poor callan (or six lessons on how to fill your workshops with ease!)

I want to share with you six lessons I got on how you can fill up your workshops from a colleague of mine Callan Rush.

Poor Callan (pictured right).

She had me in her audience.

This might seem like a good thing, but let me explain.

So, the other night I attended a workshop called, “How to Fill Your Workshops – With EASE!”. It was led by a colleague of mine Callan Rush who lives in Vancouver.

I’d been hearing about her for a while and was curious to check out her work. What made me more curious was that one of my clients in Kelowna went to her workshop (that one led by her partner Justin) and haaaated it. She’s someone who’s been in the scene for a really long time and we’re both a bit curmudgeonly and opinionated about these things. But then other colleagues and friends of mine really loved it and adored her.

What made me even more hesitant was that she got her teeth cut in the industry working for the infamous (in my circles) T. Harv Ecker. And so much of T. Harv’s world view, facilitation style and business structure is what I feel like I’m working against these days.

So, with all that rolling about in my head, I picked up the phone and got on the horn with Callan to see if her stuff was something I’d feel comfortable endorsing. After all, a lot of my clients struggle with getting people to attend their workshops and if this was a resource that could help – I wanted to know about it. And, as I get older, I tend to want to experience things myself than to buy into gossip and rumours.

We spent 45 minutes chatting and I was pretty blunt about my main concerns and criticisms of the workshop industry. And I was really delighted with her responses. I experienced her as far more open minded than I’d imagined. She even (as much as I hate to admit it) caused a small shift in how I saw T. Harv Ecker’s marketing and what he should be doing instead of what he is. That phone call was enough to reassure me that this was something I could passively endorse and spread the word on without putting the full weight of my reputation behind it.

And then, the other night she was in town leading a workshop and I attended.

Poor Callan.

I must have spent 5 minutes on our call railing against what’s known as, ‘accelerated learning’. This is a style of facilitation where there’s a lot of asking the audience questions and having them respond outloud, high fiving their neighbours etc.

(A confession: I spent about three years working for a franchise of personal development guru Tony Robbins. And he has a similar facilitation style. Which I adopted. And I was, to be honest, amazing at it. I nailed it.  But over my years of leading workshops and attending workshops – I moved away from it and found other ways to engage the room that felt more authentic to me (e.g. corny kid jokes!).)

So, here I come in, looking for a seat in the back because I do NOT want to participate in high fiving my neighbours. My name’s Tad Hargrave and I’m a cranky 72 year old man.

And poor Callan. She walks onstage and sees me there. So much fun to lead a workshop in a style you know that someone in your audience hates . . .

I felt a bit bad.

Then it started.

And I’ll say this. I still hate all the ‘raise your hand if . . .’ and ‘high five your neighbour and say . . .’ stuff. But the way Callan did it felt much better than many of the workshops I’ve been to. And her intention felt so sincere and honest. She kept growing on me.

I was really impressed with the content she provided during the workshop. The evening was not a huge pitch fest.

So, preamble aside, I thought you might enjoy seeing my notes and reflections from the workshop.

For me, here’s the bottom line of the whole evening:


What difference does it make if you’ve designed

a brilliant workshop if no one ever attends it?


I know, I know . . . you’re not in it for the money – you just want to make a difference. But make a difference to whom? If no one comes – are you really making a difference? And if no one comes and you go so broke you can’t keep doing it . . . you feel me?

Have you had this experience before? You get a great idea for a workshop, you book the space, you spread the word – and then no one comes? Or like three people. I’ve been there and it’s super, duper disheartening.

So here are some lessons . . .

LESSON #1: Don’t do an event you don’t have a plan to fill.

Hoping and praying that your event will fill is not a plan. It’s likely better to do fewer events that go well than to try and do a bunch of events that have only a few people. For a lot of reasons. Doing fewer but fuller workshops means you’ll save time, have more fun, feel more successful, make more money and just seem a like a bit more of a big deal. I’m soooo guilty of this one. Booking an event and then giving a half assed attempt to fill it. If you’re going to do it – why not do it right?

LESSON #2: There are three aspects you need to have in place to make good money doing workshops.

I’ll paraphrase this in my own way.

  • Marketing: getting people into the room. I’m talking about marketing, hot workshop names, writing great headlines, being really clear about who your workshop is for, what problem it solves and the results it’s going to offer.
  • Facilitation: doing a kick ass workshop that helps people, builds trust and supports people in seeing if you might be a fit to help them with their products or services.
  • Sustainability: Figuring out how all of this can sustain you financially over the long term. What kinds of follow up packages can you offer? Some of these people might really love you and need more help! Heavens. What will you do about that?

LESSON #3: You must have all three aspects for it to work.

So many workshop facilitators focus entirely on improving the workshop and making it better – when they should probably be focusing on the marketing. They go to get more certifications. They learn different modalities. They get more education. They do a Toastmaster’s training. They attend a facilitation training. If you focus on facilitation and sustainability – sure, you’ll have a great thing but no one to show it to. The marketing somehow gets left out of this.

