Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Online Conference Canceled - What Kind of Events Do You Want?

Today I have the sad job of canceling this year's SMB Online Conference.

The reason is very simple: Extremely low attendance. Maybe 100 of you were just about to register and put it off til the last month of registration. But probably not.

As the organizer of the event I am extremely grateful to the people who attended every year for the last five years. I am also extremely grateful to the speakers who gave their time and talent. In fact, it's largely for the speakers that I decided to cancel the event.

I'm thankful that I can get a dozen true community leaders and thinkers together to put on an event. And these people are all true "givers" to the community. But I can't ask them to put out the effort in preparation and presentation for an audience of a couple dozen.

While it's possible that we could have rallied and gotten decent attendance, it would have meant spending thousands more on advertising and dedicating lots of time over the next five weeks. And even that would have no guarantees.

I wrote last week in my newsletter that learning to STOP doing things that aren't working has been my never-ending struggle.

So What's Next ?

There are basically four kinds of events in the SMB IT Pro community. Here's what I see.

1. Vendor events. These include the ConnectWise and Autotask conferences. I'd also throw in LogicNow events, Datto events, etc. These are communities centered around a specific primary product or service.

Most of these events are excellent and provide massive content. But the emphasis in on the vendor.

2. "User Group" events. These are the various SMB IT Pro and former SBS User Groups around the world. These groups are focused on local companies getting together to share knowledge and experience, and on becoming educated together. I would put most peer groups in this category.

These groups have been in decline for the last five years. A few amazing groups remain. But it's becoming harder and harder to get attendees or even vendors to show up.

3. Vendor-Sponsored Events. These include ChannelPro, ASCII, CompTIA, Business Solutions, Channel Partners, etc. These events have some general presentations about how to run a successful business, but the overwhelming emphasis is on putting paid sponsors up on stage to introduce their latest products and services.

This is a growing group of events. In fact, it's positively exploded in the last several years. These events tend to be regional. They tend to be free or cheap. The ratio of vendor content vs. business content is about 80-90%.

Don't get me wrong: I love these events. I attend lots of them. And there's lot of good information. But the focus is squarely on the vendors.

4. Business or MSP Training Events. This category has been shrinking dramatically. As people have wandered off to the vendor-sponsored events, the business-focused events (80-90% or more business vs. vendor information) has declined.

The one event in this category that has grown successfully is Robin Robins' bootcamp. It has a growing vendor presence, but the content is overwhelmingly focused on good business practices and growing your MSP business. Another successful event in this category is Dave Seibert's SMB TechFest.

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I have always focused on the business side. I do some technical training, but for the most part our mission is

To help I.T. Consultants be better at the business side of their business.

Some of this activity is just the evolution of our space. Many small I.T. shops went out of business during the recession. A growing number of larger MSPs are growing by buying up their competition and gobbling up failing companies all over the country.

So the littlest companies are gone and the larger companies are probably sending people to one or two key vendor events.

But I also know from my own mailing list that LOTS of new people are entering this business all the time. They are hungry to learn best practices. Many of them buy lots of books and recorded trainings from my SMB Books web site.

So I know they have money and they're willing to spend it.

Just not on the online conference.

Question: What kind of events do you want? In what format will you consume information to improve your business? And, yes it would need to be a paid event.

I don't apologize for charging. My experience is that 99% of the "free" events are not taken seriously. People throw the information away. They browse Facebook while speakers are talking. They assume it's worth a little more than they paid, but not much.

Please don't misunderstand me: I'm doing just fine. My online sales of books and trainings are going great. Audio book sales are great. Five week classes are great. Pretty much everything except the online conference is doing really well.

And that makes it easy to offer refunds to the people who supported me early on.

I would appreciate your feedback. What's next? How can I help you improve your business and make more money?

Thank you for your support!

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Comments and suggestions welcome.



  1. Anonymous7:33 AM

    What about Peer Group events? Taylor Business Groups, HTG, or Service Leadership Groups. The value in these groups is far beyond the general conference events that you list above. The growth and increase of maturity that the companies engaged in these groups experience is tangible and well documented by Service Leadership. Outside of industry specific - there are also Vistage, EO and C12 groups that provide a similar high value in a local/general business setting. For those companies really looking to go to the next level any of these groups provide a path.

  2. I did mention peer groups.

    I do agree that these groups do amazing things. But they are also specialty organizations that are part of a structure. People who are not members of the peer group cannot attend these events and access the information.


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