7 reasons why webinars won’t make you rich (and how to avoid my mistakes)

My heart breaks. Truly.

Don’t get me wrong: not only do I love webinars, but they’re a uniquely powerful way to connect with audiences. And make money if that’s your business model and you do it right.

Today’s editorial is a response to the growing number of hawkers who take advantage of people who chase shiny objects (like getting rich).  My heart breaks that crap like that creates noise pollution in the legitimate world of communications and content marketing.

Some cold, hard truths (and mistakes you can avoid)…

A webinar is a medium of communication, not a silver bullet
A web conferencing or web casting solution is a means of communication…like a telephone. Did people get rich by figuring out how to use the telephone as a mechanism for selling? Yes. What would you say if you say if the title of the DVD, workshop, or book was “get crazy wealthy with telephones?” My point exactly. Who’s rich today? The people who years ago sold programs like, “How to get rich with your own 900 number.”

Building “products” doesn’t solve your “need an audience or list” problem
“Build it and they will come” makes for cool movie lines, but it’s not so awesome for marketing. If you have an audience who likes your “voice,” you can sell them webinars. And DVDs, and books, and all kinds of stuff. But the world is full of great stuff that isn’t selling.

You don’t have a systematic marketing funnel
Live webinars cost more money than it costs to drive traffic to than other lead-generating things. Why? Because they happen at a date and time. Solution: add someone to your list with something that’s waaaay easier to get a conversion on than a webinar (like a paper, ebook, or other on-demand ‘get it now’ content).

You don’t differentiate the “live” and “on-demand” experiences
Many people have legitimate expertise, but the power of live is that your audience can get questions answered. Most hawkers say, “do it, it’s easy to record, and put a $20 price tag on.” True, it is. But it misses the opportunity to add value by connecting with people. Just like it’s powerful to connect (human to human) in a face to face setting, connecting remotely (human to human) can happen live, but it doesn’t in a recording.

Create more value for your live by being interactive…make them “must be there” “events.” If they’re not, then I don’t need to attend live, and there’s nothing special. In person experiences are important (why are so many trade shows held in Las Vegas?), and online experiences can be just that… otherwise you might as well skip the live webinar and (more easily) create a recording for sale.  Which leads to the next point…

You produce long recordings that aren’t great for how we consume on-demand content
Want a little come-to-truth? Go Google the average view time of online video. True enough, that’s heavily influenced by people clicking video-to-video on YouTube, but here’s the reality: one long lecture is NOT ideal for the adult learning experience. The radically-motivated may sit through it, but even the most astute attention wanders.

Alternative: author content specifically for on-demand consumption, broken up into chunks or chapters. It might be the same 50 minutes of content, but 10 five-minute videos is easier to re-reference than one long recording.  Audio books (even shorter, abridged versions) have chapters. One long webinar recording is less than ideal for consumption. You might sell it once, but if you’re in the content publishing business, you probably want to produce a quality product.

You haven’t figured out an audience, a problem, and how much they’ll pay to fix it
I have presented many times on the business of online training, including how to determine how much your audience will pay. Inevitably a question comes in like, “So how much will people pay for a webinar?” (Politely) I ask, “How much will you pay for a training session?” I know full-day seminars that sell for $99 and other that sell for $2500. Some books sell for $10 and some for $100. So I then ask, “What are you currently charging for training? Let’s start there, then adapt.” They usually don’t know.

Here’s the cold-hard truth…if you know an audience and a problem they’re willing to pay to solve, then a webinar might be a fabulous addition to your revenue mix. It might even be the primary revenue generator for you. But if you’ve not figured that out, you’ve got a bigger problem than “what webinar platform is the best.”

You have an upside down business model
The allure of “see how simple it is to make a recording” is that it’s easy. True enough, it’s easier now than ever to use a webinar to author content. But developing really kick ass content is painfully expensive, if not in terms of your money, then it certainly is in terms of your time.

Here’s a lesson I learned from a software company long ago: let the customer pay to develop it.

Back then IBM was our largest client, and they’d come request a new feature or variation of what we had. Since we didn’t want to be in the “custom software development business,” the business-model question was “can we sell this feature or service to someone else? Is there a market for it?” If the answer was yes to both questions, then we’d take their money and do the development. Then we had something we could sell to someone else, we’d made a profit margin on the original development, and could package/price/position the offer for others. Note, however, this is diametrically opposite “build it and then go try to sell it.”

If you want to write a book, you could spend six months and many thousands of dollars to get it out the door, only to then try to make your money at $25 each. Sell someone the content, get them to pay for developing it, and now you’re making money on each additional $25. Same with webinars.

The bottom line

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m as excited about webinars as when I got into the business in 1999. It’s just that my heart’s breaking now that the industry has gotten big enough to attract the hawkers.

The good news (I hope)? I’ve made every one of the mistakes above. Painfully. You really can make good money as a speaker, trainer, consultant using webinars as your communication medium. You really can create on-demand content that sells in your sleep and leverages your time. And if a few of you avoid the trap, save some heartache and money, and then pay it forward to someone else who needs the message, I’m a happy dude.

Now go get rich.


P.S. Are you speaker who wants to dive into it for real? Read this

5 thoughts on “7 reasons why webinars won’t make you rich (and how to avoid my mistakes)

  1. KatieStroudPro

    Wow, Roger. This one really hit home for me. Not that I’m necessarily trying to make my living solely on delivering webinars (I’m in the training business), but as a recently awakened entrepreneur, I get it. There’s a lot of work that goes into the business of selling and branding yourself–work that has a cost to it, both in time and in money. There is no magic bullet.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

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  3. How Creating Products to Sell Can Make Your Dreams Come True - The 8 Women Dream Project

    […] The fact that there isn’t a live audience doesn’t matter. The people are buying your information – not the experience.These speech recordings can be packaged in any way that your consumer might get their information: DVD, CD or set of CDs, MP3, iTunes, Teleseminar, Podcast, Webinar. […]

  4. Faramarz Hidaji

    Roger, THANK YOU for the highly informative and obviously heart-felt article. My wife and I are struggling to develop our careers from what we know to what we are passionate about. I have fallen prey to several “hawkers” who build up our hopes, take advantage of our ignorance, and run with our money. Please continue to do your good work. I for one have great gratitude for you.

  5. Venus

    Great read! I am looking to create a one time webinar to sell, to generate initial investment capital for my business. From there I will work on my books and training curriculum.

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