Behind the Scenes of My March 2021 Virtual Summit

behind the scenes Mar 30, 2021

Get a behind-the-scenes look at my biggest virtual summit yet and see a breakdown of the setup, exact numbers, and key lessons learned.

It’s surreal to look back on a summit after months of planning, obsessing over the details, and getting pulled into the excitement of summit week…and then it’s over.

Want to hear all the juicy details about my latest virtual summit? If you're into that, you're in luck because I’m giving you a behind-the-scenes look at my most profitable virtual summit yet.

I’m spilling all the details like:

  • how the event was set up
  • what my goals were
  • what the final numbers and conversion rates were
  • a breakdown of when registrations and sales ebbed and flowed
  • new things I tried this time around
  • what did and didn't go well
  • lessons learned and key takeaways

Let's dive in!

This post includes affiliate links for some of the software I used for this event.

An overview of the summit setup

If you’ve been a follower for a while, this is the same setup I used for my March 2020 summit. It’s a free, 5-day event for brand and web designers to help them run a more simplified, efficient, and profitable business.

All-Access Pass

Attendees can sign-up for free to see presentations for 24 hours. From there, they can choose to upgrade to one of our paid all-access pass options:

  • All-Access Pass – Lower-cost option that includes ongoing access to presentations, notes, and worksheets.
  • Designer Power Pack – Premium option that includes everything from the All-Access Pass, 2 live co-working sessions, 2 live networking sessions, and $3500+ in speaker bonuses.

During checkout, attendees also had the option to add an order bump of last year's presentations for $19.

COMMUNITY

The summit had a Facebook group where the most engaged attendees hung out. With over 3000 members, I spent a lot of time there to engage and keep the excitement going. (Remember, crafting an engaging virtual summit keeps attendees happy and interacting with your event.)

In addition to getting attendees talking, we also played Bingo, giving attendees the chance to win prizes by engaging with the event.

PRESENTATIONS

We had 40 prerecorded sessions. Every morning at 7am, that day’s sessions were released for 24 hours. There was a scheduled hour for each presentation to have the speaker live in the chatbox to answer questions and interact with the attendees.

MY SUMMIT GOALS

With this being my 5th run of this event, I had big goals. However, I learned once again just how bad at goal-setting I really am.

GOALS FOR OTHERS

I always look at what I want other people to get out of a summit before I look at what I want for myself. After all, if no one else gets results I won't either.

Since it was my 5th run of this event, I knew what I wanted the attendees to get out of it. Really, I just wanted to make as much of a difference as I could make by teaching these designers to run more simple and efficient businesses. Every year the feedback from attendees tells me that we truly do make a difference.

Another thing I focus on is making my speakers happy and getting them a good return for their efforts. Based on emails and exchanges with the speakers, I think I did just that and I'm looking forward to hearing more in their feedback forms.

And, of course, I always have the goal of refining my processes and trying new things so that I can teach you here and improve the Summit in a Box product even more.

GOALS FOR MYSELF

Let’s shift into the goals I set for myself. 

Last year we had 4000 registrations and made $60,000 so I based this year's goals around that. Every year I doubt that I'll be able to beat the previous event, so I didn't get too crazy.

  • Basic Goals – 4000 registrations and $63,000 in all-access pass sales.
  • Stretch Goals – My stretch goals were 6000 registrations and $70,000 in all-access pass sales.

I didn't think I would reach either of my stretch goals but figured it was worth a shot.

BREAK DOWN OF THE SUMMIT RESULTS

Now that we've covered how the summit was set up and what my goals were, let's dive right into the numbers.

I want to preface this by, again, pointing out that this was my 5th run of this event. I started with an email list of 4000 subscribers, most of which had attended previous summits and were excited to attend again. I had previous relationships with speakers and all my systems and messaging were honed in, thanks to past events.

All that to say, please don't compare your results to this if it's your first event...or even 3rd!

Last year's numbers

For comparison, here's what last year's numbers looked like:

  • 33 speakers
  • 3977 registrations
  • 537 purchases
  • 122 order bumps
  • 13% all-access pass conversion rate
  • $58,988 in sales

Overall, it was an incredible summit. I never thought I'd be able to beat it!

