouldn't.
Written Nov 14, 2008, read 1308 times since then.


I have been a part of the Biznik Network for a couple of months and almost immediately after joining the network I looked to Post a Seminar on one of my most popular seminar topics: "Using Seminars To Build Your Business." Honestly, the thought never occurred to hold the session for free and so this article is two-fold...

1) It talks about my reasons why I always charge for a seminar or workshop that I hold and

2) I want it to be the start of what I think is a long overdue conversation with the Biznik community on why so many of you are putting seminars/workshops out for Free.

Here are some of the main reasons why I charge for my seminars/workshops:

  1. It is not my Primary source of Revenue it's a secondary stream for my business.
  2. It 'qualifies' potential customers.
  3. I'm telling my markets I value my knowledge and information, if I give it for free I acknowledge that I don't see enough value. Many of you are going to disagree with this point. This is the start of the conversation.
  4. I put out topics to multiple markets (3 niches), I don't just put out 1 seminar a month to the same group.

Let's break down each of the above points.

It is not my primary source of Revenue. Seminars are a great way for you to build visibility in your markets, but they should be one of many business development tools in your arsenal. When I first started out as a speaker I wanted to build visibility with potential clients but also wanted another stream of revenue. People who hold seminars for free need to look at other ways that you build business, you have potential to make money with your seminars, don't waste that opportunity by giving it for free.

It qualifies potential customers. People who attend your free session are potential customers but are not qualified customers. Alot are going to be tire kickers (people who want to get some new information but who would never intend to work with you or use your services). If someone is willing to pay (even a small amount) you know that they see value in what you offer and you have a more qualified opportunity.

I'm telling my markets that I value my knowledge. "Free" says "I undervalue what I offer to the market. It also says "The Information I am giving you is not worth much because I have to give a portion away". 

I put out topics to multiple markets. Don't just look to put your seminar out 1 time to one group. Look at your niche markets and how they could use and benefit from your knowledge and information. Not all seminars are going to be a go-ahead (case in point I was supposed to be running a seminar on recession proofing your business today. Did anyone signup? Nope. But I put that seminar out to 4 other markets/groups and 3 sold out). There are many factors that go into filling seminars: Marketing, Timing, Price Point, etc. If one seminar doesn't go, postpone or cancel it, learn from it, move on, and put it out again for a future date.

Right now I have had 30 people from the BizNik community attending my sessions, although I've never posed this question during one of my sessions over the years these are the most common reasons why people have said they provide sessions for free:

  • I don't have enough experience as a speaker so I don't feel as though it would be right for me to charge
  • I am trying to gain visibility in my markets first, once people know what I do then I can charge a fee
  • People already know most of this information, I am just putting my spin on it so I don't think people would pay

This is the start of the conversation. I know some people are going to disagree, and this article is even going to make people mad. I make no apologizes. But let's start the conversation: So here are my questions/challenges to all the BizNiks who hold events:

  1. Have you ever held a seminar for a fee?
  2. Why don't you charge for your seminars/workshops?
  3. Have you held a mix of free and fee based seminars?
  4. If you are holding free seminars, is it working for you? Have you converted any of your attendees into paying clients?




Learn more about the author, Liam Brown.

Comment on this article

  • Career Catalyst & Business Coach 
Phoenix, Arizona 
Richard Baum
    Posted by Richard Baum, Phoenix, Arizona | Nov 18, 2008


    Marketing experts differ on the virtues of free vs. fee as a business generator. Using a free event to upsell is one tactic. Charging to pre-qualify is another.

    I have heard opinions expressed by Bizniks that the plethora of free workshops reduces Biznik to a place to try out your material for other markets. I have only co-hosted a free event. I have not yet attempted any fee workshops because they only seem to be viable for select presenters.

    Your advice is sound regarding testing the waters and adjusting. Ditto the multiple income streams. I would add the element of multiple venues, including teleseminars and Blogtalk radio as non-Biznik events, or to supplement Biznik offerings.

    An added benefit of paid events is attendance. Free offers no disincentive to no show, denying others the opportunity to attend.

    Looking forward to the comments and discussion to follow.


  • Filmmaker 
Seattle, Washington 
Dan McComb
    Posted by Dan McComb, Seattle, Washington | Nov 18, 2008

    Last night Lara and I hosted a workshop, Networking the Biznik Way, which we do regularly on how to get the most from Biznik. 30 people RSVP'd. The event was full for 2 weeks. Only 17 showed up. It was a free workshop. I'm sure not one of those who didn't show up planned to skip, but there just wasn't any incentive for them to be there. In fact, there's actually incentive for people to RSVP for events and not attend, because it gets their face out there, and provides another link for Google to spider.