LESSON #4: Don’t rely on passive word of mouth.

Okay. A big one here.

So many workshop leaders just sort of ‘hope’ that people will talk about their workshops.  They never get strategic about how to support people in spreading the word. Now, this gets into the very sticky waters of affiliate marketing which is a bigger conversation – but suffice it to say that ending your workshop with, “I’d be grateful if you spread the word” is not a killer marketing strategy.

Here’s a place I disagree with Callan. Callan uses the terms ‘word of mouth’ and ‘affiliate’ marketing synonymously. And I think they’re totally different.

What makes Word of Mouth work is the independence in it. As soon as someone’s getting paid to say something, it’s no longer word of mouth. It’s a sales job. You’re bribing people to spread the word. I’ll write more about this another time. But it’s a big issue to consider.

That doesn’t make it bad or wrong – but it does make it different.

Here’s my take on this:

If you pick a few hand selected hubs to help you promote your event and you offer them an incentive to help you promote the event then you’ve created an affiliate or joint venture relationship. It’s a business to business strategic alliance. Beautiful. But that’s not word of mouth.

But word of mouth is vital. It must be central to your marketing plans. There a certain keys to making it work, at least 21 ways ‘word of mouth intensifiers‘ and for sure 14 ways to make it easy for people to spread the word about you.

But Callan had some really compelling and sounds thoughts she was sharing and points to consider because here’s a reality . . . hoping that people will talk you up doesn’t work. And sometimes people will be excited to share but fizzle out over time.

So, here’s Callan’s take on three ways you can get your existing clients sending you more business.

Give your Friendly Promoters Tools:

Don’t just expect them to remember everything. Don’t make them do all the work to promote you. In fact, the less work they have to do, the more likely they are to do it. Make it easy for them.

  • flyers
  • posters they can put up in their shop or holistic center
  • pre-written email copy – something they can cut and paste and send to their friends.
  • a simple, easy to remember website to send people to
  • and if you fully want to turn your whole crowd into affiliates (really not my thing) then you can get printed tickets that you give to your affiliates one to one (you can go to Ticketmaster to get cheap and great looking tickets). At Callan’s intro workshop – you could either pay $15 at the door or attend for free with a ticket from one of her affiliates.

Give your affiliates a bit of Training on what to say:

This is another level of making it easy. Sometimes your clients won’t talk about what you do – because they don’t know how. Or worse – they think they do and they say the wrong things.

  • Give them phrases they can say.
  • Help them understand what to say and what NOT to say. Support them so they don’t scare business away from you – especially if you do edgy exercises in your events. You don’t want a client running around saying, “Oh my God. Everyone totally gets naked at one part in the workshop!” or “My husband and I had such a breakthrough – we were screaming at each other and beating each other with these pool noodles!” Might just scare the shit out of people. Sometimes this can be done one on one or at the end of the workshop.
  • Make sure they know how to use the tools you’ve given them. For example, “When you pass out this ticket – make sure that they call this toll free number – otherwise they pay $15 at the door.” Or “When you go to this web page make sure you click on the PURPLE box.”

Give your friendly Promoters Treats:

Ok. So here’s where things get a bit edgier and controversial.

Callan’s take is that you must have a simple reward based system to encourage your affiliates to promote for you otherwise the ‘word spreading’ starts to dwindle. Her belief is that intrinsic motivation will only go so far.

There’s a discussion to be had on that but here’s where I totally agree with Callan.

We need to remember our graciousness.

If we’re asking for people to spread the word for us and they do and they never get any acknowledgement from us whatsoever . . . that feels so terrible. No one likes to be taken for granted. If someone is putting out a vibe like they’re entitled to get all of this support and feel no need to thank people – that’s just arrogant.

A big place Callan won me over at the workshop was where she really emphasized that these treats and rewards don’t have to be cash and sometimes they shouldn’t be.

But consider just a few of your options:

  • Cash – if your work and your crowd is all about money, business etc. you might just want to give them money. They might feel totally fine about that. If you’re into the health, holistic healing, spirituality or relationship track – watch out – offering your people money might totally backfire and have them feeling really uncomfortable to tell people. Also, you can then give them a bit of coaching on how to talk about the reward. That could sound something like, ‘so I get paid if you go – and I’m totally willing to do something else with this money. We could split it, give it to charity etc. I just wanted you to know how they set it up. What do you think we should do?’
  • Discounts on Your Program
  • Personal Phone Call to thank and give support. “Hey you just referred five people and I’d love to give you 20 minutes of my time on the house whenever you want it.”
  • Free workshops for affiliates. What a lovely idea! “You’ve been such a huge support that I want to invite you to an intimate little workshop coming up just for yourself and the others who’ve been such a support. Just my way of saying thanks.”
  • Personal Email. You know, especially if you’re a bit of a personality sometimes the biggest reward for people is just a bit of personal connection with you.
  • Personalized gifts in the mail. Sometimes a little thoughtful something  (e.g. little candle with a card “Thank you. You really light up my life.”, or buying someone a gift certificate to a local shop can go a long way)
  • Surprise free coaching days. Every once in a while, I surprise my favourite clients with a free coaching day. “Call in and get 30 minutes of free coaching today!”
  • Surprise them with a free session. What if, at the end of a session, when they went to pay you, you said, “no charge for today’s session, you’ve sent me so much business. Your money’s no good here today.”