This year's numbers

Here's what this year's numbers looked like:

  • 40 speakers
  • 6582 registrations
  • 65% registration page conversion rate
  • 1001 total all-access pass purchases (well over 50% being referred by speakers)
  • 873 Designer Power Pack purchases
    • 544 fast-action ($97) – 62% of sales
    • 128 early bird ($147) – 15% of sales
    • 182 full price ($197) – 21% of sales
    • 19 upgrades from all-access pass – 2% of sales
    • 226 order bumps ($19)
      • 142 fast-action – 28% conversion rate
      • 36 early bird – 28% conversion rate
      • 48 full price – 27% conversion rate
  • 128 All-Access Pass purchases
    • 113 fast-action ($47) – 79% of sales
    • 14 early bird ($77) – 9% of sales
    • 20 full price ($97) – 12% of sales
    • 19 of those upgraded to the Designer Power Pack after buying and are not included in the above total
    • 40 order bumps ($19)
      • 30 fast-action - 20% conversion rate
      • 4 early bird – 25% conversion rate
      • 6 full price – 26% conversion rate
  • 15.2% all-access pass conversion rate - 2% increase from last year
  • 87% went with the higher tier - 7% increase from last year
  • 27% took the $19 order bump - 4% increase from last year
  • $92,256 in total revenue
    • $88,167 in immediate revenue with $4088.50 more expected from payment plans
    • And more is already coming in from people landing on the website and purchasing the replays!

My reaction to those numbers

I'll be honest with you - I'm blown away by those results and so incredibly grateful. That's more money than I made in my first two years of business combined. It's more than I made in a year at my fancy corporate job. And how blessed I am isn't lost on me.

I hope those of you who host smaller summits or are getting ready to host your first one can look at that number and be encouraged. My first summit made $16000. My second made less than $3000. This one made over $92,000.

You will learn! Every summit will get better and every single summit will pay off in its own way. I worked up to this. It’s totally possible for you too.

WHY THE DIFFERENCE?

A few things contributed to the differences between last year's results and this year's.

To recap, last year we had 4000 attendees and made $60,000. This year we had 6500 attendees and made $92,000. Let’s break down where those differences came from.

More attendees

Let’s start with the attendees. We had 2600 more attendees this year, which is a 65% increase. There are a few things that I think contributed to that:

  • 7 more speakers - I'm picky about pitching targeted speakers who have the perfect audience, so 7 more made a difference.
  • Invited top earners back - Before I pitched speakers, I looked at the results from last year and identified the top affiliate earners. I invited all of them to come back and focused on finding more speakers like them.
  • Larger starting audience - Last year I started with 2000 people on my email list and this time I had about 4200 people on my list, which meant I was able to attract more attendees on my own.

Higher all-access pass conversion rate

Next, let’s talk about the 2% increase we saw in our conversion rate this year.

Last year, the all-access pass converted at 13% and this year hit 15%. There were a couple of things that may have influenced this:

  • COVID has calmed down - Last year, the week I hosted my summit was the week everything shut down and people were panicking (including me) and not wanting to spend money.
  • New checkout software - I switched from using WooCommerce to ThriveCart. I wouldn't be surprised if ThriveCart's more visually appealing and refined checkout page made a bit of a difference.
  • Social proof plugin - I used ProveSource to display social proof on my sales and checkout pages. When someone viewed the page, they'd see little messages pop up that said things like "Katie from Wisconsin purchased the Designer Power Pack 3 minutes ago".
  • Payment plan - For the first time, my highest-priced offer ($197) had a 2-pay option available.
  • Increased confidence - And last, this year I didn't shy away from pointing out how incredible the Designer Power Pack was. I was very open in every email and video about what they'd receive when they purchased and what it could mean for them. Basically, I wasn't scared to sell something I truly thought would be transformational.

7% increase in higher-tier sales

I was pleasantly surprised to notice that 7% more attendees went with the Designer Power Pack than the All-Access Pass this year.

I was even more excited to see that 6% of that increase came from giving them the option to change their mind and upgrade during checkout.

If they were going to purchase the All-Access Pass, there was a toggle on the checkout page to upgrade to the Designer Power Pack. 6% of our increase came directly from that! (Thanks, for the awesome option ThriveCart!)

4% increase in ORDER BUMP sales

I think the 4% increase in order bump sales had everything to do with ThriveCart.

For previous summits, I used WooCommerce and made a custom widget area that worked as an order bump. It wasn't in the best spot and I'm sure the design could have been better, but ThriveCart has a built-in order bump option easy for people to see and toggle on.

INCREASED REVENUE

And finally, the increase in overall revenue was just a combination of all of those things along with having more attendees. 

SUMMIT EXPENSES

Next, let's get honest and talk expenses. Summits of this size are not cheap to run. My expenses, not including affiliate payouts, came to $16,600. Affiliate payments themselves are sitting around $34,000.