    I have observed over the last three years that even a small event fee causes the no-show rate to disappear almost completely. And, it also puts some extra pressure on the event host to deliver something of real value.

    As I was leaving our workshop last night, I turned to Lara and said, "You know, that was an awesome workshop. Everyone who attended got a TON of knowledge and information that they can put to work immediately in ways that will truly benefit their business. We should really be charging for that."

  • Developing web 2.0 websites with Joomla! 
Bellingham, Washington 
Tony Sova
    Posted by Tony Sova, Bellingham, Washington | Nov 18, 2008

    I think it depends on your market. In the Bellingham market there is a deterrence factor for paid events. My impression is that you have to qualify yourself first. The best way to do that is to host a free event then perhaps charge for bigger, more informative events. Especially after getting feedback from those who attended.

    I'm hosting my first event this week. Of course I wouldn't charge for that but after a few events it's something I might consider if there was some sort of training involved.

  • Co-Owner and Marketing Director 
Seattle, Washington 
Kirsten Mohan
    Posted by Kirsten Mohan, Seattle, Washington | Nov 18, 2008


    I have hosted free seminars in the past in my field (real estate), but they were mainly free because I was doing them as a service to the community. But I agree with the premise of your article, and I think charging a small fee is often a better way to qualify your attendees, guarantee a lower no-show rate*, and make you seem more valuable and knowledgeable.

    I have definitely been to some free seminars that weren't worth the price, but I've also been to some that charged a very reasonable fee (<$50)>s event because I wanted to go (and would have SHOWN UP), but it was full! I am definitely in agreement that small fees go a long way toward keeping the no-show rate down!

  • Healthcare, Family Wellness Chiropractor 
San Jose, California 
Dr.Stephanie Rozenhart
    Posted by Dr.Stephanie Rozenhart, San Jose, California | Nov 18, 2008

    We go back and forth about charging for workshops. Your article gave me more to think about, thank you. I think we are going to start charging!

  • Speaker, Author, Radio Host 
Sammamish, Washington 
Leslie Irish Evans
    Posted by Leslie Irish Evans, Sammamish, Washington | Nov 18, 2008

    I'm totally down with the basic premise here, Liam, but the other side of it is this: If you're going to charge, you'd better bring the valuable content. I've had a handful of experiences lately where I paid for seminars that had some content but certainly weren't worth the price they charged.

    So there's that.

  • Office/Marketing Mgr. 
Ketchikan, Alaska 
Jennifer Zona
    Posted by Jennifer Zona, Ketchikan, Alaska | Nov 18, 2008

    As a program coordinator at a Chamber of Commerce, these ideas are often central to our office/event discussions. I am often aggravated to hear business members complain on the "higher" costs of dinner events, yet I organize a monthly small business learn-n-lunch, (lunch provided) for $5 and the no-show rate is through the roof at times. I would like to hear more ideas on identifying the line between value and valuable.

  • Blogging Coach and Copywriter 
Seattle, Washington 
Judy Dunn
    Posted by Judy Dunn, Seattle, Washington | Nov 18, 2008

    Great article, Liam. You have raised some important questions.

    Free, useful content is a marketing tool for many, many people. But I do not think you can present 20 seminars/workshops on the same topic, with the same curriculum, and just start charging all of a sudden.

    I am not opposed to a paid workshop if there is value. What I think works best is to present a small chunk of content and promote the full deal to the same attendees in the form of a larger, more comprehensive workshop that answers many of the questions they are still left with after the "mini-workshop."

    I think sometimes there is a "chips and salsa" mentality with presenters. If you sit down at a Mexican restaurant and they keep refilling your bowl of chips, eventually you will get full on the free stuff and won't order dinner.

    There should be a balance between the chips and salsa and the more substantial dinner.

    I am very interested in hearing others' thoughts on this.

  • Career Catalyst & Business Coach 
Phoenix, Arizona 
Richard Baum
    Posted by Richard Baum, Phoenix, Arizona | Nov 18, 2008

    The major reason for hosting a free event is to have the opportunity to upsell or register attendees for paid events. Even Dan and Lara's Networking with Biznik events showcase the benefits of supporting membership, and rightly so.

    One option is to charge a "seat fee". Many training organizations require credit card info to register and set a fee that is only charged if you don't attend. That preserves the "free" effect but encourages attendance.

    It is frustrating to get shut out of an event only to learn later that 40% didn't show up. With travel distances, time, etc. it is prohibitive to "crash" events on the chance that there will be room, but I may give it a try.

  • Life Coach & Creator of Ready, Set, Manifest! and The Money Mindful Way 
Redmond, Washington 
Debbie Lacy
    Posted by Debbie Lacy, Redmond, Washington | Nov 18, 2008

    Liam, thanks for opening the conversation. I've been experimenting with this on Biznik so I've done both free and fee-based. I ran one workshop 3 times, free twice. It filled both times. Someone told me I should have charged for it, given the value offered. So I did -- charged $20 the 3rd time and only got 2 sign-ups.

