Webinars help organisations to establish authority, boost their brand and build a bond with an audience. To put it simply, they let you share ideas and expertise in a setting that suits your message, using the power of video and other collaborative tools.
As webinars become increasingly popular, more organisations are choosing to host paid webinars.
For some, they’re a business in itself, for others they can be a profitable part of an overall content marketing strategy which might include a blog and other channels, while for still others they’re a means of covering costs.
But when to charge and when not to charge? First, let’s look at some of the differences between free and paid webinars.
Free v paid webinars
To put it in very general terms, free webinars are usually designed to attract attention, increase awareness, build a relationship with an audience, and generate leads. They’re often used as an effective tool in nurturing prospects through the sales funnel.
Free webinars are also used to launch and sell products or services, sometimes direct to customers or via a third party.
However, not all free webinars are straight out selling propositions. Many people today use them for training and education, strategy days, team building, awareness generation, stakeholder and investor communication, and personal and professional development.
According to the 2020 Redback Report, professional development was ranked as the top reason for attending an online event last year — it was nominated by one in three (30%) respondents. That was followed by learning and education (26%), and business meetings (23%). Of course, not all of these types of webinars are free.
Paid webinars, where your audience pays to participate, usually exist to share valuable insights, teach an expert skill or provide in-depth information that you would not usually expect to get for free — whether it be in a webinar or another forum.
For example, when your regular face-to-face weekly yoga class, music lesson or other learning program was forced online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, did you expect to get it for free? If the uptake of paid online casual and professional learning during the pandemic was anything to go by, the answer for a majority of us was ‘no’.
If you’re thinking of charging for your webinars, a good place to start is what you would do if your event was being held in a face-to-face environment. If you charge for similar events in person, you should consider charging for the virtual version.
Consider the value of your content and the income from selling a virtual seat, versus the value of the goal that you’re trying to achieve.
If your core business is running online classes or providing expert analysis on a particular sector, product or topic, then making revenue from your webinars might be necessary for your survival.
But if your main goal is to convert a prospect into a customer, it’s important to weigh up your end goal versus any short-term gain. Take into account the lifetime value of your customer. If you offer your webinar free of charge and an attendee converts to a customer – your return on your investment could be much higher than the revenue from the sale of a ticket.
Here are some of the pros and cons of paid webinars.
Paid Webinars: The Pros
1. Paid events are usually considered more valuable by users
Offering a paid webinar, immediately imparts a level of gravitas to the information that you’re offering to share.
That’s because, generally, people expect to get what they pay for, and many are willing to pay for information that might make them more successful in their professional role, or result in a more enjoyable, fulfilling personal life.
Paid events are also seen as an opportunity to get ahead of a competitor — whether it be another business or a colleague — by gaining access to valuable information or expert insights that someone else might not be prepared to pay for, or doesn’t have access to.
2. Paid events attract a higher attendance rate than free ones
Considering attendees are paying for the privilege, it’s not surprising that research shows that paid events attract a much higher attendance rate than free ones, which can result in a better return on your investment.
You can generally expect around 80% of registrants to tune in, which compares favourably to free events that generally attract between 35% and 40% — although attendance rates have been on the increase during the pandemic.
Correspondingly, because they’re prepared to pay and obviously have a considerable interest in the subject, attendees to paid webinars are also more inclined to interact, collaborate and get more out of webinars, which adds to the positive experience for everyone.
Someone who gets a lot out of your webinar is also more likely to share what they’ve learnt, and where they learned it.
3. You could make a profit or offset the costs of your overall event program
Paid webinars can turn a profit. As we’ve already mentioned, for some organisations, paid webinars are their business. For others, they may just cover costs.
For some organisations, webinars can be a revenue stream that helps cover the cost of a more expensive face-to-face event program or broader marketing campaign.
Like any business, it’s about measuring your costs versus your expenses, and then settling on a price for your service that you think people would be willing to pay.
Take a look at what your competitors, or other webinar producers, are charging, ask your staff, clients and stakeholders what they think is reasonable, and make sure you can produce the content and access the speakers to justify the ticket price.
For hybrid events, consider packaging in-person tickets with a cheaper corporate digital subscription.
4. There are many more free webinars than paid webinars on offer
When it comes to targeting a defined audience, a paid webinar can be a better option because you’re penetrating a much smaller audience.
In contrast, free webinars are more likely to attract the masses, which can make it harder to determine which leads to follow and prospects to nurture. People with only the slightest interest in your subject matter might sign up to your webinar because they want something to watch on the bus ride home.
Whereas, prospects prepared to pay for an event are generally further down the sales funnel, so you can expect a higher return on your investment when it comes to leads and sales.
Paid Webinars: The Cons
1. Expect a lower number of registrations
Generally, you would expect a lower overall number of registrations for a paid event compared with a free event.
While a lower number of registrations can equate to a better quality of audience, you still want to make sure you have enough people tuning in to warrant a webinar in the first place.
That’s why it’s important to have a thorough webinar marketing plan that targets the right channels with the right content to attract the right audience.
2. Your audience will expect more
Another difference between paid and free webinars is that your audience is going to expect more from the paid variety versus their free counterparts, which is fair enough.
That includes more exclusive, high-quality information, a professional set-up such as a webinar studio, a longer event, and more time to ask questions as well as various options for doing it, such as a poll, Q&A or virtual chat room.
Most importantly, they will expect to walk away with something new that they can apply to their professional or personal life immediately.
3. You will need a secure e-commerce platform
You’ll need a secure e-commerce platform to collect payments for your paid webinar, and take into consideration things like possible refunds, discounts and special offers, as well as admin costs.
Some webinar services allow you to set up paid webinars. It can be as simple as choosing the fields that you’re going to ask registrants and adding the price, and the service will automatically provide you a registration page and process the payment for you.
Otherwise you might need to process payments through an ecommerce plugin on your website.
4. You might alienate future audiences
How will your audience feel? Many people expect ‘free’ information online. If you charge for one event, will you risk alienating future audiences?
Before you decide to go into paid webinars, try holding free webinars and learn as much as you can from them.
Which subject areas were the most popular? What speakers attracted the most attention during and after the event? What was the most popular time, day of the week, and length?
After you’ve built a relationship with your audience, and have an understanding of their likes and dislikes, you’ll be in a better position to offer premium content in the form of a paid webinar.
Whether you want to run a free or paid webinar, it’s worth considering how both options will impact on your end goals as well as your audience.
For more on organising great webinars, download the Webinar Organiser’s Handbook.