How One Virtual Event Turned My Business Upside-Down (Part 1)

Note: This blog post is the first of two posts, explaining the background behind the WP Summit and the massive impact it had on my online business in terms of email subscribers and authority.

It’s been a while since I wrote the last post on this blog, and that’s for a good reason. From January to April 2015 I completely restarted my online business, by running a virtual event called WP Summit. Let me explain.

My online business was running well to that time, I worked in WordPress projects all over the world and could pay the bills. Yet I wanted to take that business to the next level.

The ultimate goal for my online business is to help online entrepreneurs on a global scale to build powerful WordPress websites, and to earn residual income in doing so.

However, there were a few things I had to figure out before I could achieve that goal and scale my business.

  • My email list contained ~180 subscribers
  • Most of my clients came through word-of-mouth
  • My blog roughly had 5,000 unique visitors a month

Not the ideal position to start a really profitable online business from, right? Wrong.

I already had my WordPress site set up and running, a foundation for my business. And regardless how small that foundation was, I could work with it.

And so could you work with your platform.

So many people complain about not having traffic on their site, not having thousands of email subscribers, and not having a sales funnel in place that drives money on auto-pilot.

They forget that every business owner started with nothing. No audience, no email list, no traffic. But with an idea and a vision.

And here I was, your ordinary guy from a small town, on the mission to build a scalable online business.

The Vision: A WordPress Summit

From day one I was all about building relationships with influencers and likeminded entrepreneurs.

Especially when working with WordPress, having a supportive community is crucial. There are so many plugins and themes for WordPress and those can be tough to handle, especially when you don’t have a technical background.

Well, I have that technical background. I was already helping entrepreneurs in building customized WordPress sites, and helping my friends tweak theirs.

I knew about the power that WordPress sites have. About their flexibility, how to find the right plugins, and how to build good looking websites.

As I saw my friend Navid run his Branding Summit in November 2014, it struck me.

I would do a virtual summit on WordPress. That event would help WordPress users get the most out of their websites.

I would interview world-leading experts on bootstrapping beautiful WordPress sites, getting more traffic, building online businesses using WordPress, conversion optimization, and all the other fun topics.

„That should be fun, and could help scale my online business“ I thought to myself.

Boy, I had no idea where the WP Summit would lead to.

I defined three major goals for the WP Summit:

  1. Grow my email list from ~180 to 1,000+ subscribers
  2. Position myself as WordPress expert and draw attention to my person
  3. Make enough money to pay the bills

Planning A Summit On WordPress

I dabbled around with the idea to run the WP Summit for a few weeks, before I actually took action.

I joined Virtual Summit Mastery and since we’re close friends Navid started mentoring me.

We laid out the wish list of speakers I wanted to interview and put names on it like:

  • Jason Cohen, founder of WP Engine
  • Dan Norris, co-founder of WP Curve
  • Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz
  • Chris Ducker, the Virtual CEO
  • Oli Gardner, co-founder of Unbounce
  • and others I thought I’d never get to join the summit

As I lined out the topics that were interesting to the target audience of online entrepreneurs using WordPress, it became clear that I’d need a number of world-class experts to cover them all.

Quick side-note: I got the speakers on this graphic to join the WP Summit:

All speakers of the WP Summit

Especially since I didn’t have money to pay the speakers, nor wanted to give them access to the email addresses of the attendees, I was in doubt that I could pull it off.

The Landing Page That Made It Happen

When launching a new campaign to either launch a product or capture leads, online marketers use landing pages.

Landing pages only have a single purpose, most often they either drive sales or generate leads by collecting email addresses.

The respective WordPress themes make building landing pages extremely easy and straightforward, you can basically build a landing page in no time.

Before I reached out to the first speaker, I built a landing page. And I’m convinced that this single landing page was the reason why I got so many great speakers join the WP Summit.

The website for the WP Summit was built using The Ken from Artbees (theme review comes soon!).

I displayed the topics I wanted the summit to cover on the landing page before I had a single speaker confirmed. The goal was to proof that I’m serious about this event, and that I want it to have a global impact.

The design of your website matters. It’s what convinces your visitors to stay or leave.

When chatting with Dan Norris I could show him the landing page and thus explain how big I wanted that event to be. Because he’s a great guy, he almost immediately agreed.

I had a similar strategy with Rand Fishkin from Moz.

To get in touch with him, I reached out to him on Twitter. We haven’t been in touch before, so all I wrote was:

He replied within a matter of hours and sent me his email address, so that his assistant could schedule a date for the interview.

I personally think the tweet worked out of two reasons:

  1. I showed him that I’m following his journey, and I indeed saw his amazing interview at the Branding Summit.
  2. I only sent the link to the landing page of the WP Summit. It was up to him to spend a few more minutes checking it out. I didn’t take up much time from him, which these busy people are extremely grateful for.

That’s basically how I got most of the speakers on my wish list to join the WP Summit. There were a few who declined for time reasons, but agreed to join the next event with more time ahead.

