Daniel David Wallace is no stranger to the HeySummiteers Community. An avid member, he recently shared his HeySummit experience on our Club Call. His event, Escape the Plot Forest, aimed at helping fiction writers improve their plot and storytelling skills, was a huge success - attracting over 3,000 attendees, netting over $26,000 in total revenue. In fact, it was so successful that Daniel's had multiple requests to host more events as well as emails from people wanting to have follow-up conversations.
"If you're toying around with the idea of creating a summit, and you haven't done it yet, you definitely should!"
Read on and get inspired ⛰️
Anatomy of a Summit
Putting out feelers
Daniel is a firm believer in creating content that appeals to your audience. He discourages budding summit organizers from hosting an event without first ensuring that people actually want to attend.
"I invest a lot of time in making sure that my audience wants the things I'm creating," he says.
Right off the bat, he wanted proof that Escape the Plot Forest would generate interest, so he pitched it to his existing audience of over 2000 people, through feedback surveys, quizzes, and conversations via the Discourse community on his website. The response he received was overwhelmingly positive, giving him the confidence to start creating the event.
Besides receiving feedback on the content itself, he also asked people if they were keen to purchase an all-access pass at a reduced price early on - and with 50 taking up the offer, he earned $2000 from ticket sales which went towards building the summit.
"People bought the pass even though they knew they could watch the whole thing live for free if they wanted to. That was a good sign," he shares.
While this was Daniel's first foray into online events, he's been creating content for online audiences for many years.
Using existing content to your advantage
"I ran a fairly popular blog for ages, but it was essentially a failure - in the sense that I didn't make any money. I had loyal, long-time readers, but I couldn't figure out what to do with that. I just felt like I was running around in circles, constantly churning out new blog posts, trying to keep the existing readers interested".
Daniel tried to set up a Patreon without much success. Unable to make his blog self-sustaining, he became frustrated.
Then came the turning point. Around four years ago, his wife suggested they both start professional blogs.
"I was very confused by what a 'professional blog' meant. I felt like I already had a professional blog and it didn't make any money. So what was the point in trying to make it more professional?"
His wife persisted and sent him podcasts and other reading materials on the subject. Eventually, he discovered a podcast episode that changed his life - Food Blogger Pro with Chris Davis.
"Davis, who runs an automation business called Automation Bridge, is great at explaining how funnels work in simple terms," Daniel explains.
"So why don't I start taking his advice?"
He began turning his existing blog posts into a newsletter. To encourage more people to sign up, he gave away freebies such as a copy of his book, Write Better Sentences, as well as free writing courses delivered by email, with each new sign up. In addition, he used Pinterest to generate interest.
And it did just that. Within a short timeframe, he progressed to creating courses on Teachable, and soon had the largest audience he'd ever had.
"I write about the things I love talking about - how to write stories, how to write a novel - and I built my audience that way."
Creating an audience through Pinterest
Daniel can't recommend Pinterest enough. For those unfamiliar with the platform, Pinterest is great for lead magnets. For example, Daniel would create pins with headlines such as 'Do you want to write better sentences?' with a link to his blog and newsletter.
The best part? It's free!
Despite a busy family life and a job he loves, Daniel knew he had to figure out how to do this "professional blog" thing right. He used any spare time he had, such as during dog walks, to educate himself on the topics of sales and marketing, via podcasts by the likes of Pat Flynn.
However, as new leads started streaming into his site, buying his courses and coaching sessions, Daniel realized that being a solopreneur required a lot more of his time and effort.
"It's like starting on a treadmill - it's fine at first, but then when you get past a certain speed it becomes hard to sustain over a period of time," he says.
Saving time with HeySummit
So, how was Daniel able to create something sustainable in the end? Enter HeySummit.
"I bought HeySummit a while ago, but I hadn't used it. I felt like I wasn't able to build my own summit. I thought, well, I'll just do one in the future."