    Recently, I posted a specialized workshop for coaches and charged an amount that I was satisfied with (and I wanted to experiment with pushing the envelope a bit) -- $45. I got no sign-ups and even had someone ask me why I was charging so much "when lots of Bizink events are free."

    I do think there's an under-valuing going on here on the part of Biznik event hosts and an unwillingness for people to plunk down money when they're not sure of the value they'll get.

    Personally, I think networking events like Happy Hours, lunches, etc. should all be free, but workshops and seminars should all charge at least $5. For those who don't feel they're qualified to charge, and who are using Biznik to test the waters, maybe there should be a separate workshop section of freebies. Otherwise, we should assume that people running workshops are going to offer something of value at least worth the price posted, just like we operate in the world outside of Biznik.

    My two cents.

  • B2B Midmarket Sales Prospecting Expert 
Portsmouth, New Hampshire 
Lori Richardson
    Posted by Lori Richardson, Portsmouth, New Hampshire | Nov 18, 2008

    Liam, this IS a great topic to be discussing - it is not the first time I've heard it discussed. I am sure there are many posts and threads on Biznik from the past few years on the topic of fee vs free.

    Also keep in mind that there are a wide variety of folks in Biznik. I, for example, am a corporate trainer, speaker, and write internationally - but am also a small biz owner, so I look to Biznik for ideas, energy, collaboration, and for a small percentage of Biznik members who can be (and some are) my strategic alliance partners. These partners of mine I've met in the Biznik world refer me to prospective clients (bigger companies and their leaders) and it helps them to have heard me present because they know me, like what I have to say, and trust that I add value - important aspects when being referred or referring.

    I'm happy to share ideas and topics "by the cup" for no charge - since I sell full training days (and training projects) by the gallon. Those "gallon" buyers are not typically Biznik members, however on many occasions Biznik members have referred me.

    So why am I a Biznik Ambassador and run happy hours, networking events, and some brief topic sessions? The answer is that I find it very rewarding to help small business owners too - because I remember how hard it was for me my first few years on my own.

    Our Biznik events here in Bellingham have had nearly 100% of those signed up to show up.

    Do I believe fundamentally in charging for good knowledge? Absolutely. If my target audience was Biznik members, I would have "no cost" intro sessions and fee-based workshops.

    Finally, I have learned through professional speaking organizations like NSA that people will pay for a speaker if they know it is worth the investment - therefore nationally or internationally known speakers and celebrities have little difficulty doing this - perhaps the issue is more about finding a way we can all help further promote each others' expertise so that people are lining up to attend?

  • Massage - Medical Intuitive - Author  (Ballard) 
Seattle, Washington 
Jacob Caldwell, LMP
    Posted by Jacob Caldwell, LMP, Seattle, Washington | Nov 18, 2008

    I think after 3 no-shows people should have to pay to attend another event.

  • Whatcom Realtor, Bellingham Licensed Massage Therapist 
Bellingham, Washington 
Tom Gurney
    Posted by Tom Gurney, Bellingham, Washington | Nov 18, 2008

    I agree with Lori that Bellingham events have value to them (and they are free). It does not work to charge for a event through Biznik. Biznik promotes collaboration not competition. I feel charging for events will make it more competitive with other similar members. This is not what Biznik is about. I believe in the power of support by my network, not how much I charge. (If I charge $1000 for a event does that mean I am more valuable?) I do agree if 40% don't show then the event was not important enough. That is good feedback. Try a different day, time, shorten the information or lengthen it, try coming to Bellingham. I know several locations to host events (for free of course). I know there is not one specific solution to this. Choose the way that best fits your business. Don't forget that Biznik is free to all unless you want the extras. This is just my 2 cents....

  • Web Site Marketing Coach 
Seattle, Washington 
Cathy Goodwin
    Posted by Cathy Goodwin, Seattle, Washington | Nov 19, 2008

    I don't think it's about whether knowledge has value. It's about what strategy makes sense for your market.

    I offer free teleseminars. I get opt-in permission from attendees and I have built a llst of fans. i also charge for 4-week and 6-week mentoring courses. Once people come to a few free classes, they see what I can do and they're often willing to hire me for consulting and/or sign up for paid classes.

  • Seattle Business Coach / Seattle Leadership Coach / Executive Coach / Author / Speaker 
Seattle, Washington 
Hsuan-Hua Chang, PCC, LMBA, MS
    Posted by Hsuan-Hua Chang, PCC, LMBA, MS, Seattle, Washington | Nov 19, 2008

    I think if you have a clear intention about offering a free seminar/workshop, go ahead to do it. Millionaire mind demonstrates this strategy successfully.