I learned a really powerful lesson here that I’d like to share with you:

The professional design of a WordPress site is crucial for how it’s perceived by others.

This might be obvious, yet I see so many WordPress sites using free themes that just look ugly and will never create at least a little bit of trust with their audiences.

If you’re using WordPress to build a sustainable relationship with other people, to make money online, or to build your own reputation, you definitely should invest in a premium theme.

For beginners who don’t know much about design, going with any theme using Genesis will be a good idea.

As Dan Norris said in his interview for the WP Summit:

If you’re not a designer, go with a premium theme that already looks good and don’t touch it. Chances are you’ll turn something that looks beautiful into something that looks ugly.

Recording The Interviews

Now that I got the speakers I wanted and dreamed of on the WP Summit, it was time to schedule recording the interviews.

Basically there are two ways to run virtual summits: live or pre-recorded.

I chose pre-recorded, because it was my first summit and I was sure that doing live interviews was at least one level above my skill set and experience.

And that turned out to just be the case. I never thought that simply recording interviews isn’t that simple.

I planned to record them with Skype, using eCamm Call Recorder on my MacBook Pro (Pamela is a Windows alternative).

As it turned out, Skype isn’t as reliable as I thought. The connection broke up several times during the interviews with Dan Norris, Rand Fishkin, and Oli Gardner.

The weather is another big factor when recording interviews. When I recorded the interview with Oli Gardner, there was a storm going over Germany, which seemed to confuse and scare him a bit 🙂

Of course this happened only with the big names, but luckily they were nice enough to tolerate these issues and didn’t call it my fault.

Francesca Alexander and I couldn’t even establish a connection good enough to record a video call, which is why we went audio-only in the end.

As it turned out, there are always unexpected things happening. And those things happen regardless of how experienced you are, you just have to deal with it.

However, the most important lesson when it comes to actually doing the interviews was to get started!

Whatever goal you have, ask yourself what you can do today to get closer towards that goal.

Did I have a 1080p web cam? No.

Did I have professional lighting? No.

Was I looking good on the interviews? Not always, especially not when recording them at 5:30am or late at night.

Did I have the fastest Internet in the world? No, but I have 100MB/s downstream now 🙂

Did I give a f*ck? No.

I knew I wasn’t in the ideal position to record the interviews, but I also knew that I’ll never be in the ideal position. Even now in the new home office it doesn’t feel ideal.

By the way, if you want to see a short video tour of that home office, leave a comment below and I’ll record a video for you.

Promotion Strategies For The WP Summit

Traffic is what lets websites come to live, that’s as true for plain HTML sites as it is for WordPress sites.

Normally I’d use a plugin like YoaST SEO and rely on search engine optimization to drive organic traffic to my WordPress sites.

However, the timeframe for the WP Summit launch was 3 months - and I roughly had 4 weeks for the promotion.

Note: I f*cked up the promotion as some bad things in my family happened during that time. The WP Summit still performed pretty well.

In theory I planned two major traffic sources for the WP Summit:

  1. Traffic from social networks
  2. Speaker promotion

Generating Traffic From Social Networks

As soon as I had the landing page up and running I put an optin form from Mailchimp on it to capture email addresses.

The list didn’t grow a lot in January and February, but the closer the WP Summit came, the more subscribers I got.

I started talking about the WP Summit on Facebook and Twitter, and got more and more people involved. By joining WordPress related Facebook groups I built valuable connections to influencers who shared the summit with their followers.

Most of those people I’m still in touch with, and in fact I even started my own free Facebook group for WordPress users. You can join it here if you’re interested.

It turned out that the discussion on Facebook created its own dynamic. People started spreading the word about the WP Summit and in the end Facebook was one of the major traffic sources for the complete event, besides the email list I was building with free attendees.

Speaker Promotion

Normally it’s crucial to have the speakers promote their interviews at your summit. They usually have an engaged audience that will love hearing them speak for free.

So to get them to share the WP Summit I created promotional graphics using Canva and sent them promotional email templates (thank you Liston for your help!).

In an ideal world I’d have a promotional schedule, telling them the exact dates when to promote the WP Summit to their audience. And that promotion would drive traffic to the summit and help me build the list of free attendees.

But as you know, our world isn’t ideal.

Life decided to rise some roadblocks for me, which forced me to delay the launch of the summit for two weeks. I didn’t have enough time and resources to work on the promotional schedule for the speakers, to make it as easy as possible for them to promote the WP Summit.

Long story short, the speaker promotion was far from ideal.

Yet I appreciate that some speakers really went above and beyond in helping me spread the word about the WP Summit!

Cloudways, Filament, Blogvault, WP Engine, and many others wrote blog posts about the WP Summit and even the really big names like Dan Norris, Tony Perez, or Oli Gardner shared it on social media.