This is the most I've ever spent on a summit, and I would totally do it again. 

Here's what a breakdown of the main expenses looked like:

  • $5500 in Facebook ads
  • $3466 in Stripe and PayPal fees
  • $3000 in donations to the Loveland Foundation and the CommUNITY Action Fund by Hate Is A Virus
  • $1164 in speaker gifts and postage – I sent custom notebooks, pens, and postcards
    • $400 of that was just the shipping!
  • $970 in team gifts
  • $800 for my designer – at least half of that was making the 180-page workbook.
  • $690 for ThriveCart
  • $550 for ads management – (Note: I pay them an additional retainer fee each month, but I pay that regardless of whether I’m running a summit or not so this number was just the additional amount for the summit ad campaign.)
  • $199 for Chatroll
  • $144 for a year of GSuite
  • $70 for ProveSource
  • $75 for assistants – This isn’t counting a ton of work done by my full-time assistant since I pay her no matter what she's doing.

PROFIT

After expenses, we're left with a profit of $41,644.

I think it’s interesting to note that this summit made $28,000 more than last year's, but there's less than $5500 in additional profit.

More money doesn't always mean a ton more in your pocket. I'm not disappointed or upset about that but thought it was interesting to point out.

PEAKS AND VALLEYS FOR SALES AND PROMO

The next thing I want to talk about is some of the peaks and valleys for sales and promotion. I’ve gotten lots of questions about when hosts should expect the most registrations and sales or when registrations are quieter. And I finally remembered to track sales every day during promotion so I'd have a good answer!

REGISTRATION Patterns

Let's start with registrations. The most registrations happened on these days:

  • Day 1 of speaker promotion had more than double the registrations any other day at over 1700.
  • It stayed high for a couple of days after that with 540 the day after and then down to 250-300 per day.
  • The Friday before the summit started had 550 registrations as speakers were doing their "last chance" promotions.
  • Day 1 would have been another peak, but tech is the worst, so we only saw about 300 new registrations (more on that coming up).

This lines up with what I've noticed with past events, so overall, it's when you can expect to see the most registrations too.

SALES Patterns

Let's talk sales. The most important thing to note here is that more registration = more sales.

 I get asked a lot when to expect to see the most sales come in. Often, this question comes from hosts not seeing a ton of sales during the promotion period hoping that it will pick up during the summit. But overall, the sales you'll see will increase and decrease right along with your registrations. 

However, there are some areas where you’ll see the conversion rate flux a bit:

  • Conversion rates were highest when I was promoting by myself. There was a 5 day period where I promoted before my speakers started. I had a 30% conversion rate when it was just my audience.
  • This dropped to 12% once speakers started promoting.
  • From there, it rose to over 15% by the end of the summit, thanks to the price increase and cart close.

The biggest jumps came with the early bird price increase and cart close. $10k came in the day the price increased and $6500 came in on cart close day.

Other than that, it stayed steady and relied on how many registrations were coming in (with a slight increase once the summit started).

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THIS SUMMIT AND THE LAST ONE

Next, I want to move on to the differences between this summit and the last one. I'm always experimenting, so there are a few new things I tried this time around.

 "VAULT" PRESENTATIONS        

Something new I tried this year was bringing back a group of last year's presentations and re-running them. My strategy behind this was to get a few top-performing speakers to come back who I wasn't sure would say "yes" this time around by making it super easy for them (although looking back, I'm sure they would have).

So I pitched 4 past speakers with the opportunity to reuse their presentation from last year and be a part of the event again.

It was mostly a good experience, aside from a little extra work to change the promo at the end of the video for two speakers.

But with this setup, I still asked them to promote, they still were able to promote a freebie, and they may have gotten even more visibility since their presentations were clearly marked as being some of the best from last year.

ALL-ACCESS PASS

There is a whole list of things I did differently for my all-access pass:

  • Switched from WooCommerce to ThriveCart for the checkout software - I am quite confident that we more than made back the money we spent on ThriveCart just through increased conversion rates that it gave us, even with the order bump itself.
  • Support chat box on the sales page and checkout pages - I did this to see if it would help with conversion rates when people had questions and I hated it! I ditched it on Day 5 of promotion because it was basically all my least-favorite support questions being sent straight to my phone.
  • Social proof plugin - I used ProveSource on the sales and checkout pages. On those pages, a box would pop up every few seconds saying who purchased recently and when.
  • An easy way to upgrade - I added an easy way for people who bought the All-Access Pass to upgrade to the Designer Power Pack. In addition to the option to upgrade during checkout that we covered previously, I included an upgrade link in their confirmation email as well as inside of the member's area.
  • Payment plan - I added a 2-pay option for the highest price of our Designer Power Pack. We had $8,000 in sales (39 people) through the payment plans, although I can't say who wouldn't have ended up buying otherwise.
  • Abandoned cart email - If someone went to the checkout page and entered their email address, but didn't finish purchasing, they got an email shortly after encouraging them to finish their purchase.
    • 147 people got that email
    • 73% opened it
    • 31% clicked
    • 9 unsubscribed
    • 80 bought (although I can't say who purchased directly from the abandoned cart email and who decided to buy later on during the summit)

