Virtual summits can be a game-changer for your business, but not all of them are profitable. Sadly, most business owners who host summits don’t understand what it takes to get real results. But when you do it right, summits have the power to boost your visibility, income, and impact, helping you reach your goals faster. Jennie Wright gives us an insider’s look and shares her winning strategies for executing a profitable online summit.
Jennie Wright fell into organizing virtual summits by accident while working as a virtual assistant. She was immediately drawn to planning and executing online events.
She recommends a free registration model with paid upgrade options. This grows email lists effectively. The paid tiers offer bonus materials like transcripts, courses, and curated products.
Speakers benefit from exposure to the shared audiences of all the summit participants. Jennie builds relationships with them first before inviting them to participate.
Jennie provides speakers with promotional materials to make promotion easy. Creative speakers can make their own videos and content to promote the summit as well.
Service-based industries like coaches and consultants work well for summits focused on solving a specific problem. Dropshipping and niche topics don’t work as well.
Jennie uses a customized tech stack for her summits rather than an all-in-one platform. This allows flexibility and the ability to keep using the tools after the summit ends.
Full Virtual Summits Episode Transcript
Rich: My guest today is an expert in email list growth and lead generation, with over a decade of experience helping business owners achieve their marketing goals. She’s the creator of the List Injection Method, a system that uses inbound attraction and permission marketing to help clients and audiences generate leads.
With a track record of building over 375 list builds, she has a deep understanding of the essential steps to creating events that not only attract ready buyers, but also build trust and engagement with audiences. Her mission is to empower business owners with intelligent and authentic marketing, lead gen, and business growth strategies that drive bottom line results.
She is a sought-after speaker and consultant who inspires audiences with her expertise, passion, and practical advice. Today, we’re going to be put talking about virtual summits with Jennie Wright. Jennie, welcome to the podcast.
Jennie: Thanks so much for having me.
Rich: So I was first introduced to you when I was part of Katie Brinkley’s online summit as a speaker. And I was impressed by the clarity of communication and processes that were put in place, both for the audience as well as for our speakers. It was fantastic. Now this doesn’t seem like a typical focus for a digital marketer, so how did you find yourself in this role?
Jennie: I fell into it completely by accident. I was actually transitioning from a corporate career and my friend said, “Before you go and get another corporate career, why not try this really cool field of virtual assistant? You can figure out what you want to do and go from there.”
And I started working as a virtual assistant on Fiverr, of all places, and somebody hired me to do database research for potential online speakers. And I said, what is this thing called a ‘telesummit’ at the time. She told me what it was, gave me the outline and immediately I was hooked. And that was in, I think, April. And by the end of that year, I had done 38 summits for new potential clients, having found them through a group and whatnot.
And I just loved that, because in my corporate career I was responsible for conducting AGMs and other online, actually in person events, not online events. And I found that fascinating and I loved all of the things that went into planning and executing these types of events. So it felt quite natural to do this in an online space.
Rich: So talk to me a little bit about the business model here. I’ve seen virtual summits that charge, others that are free, and others that seem to straddle between the two. Which approach do you recommend or tend to practice the most when working with your clients?
Jennie: I’m going to say that “recommend” is a very nice way of saying that I only do it as a freestyle, like a free event. And there’s reasons for that. I’ve done the paid version, and they don’t work the way that people want.
Now if your goal is to grow your email list, then free is the way to go. If you’re looking only to curate to a smaller audience and make some money off of it, sure, you can go that paid route. But you will not get the results, in my personal opinion and experience, that you’re looking for.
I had a paid event with one of my clients a couple of years ago with Condoleezza Rice as one of the main speakers. And they were charging, I think, $195 for this event. You could earn SHRM credits, which HR people go crazy for, and we had a very low turnout and very low attendance, even though Condoleezza Rice was one of the main speakers. And it just proved the point to me, again, that free is definitely the way to go.
The business model for these kinds of events that works the best is free to register with an upgrade opportunity. And I always offer three, kind of a Goldilocks version of things. So you can get the base little VIP upgrade package, the higher tier upgrade package, and then finally we put in a bump offer or OTO, a one-time offer, for something really small, anywhere between $7 and $47, that increases that per person ticket price. So you get a bigger basket, bigger take, and that sort of thing. And we find that we can get about 40% of all registrants to go for that VIP.
Rich: So what does the VIP, what are some of the offers that we might do at those different tiers?
