Sep 19, 2022

How to host a successful free workshop

By Rachel Cai
Marketing Lead
Almost all successful Maven instructors host free workshops. Here's how to run one for your course; including how to pick a topic, marketing tips to maximize signups, and how to follow up to convert students.

Why host a free workshop? If you’re looking to buy a car, you’d want to test drive it first. Before buying a pair of shoes, you’d go to the store to try them on. In video-based online learning, it’s common for course creators to offer a few free videos to draw you in. 
The marketing term for this is “lead magnet”—a free service or item you give away in exchange for your leads’ contact information. A free workshop is the best kind of lead magnet because you’ll acquire new leads, get valuable face time with your prospects, and it’s highly leveraged.

This article is meaty, so grab a cup of tea. I’m going to cover:
  1. How to pick a juicy topic to hook students in
  2. How to promote your free workshop and get sign-ups
  3. When to host it and what tools to use
  4. How to structure an engaging workshop (including templates & scripts)
  5. How to maximize attendance and convert students after the event
Let's dive in.

Before your workshop

Pick a juicy topic
Think of your free workshop like a movie trailer. Movie trailers show the most exciting action scenes and the biggest set pieces to get you hooked. Similarly, free workshops should showcase your best content and frameworks. 
You might be wondering: “If I reveal my best content in a free workshop, won’t that reduce my overall sales?” Ironically, the opposite is true. If you give your best content away for free, your prospective students will trust you and assume you have more to teach them. Plus, it will be easier to show your credibility when you have a public body of work to point to (such as a free workshop).
To pick a compelling topic, ask yourself these questions:
  • What is the #1 question I get all the time from clients, mentees, peers, students?
  • What is my best framework or insight?
  • What topic am I most confident in talking about in a live coaching or Q&A setting?
Promote your workshop
I recommend two ways to start promoting your workshop—email and social media.
For example, here’s an email that Amanda Natividad (MVN4 alum and instructor of Content Marketing 201) sent to her waitlist.
I'm hosting a free workshop next Friday, April 22, 10am PT— on headlines and hooks!
I'll cover effective formats, frameworks to use, and some harsh truths about why certain types of content flop. I'll even do a couple teardowns of my own past Twitter threads or blog posts, and I'll dish on what I should have written instead — a self-roast, if you will.
If you want feedback on your own work, you can bring it and get live feedback from me. But of course, you don't have to do that. You can just sit back, bring your own popcorn, and enjoy the show. 🙂
At the end of the email, she plugs her next cohort, when it starts, and a link to her page. The main focus of this is to re-engage cold leads on her waitlist and to build trust with people who aren’t familiar with her.
Pick an appealing topic that your target student cares about. Here’s an example from Andy Gupta (MVN3 and instructor of Anyone Can Invest Now). He’s a Wall Street-veteran with a rich network and <2.5k LinkedIn followers.
I didn’t grow up wealthy. I worked 5 jobs at college to stay in school. But after 20+ years working 80-100 hour weeks, I learned what I know today. 
Last year, I started a company to teach rockstars -- just like you -- how to invest in the stock market and avoid risks most average investors unknowingly take. For example, being invested just in single stocks. Very risky.  (I would know. I worked on Wall Street).
50+ students have felt empowered after completing my signature course. Many said their lives have changed.  
Do you want to be next?
Join my free mini-course next week to learn 3 valuable skills, and experience your possibilities in my 10-week signature course.
Notice how Andy plugged his credibility (“I would know. I worked on Wall Street”), social proof (“50+ students”), and picked a juicy topic (“3 valuable skills”). He got ~70 free workshop sign-ups from a series of LinkedIn posts and followed up with attendees to nurture them in his marketing funnel.
Operations: When to host it and what tool to use
Schedule your free workshop 1-3 weeks before your upcoming cohort. Some instructors run one monthly to build up their email list. They’ll bring in guests, present to communities & professional groups, or use it on the conference circuit. Your free workshop is not just for marketing your cohort. It helps build your brand as a go-to-expert too.
We recommend two ways to host your free workshop:
  1. Zoom: In Zoom, you can customize the registration form and add your branding. It’s easy and included in your Pro license.
  2. Luma: A free event creation website that integrates with Zoom. A few features I love: schedule emails before and after the event, track attendance, see traffic sources.
If your cohort is coming up in the next few weeks, schedule it now and give yourself a week to promote it.