SPEAKERS

Let's move on to things I did differently with my speakers:

  • Individual thank you messages - Once the promo period was open, I messaged every speaker individually on Instagram thanking them for their presentation and sharing how much I enjoyed it. It was truly a “thank you” (rather than an actual strategy) because I meant it, but I do think it encouraged some of them to promote.
  • Outreach to those who weren't promoting - About 5 days before the summit began I identified the speakers not promoting and sent individual emails to see if they could help. I included a custom promotional email for them with their affiliate link included and recorded a custom Instagram takeover story for each of them. Note that I wasn't rude, blaming, or nagging in this email. I shared that we'd love their support, gave them custom resources, and pointed out that I totally understood if they were no longer able to promote.
  • Minimum affiliate payout - Something I decided to add as I was calculating affiliate payouts was a minimum $200 payout to anyone who promoted at least once. If I saw someone promote, even if they only got like 20 clicks on their affiliate link, I'm sending them at least $200 - just as a thank you. I feel like that's the least I can do with the results we saw. 

PROMOTION

Now for things we did differently with promotion: 

  • Facebook ads team - This was my first summit working with a Facebook ads team and it was so nice to not have to worry about it!
  • Increased ad spend - We spent $3600 more on Facebook ads (more than double). However, they didn't perform great (more coming up).

MY WORKLOAD

Another big difference was the amount of work I did...or rather that I didn't do! 

I outsourced anything I could to my incredible assistant. She's a full-time marketing and administrative assistant, and she's amazing. She pays attention to detail, understands summits, is great with customer service, and knows all of our processes.

I can trust the way she does things, so I was comfortable sending her anything and everything. She took a ton of work off my plate, especially with customer support and managing presentations.

NEW FEATURES

Lastly, there are new features I tried this time around:

  • Signature offer guide - I had each speaker submit information on their signature service or course and we made that into a PDF that was shared on the Meet the Speakers page.
  • HelloHostess - This is a Chrome extension that one of my Summit in a Box students made. It's incredible! When you let someone into your Facebook group, it tags them in a comment (that you write scripts for) and welcomes them. We got so many people responding back and starting conversations with us. It was great for interaction.
  • How presentations were released - In my past runs of this event, presentations have dripped out every hour. This time I released all of the presentations at the same time each day (7am) and then there was a scheduled time during the day where speakers were in the chat. Attendees loved it and it was way easier for our team to manage. 

WHAT DIDN’T GO WELL

I love sharing the things that didn’t go well so you know it’s not going to be perfect, no matter how many times you do it and no matter how great your numbers look.

TECH IS THE WORST

The first set of things that didn’t go well were, of course, related to tech:

  • On Day 1 of promotion, I woke up and decided to test the registration page one last time. Thank goodness I did because the registration form had stopped working! After you entered your information, you got sent to an error page. I had to pause all my promotion for that morning, spend an hour fixing it, and then things were fine.
  • The second issue I ran into was when people registered through a Facebook ad, they weren’t getting put in our registration email sequence. They were getting tagged, but they weren’t getting any emails about the event. I caught that a couple of days into the summit and sent those emails to them.
  • The third issue I ran into was that on Day 1 of the summit I only had about 300 people sign up. Usually, you'd expect a huge peak. It turns out I had hit our ConvertKit limits! They've always automatically upgraded our account in the past, but when you hit 10k subscribers they don't, so we likely lost a few hundred registrations that day.
  • The last big issue I had was with ThriveCart’s affiliate tracking. What I found out was that if someone puts their affiliate link in the browser, it redirects to a prettier version of that link. Well, speakers would grab that prettier link to use, but nothing was being tracked! So that has meant doing manual calculations based on Google Analytics to make affiliate payouts, which has been a pain. (Pro Tip: Tell your speakers to use the affiliate link ThriveCart gives and not the redirected one that shows up in the browser URL after you click it.)

