Yesterday, I tuned in to a webinar on how to leverage Pinterest to build email leads. It was okay. The hostess deviated from the usual Amy Porterfield/GoToWebinar model and dove into the content within 5 minutes of the start time, which was pleasantly surprising. But per custom, within about 20 minutes, the “free” webinar turned into a sales pitch for an expensive online course.
I didn’t expect any differently. By now, I’ve tuned in to dozens of webinars, “masterclasses,” and live calls, and I know the drill. For all the webinars I’ve tuned in to, the number of times I’ve bought in at the end I can count on one hand. Not that I haven’t been tempted to buy in more often—it’s just that, well, when I get excited about education I can get for free, it’s usually because I can only afford cheap or free at the moment.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve had to bootstrap my way into business on a budget, but I’ve also learned when it’s smart to buy in at the end of a webinar and when it isn’t. Yesterday’s webinar was a perfect example of a product I didn’t need to buy. Why? I knew I could get everything the hostess was offering without paying a dime.
Let’s say that this hostess covered in the webinar itself 5 things every seller needs to understand about Pinterest in order to gain website traffic from pins. (After all, you can’t sell anything off your website if your pinners never leave Pinterest.) All 5 points of information were helpful, so I did get something of value “for free.” This is the first step in what most online marketers are taught to do in order to sell their expensive e-courses: Give 10% away for no cost.
Let’s also say that the pitch for the online course went something like this:
… instant access to an 8-module course that only opens once a year
… an inside look at my personal strategy for uploading high-engagement pins
… a checklist of traits for pins that “go viral”
… a how-to on writing captions and headlines that are irresistibly clickable
… a how-to on split-testing from my own in-house Pinterest expert
… an invitation to join the class’s private Facebook group for encouragement and feedback in one of the most supportive online communities you’ve ever seen
… worksheets for every module that break down my six-figure Pinterest strategy step by step
All valued at over $3000—and can get it today for the incredible deal of $597!
The reason these “free” webinars are so successful in hooking in buyers at the end is that the whole class is a psychological thriller. The Amy Porterfield/GoToWebinar model takes your mind through the Know, Like, and Trust sequence rapid-fire, and then pokes the limbic system (your emotional impulses) with the Fear Stick—making you believe that this is the only opportunity you will ever have access to this particular information and that without it, your business (or weight problem, or ability to beat writer’s block, or whatever you tuned in to fix) will never improve.
But let’s take a closer look at the items included in the hypothetical course up there. What is the hostess really offering?
1 - Exclusivity. She chooses to open this class up just once a year, rather than keeping it open all year long. Often even when these classes are made available once a year, they’re self-paced, and could be made available all year, but the organizers get more folks to buy in on the idea of being part of something immediately instead of being forced to wait.
2 - Order of Operations. Words like “strategy,” “checklist,” and “worksheets” are giveaways that the class is driven less by information and more by telling the student where to step and when. Although some people may really, really want someone to tell them exactly what to do to ensure success, no one can ensure success—they can really only help you line up in an orderly fashion all the things you probably already know you need to do.
3 - Information you can get for free if you’re willing to work a little. Any time someone says they’re selling a “how-to,” you can bet that running a search on Google or YouTube will get you the information you need—without spending hundreds or thousands of dollars.
4 - “Community.” It’s against Facebook’s Terms and Conditions to charge anyone simply to join a Facebook group—but there’s nothing that says you can’t make a group private when you host a paid class. This goes back to the exclusivity point. You might be able to get all other information offered in the course without buying in, but in order to access the “community,” you have to buy in.
Now, when we look at this list of what is offered, the projected “value” of the course suddenly drops from $3000 to something like $200. If you’re on a budget of $0-$50, even that won’t work for you.
And let's throw in another ugly reality: Over 80% of the people who buy into these courses never finish them. They pay between $300 and $4000 (seriously, from what was supposed to be a free webinar!) and then never hit the finish line.
This has come up for me in all of the few classes I did buy. I reached the end, and the host or hostess congratulated me on making it all the way through, because being familiar with the analytics on the back end, these folks knew that 50% of students would drop off after the first 3 or so classes; that another 25% would drop off halfway through, and that by 80-90% of the way through, almost everyone who remained would quit.
I’m the kind of person who not only sticks out a class but actually studies the content and applies it to my situation in a custom way if I need to. Apparently I am the exception to the rule. Ironically, because I’m willing to put in the work and be thoughtful about it, I’m probably not the kind of person who needs these classes. I’ve already determined to get to the goal. It’s just the process of how to get there that I have to choose—writing out the checklists and strategies for myself, or letting someone else do it for me.
If you want to be able to get more out of “free” webinars without buying in at the end, here are my ideas:
- Know your exact goals, and budget, before even entering the webinar. This is key. If you know that you want to grow your email list, and a webinar promises to show you how to do so through Pinterest, then when you tune in, you should know your goal is to learn at least 2 new ideas about growing your email list, or something else measurable. Then when the host gets swept up in trying to sell you a $600 e-course, you can say, "Does buying this course help me achieve the goal I had when I tuned in?" and if the answer is no, it will be easier not to purchase. Also, knowing how much you're willing to spend on a compelling offer that will get you closer to your goal is a good idea.
- Take notes throughout the class. Write down questions and ideas. There will be a number of things you can research after the webinar is over without having to buy the product offered. The results you get from search engines might take a little longer up front to weed through, but that doesn’t mean that when you find good intel, you won’t be inspired. You might even be a little more inspired, knowing you were clever enough to get the information without spending all your money.
- Record the class, and/or take screen shots of the slides. If you have QuickTime on your laptop, or the Voice Memo app on your phone, you can record what the host is saying so that you can pay better attention during the class and fill out your notes more thoroughly later. There are no “pause” buttons for webinars (even when they’re pre-recorded). Also, most webinar hosts encourage screen shots, so take advantage and capture slides with good info on them to review after the presentation is over.
- Visit the host's website and see how much of the e-course content is already offered for free. I'm surprised how often the "bonuses" in an e-course are actually just free downloads that already exist on a course creator's website. Sure, you can pay to have them all in one place, but why, when you could cheaply scavenge the exact materials offered for free, and possibly dig up some other great information on the host's blog, YouTube channel, or podcast, as well?
- Pay attention to what the host is really offering when he or she pitches the e-course or product. Sometimes it’s not a class that webinar hosts are offering, but a product. Although I don’t have a specific list of questions for product-based pitches, the idea is the same as with classes: What am I really paying for? Did I receive the “meat” of the meal already in this very webinar? If you are zeroing in on and being tempted by one or two of the offerings in particular, see if those aren’t things that you can’t get for free or cheap through another source. Occasionally, as with, say, Hilary Rushford’s Style & Stylability e-course, both the webinar and the class itself offer unique and truly valuable content, and are worth the investment if you have the money—but again, only occasionally.
- Be honest with yourself about the time and work you’re going to be able to put in. If you don’t have the time or energy to nail out your own strategy to build your business (or lose the weight, write the book, etcetera), do you really think the class you’d be paying for will give you the time and energy to do it? Because classes require time and energy as much as coming up with your own plan does. Nothing worth having comes for free, even when you don’t fork over money for it.
What do you think? I’d love to hear! Leave your comment below, or come catch me on Instagram, @alexisthegreek.
What do you think? Leave a comment over on Instagram @alexisthegreek! As always, if this information was helpful, share it with a fellow business person and stop by my tip jar to let me know you appreciated it. And if there's a topic you'd like me to cover in a future blog post, let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.