    Personally, when I charge. I want to qualify participants for my workshops.

  • Markitect 
Berlin, Connecticut 
Bill Doerr
    Posted by Bill Doerr, Berlin, Connecticut | Nov 19, 2008

    Liam, great post!

    You raise an ongoing issue . . . so permit me to offer an interesting insight on this topic.

    Years ago I bought into the 'free is worthless' mentailty for my initial workshop offerings. So I decided to charge $99 to come to a half-day program.

    The program was designed for CPA's who were seeking to grow their clientele and, of course, revenues.

    The very first thing I did was go around the room and give each 'pre-paid' CPA a crisp, Ben Franklin ($100 bill).

    I said, "Before we begin, I want you to know something about me. I am NOT in the $99 a seat workshop business".

    I then continued by saying, "I'm giving you back your $99 PLUS an extra 'tax free' dollar, to boot. Whether you declare it to the IRS is between you and God."

    Finally, I said, "The reason why I'm doing this is because more than your $99, I wanted to know who would take a meaningful action and register to be here today. Some of you . . . and it's going to be a distinct minority . . . are going to become my clients . . . and spend thousands of dollars with me. Now if you're not one of those who become my client, I will make sure you have a good day and you won't have to pay a penny to do that. I hope you and I can now get down to the reason you're really here . . . "

    That went over very well. It allowed me to use a FEE to qualify interest and allowed me to position myself as an upscale advisor.

    Your question reminded me of that event -- and the lesson it taught me about FREE as well.

    Thank you. Hope my story offers further 'food' for the conversation you've invited here. Kudos!

  • Creative Project Manager & Social Networking Strategist 
Kirkland, Washington 
Julian Michael
    Posted by Julian Michael, Kirkland, Washington | Nov 19, 2008

    I COMPLETELY agree with your article...the web has broadened people's minds, expanded the realm of opportunities...but on the flip side has CHEAPENED many industries. I love to meet and network, but as you said, there are many 'tire kickers' out there! Many of us value FREE information coming from a seasoned professional...and I'm one that WOULD pay for workshops of value..from $10 to $500, depending on the value to my business!


  • Effective, Understandable and Affordable Market Research 
Kirkland, Washington 
Mike Pritchard
    Posted by Mike Pritchard, Kirkland, Washington | Nov 21, 2008

    Here's a new (at least to me) twist.

    I'm putting together my seminar plans including paid and unpaid. The unpaid sessions that I feel good about doing are for a Market Sizing research session for an Entrepreneur Bootcamp in Oregon. I get more visibility and to donate my time.

    But today the Executive Director of a local group of entrepreneurs and investors offered me the chance to deliver some sessions through them - and to pay $500 for the privilege. I'm torn. There are positives from a marketing perspective, and I won't have the out of pocket costs that I'd have doing my own. But is it worth that much for lead generation? My gut says yes, but I'm not 100% happy with it.

    I should add that the $500 is for running 4 sessions during the year, with all the promo that goes alongside that. Their model is interesting structurally (they sign up people based on a tentative day of the week and time, and then when enough are signed up the presenter schedules within a short time), but I don't think the model should distract me from analyzing properly.


  • Biznik Co-founder/CEO 
Seattle, Washington 
Lara Feltin
    Posted by Lara Feltin, Seattle, Washington | Nov 23, 2008

    I've enjoyed reading this thread. Thank you for opening this can of worms, Liam. :) There are two qualities unique to Biznik that I'm proud of. One is the opportunity to market your expertise, talent and services while giving back to your community, and two is the chance to use other Biznik members as a petri dish to experiment with your material and message.

    This is different than a professional seminar. For one, the content of a professional seminar is in most cases created for a number of audiences, not just Bizniks; while the content of a free or low cost workshop of Biznik, is often created with the Biznik audience in mind.

    Everyone's an expert in something. But if you are experimenting with your material, I feel it's appropriate to offer your material for free and provide a networking opportunity between participants to make sure the event was worth their while in case your presentation needs some polishing.

    This is at the root of the three guidelines for inclusion in the Biznik Calendar, which are: provide opportunity for participants to network face-to-face - record the attendance of all event participants on the event page on Biznik so they can network online prior to and after the event - and follow the 95/5 Rule that limits self promotion to 5% and requires 95% of the content be helpful and relevant to growing a small business.

    One of the very first educational workshops in the Biznik Calendar was Chris Haddad & Dominic Canterbury's Top Ten Marketing Mistakes Made by Small Businesses and How to Avoid Them in 2006. Biznik was less than a year old and Dan and I had just met Chris and Dominic. We invited them to lead this workshop because we thought these two could provide some helpful and relevant information to the community and gain some visibility in the process.