In this guest post my good friend Jan Koch is going to share the behind the scenes of The WP Summit.
I've personally mentored Jan through the process and I wanted him to share exactly how he managed to pull all of this off.
You’ll enjoy this — take it away, Jan!
When I saw Navid’s Branding Summit in 2014, I got inspired to pull off a virtual summit myself. In this post I’d like to give you a look behind the scenes of The WP Summit.
A quick teaser: the WP Summit generated roughly $2,200 before it even started, gets traffic from 110 different countries, and is featured on major WordPress related platforms like Cloudways, WP Engine, TorqueMag, or WP Mayor.
Let me back off a bit and tell you about how the strategy and concept for the WP Summit came to life.
Why A Summit For WordPress Users?
Since my core expertise is WordPress, the topic was clear pretty fast. I wanted a topic where knew a lot about, so that I could ask the right questions during the interviews.
Navid became my mentor and quickly The WP Summit was born. This event was meant to bring together world-class speakers for WordPress and online marketing / online business.
My goal with the summit was to create a free, comprehensive resource for online entrepreneurs who use WordPress.
Navid and I see a need for an event like this, as so many entrepreneurs rely on WordPress as platform for their business.
Yet most of them don’t have a background in IT or understand how WordPress in working in the background.
This missing knowledge results in countless challenges and roadblocks that WordPress users face on a daily basis. Finding the right information in the countless forums and boards is a tough challenge, especially since WordPress users without technical understanding often don’t know which questions to ask.
As it always is when building businesses, the offer must solve a pain for the consumers.
The WP Summit educates online entrepreneurs and WordPress users how to build powerful WordPress sites, in plain English.
Getting World-Leading WordPress Experts As Speakers
Navid showed the importance of having a great speaker line-up in his Branding Summit. So I had me create a list of top-notch experts I wanted to interview on the WP Summit, regardless how far out of reach they seemed.
I wrote down names like Rand Fishkin, Jason Cohen, Dan Norris, Oli Gardner, Matt Mullenweg, and other people I thought I’d never get to speak on the WP Summit.
It turned out that I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The strategy to get in touch with those speakers seemed to work-out extremely well, which both Navid and I didn’t see coming.
It works like this:
Building A Landing Page Before You’re Ready
This point is SO crucial, and I attribute a lot of my success in getting these amazing speakers to it.
Right after I decided that I’d run the WP Summit I created a landing page, showing off the topics I wanted to see covered on the summit:
- WordPress basics
- WP themes and design
- Online business strategies
- List Building
- WP Security
I wanted the summit to look professional right away, so I set up a landing page using OptimizePress before I started reaching out to speakers.
It looked pretty and for the speaker images I just put a „to be announced soon“ graphic. And you bet this landing page worked!
The first speaker I reached out to was Dan Norris, the founder of WP Curve.
Why Dan? Because he’d attract other A-list speakers to the WP Summit and because he was interviewed on SmartPassiveIncome about a topic I wanted him to cover on the WP Summit.
So I headed over to his website and sent him a message via his live chat. Since I did research on WP Curve and him personally before, I knew what he was working on and that he might like being one of the opening speakers for the summit.
One major lesson I learned from Navid is, that you’ve got to make it worthwhile for the speakers to join your event. Regardless whether that’s selling, having them build their list from their interview, or some special branding opportunity, you’ll need to get creative here.
I got Dan to speak at the WP Summit, because he loved being asked as the first speaker (I told him) and because he loved getting this extra bit of branding from being an opening speaker.
So, now I could put Dan’s face on the landing page for the summit! The first success!
After that I reached out to other phenomenal speakers like Andy Crestodina or Jason Amunwa. Most often I contacted them via Twitter.
Here’s how a conversation usually went:
Me: Hey SPEAKER, I loved your work at XYZ and I’d love to invite you to LANDING_PAGE_LINK. Mind if I send more info?
Speaker: Thanks! Email me at SPEAKER_EMAIL, we’ll take it from there.
Yes, it is THAT easy if you follow a few rules.
- In your initial tweet, make it crystal clear what you’re asking for and make it easy for the speaker to decide whether he’s interested or not.
- Don’t send too much info at once, as that slows down the decision process.
- Know that most of these rockstar-speakers have VA’s managing their email. So you can send them more comprehensive information by mail and they can handle it efficiently.
- Don’t by rude or enforce a decision. There are so many amazing speakers on any topic, if someone declines just go on.