Jennie: Absolutely. And I’m going to interchange the word “VIP” and “all access pass” interchangeably in this conversation. So what we put in these things, we usually create what’s called a “bundle offer”. So it always usually includes in the first tier all the access to all the recordings, something really cool from the host, maybe a downloadable, maybe a webinar to a future date and so on and so forth, or even something like some otter.ai transcribed notes of all of the interviews. Those work really well.
And then in the 2nd tier up, we always include everything from tier 1, but the 2nd tier has either expert curated opportunities such as courses, products, and things like that, and you’re adding a bunch of values. You could have anywhere between 20 speakers or 40 speakers, each adding a paid something or other, which would be free to the part of the package when somebody buys it. And that really creates that higher intrinsic value. That value of that package can be $1,000 to $10,000, and it really adds a ton of stuff, making it a really great bundle offer.
And then the bump offer is usually again, something small and easy to add on that makes sense. I personally actually love putting the transcripts in that space, or a really cool masterclass that is only on offer for the people who purchase it.
Rich: So we’ve got a group of speakers. And these summits that I’ve seen tend to have anywhere from like just a few speakers to 50 speakers. It really varies. How do we convince speakers to become part of this? What’s the business model for the Rich Brooks’ of the world to be part of somebody else’s virtual summit?
Jennie: A lot of that rests on two things. One is the fact that the speaker is going to get a ton of exposure. So the Rich Brooks’ of the world will get exposure simply because there’ll be multiple Rich Brooks’ in the event, all promoting to their email lists, and all sharing it with their socials. So there’s a ton of exposure that’s created.
The other thing is I find that when my clients say, “I have somebody producing my summit” and there is a level of organization that people can see, speakers really go for it. So we all make those decisions, those snap decisions when we see an offer. We’ve all gotten the emails, “Hey, you want to be part of my online event?” You have to have a 5,000-person list, send two emails, and do three socials. I hate that model, by the way. Absolutely cannot stand it. I don’t believe in list minimums. I don’t believe in list maximums. And I don’t believe in minimums and maximums of promoting.
But when we see a beautifully created speaker page, a call for speakers as we call it, and that it’s a well-organized event. It’s an actual like a landing page with if you’re interested, and then there’s a form where you get to fill out the information. When it looks this professional and put together speakers are like, okay, I feel taken care of. I feel seen. I feel understood, that I have value that I can bring to this project. That’s one thing.
The last thing I’ll add to this, which I didn’t mention earlier, is I don’t believe in it being like a surprise message to somebody I’ve never met before. You’ll never see me actually cold message a potential speaker. I will always start the networking process ahead of time, liking your content on social media, interacting with one of your emails, being sure to show up on some of your lives. Because I’m not only trying to get in your good graces, but I’m actually trying to understand you as a potential speaker and make sure you’re a really great fit for the event that I’m hosting. Because if not, we’re not going to have that connection. And if I can forge a little bit of a community, a little bit of a connection with the potential speaker, chances are I’m going to have a much better result off the backend in terms of promoting. And you will feel more invested in participating in the event.
Rich: All right. And do speakers tend to have their own… like, how do they promote it? How can they get the most out of this as well? In real life conferences I’ve sometimes seen that people will do an add-on or something like that. So do you find that works for speakers?
Jennie: It is an interesting model for people to do that. “Hey, register for this free event and I’ll also give you access to my ABC XYZ.” We’ve seen that done. It works pretty well. That comes a lot from the sort of affiliate marketing world where it’s like, “Register for Marie Forleo’s B-School, and you also get this cool bundle that I created.”
Rich: That’s the example I was thinking of.
Jennie: Everybody in our space uses that example, and I think it’s a really good example to look at. We do see that in the summit space. Not terribly as much, but it is something that’s useful.
In terms of being able to promote, I call it making things ‘stupid simple’. As a host or producer, I provide absolutely everything a potential speaker could possibly want or need in promoting the event. So having a 30 second video, graphics, copy, so on and so forth, making availability for live events and things like that. But the last summit that I personally hosted back in June, my personal speakers went above and beyond. They were doing crafted reels.
One speaker, he’s known as the video king or the video superman, he actually made his own video based on stuff that he saw. He was pulling stuff and making almost like a sizzle reel. I’d never seen anything like it before. It was amazing. So it’s the creativity of the speaker that’s also helpful.
But again, when you have that relationship and you build a relationship, and it’s not transactional, but more community based, you’re going to get speakers who are willing to go above and beyond. And when you don’t have that, if it is only transactional, then the speakers are like, “All right, give me my email, I’ll throw it in my Active Campaign and I’ll send it out and I’ll post it on my Story” or whatever. Like, they’re not invested in it. So if you can create that, you’re going to get a much better result.