The key – pick some form of acknowledgment that feels appropriate to your people. Something that will have them feel really honoured and appreciated.

LESSON #5: Don’t just market to the 3% who are ready to buy right now.

Think of your ideal clients. The people in your niche. Your target market. Now think of all the people in your town (or wherever you want to tour your workshops) who fit into that group. There are likely a lot of them.

But here’s the bad news.

97% of your ideal clients are NOT looking for my product, program or service right now.

Here’s a piece Callan shared that was worth the whole evening. It’s a percentage break down of your target market right now. I think these percentages are really accurate pretty much across the board:

3% are actively looking for your solution. They’re googling it at 3 am. They are super, actively looking for a solution to their problems. And everyone is fighting over this 3%. Every other workshop leader is trying to reach these same people.

And so they put their marketing out to reach these people.

  • “Hypnosis workshop!”
  • “Buy our technology”
  • “All 2010 Model Cars Must Go! 0% Financing.”
  • “Non Violent Communication Workshop”
  • “Learn Reiki”.

And it’s not that this kind of marketing doesn’t work. It totally does. It absolutely reaches and works on that 3% of your ideal clients. But it’s ignored by everyone else. Ouch. This means your marketing might be being totally ignored by 97% of your target market.

7% are open to your product, program or service. They’ve heard about the kind of thing you do. They’re genuinely curious about it.

30% are aware for future. They know they need you or someone like you – but it’s sometime down the road. They tell themselves, “I’ll need a new car when we have kids.” But that time hasn’t come yet. Or they think, “When this crunch time at work is over I’m going to get back into yoga.” Or, “When I stop traveling I’m going to buy a house.”

30% are totally unconscious. When you meet them it’s clear that they have a problem you can help them solve – but they have NO awareness they need it. They might not even know they have a problem. It’s like someone with bad breath. You knooooow they need a tick tack but they have no idea. Or someone with anger issues who’s convinced their problem is everyone else.

They may or may not have any overt symptoms but those symptoms are likely not understood. Like, they know they have stomach pains all the time – but they don’t realize that it’s because they’re celiac. Or they notice that their romantic partner has lost interest in them but they don’t see how this loss of interest was triggered by their domineering nature and inability to communicate.

In short, they lack the proper context for their symptoms. And so often they ignore them entirely.

30% are just a ‘NO!’. They’re just closed to it. Maybe it’s because they live too far away, they’ll never be able to afford it or they’ve already hired someone else. With these people you need to just bless and release.

The Bottom Line: 67% of these people are not really being marketed to. They’re being ignored by everyone else leading workshops.

But the way you market to the 67% who are open, aware or unconscious is very, very different than the way you market to people who are totally ready to buy. It’s a bit of a slower turn around. More trust building. More being a generosity based business to start.

And I can tell you that Callan has some bang on perspectives on how you reach these people. They were so good I was actually shocked to hear them because it’s a rare perspective that most marketers don’t understand.

The Bottom Line: your marketing must start building a relationship with people well before they’re at a place where they are ready or wanting to buy (from you or anybody). If you can begin the process of building trust now – when the time comes for them to spend their time and money with someone, you have a decisive advantage.

LESSON #6: Feed them the elephant one bite at a time.

When we think of marketing as trying to fill up our whole business – it can feel overwhelming. It’s more useful to break it down.

One way to think of this is like an ice cream shop. When you walk in, they don’t try to sell you an entire ice cream cake. They let you try feel samples of flavours on pink spoons. If you like a flavour you’ll risk a cone. If you like the cone, you might risk a double or triple scoop. And then a gallon. And if you’re crazy for it – maybe a whole cake.

But it’s step by step.

So many entrepreneurs try to sell the big thing first. But they’ve not built the trust yet.

For example, if you’ve got a workshop you’re trying to fill and you’re sending out an email, let’s break this down.

You write a good subject line which compels them to open the email. Then you write a good opening line or two in the email that compels them read more and finally to click on the link to sign up for your introductory workshop.

If you create poster for your workshop: first you think about the headline that will grab their attention. Then you focus on the rest of the text and images. And then you design a great call to action. To have the poster just say, ‘sign up for my workshop’ and give the phone number would be appalling and unsuccessful.

It’s a mistake to try and sell them on the whole thing in the subject line. Or even in the email. Think of bite sized chunks in your marketing. Think simple next steps. Make it really easy for them.

Believe it or not . . . this epic blog post is so just the tip of the iceberg of what Callan has to share in her evening workshops and certainly her more intensive stuff. If you’re committed to using workshops to build your business (or even curious to explore this) Callan seems to be the go to resource in Canada on this.


If you want to get more information on how you can make your workshops more popular and profitable just click here.




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