Offering Free Webinars: Are They Really Worth It?

May 27, 2013

Last year I decided to run an experiment. I wanted to offer free webinars.

I did this with a specific goal in mind: to grow my email list. Growing my list has been one of my primary goals over the last year because it’s my most direct line to my community. It’s how I foster a personal connection, which eventually leads to sales of my guides, enrollments in my courses, and other opportunities. Plus, my newsletter includes some of my best content, so I want as many eyes on it as possible. (Here’s how to get on my newsletter list if you’re not already.)

Image: Dog on computer

My target audience.

So I jumped into the webinars, setting a date for my first one before I was ready because I knew it would push me to get there. Looking back, I realize I’ve executed one of the big things Seth Godin advocates: not waiting for permission.

No one told me I was qualified to run webinars. No one said I had a big enough platform. No one paid me to put them on or gave me an official start date, and yes, I was nervous that what I had to offer wasn’t shiny enough in this crowded online world — but I pushed myself to do it anyway.

Since then, I’ve run a webinar every month, with my eighth one coming up in a few weeks. While this has been a learn-as-you-go experience, I’ve kept close track of what’s worked, what hasn’t, and how much this offering is helping me move toward my big goals, so I can make good decisions about whether to continue them down the line.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

The ROI of free webinars

While my main goal with these webinars has been to grow my email list — and we’ll get to those numbers in a moment — I’ve also seen an unexpected yet awesome result: the events have helped increased my brand loyalty, turning passive members of my community into loyal fans.

There’s something about putting a voice to a name that really rallies a community. Since I’m a writer, and writing is primarily how I share ideas, most of you have only read my work. It’s fun, I think, to hear someone verbally express their enthusiasm for topics they usually write about, and it shows you they are REAL. It takes “show your personality online” to a totally different level, really letting readers in.

My community is also super appreciative when I share this free information without expecting anything in return. My webinars are no pitch, unlike most webinars out there, which means I don’t ask participants to buy anything. I choose topics I know will help people reach their own goals — like launching a side hustle or SEO for bloggers — and pack as much useful, practical advice into each hour as possible… and you all just eat it up! It makes me feel good to know you’re moving closer to your goals, and it allows me to help a lot more people at once than, say, one-on-one coaching.


“” Renee Johnson (@writingfeemail) March 28, 2013


So how have these events helped grow my email list? The number of signups depends entirely on how much marketing I do for each event. I’m now seeing about 300 sign-ups for each webinar, about twice as many as when I began, and I expect that number will continue to grow quickly.

Usually about 40 percent of people who sign up actually show up to the event. From the brand loyalty perspective, it’s all about showing up; if people don’t show up, they don’t learn from me, and our relationship doesn’t move to the next level. But from an email-collecting perspective, it doesn’t matter whether sign-ups actually show.

Of course, not everyone who signs up is new to my email list. In fact, we have a pretty high rate of “regulars,” people who participate every month. I love this community!

To grow my email list, though, I need new participants. Of all the people who sign up, usually between 35-47 percent are new. If you calculate that out, I’m getting between 60-150 new emails for my list every time I run a webinar.

The hard part: Getting people to sign up

Putting together an awesome presentation or conversation is only half the battle. Then you have to get people to sign up and show up. And if you don’t put some quality effort into that second half, you simply won’t see a big return on your work.

My efforts on this front vary drastically by month. When I’m working with a new client or traveling, for example, I simply don’t have as much time for webinar promotion. But because I pay monthly for the platform regardless of whether I run an event — more details on cost below — I push myself to run an event each month regardless of whether I’ll be able to promote as much as I’d like. Getting the work out there is more important to me than doing it perfectly. (Click to tweet this idea.)

get your work out there

Here’s what I do each month for webinar promotion:

1. Let my network know through my newsletter, blog, Facebook page, Twitter and Linkedin.

2. Pass the link along to friends and online contacts who might want to tell their communities about it.

3. Write guest posts on relevant topics for blogs that target the type of people I’m hoping will attend the event.

TIP: One thing that’s worked extremely well is dedicated newsletters. That means sending an email to my list that’s solely about the webinar, one that includes an option to sign up and zero other distractions. I tend to include a note about each webinar in at least one of my weekly newsletters, but I get far more sign-ups when I send a mid-week dedicated email.

At first I was nervous about sending these extra newsletters; I didn’t want to annoy my readers with too much email. But when I asked readers whether they’d prefer to receive a mid-week dedicated email about an upcoming webinar or read about them in my weekly newsletter, nearly everyone who responded said they preferred the extra email because it kept them from missing an event they might enjoy. This is a good reminder that if you provide quality content and cultivate a quality email list, your readers actually want to hear from you.

Those sign-ups add to brand loyalty momentum, but they don’t directly help me grow my email list, since all of those people are on my list already. So I include a Click to Tweet option in each sign-up and reminder email to encourage participants to share it on Twitter, which helps garner new sign ups. (Here’s a tutorial from Tara Gentile on how to use Click to Tweet.)

