Planner's Workshop: Pre-Event: What If No One Signs Up?

It's the nightmare of every professional who offers group programs. You design a powerful workshop, schedule a date, broadcast your marketing message . . . and no one registers. Then what?

Preventative Measures
First, let's back up a step. There are several measures you can take early on in your promotion that will improve your chances of full enrollment:

Offer your program in-house instead of to the general public. Selling your program to a company, association, or learning center with an established base of employees, members, or students can be much easier than trying to sell each seat yourself. You could also partner with an existing organization with a track record of filling programs, and share the profits in return for a full house.

Build your prospect list to equal 20 to 100 times the number of people you want to attend. A typical response rate from a postal mailing is one to two percent. Response to opt-in e-mail is often even lower. (Don't even consider using unsolicited e-mail.) In general, expect no more than one percent to respond if they don't know your work and rarely more than five percent even when they know you well. Make it a habit to capture the name and address of every prospect and get their permission to mail or e-mail.

Promote on multiple channels. Include announcements in your e-newsletter, website, postal mail, a brochure or flyer, calendar listings, and personal invitations. Don't rely on just one or two avenues—students are much more likely to enroll when they see your program mentioned in many different places.

Emergency Enrollment
If your program has low or no registrants as the date approaches, here's what you can do to increase enrollment:

Call everyone on your prospect list and invite them personally. Place a phone call to each person you have a phone number for, give a brief description of the program, and invite them to attend. You'll be amazed how many people will say, "Thank you for calling—I've been meaning to sign up."

Ask clients and colleagues to make referrals. Just mailing an announcement to potential referral sources isn't the same as asking for their help. Call or e-mail people who respect your work, and ask them to suggest two or three others who could benefit. If they have suggestions for you, ask if they will also contact those people themselves to endorse your program.

Make a special offer. Tell the people who are already registered they can bring a friend for half-price. You're not losing any revenue that way if the space would otherwise be standing empty. Offer a bonus gift with minimal cost to those who enroll—30 minutes of your professional time, or an e-book, audio, or report you've produced.

If All Else Fails
In the last few days before your program, if you still have only a handful pre-registered:

Hold your program anyway. Invite people to attend for free if necessary to have good participation. Your clients will enjoy the chance to spend more quality time with you; colleagues will benefit from the opportunity to see you work and meet other attendees. Ask people who attend at no charge to write you glowing testimonials and refer paying participants for the next time.

If you can't fix it, feature it. The meaning of this classic sales maxim is that if your product has an obvious flaw, make it a positive selling point. When only six people enroll in your big seminar, convert it to an intimate group experience. If you have only two people for a group, turn it into a success team. Never apologize for a smaller-than-expected turnout.

Plan ahead to do better next time. Analyze what went wrong with your marketing and strategize how to do it differently. Make a list of all the key elements you think are necessary to successfully promote your next program.

Filling group programs becomes easier when you offer them regularly. Think of all your marketing efforts as part of a long-term plan to build awareness. If the outreach for your workshop introduces your business to many new people, you may ultimately find that much more valuable than just filling one program.

C.J. Hayden is the author of Get Clients NOW! Get a free copy of "Five Secrets to Finding All the Clients You'll Ever Need" at