Read this first, if you’re about to launch a course, membership, program, digital product, or new service package.

Some (tired, cynical) owners may suggest that online launching is saturated. Another take: the market is now sophisticated – which isn’t a bad thing! Selling online offerings through ordinary launch events used to be easy (or at least, easier).

Nowadays, people know better.

We have choice. We have competitors. We have lost our naïve enthusiasm (though hopefully, not our enthusiasm).

We’re far less likely to purchase because of marketing razzle dazzle and far more likely to do our due diligence – all good trends for ethical, conscientious business owners like you and me.

Launching is more than just a one-time open-cart/close-cart event – it’s a fantastic opportunity to raise visibility, grow your email list, capture attention and increase your sales. And not just for the offering that you’re launching, since more eyeballs overall tend to bring more sales across your business offerings.

From immersive virtual reality experiences to gamified challenges and influencer collaborations, launch events create buzz, foster community engagement, and ultimately, drive conversions. Whether it’s leveraging the power of live streaming or incorporating interactive elements, the key is to craft a memorable and impactful experience that resonates with your ideal client group.

In this article, we’ll explore the latest trends in virtual launch events for online businesses, the pros and cons of each, and where it may make sense for you.

Remember, there are no rules. You can combine your creativity with strategic execution, to ensure that your launch events are not only profitable, but also fun for you to run.

Free challenges

My Life’s a Pitch! challenge ran in February and was a lot of high vibes and fun, as well as being highly profitable. Eighty per cent of people who joined my Hustle & Heart program afterwards, had gone through the challenge in February, which just goes to show that you can convert people from free, to premium-priced.

Challenges can be awesome because they involve DOING, not just learning. A highly effective challenge focuses on a defined goal or outcome, with practical training given towards that end.

A free challenge can lead neatly into a successful launch because you’ve already demonstrated your results for participants, and at no cost to them. So it’s easy for participants to see how paying to work with you would bring an even higher return for their efforts.

Some key trends in free challenges that make a lot of sense:

  • A small paid upgrade ($10-$97 works well) offered after people register for free enables the owner to neutralise the cost/risk of running the challenge AND giving serious participants massive extra value at a small price. For the second time in our Life’s a Pitch! challenge, I offered a $55 Mentoring Circle across the five days of the challenge. This worked really well, even better than last time, and will be continued.
  • How can you make your challenge as binge-worthy, fun, and potentially viral as possible? Gamify, baby! Everyone loves winning prizes, yes?
  • Surprise and delight: give more than participants are expecting. Within the theme of the challenge, could you introduce surprise expert guests, bonus downloadable resources to complement what you’re teaching, or other delightful surprises?

Pros of free challenges

Building your credibility: When you sell services, you sell promises, so you need to demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about by giving away your expertise online. Free challenges enable you to share generously for a defined outcome. It builds a lot of authority, credibility and engenders trust with your audience. I fondly remember participating in another coach’s ‘$10K in 10 days’ challenge and how satisfying it was to exceed this goal!

Energy and momentum: The vibe and energy created when a group of people come together online, around a shared purpose or outcome is not to be underestimated. Courage is contagious. The momentum created is precious for all involved, including the organiser.

Teaching and training: If you’re a teacher or trainer, a free challenge is likely your style because you get to show off your teaching chops, get outcomes for participants, and (depending on the length of the challenge) give feedback or further insights on their results.

Lead Generation: A free challenge allows you to capture the contact information of interested individuals, providing you with a valuable list of leads to nurture and potentially convert into paying customers.

Cons of free challenges

Your time and energy: Running a challenge is not for low-energy, quiet owners. It requires significant time, effort and energy to provoke and inspire engagement in your challenge. It also requires time and energy from participants. The longer the challenge, the harder it is to get people to engage.