So I got a reasonable amount of traffic from speaker promotion, but it could have been more if I would have done the preparation properly. Considering the circumstances to that time I’m pretty satisfied with the results though.

Configuring WordPress To Run A Virtual Summit

Now, of course I ran the WP Summit on a WordPress site. I’m eating my own dog food.

Before I get into the theme configuration and plugins that I used, I’d like to share a quote of Jason Cohen’s interview on the WP Summit:

No business became successful because they used a certain plugin or theme. Decide, and go on. - Jason Cohen

Too many WordPress users obsess with choosing plugins and themes, whereas it’s truly their content and their website strategy that matter.

Yes, a professional look and feel is important.

Yes, you’ll want to make sure your WordPress is optimized for speed, SEO, conversions, and security - which most often is done with plugins.

But please don’t spend days or even weeks deciding on a theme or plugin. Pick something that’s good enough and go with it!

The Site Structure Of The WP Summit

Alright, now that the preaching is done, let me share the site structure I used for the WP Summit.

I have three different areas on that page:

  • The landing pages and sales pages
  • The public interviews
  • The membership area

As stated earlier, I used a theme called The Ken. You can find it on Themeforest, it is created by Artless.

I’m using that theme for a few months now, because it’s extremely flexible and well styled. It comes with a plugin called Visual Composer, which allows you to virtually create any layout you want on a page - without knowing how to code.

What you need though is a basic understanding of design principles, or at least a good feeling for good web design.

If you don’t have that, I highly recommend checking out the themes of StudioPress.

Creating the landing pages is pretty forward if you know the basic rules. Oli Gardner, one of the speakers of the WP Summit has created an awesome free landing page course that I highly recommend.

The Membership Area And Daily Interviews

The WP Summit is structured like a course. Over the timeframe of 10 days I was publishing interviews daily, grouped by topic.

Each interview was available for free for 48 hours, so that people all around the world could access them at their convenience.

Those who wanted lifetime access to all interviews and grab some bonuses could get their WP Summit All Access Pass, which is still available (speaking of residual income).

So I set up a membership area using Wishlist Member.

Wishlist allowed me to protect interviews to be accessed by All Access Pass owners only.

All I had to do was to create a membership level for the premium members and assign the interview pages to that level. I also created a dashboard from which the All Access Pass owners could easily access the interviews and bonuses.

For the payment provider I chose 1Shoppingcart, as they gave me total control over my affiliate program for the WP Summit.

I configured 1Shoppingcart with the help of their support to integrate with my WordPress site, specifically to Wishlist Member. They were very helpful, also in connecting PayPal to 1Shoppingcart.

The sales process now works as follows:

  1. A person, let’s call her Mary, decides to buy the All Access Pass to get lifetime access to all 28 expert-interviews at the WP Summit.
  2. She clicks on the button to buy the All Access Pass and gets redirected to the checkout page at 1Shoppingcart.
  3. On the checkout page Mary enters her details and then confirms the purchase.
  4. 1Shoppingcart redirects her to Paypal to finish the payment.
  5. After the payment is done, 1Shoppingcart redirects Mary to the WP Summit website, so that she can create her premium member account, to access the interviews immediately.

Hosting Videos On WordPress

As the WP Summit is based on video interviews, video hosting on WordPress was a major topic for me.

Hosting the videos on Youtube wasn't an option for the WP Summit, as unlisted videos can still be added to public playlists.

First I purchased an account with Wistia. The weekend before the WP Summit was about to start, I realized that the summit got so many attendees, that it would burst the monthly bandwidth limitation of Wistia on day 1.

I got in touch with their support and calculated that I’d have to pay an estimated amount of $300 for the bandwidth I was about to consume.

That forced me to switch the video hosting at last chance. I purchased a Vimeo Pro account on Friday, March 13th, 3 days before the summit started.

Since I had a very slow Internet connection (I could upload two videos over night), I asked a good friend to download all the interviews from Wistia and upload them to Vimeo over the weekend, which luckily turned out well.

At the end of the WP Summit I see roughly 15,000 video loads for the interviews, which easily exceeds even my bandwidth estimation. So it was a good decision to move to Vimeo.

Integrating videos into WordPress works basically the same for all the big platforms like Youtube, Wistia, or Vimeo.

You generate HTML code, the embed code, which you paste into the WordPress editor. Often there are plugins which automatically generate that code for you if you just paste a link to the video.

Please note that it’s rarely a good idea to host a video on your own web server, if you expect it to get a reasonable amount of traffic. Doing so will do nothing but cause the video to load slowly and slow down your website.

Now you know how I prepared the WP Summit, what went into the planning, and how much backend work I had to do to make it happen.

If I got you interested in the WP Summit, you can still join it and get the three most popular interviews with Dan Norris, Alex Harris, and Tim Paige.

All you need to do is to subscribe on the WP Summit website.

In the next post I’ll share the impact the WP Summit had on my business, some interesting statistics about the traffic, and how the sponsors helped me grow the WP Summit.

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