Early bird discounts can make the difference between your event being a raging success or an expensive failure.
Used skillfully, they halve the stress of running an event, make organising far easier, and enable people to save money while making your event more profitable.
Why they work
I’m not a fan of discounting in marketing as it coaches your community to expect a discount and to never pay full price. Inadvertently, frequent discounting may position your business as insecure, unconfident or unethical, even if that’s not true.
However, early bird discounting is different. The business offers a discount for people who sign up and pay early, before an event. Money that would be in clients’ bank accounts is now in your account, as the business owner, and clients are offered an incentive to commit early, in the form of a discount.
Both parties win – the client has saved some money by committing early, and the business owner knows early whether or not an event will be viable, plus they have the funds to outlay for the many expenses involved in running an event.
The most common mistake with early bird discounting is not making the discount sufficiently generous to be attractive (and utilised). Think about offering a 20 per cent to 40 per cent discount off the full price. The higher the discount, the earlier out from the event it should expire.
The second most common mistake is not promoting the early bird price expiry enough. If you want this to work, you need to ensure that you’re putting all your marketing grunt behind it.
Third, take your expiry date seriously. Be firm with people who ask for the early bird price after it’s expired.
Give yourself a buffer
Events are expensive to run and it’s an embarrassing secret among business owners that they’re oftentimes run at a loss. Time and again, costs are not fully understood until after the event, a budget (if one exists) is vague and, consequently, business owners don’t know what their break-even point is, and when they need to cancel the event.
Create yourself a buffer by ensuring that whatever deposit or full payment that your venue requires is due after the early bird expires. This allows some time for you to calculate and assess whether you have made enough sales to break even, or whether you need to cancel the event. You will, hopefully, go on to sell more places to make more profit beyond the early bird expiring.
One final word on this: your early bird discount price needs to make you money. You should not be getting to your minimum numbers who are paying the early bird price, at the early bird date cut-off, and be in the red. Take some time to figure out your real costs and to ensure your pricing (early bird and full price) is robust enough to ensure a healthy profit.
Bringing your marketing forward
Close to the event, there’ll be a thousand things to keep you busy, so do yourself a favour – lessen your stress by avoiding last-minute, panicked marketing and concentrate 90 per cent of your marketing efforts and funds towards promoting the expiry of the early bird special.
In the week before your early bird expires, you want to email your list at least once if not more, follow up with all people who’ve registered or expressed interest but not yet paid, and keep up the buzz on your social media channels and double-down on your Facebook ads.
Any telephone calls you plan on making to share your event with people should be in this week leading up to the early bird expiring. Make sure your sales page is as good as possible, with the early bird pricing discount clear and obvious.
For those who are coming, send them a quick, excited note reminding them of the early bird price expiry and asking them to extend this to their family and friends. People who have already demonstrated that they’re keen are your best ambassadors to refer you to others.
The result? Your event is financially viable well before it actually takes place, you can relax with your marketing a little and not have to worry about losing money, and your tribe feels like you’ve made some effort to inform them of how they may save money.
Pricing for profitability
Your budget should be worked out on your early bird price so that you are making enough profit on your event even if 100 per cent of participants paid the early bird price. Your full price will, of course, have a higher profit margin. However, you’ve given your tribe plenty of notice to appreciate that they have a limited time to take advantage of the discounted price.
Another option, particularly relevant for large events of 80 tickets or more, is to have tiered pricing whereby there are three or four different prices which are available for different periods. The closer towards the event, the more people have to pay.
The cost of commitment
One of the biggest reasons why I’m a fan of early bird pricing is that it encourages commitment. A lack of commitment and a preference for keeping our options open is what sends so many small businesses broke.
Most people want things to be as convenient as possible. If given the choice, they will likely choose convenience over commitment ever time. For the business owner, this friction point is never ending.
It’s our obligation, as business owners, to continually educate clients and prospects on the necessity of committing to the process (and our business) if they are to realise the results and transformation they seek. In the case of the health industry, this is even more so the case. Convenience and freedom for clients of health services means sporadic exercise, on-again-off-again healthy eating and bad habits. In other words, convenience is making us sick.
With the best intentions, our clients and prospects express that they’d like to come to our retreat, course or event. And then they umm and ahh doing the dull dance of keeping their options open. They get busy, they overlook it, they forget. Your event runs at a loss. Nothing is gained.
Early bird discounts give people the option to not only save some money but to commit to doing something that they want to do, and know is good for them. Good for them, good for you, good for business.