Rich: All right. Makes sense. Are there businesses or industries that are best suited to take advantage of a virtual summit? And I guess by notion of that, are there some that you’ve worked with that you thought this is just not the right model for you?
Jennie: Yep. I’ve done summits in pretty much every industry. I even did a summit for somebody who at one point their whole business model was helping people discover that they were actually other life forms,. That they weren’t actually humans, that they were unicorns or tigers or cats or whatever. That was like a whole thing for that person. That’s probably not best suited for a summit. I’m just going to say that.
But the other thing that’s also not best suited is things like drop shipping. So I find that those types of things aren’t great. I’ve worked with lawyers, I’ve worked with marriage counselors. The best summits, I think, are the ones that have and solve a really big problem. So coaches, course creators, consultants. Authors do really well with summits, it’s funny enough. As well as people who are in service-based industries as well. Those are the big ones that are going to fit really well. And as long as they can solve a really good problem and it has a little bit of buzz in terms of what that problem is, then it’s a really good fit.
Rich: Nice. And are you running these summits when you run them for other people? Is there a specific platform that you tend to gravitate towards? Or is this like you’ve stitched together a bunch of solutions and made your own recipe, so to speak?
Jennie: I’m definitely the cook in the kitchen. So I’m a really big believer in having a tech stack. There’s a lot of one and done or all-in-one solutions out there for running summits and I don’t recommend them, not because they’re not good solutions. However, what I find is if you have a one in an all-in-one solution for a summit, there’s like the master of none in there. So they don’t do anything to the quality that I’m looking for at the level that I like to work at.
So I cobbled together a really good tech stack of the right products that also can be used post summit, which is also a problem with these one and done solutions. They’re summit solutions. When the summit is over, you either have to keep paying for the software because your summit is in there, or you have to keep doing the summit. And most creators, most people who are going to produce a summit, are doing this once a year or twice a year. So those pieces of software don’t make any sense. So I prefer the tech stack solution. It makes the most sense. And it has longevity because it’s literally going to be the things that you use going forward.
Rich: Makes sense. And it reminds me of when I was a teenager and I would always create my stereo out of components rather than one giant box that would always fail at one point and always had mediocre sound.
Jennie: Absolutely. Same thing with a gaming computer.
Rich: So obviously people can hire somebody, can hire you, can hire somebody like you to do this. But if we were going to try and put on a virtual summit ourselves, as foolish as that might be, how would we prepare? What are some of the first steps that we might think about?
Jennie: Yes, it’s an excellent question. If you’re going to do it on your own, which is totally doable. People hire me when they don’t want to have to do the stuff, and they want me to take care of it all for them. And also they want to elevate it, grow it, expand it, and so on.
If you want to do it on your own, the first thing that you need to be working on is the planning piece, and also the networking piece. So there’s a couple different segments to a summit. There’s what I call the pre-networking stage. This is when you’re trying to think about who your speakers could be, and you’re starting to do your networking, a little bit of research and connecting with people.
By the way, that goes beyond what a summit could ever deliver, because you’re creating amazing networking opportunities for other things. So there’s that pre-networking space, there’s the networking space, there’s the planning stage, then there’s the runway stage, then there’s promotion, then there’s the summit, then there’s after the summit.
If you can look at all those stages and you bring them together, you’re looking at between four to five months. And you really want that space so that it doesn’t feel crowded in your life. Because adding a summit is adding work. So you want to make sure you have enough space to fit a summit in, quite naturally, into your life.
So that’s the first thing I look at, is when do you want to deliver it? And then the thing I look at is what are we offering post summit? And then we work backwards. So if you have a course that you launch every year on August 1st, then the summit needs to have been completed by July 5th. So you can open your cart and you can connect with the emails, and you can do all of your promo. So we look at it like that. So we build it backwards.
So now we know it takes five months. Now we know of a program that you want to launch August 1st, work your way back from August 1st, start your summit work five months before, and so on and so forth. So we look at that. That’s the first thing I would tell people to do.
And the other thing I would tell people to do is do not think about speakers as people on pedestals. We always do this. We’re like, oh my gosh, I want the big speakers. I want the Oprah’s, the Deepak Chopra’s. I want, Marie Forleo, Amy Porterfield, all those people. Those people are awesome. Chances that you’re going to get them on your summit, probably pretty low. But the big names are usually not the way to go because they don’t promote. They are so confident in their own network. And they’re so coveting their own network that they usually don’t promote other people’s stuff unless you’re really good buddies with them.
