I hosted a virtual conference and grew my email list by 600%. You can, too.

Virtual summit, real success

I’ve been an online entrepreneur since March 2013, and my business has never seen rapid growth. Sure, after four months, my blog had almost 400 page views a day, and I have enough clients to pay my bills. But I was looking to grow the business more.

However, since spring 2014 I felt I was more working in the business rather than working on the business. I had arrived at a plateau. New clients were coming by word-of-mouth, which is a good thing, yet I was so busy doing client-based projects that I wasn’t able to scale my business. I continued to work that way until 2015, when I set out to leave that plateau and finally scale my business.

Hosting a virtual conference helped supercharge my business.

After running the WP Summit in March, I grew my list of email subscribers by 600 percent in a matter of weeks and I was featured as a WordPress authority on various platforms. I also built relationships with entrepreneurs like Rand Fishkin from Moz, Oli Gardner from Unbounce, and Dan Norris from WP Curve. Plus, I made a few thousand dollars through sponsorships and selling lifetime access to the summit’s recorded interviews.

Sound good? Here’s what you need to know about virtual conferences and how they can help your business, too.

What’s a virtual conference?

A virtual summit is a web-based conference that brings together industry leaders and offers the interviews to an online audience.

Virtual summits offer numerous benefits, including:

  • You’re interviewing the leading experts in your field, so you build relationships with those thought leaders.
  • You’re surrounding yourself with experts and benefit from their authority.
  • If the promotion goes well, you can get traffic from all over the world.
  • Summits are a massive list-building tool, especially when they’re free initially.
  • They can bring in serious cashflow.

Setting goals for your virtual summit

To set goals for my summit (and make them achievable), I analyzed my current business situation:

  • The traffic to my blog didn’t grow for months because I didn’t focus on blogging.
  • My email list didn’t grow for months because I didn’t focus on it.
  • My income was directly tied to the number of hours I was working.

When I wrote these facts down, it almost crushed me. How could I spend so much time on my projects that I had neglected these crucial parts of my business?

I was determined to grow my business in a sustainable way in 2015.

My goals for the WP Summit were:

  • To build more authority among the audience of online entrepreneurs who use WordPress.
  • To grow my blog to 20,000 unique visitors per month (as a first milestone).
  • To earn more residual income and thereby scale my business.

Then, I evaluated these goals.

There was no way I would grow my traffic from 5,000 to 20,000 monthly visitors by running just one virtual event. However, it was perfectly possible to build more authority by running the summit. And by recording the interviews, I could turn a one-time virtual conference into a virtual product for that residual income.

So, I could realistically achieve two of my three goals by holding the WP Summit, and at least set the foundation to increase traffic to my blog. And the great thing is that these two goals could be boiled down to one — growing my email list, which is the main benefit of running a virtual summit.

Getting subscribers to your newsletter and building a healthy relationship with them is a sustainable way to grow your online business.

The business model

Most virtual summits follow a model that gives away the interviews for free for a limited time and charges for lifetime access. My WP Summit followed the same model.

Imagine you do 28 interviews for your summit. You can’t release them all at once because it would overwhelm your audience. So you have to release them grouped by topic (or whatever order makes sense for you). I released two to six interviews a day for 10 days, structuring the WP Summit like a course that walked attendees through the process of building profitable online businesses using WordPress.

To stay updated when new interviews aired, attendees needed to subscribe to a free email list. More than 1,100 people did.

graph showing increase in email subscribers due to virtual conference

My mailing list had about 180 subscribers before the WP Summit. That means the event grew my email list by more than 600 percent.

The results of running the WP summit

Here is a summary of the results I’m seeing after my WP Summit:

  1. I’m building relationships with important people in the field. WordPress experts and online entrepreneurs are taking me more seriously, as I’m now the “host of the WP Summit,” a global event with more than 15,000 video loads.
  1. I get guest blogging opportunities on big platforms. Just like the post you’re reading, I’m getting featured on platforms that I could never get on without the WP Summit.
  1. My email list grew by 600 percent. Ever heard the term “the money is in the list?” By having more email subscribers, I’m extending the reach of my online business.
  1. I learned new online business strategies. We all have things to learn. By interviewing industry leaders and having them share their experiences, my attendees and I learned countless lessons on using WordPress for running an online business.
  1. The WP Summit becomes evergreen. Now that the summit is over, I’m positioning it as evergreen content and a new product I have to offer. Because the interviews still share very powerful business (and tech) lessons for online entrepreneurs, it makes sense to include the WP Summit in a sales funnel. Some online entrepreneurs aim to earn residual income, and a virtual summit can help you do exactly that.

What’s next?

I really thought that after the WP Summit ended, I could slow down for a few weeks. But instead, I was busier than I could have imagined. Blog opportunities. Interview requests. And I get more leads than I can currently handle.

Plus, to keep track with my growing brand, I restructured my content marketing plan and redesigned my personal blog. Then I started a WordPress-related Facebook group (following a strategy of WP Summit speaker Mark Bowness) to help online entrepreneurs use WordPress to their full advantage.

When you run a summit that gets a lot of attention in your field, be prepared for the work that follows. You’ll have to keep up with the expectations coming at you. Running a virtual summit involves a lot of planning and hard work, but it can lead to numerous long-term benefits for your online business and brand!

Stay tuned for the next post in this series to learn how to start creating your own virtual conference.

Jan Koch
Jan Koch is an entrepreneur and WordPress developer. He hosts the WP Summit and helps online entrepreneurs get the most out of WordPress. He shares actionable strategies to grow the impact of WordPress sites, in plain English. His mission is to empower online entrepreneurs all over the world to build better online platforms. He blogs at jkoch.me and tweets at @iamjankoch.