Want to earn some easy money — run a conference!
Over the last few years I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. The conference bandwagon. First a Twitter account appears proclaiming the future of events which will soon be held in a location near you. Next a website will appear. Soon after the first speaker profile pictures appear. Before you know it there’s a bandwagon chugging it’s way to town with new speakers (apparently) jumping onboard at every station en route.
This certainly isn’t a new phenomenon — from time to time I even get invited to speak at such conferences. The first time I was flattered but the novelty quickly wore off when I started to think about the underpinning business model. I soon recognised that so many events are set up in such away that they must be guaranteed to make a profit for the organiser yet often at the expense of speakers involved who aren’t always paid. Instead of money, many speakers at events are paid with a mix of flattery and offers of “opportunity” and / or “exposure”. Who knew?
Don’t get me wrong, this is not always the case, sometimes conferences are run at a cost, or even a loss to an organiser, because they are super passionate about the subject area or else they’re running the event as a business development opportunity for the existing business they operate. I’ve been invited to such conferences in the past (both as an attendee and as a speaker) and have often had a really great time, learning new things and meeting interesting new people.
However, attend (or let your staff attend) too many conferences in a year and they can become an horrendous time and cost sync with questionable returns. This is something that I suddenly started to condsider deeply this week, having received my latest “opportunity” to speak at Ireland’s newest “……” conference. My immediate response was to inquire what fee for my time was being proposed. To be fair, I received a courteous and fairly prompt response, however, no offer of money. Instead, I was informed of the following:
“Unfortunately due to the fact e have 250 speakers and the evet is free to attend, we don’t have a speaker budget.” sic
Looks like the budget for letters and proof reading was equally tight. I was, however, offered the following instead:
“If you wish to have some involvement, there may be some synergy with www.(insert website here).com as there are over 3000 tech companies- startups and established companies at that.” sic
Very interesting, I’m always curious to know the actual number of startups that operate in Ireland. Historically I’ve found that the number tends to grow proportionate to the needs of the promoter of such ‘data’. Unfortunately, in this instance, I was unable to locate said list of “3000” at all, so it wasn’t possible to properly scrutinise this particular data set. Perhaps it’s coming soon…
The closing paragraph read:
“I am not sure of your mode of operation but if you were interested in some sort of contra/barter it would be a good way of accessing a lot of tech companies with budgets who attend.” sic
I’m not sure what contra/barter is… Does anybody else know? Perhaps it’s one of these new crypto currencies… Both my electricity and my health insurance bills are due this week so I might ask those service providers if they can accept “contra/barter” as payment before parting with any cash for this billing period. I should probably first clarify how much contra/barter is being offered — if it’s anything like Bitcoin then perhaps I could be in for quite the windfall in a few years time were I to hold onto it rather than attempt to squander it on utility and insurance bills!
Caveat, perhaps I wasn’t being offered this contra/barter… Maybe I actually have to provide it myself for access to that aforementioned list (or the conference itself) and that’s why I couldn’t find it online? By the end of the email I’d become more than a little confused…
So some companies have budgets to attend? I wonder then do they get to speak also? Do they have to pay to speak? Are these transactions underwritten in “contra/barter”? Why though would they have to pay to attend and/or speak while I get to attend (*and* speak) for free?! Am I missing a fantastic opportunity here by looking a gift horse in the mouth?
On a more serious note, to clarify my “mode of operation”, I do my best to create as well as add value in this world and in exchange I try to get paid in actual money. Granted I don’t always charge for the value I create, however, I never work for free for the reasons I set out in a previous post entitled: Why you should never work for free!
Who knows, maybe I’m overreacting here but I’ve really had enough of people apparently free-riding off the backs of others. Why should someone earn an income out of organising an event (or events) that could not happen without the participation of speakers but then not be prepared to pay those very speakers, without whom they wouldn’t have an event to run in the first place?
Maybe we should all be running conferences these days if there’s an abundance of speakers out there capable of drawing a crowd yet they are not interested in being paid for the amazing value which they clearly contribute? Sounds like a no brainer — like how hard could it be?
Reflecting for a few moments, here’s a simple formula which you could use if you want to also make this kind of soft money:
- Think of a theme.
- Start a twitter account and las up a bit of a holding page website with a note saying “Coming Soon…”
- Don’t forget to create a form so visitors can “Register Interest”.
- Maybe take a loan to pay one or two “high profile” speakers to act as a hook or draw to help generate a bit of interest quiker.
- “Reach out” to the people who seem to attend every other event (or who appear to be “influencers” in this space), with an even more flattering email, and ask them to speak.
- Start populating your website with speaker profiles.
- Start emailing all the people who registered their interest and offer them a discount to buy a ticket if they refer a friend.
- Buy or “borrow” a list of emails (not sure where this particular dude got my email address from) and start to really ramp up promotion.
- Raise sponsorship by promising an exciting list of speakers and thousands of attendees.
- Write to everybody again and tell them that only a limited number of places are left. Offer them a deal to make sure they buy their tickets today and ideally sell at least one more ticket to one of their mates asap.
Ok, so in the case of this sample formula there is a ticket fee involved. To be fair, in the case that I’d highlighted already above there was no ticket fee. I’m not sure how that organiser is making money. I presume through some mix of either selling exhibit spaces and/or selling sponsorship ‘opportunities’ that involve ‘Keynote’ or ‘high profile’ speaking opportunities.
Good luck to these guys I say, or anyone else that wants to organise a conference, just please remember that most people have financial commitments such as families to look after, mouths to feed and bills to pay. If having speakers at your event is mission critical to your business model then maybe consider paying them. At the very least have a very clearly defined hospitality plan in place that ensures the speaker won’t end up out of pocket as a result of helping you to generate your own income!
What do you guys think? What’s been your best conference experience? Did you feel you got value for money? What’s been your worst experience? Have you ever spoken at an event or conference without being paid? Was it worth it? Would you do it again? Let me know in the comments!