So, you’re thinking about running or hosting your own conference? Are you ready to get real about the costs of running a conference of live event?
OK, good. It’s expensive. There are a lot of cheaper ways to make money, so if you haven’t explored those yet, then this might not be your best option.
However, if you have a large audience and you want to bring everyone together once a year to experience something special, then a conference or live event can work really well for you.
Full disclosure: we don’t really make any money directly from our conference, CMA Live. The conference is a way to build strong relationships with our audience, bring our members together and add huge value through the content. It also gives us a platform to recruit more members for CMA…which is a profitable business as a whole.
There are 4 main sections in this article:
It was March 2014 when I first thought about the idea for The Content Marketing Academy.
The basic concept at the time was “how can I create an event that teaches more business people about the principles of content marketing?”
I had a big vision at the time, and I still do.
Before I answer the big question ‘how much does it cost to run TCMA?’, here’s a brief context of how we’ve grown over the past 3 years.
The very first TCMA was September 2014, and we hosted it in Fife. There were around 40 guests including speakers, facilitators & partners, and we sold 26 tickets. It was essentially a large workshop.
There have been a few people that have returned every single year since – Caroline McKenna, Julie Christie, Laura Lucas, Fiona Esposito, Andy Brown, Ali Booth, Kate McQuillan, Alan Martin and Colin Gray – thanks for all your support over the years!
As much as I wanted to bring in international speakers to our first event, we simply couldn’t afford it, and the time line was against us too. I asked Marcus Sheridan and John Lee Dumas to record short videos for TCMA 2014, which worked out great. Even though it was a video, it still felt exciting.
TCMA 2014 was essentially our MVP – to test out the concept and see if it worked.
The build up to TCMA 2015 was when I knew we were doing something right. We booked Marcus Sheridan to deliver his world class content marketing workshop and as our closing Keynote Speaker.
We hosted TCMA in Edinburgh, this is when I began positioning TCMA as a leading business event in the UK.
There were 110 guests at TCMA 2015. It was a massive success and we started to see signs of a strong community building around the brand and the principles of what we were teaching.
As a result, in October 2015 I changed the name of the business from Learning Everyday Ltd to Content Marketing Academy Ltd (CMA for short).
We changed the branding too. We changed everything. We went all in.
We stepped things up for TCMA 2016 and what we’re now starting to see is my ideal vision for TCMA coming to life.
We had 3 international speakers, 14 speakers over 2 full days. We hosted it in Edinburgh and booked perhaps the most epic venue in the city centre – The Hub.
There were 120 guests at TCMA 2016, and although the numbers didn’t increase greatly between 2015 and 2016, we felt that we had more of the right people in the room.
What happened next was incredible. We sold 66 tickets for TCMA 2017 in the 10 days after TCMA 2016, 26 of those in one single day. At the time of writing are almost 50% sold out for TCMA 2017, and it’s 50 weeks away!
Just to put this into context – selling 120 tickets for TCMA 2016 was a lot of hard work. We’ve sold 3/4 of that capacity in a little over two weeks!
Our capacity for TCMA 2017 is 200 and we aim to sell out by Christmas 2016. Furthermore, over 30% of the tickets sold so far for TCMA 2017 are to people who have never been before!
I feel incredibly positive and confident about what we’ve achieved, and I’m looking forward to the future.
We’ve definitely hit a tipping point.
So, we’ve organised three conferences now:
We’re currently gearing up for our fourth conference – CMA Live 2017 – which takes place at The Hub in Edinburgh on 8th and 9th June 2017.
Organising and running 3 conferences doesn’t make us experts, but we’ve learned a lot, we’ve made some mistakes, and we’ve improved every year. Not only that, we run dozens of events every year – and TCMA is the biggest event in our calendar by far.
One of the biggest factors with organising an event like TCMA is budgeting. It’s not easy, in fact, it’s something that I personally struggle with. That’s why I’ve got people around me that are better at it than I am…and as a result I’m getting better too.
We’ve improved how we budget and manage the finances over the years. TCMA 2017 is going to be the best position we’ve been in so far, both in terms of financial management and event planning and organisation.
I’ve rounded the figures for you here, but this is what our total costs have been over the past three TCMA’s:
In approximate percentages, this is the breakdown of the areas where we spend money. In brackets is an indication of TCMA 2016 costs.
While I’m here I’d like to clear something up. There have been many occasions when people are surprised that we pay our Keynote Speakers.
In 2016 we had 3 international Keynote Speakers from the US. Not only that, Ann Handley and Mark Schaefer are highly regarded world leading marketers, business speakers, and best-selling authors. They are the best at what they do and this is what they get paid for.
In 2015 we had Marcus Sheridan here in the UK, and also in 2016.
We intend to work heavily with these business leaders over the coming years.
An international business Keynote Speaker will cost anywhere between $7k and >$30k. Our keynote speakers generally cost between $10k and $15k. That’s our experience so far. We’ve also received quotes from other speakers between $80k and $100k.
It ain’t cheap if you want the best. And we want the best.
It’s amazing how quickly the costs can escalate – the one cost that always blows my mind is the coffee and tea! 🙂
There’s a lot you can do to manage the costs down, especially through negotiation. I’m personally getting better at this with the help of the team.
You can also manage your budget with time. You can agree to terms that give you more time to pay for certain elements. This is especially key if a percentage of your revenue won’t be available until closer to the event, or 30 – 90 days after the event.
However, there are certain aspects that you simply cannot penny-pinch on. One of those areas is the customer experience.
For each conference there could be up to 12 months of marketing, to deliver a single two-day event. It’s a really big deal. It has to be a great experience for everyone.
I also firmly believe in paying for the best speakers. In most cases, there is ‘wiggle-room’ on the speaking fees. In our experience so far most speakers are willing to work with you on your budget.
It’s important to note that managing the costs is only one side of the equation. There’s also the revenue streams.
Perhaps you will look at £40k of costs and think it’s a lot of money. It is a lot of money. However, I look at it slightly differently. I certainly see and understand the costs involved, and I want to manage the costs, but as an entrepreneur, it’s my job to think about how we can drive more revenue from multiple income streams around the event.
For example, we not only drive sales from tickets but also sponsorship, partnership, video products, membership and hopefully for TCMA 2017 we will have live streaming access available too. We also try to get as much as possible from our speakers. For example, at TCMA 2015 we had Marcus deliver a workshop and a Keynote presentation, and we intend to do something similar for TCMA 2017.
There’s only so much you can do to bring the costs down, and if cost reduction begins to erode the customer experience, then it’s not acceptable.
So the other way to balance the equation is by making more sales.
Realistically the costs will go up every year. It would be ridiculous to think that they won’t. The costs have doubled every year since 2014.
That being said, the costs will not double for TCMA 2017. There will be a plateau of costs as we become more lean and smart in our management skills.
But the costs will go up, and here’s why:
So naturally the costs will increase, however, as we improve, develop and become world-class at event management, our revenues will also increase and our profit margin will increase as a result too.
It’s been one hell of a journey so far, and it’s not all been roses (I’ll be writing about my lessons from running TCMA soon). There’s been the ups and downs, and I’m sure there will be more as we grow, develop and push the boundaries further.
We’re in this for the long game and I believe that TCMA 2018 (year 5) will be the year where TCMA really comes together in all aspects of management, execution and finances.
Our mission is to deliver world-class business events and experiences. TCMA is not only our flagship event but will also become the UK’s leading business growth event.