So what I recommend that people do is make that list of potential speakers that you want to go for. Go for broke, go for the top people. But the reality is that you can only probably put space for one or two if they say yes, and the rest of the people on your event, the rest of the speakers all have to be what I call like the ‘worker bees’. The people who are just in it to win it, will promote, they usually have lists anywhere between 500 and 5,000, and they’re willing to just put in the work to promote it and they get you the best results.
Rich: All right. Let’s talk about that promotion piece. How can we make sure that as many people as possible are seeing our message and signing up for our summits?
Jennie: There’s several components to that. The biggest component is the organic component, which is what your speakers are going to help you do, and what you also do in your own network.
If you remember a couple minutes ago, I spoke about this thing called the runway. It’s one of the stages of a summit. And the runway comes before promotion. In the runway, we’re hyping up the summit, hyping up the fact that we’re creating this event in our social media and to our list, but we’re not allowing people to sign up yet. So we’re talking about it. We’re showing pictures of us interviewing our speakers. We’re doing all that kind of stuff. We’re getting a hype. And people are going, okay, when is this thing going to happen? When can I sign up? We want them to go, “When can I sign up?” So this runway phase is highly important. We’ve got to use it. And that’s the four weeks leading up to your promo.
And then the other thing is we’ve got to make sure that promo is long enough. If promo is less than, in my personal opinion, 30 days, you’re going to have speakers who only promote for four. Because speakers wait until the last possible minute to promote. They forget. Their teams forget, they didn’t get the email, the dog ate their homework, whatever. And this problem exists. So if you carry it a 30-day promotional period and you give your speakers all the promotional materials they need, and you stay in continuous communication just like you received as part of Katie’s summit, that was all planned, then you’re going to see that the speakers are actually going to be more receptive to actually promoting.
And again, that networking piece, that create friends piece with your speakers is so intrinsically important to this promotional stage. Because then you can say, “Hey, Rich, I love having you as a speaker on the event. Your interview was so awesome. My team and I actually haven’t seen anything come out about promo from you. Is there something that you need? Did you find the information that you needed? Is there anything we can do for you? If not, let me know.” So you can have that kind of conversation as opposed to, “I’m scared to talk to Rich because he’s so awesome and has such a big list.” You create more of that parody in terms of the relationship.
Rich: Okay. All right. It’s go time. We are the day of the conference, day of the summit, or days of the summit. What are we doing to make the summit run smoothly? Get some of those people who are going to upgrade to a paid solution and anything else we should be thinking about while the event is actually going on?
Jennie: Perfect question. So we’re going to break this up into a couple phases. We’re always going to think about the end goal in mind, which is your course, program, offer, whatever that you’re going to offer. And you’re going to be breadcrumbing that through the event. We don’t want it to be a slap in their face afterwards that you have a product. So you’re going to always be talking about it. And I’d prefer that the name of the summit be adjacent to or match the name of your product. The A, B, C, X, Y, Z, whatever, doesn’t matter. And I really want there to be that synergy between the two.
So during the summit, you’ll be like, yeah, absolutely, you’re in the Facebook group or however you’re creating your community. And people are going to be hopefully asking questions, or you’re going to be seeding those questions. And you say, “Yeah, you know what? If list building and email marketing is the struggle that you’re going through, I actually have a really great product. It is called Summits Made Simple. You can find it at xxx, check it out. If you’ve got questions, let me know.” And then maybe the summit’s called Summits Made Simple or something along those lines, something adjacent. That’s one phase, right?
The other phase is that you’re going to be pumping out a lot of content during the event without it being overwhelming. And what I mean by that is we’re creating connection points. In terms of live panels with your speakers, maybe an evening live in the Facebook group. If you’re thing fits with that, one of my clients actually was a yoga teacher. She did 7 A.M. sunrise yoga every single morning and also adding in some experiences. So if that space of that yoga thing is your space, you could add in some different things like maybe some healing or maybe some sound healing practices that happen in the event that feel adjacent to what you’re doing and would add value. It also gives the speakers more exposure if your speaker actually does that sort of thing. So that’s one.
Another thing that we’re doing to create that thing, to create more value in terms of getting people VIP packages that is a little bit of a slog. The best way to do it is through the emails, the everyday emails that they’re getting as part of the event, letting them know where the content is. In addition, we’re always trying to close all the loops and the gaps in the event where they could leak out.
