I often get asked, “Why don’t you give free seminars?” I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately and here’s my response:

First of all, it isn’t true that I don’t ever give free seminars. Once a month, I do a free seminar for a business-related non-profit: chambers of commerce, Rotary, and other groups of that nature. If I get two requests the same month, I ask the person who contacted me second if they’d mind holding off. This is because I need to reserve time to do paid work so I can keep going as a business. Also, these free presentations are very general, usually introducing basic concepts as that’s what time allows (and usually what the group wants).

Everyone else gets charged, whether it’s a customized training session ($75/hour or $500, whichever is more applicable) or as a fee for a Downeast Learning workshop(between $25-$50/person). Am I just a money grubbing jerkface? Well, I might be… but even if I am, I have some good reasons for doing this:

1) It takes time to create workshops.
I spend on average of 10 hours preparing slides for a typical workshop. I usually create an outline, get feedback on it from colleagues, make slides, and then get feedback on the slides. If you’ve ever been to one of my presentations, I hope you can see the thought that goes into them!

In addition to the time making the presentation, I also write a press release, post the workshop on several online event calendars, post it over Facebook and Twitter, update my blog, put up posters, contact all the local chambers, and do other things to get the word out, probably to the tune of a couple hours per workshop.

2) It costs money to present workshops.
You’ll notice if you go to my workshops, they are held in a space that isn’t my home office. Since my house is tiny (not to mention ill equipped to handle 20ish people and their computers comfortably), I have to rent space.

To add up a few other regular costs, I do photocopies of my slides (for easy note taking) and also use a ticket vendor (like Eventbrite) to do online sales. Having online sales ensures that some people will come to my presentation and have paid to reserve their spot. I need between 5 and 10 people to sign up for a workshop to break even financially on these base costs (this does not include my time creating and promoting). The exact number needed depends on cost of workshop and room rental rate.

3) I’d rather teach you something than give you a sales pitch.
I don’t care how you dice it, nothing is free. Also, personally, there’s nothing I hate more than blocking off some time for what I think is a chance to learn something only to get a product pushed on me. I come to a seminar to learn, not to buy.

As a presenter, I’d rather give you a seminar with useful information and if you think I’m cool enough, you can buy more services from me afterwards. Regardless, you’ve gotten something valuable for your money, and your time. Because your time is also valuable!

4) I want to attract clients who don’t mind paying something.
Ask professionals about the most pain-in-the-butt client they’ve had or most hassle they’ve ever gone through for a work project. Nine times out of ten, I bet it was something they did for free.

I know if someone comes to my workshop having paid something, they understand the value of ideas, solutions, and professional development. And these are the kind of people I want to maintain relationships with, not just because they’ll help me pay my bills but because they actually value what I bring to the table.

If my friends attend my workshops, they also pay. I don’t play favorites here. If the situation were reversed, I would also expect to pay them.

5) I like going into something without an agenda, for your sake and mine.
It would be lucrative for me to have an underwriter. I’ve had web designers offer to pay me to refer my clients, software companies offering kickbacks, and other opportunities that were something to the effect of “Sell stuff for me and I’ll pay you.” But can I honestly tell people what will work best for them if I have a special interest behind what I’m saying? Ethically, of course not. An honest reputation is what I’m building here, even if it means I stay a smaller business for a longer period of time. I guess you can say one of the reasons I charge for workshops is that money isn’t everything!

I admit that I’m taking a gamble that people will pay to learn about technology that’ll save their business or non-profit time and money. I’m listening to those people who’ve said to me that they want to take classes to learn about internet marketing and related topics. But even if my gamble doesn’t end up paying off, having more people know what my company can do is not a waste of my time by a longshot.

And from a participant point of view, ask around and I think you’ll find most people get more than their money’s worth when they invest in their professional development. I know I can help, and I do hope people don’t mind that I’m not free.

So what do you think? Am I wrong about not giving free seminars? And if you agree with me, what would you pay to learn?

The next Downeast Learning workshop is about email marketing. Sign up before the 18th and get $5 off the usual $20 fee. (I’m told early bird registration helps with numbers so I’m trying this out!) To learn more or register, see www.downeastlearning.eventbrite.com. Hope to see you there!