ENGAGEMENT

The last category of things that didn’t go well was with the engagement:

The biggest thing that happened is that I got blocked from commenting on Facebook on Day 2 of registration being open. *insert panic mode*

I think it was a combination of using HelloHostess (posting 50-100 times in a short time frame when letting people into the group) and trying to post and respond to everyone’s comments and questions.

Facebook decided I was a spammer and blocked me for a day, which was annoying. After that, I commented from my page instead of my personal profile and we didn’t run into that issue again.

WHAT WENT WELL

Let's switch over to the positive and cover some things that went well with registration, income, engagement, speakers, and my processes.

REGISTRATIONS

Registrations went great! We had a lot of speakers with the perfect audience for the summit and inviting last year's top-performing speakers back really helped.

I was also open to people who pitched me. 4 speakers had approached me asking to be a speaker, and 3 of the 4 went hard with promotion. One of which earned more than 2x the affiliate payout of anyone else.

INCOME

A few big changes impacted the amount of income earned through this summit. The biggest change was switching to ThriveCart.

The other big impacts came from the cart abandonment email and giving the option for attendees to upgrade during checkout to the higher-tier Designer Power Pack.

ENGAGEMENT

Having an engaged summit can make a huge difference.  One of the best things I did to boose engagement was playing Summit Bingo. I've done this in my last 3 summits and it was a big hit again. (Summit in a Box students, you have my template!)

Another great engagement piece was the networking sessions. Once again, they were a huge hit. Only attendees who had the Designer Power Pack had access to the sessions and they loved getting to know each other.

The last piece that helped engagement was using HelloHostess. It was nice to have a welcome comment for each person right as they were let into the group. 

SPEAKERS

I can’t thank my speakers enough for everything they did for the summit. One of the best things you can do is to make the process easy for them and be genuinely appreciative and supportive along the way.

My speakers saw that I cared, and they showed appreciation back to me by promoting the event.

PROCESS

Lastly, there were a few tweaks I made in my processes that had some nice benefits.

The biggest piece was having my assistant do as much as she could. Being able to offload tasks to her was helpful. That freed up my time to tackle other things.

Another thing I changed with adding an extra week between when speaker presentations were due and the summit. This time, I had speaker presentations due about 3 weeks before the event started, which I'll definitely do again.

CHANGES FOR NEXT TIME

Next up, I want to talk about some changes that I'm going to make next time.

The first thing I want to do is host live panels. I had a daily live panel in a different summit I co-hosted back in September. I wanted to do them for this summit, but after landing 40 speakers, I decided that the panels were going to be too much and decided to save them for next time.

Another thing I could potentially change next time is to let speakers know about the minimum payout amount given to those who promote. I thought of it spur-of-the-moment this time, but it's something I could give a heads-up about later. I’m not sure if it would make a difference in their promotion or not (after all, $200 isn't a ton), but something I'll consider.

The last change I plan to make is to run a shorter summit. 5 days just felt long. The attendees loved it, but I know they started getting overwhelmed by the end. Moving forward, I think I'll stick to 3 or 4 days of presentations. With the fourth or fifth day being focused on a launch, with live interactive sessions.

OVERALL LESSONS FROM THIS SUMMIT

To finish things off, I want to share the 6 lessons I learned with this summit:

  1. Don’t assume your tech’s going to work just because it has before. Always be testing. Test it yourself and have others test for you as well. Expect things to break.
  2. Experiment with new ideas you have. Some of my ideas were great. Some bombed. We saw thousands of extra dollars in revenue come in because of some of the better ideas and created a better overall experience.
  3. It’s all about the speakers. Invite people with your audience who will promote. They're the ones who will bring and get results.
  4. Don't depend on ads. We had planned on spending $15,000 on ads, but we only ended up spending $5,500 because they just weren't working well. If I had depended on ads and wasn’t relying on my speakers to promote, we would have had a very sad summit.
  5. Hire a community manager. Hire someone to answer your support emails, interact in the Facebook group, admit and welcome new members, and monitor chatboxes. It was so nice! I did do all the Facebook group interaction because I love to get to know the members and interact with them, but it was nice to not worry about the rest.
  6. Don’t give up. If your first summit isn’t a smashing success, or you have one coming up, don’t give up. My first made $16,000. My second made less than $3000. This one made over $90,000.

Every single summit is worth doing! Learn, improve, and try again. 

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at my biggest virtual summit yet and see a breakdown of the setup, exact numbers, and key lessons learned.Get a behind-the-scenes look at my biggest virtual summit yet and see a breakdown of the setup, exact numbers, and key lessons learned.
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