Eventually, he did. He helped his wife host a free summit, using Heysummit's platform - something he recommends all new HeySummiteers do. Besides helping you overcome your nerves and learn the platform, a free summit is a great way to introduce people to your brand. Their summit was a success, bringing in over 600 attendees without any additional marketing, apart from getting speakers to share the event via social media.
Now he felt more confident. Deciding to up the ante, Daniel emulated an approach championed by Bryan Harris - using partners and affiliates to market his event, instead of concentrating efforts on social media or SEO.
"In essence, find someone else who already has an audience, get in front of them, and promote yourself!"
Harris' original approach involved holding one joint-webinar each week and using that to slowly build up your audience over months and years. Instead, Daniel tweaked Harris's technique by holding a summit - reaping all the benefits in just a single week!
Additionally, Daniel was lucky enough to befriend a seasoned summit host, Brian Berni, after Brian took one of his courses. Brian's generous, insightful advice helped steer Daniel in the right direction.
Getting the right speakers
Daniel had many different avenues for finding speakers.
First, he researched his competitors in the online writing world - inviting those with lists that were roughly his size. He also reached out to his audience, asking them who else they followed or who they thought would make a good addition to the event. Since he'd been both a speaker and affiliate at other events, he was able to leverage his network to fill more speaker slots.
One thing he struggled with was ensuring speaker diversity.
"Speaking from my own perspective as a white man: white men are often more likely to agree to speak at events", he explains.
With this in mind, he tried multiple approaches to reach out to people who did not conform to the white, cisgender stereotype of a speaker. He encourages event organizers to make a consistent, concerted effort to ensure different parts of your community are represented when identifying speakers.
"You can't just say 'I reached out to six people, and they all said no, so I gave up'. It takes work."
Playing to your strengths: live VS pre-recorded
For Daniel, maintaining audience engagement was vital. While he let his speakers decide if they wanted to do a live or pre-recorded session, he encouraged them to attend their session as it was being broadcast.
"Thanks to the chat feature, speakers could chat with the audience, so attendees were really engaged and egging each other on to go to the next session and so on - we had this core group of people who attended all the events live!" he explains.
Daniel added live "Happy Hour" sessions at the beginning and end of the event, as well as live classes he taught himself, where he could chat with his attendees and get a sense of how the event was going. Plus, it had a powerful community-building effect too!
Summit Successfully: Top Tips
1. Prioritize affiliate marketing
Daniel's top marketing tip? Make affiliate marketing the centerpiece of your marketing plan.
To him, there is no better marketing. You simply cannot compare someone casually sharing the event with their friends on Facebook to a well-chosen affiliate with an engaged list of 10,000 people to advocate for your event in their newsletter.
He set up his speakers as affiliates, and wrote a guide for them to follow, explaining the kinds of tools available to them on HeySummit (offers, giveaways) and encouraging them to use the tools as they'd like.
Another group of affiliates he had were his sponsors. Rather than asking for a sponsorship fee, he invited sponsors to give demos of their products during the event in exchange for sharing it with their customers.
"One of those companies was my best affiliate - they sent 600 people to my event!"
2. Tickets please! Start free, and build from there
"I had a very unscientific approach to ticketing - no reinvention of the wheel here."
He knew he wanted to follow conventional summit best practices, and make the summit free to attend live once, with the option to purchase an all-access pass to get ongoing access to replays. He also offered an early bird ticket ($67), a $30 discount off a regular priced ticket ($97). He gave 50% of all returns to affiliates since he figured happy speakers would make for happy attendees.
"I was more interested in growing my status in the field, and my email list, than maximizing revenue," he explains.
However, pricing remained a challenge for him. With some attendees reporting that the ticket price of $97 was too high, Daniel is considering keeping the early bird price available for a while longer - perhaps even until Day 2 of his summit, so attendees can refer people as well.
It's important to note that this is specific to Daniel's experience in his industry - while his organization costs were fairly low, it's important not to underestimate your costs.
"Go with your gut feeling - how much would you pay for an event like yours? What can your audience afford?" he suggests.