Here’s a screenshot of how I got in touch with Rand Fishkin, using this exact strategy:
Quick note on the side:
When you aim for 25 speakers on your summit, make a list of at least 35. Some of them won’t be able to join even though they’d like to, others simply won’t like to speak. If you end up with more speakers you’re fine, ending up with less might harm the reputation of your complete line-up.
The Structure For The Summit
Navid was a massive help in structuring the flow of the WP Summit. We really wanted to walk the attendees through the topics in the right order – and it turned out that my initial topic outline wasn’t sufficient.
So we came up with these topics:
1. WordPress Fundamentals & Hosting
- Design & WP Themes
- Online Business With WordPress
- List Building
- Content Marketing
- Social Marketing / SEO
- Podcasting / Summits
- Copywriting / Conversion Optimization
- Backups & Security
- Inbound Marketing (Closing Keynote)
We thought that this outline covers the most essential topics WordPress users and online entrepreneurs either should know about or struggle with on a daily basis.
I already started reaching out to speakers, so I added more speakers to my wishlist that could cover all the topics Navid and I lined out.
During the WP Summit, we can now make sure that the attendees aren’t overwhelmed and that the information is presented in an order that actually makes sense and builds upon each other.
Again, the structure came to life not because Navid or I personally liked these topics (yet we do!), but because those topics address either our own pain points or the problems of the target audience for the WP Summit.
Building The Summit Landing Page
On the landing page, the structure for the WP Summit is presented in two different ways.
At first I’m outlining the topics in text form, making it easy for website visitors to skim through.
See the menu item? Normally I wouldn’t recommend to have a navigation on a landing page, yet here it makes sense. It scrolls to the section you see, giving visitors exactly the info they’re searching for without distracting them from the main call-to-action.
The second way that I’m presenting the structure of the WP Summit on the landing page is in the speakers’ section.
These two ways make it extremely easy and convenient for visitors to find the info they’re looking for.
And this heatmap proves the point I just made. I use CrazyEgg to know where people click on the website, and it seems that my visitors like to see the info they’re searching for at first glance, rather than scrolling through the website manually.
Heatmaps are a very powerful tool, as they can also show you which topics your visitors are most interested in:
It seems that my audience especially wants the info about WordPress themes and web design, which gives me the opportunity to react and maybe get another speaker on for this topic.
Your landing page has only one purpose, getting people subscribe to your event.
The WP Summit speakers Oli Gardner and Liston Witherill both do a great job explaining how to increase your conversion rates, but I’ll cover some of the basics here.
1. The CTA needs to stand out
It doesn’t matter if your button is green, red, or yellow. What matters is that the button is clearly visible amongst the elements surrounding it.
Oil Gardner has some pretty interesting insights on this, as you can see in this preview for his interview:
2. Lead up to the CTA
Context is king when it comes to having high conversion rates. Make sure that you lead up properly to your CTA.
What I mean by this is that you need to frame the content before your CTA so that your visitor already gets into the mindset of „I need to attend this summit!“.
Highlight important information like the ideal attendee, the main benefits attendees will get from the expert-interviews, and of course information like the date and format of the interviews.
Speakers & Interviews
The expert-interviews are the meat of ANY virtual summit, so this is true for the WP Summit as well.
As you can see, I worked hard to get an outstanding line-up of speakers. Some of them rarely even do interviews, not to mention attending other virtual events.
It’s the speakers who drive traffic and lastly money to your summit, not your personal reach. They build authority for the event, which happened massively for the WP Summit. They build your position as expert, and they might make your event interesting for (paying) sponsors.
The challenge with getting speakers on is to find the right mix. You’ll want to have big names that drive attention to your summit, in my case those are Rand Fishkin, Oli Gardner, James Cohen, or Dan Norris.
And you’ll want to have speakers that heavily promote your summit. I’m not saying those should be „lower-class“ speakers though, they still should have very good reputation.
Most of the big players however won’t promote your summit, which is why you need a mix.
Speaker promotion was one of the biggest traffic drivers for Navid’s Branding Summit. For the WP Summit I’m taking a slightly different approach, yet having the speakers promote the summit still is very important.
Traffic sources besides speaker promotion
The WP Summit grew organically on a pace that I couldn’t foresee at all.
Since so many huge speakers joined the summit, it’s creating quite some buzz in the WordPress field on it’s own. I got approached by bloggers like Jean Galea, who wanted me to write about the WP Summit for his blog WP Mayor.
