Comparison of Free vs Paid Virtual Summits with Cara Harvey

Some summits offer free registration, while some are paid. But which one is best?

I've only ever run free summits, so I brought in Cara Harvey of A Purpose Driven Mom to give us the inside scoop of the results she's seen running both free and paid summits.

We'll cover:

  • What Cara's various summit formats have looked like
  • The juicy details of the results she's seen
  • What her recommendation is when you're trying to make the decision for yourself.

An overview of Cara's first paid virtual summit

In my first two summits, tickets were sold for $46. This allowed lifetime access to all the recordings and access to the Facebook group. There was a small $9 upgrade that got attendees a digital workbook as well.

Additional upsells offerred

The first year was just about doing the virtual summit. The second year, I pitched my membership, which only opens about four times a year, and it worked beautifully. It was the perfect time to offer them even more. I did wind up getting about a dozen member into my membership.

I did it again this year and got even more new members!

Speaker response to pre-recorded sessions, but live Q&A?

The first year I learned that not everyone is good at doing Facebook lives or natural at speaking. To help, the following year I sent over questions that the audience submitted in advance via a survey.

The Q&A usually went like this:

  • 5 minute recap of their presentation
  • 3-5 minutes for anything they wanted to add
  • 5-10 minutes Q&A
  • Freebie pitch

The Q&A was then downloaded from Facebook and uploaded into the summit portal for the VIP lifetime access members.

Comparing results for Cara's first two virtual summits

In 2018, I made $1,800. I had about 40 tickets sold, and you needed a ticket to attend.

In 2019, I made $2,700. I had sold 60-some tickets.

Moving to free access

This year, in 2020, attendees got free access to the summit presentations for 24 hours. They also got transcripts, which they ended up enjoying more than I expected. This also allowed access for those hard of hearing.

In addition, they got a freebie from each of the summit speakers and they had access to the community Facebook group group.

All-access pass perks

When attendees upgraded to our all-access pass, they received:

  1. Lifetime access to the summit videos
  2. MP3s of the videos
  3. A bundle of resources from the summit speakers that they couldn't get anywhere else

They were able to make this upgrade anytime before or throughout the summit.

How the free summit compared to previous paid summits

Where my previous summits brought in $1800 and $2700, I made around $13,000 with the freemium format! 

I was afraid a free virtual summit wouldn't make any money, but it actually did the opposite. We had 3800 people register for free, and 170 VIP passes sold.

Different things Cara tried this time

This time around, I did a light version of a VIP ticket. There were 25 presentations, and 5 were mine. I took my 5 presentations and bundled them together for $25 for two days. I had six people buy those, which was an extra $150. 

I also opened everything up again for an encore weekend. I'm glad I did because a couple bought into VIP passes that weekend.

Launching a membership to 3,800 people

To be honest, I was tired and could have pushed harder, but I got 58 new members to my membership and made about $6,000 on top of that.

That was exciting because it was a brand new audience. My membership has monthly, quarterly, and annual options, with the annual option costing $300.

Switching the model this year

One thing that I knew didn't go well years 1 and 2 was affiliate sales. I had six affiliate tickets sold the first year and only one the second, which was frustrating.

This year, I made this a great experience if you were an affiliate. I used all the templates you (Krista) have in Summit in a Box. I really made it as easy for them to share as possible.

Free is easy to promote.

I also found that speakers are much more willing to share somethign that is free. And it is easy to get people to register when it's free!

I paid about $1,500 of my $13,000 in affiliate commissions. It wasn't a massive chunk, and they brought in a lot of free people, but it is a vast improvement. One affiliate brought in almost 900 people alone!

The power of niching down

This year I really niched down my summit.

  • Year one, was a mom summit; we learned everything from baby sleep to meal planning.
  • Year two, was similar but a little more niched down.
  • This year, was about productivity and time management.

YES!  You can have 25 sessions about productivity and time management

Topics we covered included:

  • morning routines
  • routines for working moms
  • routines to declutter
  • wardrobe productivity
  • de-frumping your wardrobe
  • planning clothes in advance saves time
  • meal planning saves time
  • meal planning routines

Niching down made it so much easier! I remember posting that question in the Summit Host Hangout Facebook group. I was scared, and you told me to just trust the process and go for it. 

It took me a while and it was a hard transition - I didn't want to leave people out, but there are things I want to be specific about. So overall, it was totally worth it.

Things Cara did differently this year

Speaker love notes

I created a fun experience for my speakers through surveys. I called them "love notes".

It was a simple Google Form, but attendees could give feedback or just give love to a presenter. I feel we don't say "thank you" enough and this was an opportunity to do that.

At the end of night, I got the loves notes for everyone who presented that day, and posted them in the speaker Facebook group. At the end of the summit, I sent each presenter about 10-30 love notes; just kind words. This also helped get my customer's language for next year.

Post-summit survey

I also created a post-summit survey to anyone who didn't buy a VIP pass and gave away a VIP pass for filling it out.

200 people filled out the survey! That was 200 testimonials and 200 pieces of feedback, which is powerful.

Now I have all that feedback to incorporate into my next summit and I have a whole list of podcast episode ideas as well!

Free or Paid Virtual Summits?

It seems scary to do a free summit. But, if you do a free summit, you will bring in more people.

In the long game, you can

  • cultivate a relationship with them
  • end up with more sales
  • create better, more inclusive events because more people can attend

Resources

About Cara 

Cara is a wife, mom to a 13-year-old stepson, 4-year-old daughter, 2-year-old son, and a woman of God.

She works as a mom empowerment coach and her mission is to provide women with the tools, resources, and community to reach their goals, empower themselves, find their happiness and live a life by design. She does this via her blog, podcast, virtual community groups, and e-courses that help women learn to balance their lives, finances, schedules, health, and themselves! 

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