Low engagement is not your fault, but it is your problem: Low or no engagement in business is oftentimes not the owner’s fault, but it becomes the owner’s problem. For example, if I repeatedly register for free challenge or other free online goodies, but fail to engage with them, not only do I NOT receive the benefits, but I may begin to resent the online business world and blame those who I perceive responsible – online business owners. So it becomes our problem when people DON’T engage with your free challenge, don’t receive the benefits, and become more cynical, sceptical and disengaged.

(Makes no sense? Welcome to human-ing.)

Live webinars

Live webinars were the original launch event in the ‘olden days’ of online business. The business owner teaches something useful, valuable, and – most importantly – relevant to the audience, demonstrating their expertise, style and approach, on a topic designed to lead neatly into the launch.

Then online marketers ruined everything (as we do).

Trust was eroded through fake ‘live’ (actually pre-recorded) webinars with fake countdown timers, and even fake comments by dummy ‘participants’. Combine that with over-the-top messaging pressuring people to turn up live (or risk being an idiot) and you have a decline of this launch tactic.

But all is not lost! Webinars can still work wonderfully, when done well.

Some key trends in live webinars that make a lot of sense:

  • Does it need to be an hour? Absolutely not. Could you do it in 40 minutes? Or 20 minutes?
  • Do you need to pressure people into turning up live? Absolutely not. In fact, this can put people off.
  • The topic of the webinar counts for 98% of its success (that is a made-up statistic). Be original! Be memorable. Be specific – specific is genius. Get obsessed by your ideal client group and hone in on a topic that sits neatly in the middle of what they’re obsessed by and what you’re selling (hint: they’re likely NOT obsessed by what you’re selling).
  • To state the bleeding obvious – because common sense isn’t common – don’t lie, don’t mislead. If it’s not live, don’t pretend it is. If you plan to run the same webinar next month, don’t pretend it’s a one-off event.

Pros of live webinars

Engagement: One of the key strengths of live webinars is interactivity, enabling the owner to create engagement, rapport and trust. If you’re genuinely interested in others, good at thinking on your feet and love surprises, then you’ll have an advantage here.

Lead generation: Ads to webinars tend to be higher than other things such as downloadable lead magnets or even ‘on demand’ free video training. But if you’ve got a good grasp of your key metrics, then you can still make PPC ads to live webinars profitable. Make sure you have a follow-up email sequence and don’t abandon your new subscribers, or just add them to your regular emailing.

Live sales excitement: There’s no better rush than sales coming in while the live webinar is still happening (and no you don’t need huge numbers for this to occur, but you do need to have warmed people up beforehand). The sense of urgency and exclusivity can motivate attendees to purchase quickly.

Cons of live webinars

Technical challenges: While I’m a huge fan of simplifying tech and not using more than necessary, live webinars aren’t for those uncomfortable with tech or the inevitable glitches that occur. You need strong internet connection and either a tech VA or a solid ability to troubleshoot (yes, oftentimes in front of your participants) without letting setbacks steal your thunder.

Selling one-to-many: If you’ve never ‘sold from stage’ before, it’s a wild ride! It’s best to seek out more low-stakes opportunities to practise this BEFORE you’re in front of people (who you may have paid/advertised to, to be there). If talking sales and money makes you break out in a cold sweat, this is likely NOT the launch tactic for you (or rather, not right now).

Time and time zone constraints: In an increasingly global world where time is a luxury, the time required to turn up for a live webinar, at a convenient time, in your particular time zone, makes less sense than when quality online learning was far less common. It’s increasingly typical for participants to sign up for a live webinar to “catch” the recording, or to attend a live webinar while driving, eating, or otherwise multitasking. Yes, we know multitasking isn’t ideal, but it’s a bit daft to shame participants for doing this.

Virtual summits

A virtual summit is similar to a conference, involving one or more hosts, and a variety of speakers, focusing on a topic or industry. Virtual summits can be huge, involving dozens of speakers and workshop presenters, run over several days, and featuring internet famous leaders. But they can also be intimate, very niche, and run without fanfare, with minimal tech.