Guest posts like this one you’re reading, the interview and guest post for Cloudways, or the podcast interview on Stop Riding The Pine are amazing opportunities to drive traffic to your landing page.
But you need to keep in mind, that a platform isn’t automatically a good place to be featured on when it’s big.
A lesson I learned is that it’s the audience of that platform that matters most. Rather aim at 20k monthly readers who are really passionate about your topic than 150k monthly readers who are just somewhat interested in your summit.
Recording the interviews
When you’re recording the interviews, you’ll want to ensure a stable Internet connection, professional equipment (read lighting, camera, microphone), and a reliable recording tool.
I did most interviews for the WP Summit via Skype, using eCamm Call Recorder to record the interviews, and Screenflow to edit them.
The lighting wasn’t perfect, but good enough. Getting started was more important to me than using the lighting as excuse to delay the event.
My camera was a Logitech webcam, the microphone a Blue Yeti.
Besides having a good equipment, you’ll want to have a clear structure for each interview.
Do your homework and prepare the interviews thoroughly. I’ve lined up at least 5–7 questions for every speaker, and I’ve made myself familiar with every single one of them.
I also asked the audience for feedback and questions they’d want me to ask the speakers, which helped to increase engagement in the audience and deliver interviews that touch upon the questions of interest.
Remember that your audience pays for those interviews. If not with money, they still invest their time into consuming them. So you’ll better deliver interviews worth watching.
Monetizing your summit
Even though the WP Summit is free, it already generated roughly $2,200 in revenue before it even started.
How can that be?
Well, the interviews air for free for 48 hours after their release. Once those 48 hours are over, I’ll take them offline and only serve them in a membership area.
48 hours are plenty of time for people all over the world to consume the interviews that are most interesting to them, to take notes, and to grow their business using the strategies shared. It’s more than enough to really benefit from this event without spending a single dollar.
However, for those who are really passionate about WordPress and online business, I’m offering lifetime access to all interviews through the All Access Pass.
If you get your All Access Pass, you’ll have all interviews available for lifetime, and you’ll get access to live Q&A calls and trainings with some of the speakers, as well as cheat sheets summarizing the most important takeaways from the WP Summit.
This offer is targeted especially for those attendees who want to benefit from the interviews in the long term. While they’re free for 48 hours, executing on all of them in that amount of time is tough thing to do.
Of course you can take your notes and just pick the interviews most interesting for you. But in 3 months you’ll face different challenges than today. The attendees who buy the All Access Pass know, that they can leverage the expert-interviews at their own speed, over a unlimited period of time.
All Access Passes don’t sell at a very expensive price for the WP Summit, which is for a good reason that you’ll want to know.
You want to make these premium memberships an absolute no-brainer! That's why I got 12 sales before the WP Summit even started.
Given you get 28 hours of expert-interviews, live Q&A calls with some of the experts, cheat sheets, and a membership in an exclusive Facebook group, the price of $97 is ridiculous. Even when the price went up to $147 after the summit is over, that’s an absolute no-brainer compared to the value you get from the interviews and the amounts of money they’ll help you make.
The other way to monetize a summit is by having paid sponsorships.
The WP Summit is backed by:
- WP Engine
Some of them pay for the sponsorship, while others help in promoting the WP Summit, or providing excellent web hosting for it.
These sponsors show the authority of this event. All of these sponsors are world-class and well-known in their fields, supporting only top-notch projects that help them grow their brands.
Having their logos on the WP Summit websites helps to build up a huge amount of trust with the audience, because they might not know me as the host, but they surely have heard of one of the sponsors.
Running a summit like the WP Summit is a true challenge, which is why I’m thankful to be working with Navid.
I’m going to be completely honest with you here. My sleep averages around 5 hours per night for the last few weeks, I get around 7 hours on weekends. I’m working hard to deliver a high-quality summit.
For example I’m writing this post at 11pm on a Wednesday, though I’m getting up at 4:30am the next morning to do the next interview.
Later in 2015 I’ll run another virtual summit, and for that I’ll definitely plan more time than 3 months. While it’s possible to run a summit from scratch within 3 months, it’s not always a pleasure to do it 😉
However, the benefits of running the WP Summit are by far bigger than I imagined.
I get feedback like this from guys all over the world.
The WP Summit gets featured on major platforms and creates lots of buzz in the WordPress field, which is a great experience and a beneficial position to be in for me as the host.
Overall, I’m building incredibly valuable relationships and I can’t even estimate how far this summit can take me in the future.
All I can say that the WP Summit is a game changer for the attendees and for myself.