During your workshop

In your workshop, interactivity is key. Most prospective students are new to the modern cohort-based course format. When they hear “course,” they think of: boring college lectures or passive video-based learning.

Activities like guided brainstorms, shareouts, breakouts, Q&A, and chat will offer a richer, more dynamic experience. Once they experience learning with a community, your prospective students will be even more excited to join.
So, what format should you use for a free workshop? Aim for 50% content, 50% interaction. You should be selling your cohort throughout. If you have a 45-min workshop, try this minute-by-minute format. I’ve included sales scripts too, so you can promote your upcoming cohort without disrupting the flow of your content.

After your workshop

Most webinars get 35-45% attendance on average. So if 75 people sign up, it’s totally normal for only 25 people to show up. A lot of attendees sign up for free events but skip it when a conflict pops up. The places where some instructors stumble when planning a free workshop is the the follow through (closing the deal). Here's what to do to maximize your success.
Identify your top prospects
During your workshop, you’ll be in the zone–interacting with prospective students and presenting your best material. You won’t have time to track who’s there and who’s engaging in the chat. Why is it important to know this? Because the most engaged participants might be hot prospects for your course. 
That’s why Zoom reports and chat logs are so useful. Learn how to download attendance reports and chat logs here.
Once you’ve identified your top prospects, you can pull their profiles, contact info, and key quotes to highlight in your follow up email.
Send personalized emails to your top prospects
If a prospective student attended and actively participated in your free workshop, that means they’ll immediately enroll in the cohort, right? Not necessarily. 
A short, free workshop is low risk. If it sucks? Oh well, that was one hour of my life and it was free, so not much of a loss. On the other hand, a $1,000 course is a significant financial and time investment. It’s reasonable for your students to feel confident that your course is the right fit for them before pulling out their credit cards. 

So what should you do? Follow up, and make it personal.
  • A typical cold email will include your name. A personalized email will quote your actual words. 
  • A typical cold email will include your job title. A personalized email will include your real-life challenges. 
  • A typical cold email is forgettable. A personalized one will make you pay attention.
Feel free to use this template:
Hey {first name},
I noticed you joined my workshop yesterday. Thank you for being so engaged and open. I was blown away by what you said about [Insert actual quote]. I saw a bunch of heads nodding in agreement. So many of my clients/students have had similar experiences of feeling [insert challenge]. 
I think you’d be an amazing addition to my 2-week cohort starting on [date]. There are a few other folks like you joining: [insert professions, name companies]. So many people would love to hear about your journey and experience as a [insert their role]. I would be super excited to have you in the cohort and to guide you to [insert transformation]. 
Here’s the link to join: [insert course link]. The last day to enroll is [date].
If you have any questions, just hit reply or book a 10-min call here if that’s easier for you: [insert booking link]. I can offer some tips on how to get the course reimbursed by your employer. Looking forward to hearing from you!
[Your name]
Email people who didn’t attend
Even if you build hype and send reminders, not everyone will show up. That’s normal! It’s important to remember that every prospect matters—even the ones who didn’t show up. If you follow up with your no-shows effectively, you may even gain a new student.
Here’s how you can follow up effectively:
Hey {first name},
Sorry I missed you at the workshop yesterday! We had 20 people from companies like [name companies] join us in a lively discussion on [topic]. I saw that you work at [role] and was looking forward to hearing what challenges you’re dealing with right now.
Here’s the recording: [link] 
Would you like a PDF of my framework? It includes the exercises from the workshop. Just reply and I’ll share it with you.
[Your name]
P.S. This workshop was a sneak peek of my upcoming cohort on [topic], starting on [date]. A few other folks like you are joining: [insert professions, name companies]. I would be super excited to have you in the cohort and to guide you to [insert transformation]. Here’s the link to learn more: [insert link]. 
If the prospective student replies to you, you should try to get them on the phone. Check out this article on how to get prospects on the phone and scripts for what to say.
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