3. Keep your audience hooked
Don't forget about your attendees after your event's over. You've built up an email list - so use it! Daniel continues to email free content to the 2500 attendees who didn't purchase an all-access pass.
Some who'd purchased the all-access pass found so much value in it that they reached out to Daniel to offer financial support for those who couldn't afford a pass.
"We spent about a week designing a scholarship, then we created a questionnaire for people who were interested in receiving the scholarship and eventually I picked two people at random!"
One of the benefits of the pass is the post-event watch party, where Daniel would pick a talk for the group to watch and discuss. With a packed agenda, attendees are bound to miss some sessions, so the watch party is aimed at ensuring people didn't miss out on relevant talks.
He also ensured to maintain contact with attendees by making compelling, consistent contact. To do this, he encouraged them to try out his free email-based course on writing short stories, which follows a 'complete at your own pace' format created by Brennan Dunn. It's a 12-step course, and participants either get a new lesson every 24-hours, or once they complete the current lesson, so they could either receive all 12 emails in one sitting or over a longer period of time, dependent on the amount of time/effort they have available. It is a powerful introduction to Daniel's style of teaching.
4. Rude attendees? Don't ignore it, fix it!
Unfortunately, it wasn't all smooth sailing for Daniel.
"A couple of the attendees were rude to two of the female speakers", he shares.
Worse still, since he was occupied at the time with helping another speaker prepare for their session, he did not witness the incident first-hand and was therefore unable to take immediate action, something he really regrets. While other attendees stood up for the speakers, Daniel feels he let them down by failing to pay attention.
"It was a powerful reminder that things like race and gender are just as relevant in the online event world as the real world. I realized that if I was going to bring people on board who weren't your typical white male speakers, I've got a responsibility to protect that person from abusive attendees," he continues.
He immediately kicked the two attendees out of the event. In addition, at his next live session, he addressed the situation and explained that behavior like that would not be tolerated.
"You're running the summit, you set the tone. If someone does something inappropriate, it's 100% on you to come back and say, 'No, you're not allowed to do that. Here's why.' And I was nervous delivering this message, but the audience loved it. In fact, it felt like a turning point for the event. That moment seemed to create a real sense of community among us."
5. One is the loneliest number
For events of such a scale, Daniel recommends getting someone to help out with not only the organization but also the execution. As an event organizer, it's nice to tell yourself "I want 3000 attendees". But as Daniel learned, having 3000 people contact you constantly for five days can get exhausting.
With no team behind him, Daniel was pretty swamped with ensuring the live sessions ran smoothly and in line with the schedule. Scheduling back-to-back live sessions was something he regretted since it meant having to cut speakers off if their session ran long. He also often received emails from attendees who were having technical issues like accessing replays.
"They'd ask, where's the replay? But I was already facilitating the next live session, so I could only really respond after that hour was over," he explains.
If you don't have the budget or resources to get help, Daniel recommends asking a friend for some light-touch support, at least to check emails or monitor the chatbox. This is especially for first-time HeySummiteers, since one simple technical issue could easily result in a dozen emails or complaints at a time.
6.Collecting post-event feedback
Attendees are your best resources, so be sure to collect feedback after your event. Daniel sent a simple feedback survey to all his attendees and will be hiring a Virtual Assistant to help extract information and generate a post-event report. He also recorded the final "Happy Hour" session which features lots of positive reviews of the event as a whole, and hopes to publish the video soon.
More events on the horizon
So, what's next for Daniel?
"The feedback from attendees was, 'We want another event like this and we're not going to wait a whole year for it'," he laughs.
He's planning a joint event with his friend and fellow writing teacher, Brian, next May / June 2021 - he won't reveal all the details. He did share that it will be a slightly different theme but within the same field.
He also hopes to do a smaller-scale event on writing styles.
"It's been such an amazing experience - I'm full of this incredible energy. Attendees tell me they want to be a writer now. I'm humbled by the impact my online event has been able to make."
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