For reminder emails, I send out three for each event — one the week of the event (on Monday, since my webinars on are Wednesdays), another the morning of the event and a third an hour before the event. Reminder emails help increase the number of people who actually show up.

Crunching the numbers on the financial investment

I run my webinars through Meeting Burner, a more affordable alternative to the industry standard, GoToWebinar. Meeting Burner costs $99/month for up to 1,000 attendees regardless of how many webinars you offer. It was a tad bit buggy at the beginning as I figured out how to use the platform, but most everything runs smoothly now. (GoToWebinar charges $399/month for up to 500 participants and $499/month for up to 1,000, which is pretty steep for a small business.)

I pay one of my team members to help with logistics of running the events, taking care of pre- and post-webinar tasks like setting up the sign-up page and creating a recording. She also helps me during the event to make sure it runs smoothly, including answering questions from participants in the chat box.

I also pay an awesome designer to create my PowerPoint presentations. At first I created my own, but it was simply eating up too much of my time, and what I produced didn’t look great anyhow. Now I write up notes and hand them over to Tiara, who turns them into pretty and professional presentations that jive with the feel of my brand. She even created a template that matches my website.

So the total cost for each webinar (assuming I do one each month) = Meeting Burner ($99) + team help (~$100) + design (~$100) = ~$300

This doesn’t include indirect costs like my monthly $50 payment for MailChimp, which I use to send reminder emails. Meeting Burner has a reminder feature built in, but I opt to use my own newsletter service instead.

In terms of time investment, putting on these events takes more time than I expected. It’s far more than simply showing up for the hour when we’re live. It also requires developing a presentation, practicing it so I can sound coherent, marketing the webinar to get enough sign-ups to make it worth it, and creating half a dozen reminder and follow-up emails, plus other materials. There are so many tasks that I finally created a doc outlining them all. My team helps me with a lot of those tasks, so webinars take less of my time than they did in the beginning, but my time-tracker Harvest tells me I still spent 16 hours on webinar work in March, seven in April, and 10 so far in May.

Of course, you don’t have to do all of those tasks to offer webinars, but this is how I get the most bang for my effort.

The big question remains: Are webinars worth offering?

For me, YES. They’re worth it for the brand loyalty and for growing my email list, and I have no doubt they’ll continue to grow over time. But they do take a lot of work, and if you’re not willing to put in that work, they’re probably not right for you.

The formula for doing webinars well is really the same as any online offering:

Come up with something people want + Promo the hell out of it + Give participants true value = Both you and your community will walk away feeling awesome.

If you want in on this goodness, here’s how to grab your spot for our June webinar on building an engaged email list. You can also access recordings of any webinars you missed.

Got questions? I’m happy to answer in the comments.

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    10 Replies to “Offering Free Webinars: Are They Really Worth It?”

    • Drew Meyers says:

      Hey Alexis-
      I was reading in my reader, and saw the fact that you did a webinar on side hustle. Nick Loper, who I went to middle school with and I still keep in contact with, just launched a blog on that exact topic – Maybe you two should chat.

      Regarding webinars…it’s a mixed bag for me. I’ve both given them before and sat through many myself, and I just don’t think most of them are that valuable. Sure, I may come across one or two interesting nuggets, but I almost always find myself regretting tuning in and spending an hour. I haven’t listened to any of yours, so can’t comment on them specifically. Glad they are working for your business though.

    • I love your webinars. I’m also in the midst of taking your Twitter Power online course which I also love. You always have the best advice and most effective tool recommendations. I use all of your advice and the tools you recommend and it makes such a huge difference.

      I’ve taken on the task of creating and writing the weekly newsletters at my job. They are a little stiff and not very exciting. I would love to spruce them up and give them some flavor. Any plans for having a “Write A Rockin Newsletter” webinar? I need something like this asap.


    • This info is soooo incredibly helpful, I can’t even tell you! I’ve always wondered what the exact behind-the-scenes investment is to create webinars, in terms of time and money … and I even took a 6-month class on how to offer webinars!

      Also, I took your recent webinar on using Twitter and I can vouch for the fact that it was super information *and* engaging.

    • Alexis,
      You have been my go to source for expanding my business. I am excited about future product offerings and adding social media education for my fellow vintage dealers.

      You just keep giving and giving. you have a loyal fan in me!

    • Jen says:

      Thanks Alexis, as always, for sharing your insights and the truth behind the costs. It’s so hard to know what to invest in doing as a small business. Will a webinar pay off? I really want to grow my newsletter list. Creating a webinar seems like another good way of making that happen. But, I think I may wait until I have a product to sell beyond just my services.

    • Hi Alex. First time here – nice to meet you. I’ve been postponing my “big leap” into webinars for a few months now – clearly I have no more excuses.

      You’re thinking on outsourcing some of the design aspects makes a ton of sense – thanks so much for sharing that!

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