Some key trends in virtual summits that make a lot of sense:

  • Audio-only virtual summits – what’s not to love? Unless you’re doing a technical demonstration, you likely don’t need slides, and participants often appreciate the accessibility and ease of a private podcast for your virtual summit.
  • Highly niche summits to hone in on your ideal client group, and find your weirdos/people.
  • Live Q&A in closed groups, to follow immediately after your (typically pre-recorded) training is released.

Pros of virtual summits

Collaboration and cross-pollination: By virtue of featuring multiple speakers or experts, virtual summits facilitate collaboration and cross-promotion, enabling you to borrow each other’s audiences in order to grow your own. If you’re super strategic and thoughtful, this is a great opportunity to introduce yourself to online business owners you’ve been admiring for some time, and invite them to present.

Low cost lead generation: Virtual speakers can help you generate a large volume of new leads for a low cost (or no cost if you’re a contributing speaker, and not a summit organiser).

Content rich and recycling: The recorded sessions from a virtual summit can be repurposed as evergreen content, extending the value and potential for lead generation, as well as marketing fodder, long after the event.

Cons of virtual summits

Tech and project management: Virtual summits aren’t for owners who aren’t strong with tech. You’ve got a lot of moving parts to organising a virtual summit, requiring significant project management, more communication than you likely appreciate, and solid tech skills, if you’re to pull this off without a mental breakdown.

Participant overwhelm: Virtual summits can easily overwhelm participants who don’t have strong digital boundaries and systems to manage and participate properly. As discussed already, this may not be your fault, but it becomes your problem because overwhelmed people don’t buy (and when they do, they don’t make the best clients).

Virtual summits can be fantastic as a long lead-in to your launch, rather than a launch event proper, which means you could run a virtual summit eight weeks out from your open cart, to increase your leads, visibility and reach, and use other launch events closer to open cart and close cart.

Other notable trends in launch events

Other notable trends in launching include audio-only events, such as an audio-only summit, a free challenge delivered via private podcast, Telegram, WhatsApp or Voxer. Audio events, typically run through private podcast technology, has an intimacy and simplicity which is hugely attractive, while making it easier for participants to engage and, as a result, benefit.

Selling through video is on the up-and-up, but not the glossy, professional sales videos you’ve likely seen. Deliberately casual, non-polished and mobile phone-filmed sales videos can be a great supplement to a long sales page and is part of the trend towards authenticity in business and marketing.

In the age of information, and as digital marketing reaches maturity, it’s easy to lose people in the rush of a launch. So the trend towards one-to-one reach-outs makes a lot of sense.

Whether through video, email or social media, one-to-one reach-outs to people who you either know already, or who are actively engaging in your launch, is a great way to show people that you actually recognise them and are genuinely interested to see if you’d make a good match to work together. No, it’s not “bothering people”, it’s showing them that they aren’t an email address, but a real human who you’re forging a relationship with.

Layering multiple launch events can help build momentum, grow your list, and ultimately, increase your conversions. Think: a virtual summit 6 weeks before open cart, a free challenge (with paid upsell) two weeks before open cart, a series of IGTVs after the challenge, a live webinar on the day of open cart, a live ‘Ask me anything’ three days before close cart.

Yes, I appreciate that this sounds like a lot of work. But if you’re great at planning, and consider how each event would build on the last, creating a series of waves into a crescendo, this could be a lot of fun. And, for course, you want to create adequate buffer for rest and rejuvenation throughout (don’t wait for the end! Sprinkle fun excursions for yourself, throughout).

There are no rules in business (except to exchange cash for value). Everything else is up to you. Any launch event can work when you consider it strategically as well as energetically, and ensure that it suit your strengths, hindrances, and preferences.

I have run launches that have netted me $20,000 or $50,000 without a single launch event (selling through email, with some social media posts), and I have run launch events that have made only a tiny difference to my launch, so don’t feel these are essential to having a successful launch.

But if you take the attitude that everything which raises your reach and visibility is ultimately beneficial, then launch events can be hugely fun, social, and profitable to boot.