So on our prerecorded interviews, we are doing an intro and outro when we’re mentioning the VIP package. We’re also making sure that there’s multiple ways to purchase the VIP package within the whole summit. Different pages, places in the Facebook group, tagged posts, so on and so forth. So if they’re not seeing it in the email, they see it in the Facebook group. If they’re not getting it in the Facebook group, they’re getting it in the video. If they’re not getting in the video, they’re hearing about it on the live panel.
Wherever people are showing up, we’re going to be talking about that VIP package. And we usually see some people who purchase it beforehand because they get it in an email when they confirm their registration. But we see a lot of people get it when the host and the speakers talk about it ad nauseum.
Rich: Okay. Now do people actually buy the summit access during or after the event? And what other KPI should we be focused on? I feel like you’d just answer that, but if you have anything more on that, let’s expand.
Jennie: Excellent question. Thank you. Let’s expand. So we do see that there is usually about a 5% uptake on the VIP packages pre-summit. And then during the summit, if we do things right, we see about a 44% take. So of a thousand people who register for your event, you’re going to get 440 people take the VIP. Out of that 44%, we usually see 50% or more take the bump. So if 44% of people take your VIP, and your low-end VIP is $50 and your bump is $10, then you’re seeing that $60 purchase. If you’re higher tier VIP is $100 and they take the bump, you’re getting $110, right? So we’re seeing that kind of a mix of that happening. So 44% are taking the VIP. Over 50% usually are taking the bump. That makes for a really good paycheck. Just going to say. So that’s a really good thing.
And then something that we haven’t talked about in terms of KPI in an event is actually a really cool thing that I started doing last year, which is sponsorships. So I’ve been incorporating sponsorships into my summits now for about nine months. And what we’re finding is that the right sponsors on board create an amazing amount of exposure and value.
As an example, one of my clients, one of the first people I did sponsorships for, we pulled in about $33,000 in sponsorships before the event, before anybody registered for the darn thing. And what we had with that is we had $33,000 to pay for the team to then purchase paid advertising, which we didn’t have the budget for before. So now we were able to do paid advertising, which upped our opt in rate, which then gave us more people buying VIP. So we ended up with $33,000 in sponsorships, somewhere in the range of $12,000 to $15,000 VIP purchases. And then after that client sold six figures in their coaching program directly after the summit. They actually sold a couple during the summit because we breadcrumbed, right?
Rich: So what is breadcrumb exactly, for those of us who don’t know?
Jennie: For me, breadcrumbing is authentically mentioning that you have a program, product, or service on offer, that would feel like a great extension of what they’re learning in the event.
So if you’re in an event that is all about how to build an incredible digital course, then the offer is the Ultimate Digital Course Program. And you can say, “Hey, you know what, on top of all these amazing speakers, just so you know, as part of being a registrant in the XYZ event, we’re doing an early bird for my amazing digital course program. You can get it up until Friday at midnight for only $499. Usually it’s $899.” Something like that, right?
So you’re breadcrumbing it in various places, the Facebook group, the emails, when you’re doing lives, and things like that. Now you’re not overdoing it, but you’re just mentioning, hey, you know what? If you want to continue the education that you’re receiving completely for free – and look at all the stuff that you just got – let’s take a look at what it looks like when you take this on a little bit more of a professional level and how that’s going to benefit you even further. Let’s get you to the end goal quicker, and let’s make sure you feel valued as a participant in the event by getting a bit of a deal.
Rich: Awesome. Great, great stuff. A lot to think about, a lot to digest. Seems like there’s a lot of moving parts. If someone’s listening and they’re like, “I do not want to touch all of these moving parts”, where can people find more about you online, Jennie, and get in touch with you?
Jennie: Absolutely, I am incredibly accessible. Come and find me at JennieWright.com. And at the time of this recording, please do excuse the ugly website, but come and find me anyways. And then you can always get in touch with me on my socials, especially Instagram, drop me a DM, it’s @JennieLWright on Instagram, go and do that. Or you can also email me at Jennie@JennieWright.com.
Rich: Awesome. And it’s Jennie, IE. And it’s Wright, WR. But we’ll have all of those links in the show notes as always. Jenny, thank you so much. Really appreciate your time and expertise today.
Jennie: I appreciate it so much, Rich. Thank you so much for having me on.
Jennie Wright is your go-to lead gen expert! She’s a pro at boosting sales without the “hustle” mentality. And when it comes to online summits, she’s the master of best practices and practical tips. Her secret sauce? Helping her clients skyrocket their attendee numbers and see upwards of 40% upgrades to VIP tickets!
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 25+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.