Pros and cons of running a webinar for your accountancy firm

Following on from last week’s tip about running webinars, today we’re going to look at the pros and cons surrounding the webinar concept in general.

Marketing Tips: Pros and Cons of Running Webinars

Pros of running a webinar

Pro #1: Saves you time.

No travel required. Delivering a live, in-person event is a massive investment of time. Setting aside all the preparation and admin, even just showing up could require a full day if you count the travel time to get there, the seminar itself, chat with attendees afterwards, the travel time back to the office, and then trying to get your brain back in gear once the event is over.

Similarly, from your attendees’ perspective, they merely have to shut down one window on their computer and open another, attend your webinar, and then go back to what they were doing.

Once you’ve done it a few times, very little prep needed. For full disclosure, your first webinar will take a lot of time from you. (See the ‘cons’ below.) But once you’ve done one webinar, the second one will cut that time in half; the third will cut it in half again; and by the fourth webinar you’ll be logging in 15 minutes beforehand and winging it like a pro.

Using the same webinar system helps: I’ve been using Gotowebinar for over 8 years, and I’ve never had a complaint about their product. It works, encourages engagement, provides good reporting, and can even be linked to your CRM system. The consistency of using the same system week in and week out will streamline your processes in a powerful way.

Tend to be shorter (30 min to 1 hour). As mentioned I’ve been running webinars for a long time, and I’ve tried every possible combination of webinar length – 30 minutes, one hour, two hours, even 20 minutes. The resounding favourite for introductory or free webinars is still the one hour webinar – particularly for professional service arena. Even an hour goes by extremely swiftly – and 30 minutes barely gives you enough time to log in, introduce, explain how the system works (for attendees who’ve never used it before), share a few points, and then answer questions.

As mentioned this relates to introductory, education, or showcase webinars (in which you’re presenting your expertise in a particular area). If you’re doing a series of training webinars, or even a paid-for session with a small group of people, things would be a little different. You might want to run a series of 10 short webinars, or hold longer sessions with 3-5 people who interact and engage. It’s all about the audience.

Pro #2: Saves you money.

No venue booking. You don’t have to spend hours online or even driving round to venues to choose something that fits your business and event needs. No deposit, no food costs, no tea and coffee costs, nothing. The only thing you need to pay for is the webinar service itself – and that’s the princely sum of about US$100/month. (If you use our assisted webinar service, we can even set up the first webinar or two on our own system, if you’re not sure you need your own.)

If one person shows up it’s still worth it. I’ve run webinars in the past that had 3 registrants, and no one showed up. My traditional practice in that case is to simply start the webinar, anyway, just in case someone shows up late. This happened to me a few months back – I was delivering a webinar with another organisation and for various reasons that particular date or time or topic didn’t suit, or the marketing didn’t go out, or whatever happened and the numbers were low. (The same topic had over 50 attendees a few weeks later.) I started the webinar presenting to absolutely nobody, and within 10 minutes one person appeared. I kept on as though I was presenting to a group, asking for feedback and answering questions, and afterwards I connected with the one attendee by email, and we’re in conversations with them now about outsourced marketing. If no one had shown up after 10 or 15 minutes, I would have stopped talking, turned it off, and gone on with my day. No big loss.

Pro #3: Flexible.

If no one shows up you’ve lost nothing. It doesn’t happen often, but once or twice I’ve been a webinar presenter for a webinar on which no one showed up. Most of the time you can tell in advance – if registration numbers are low, you can simply email the 2 or 3 registrants and say ‘We’ve had to change the date, hope this is okay?’ – or, of course, just run it anyway as I mentioned above. But if you do all that effort and no one appears, just try again another time. All your prep has not gone to waste.

Depending on your audience, you can change content and comments. Every single webinar I run is different – even when it’s on a topic I’ve presented on multiple times. Currently I’m running our ’27 content ideas for accountancy firms’ webinar on behalf of Xero University. I’ve delivered it 6 or 7 times already, and there are 4 more scheduled this year. The general gist is the same, of course, but depending on who’s there, how many attendees there are, what questions they have, and what type of Xero partners they are, the whole webinar can change quite a lot. One time we had so many good questions that I spent 50 minutes on the first 7 ideas, and had to rush through the last 20 very swiftly. No one seemed to mind too much – out of 40 people only one mentioned they would have liked some more time on the last 20 items, so we sent them a link to a previous webinar recording in which those were covered in more detail. Job done.

Pro #4: Expands your reach.

Go beyond your local area – maybe even global reach. When you deliver a webinar, anyone is welcome to attend even if they’re in the far-flung reaches of the frozen north (as long as their wi-fi is working). You may find that someone who is a four-hour drive away (or even in another country altogether) likes the fact that you can work virtually, and is happy to engage with you in this way.

This is particularly relevant to accountants just now. Get it into your head that the geographical question is not as important as you may think it is. There are still some people who prefer their accountant to be round the corner – but the more modern, younger, cloud-based business owners don’t care as much. We at the Profitable Firm recently switched from a local accountant to a Xero accountant who specialises in digital creative agencies. The local accountant is literally round the corner; our new accountants at My Accountancy Place are a four hour drive away. I can tell you right now that the physical location didn’t matter to me at all. As long as they can engage with us virtually and meet in person quarterly and work on the same time zone, I don’t care if they are located in the south side of France. (Actually, that might be a big positive: board meetings on the veranda with wine!) I’m also super excited about the Digital Creative round table events that they run every few months. It’s more about your specialities and your niche areas than about your location: and running webinars may help you become aware of that.

Variety of registrants. One of our clients ran a Xero webinar but only sent out the invite to a certain group of their clients and contacts. There was an entire segment they left out because ‘it’s not applicable to them’, they thought. To their surprise, people saw it on their website and social media and started registering – so they realised very quickly that they had misjudged that particular segment, and made changes for the next marketing efforts!

Pro #5: Qualifies your leads.

The best part about running a webinar is that your leads qualify themselves. You share the webinar topic and market it (or get someone to help you with it), but they are the ones who decide how interested they are. As a general rule:

  • People who register are interested in that topic
  • People who attend are really interested
  • People who engage with you on the webinar are more than interested
  • Those who respond to your follow up are hot leads
  • Those who initiate contact with you are the hottest leads

My favourite part after running a webinar is opening my inbox and seeing an email from an attendee that says ‘Thanks for that, it was really useful. Can we talk to you about [fill in name of service]?’ I signed a new client the other day who had attended one of our webinars, and the first time I spoke to him was for his two-hour content marketing strategy call. We spent about a minute saying hello and it’s nice to virtually meet, and we sailed right in to their niche areas and marketing efforts and plans for the business. Focused, targeted, and effective.

Cons of running a webinar

Okay, now let’s move on to the cons – because there are some. I’m still going to put a positive spin on them, because I know how powerful webinars are for accountancy firms, but it’s only fair that you know these up front. Just do me a favour and stay positive – don’t use these as an excuse to put it on the back burner! That gets you nowhere.

Con #1: You’re missing the personal connection.

You can’t evaluate body language, engagement levels, eye contact. Most people running a webinar for the first time find this difficult to adjust to – you feel like you’re speaking into nothing, and no one is listening.

Ways to mitigate this are:

  • Use polls, surveys, questions, and chat throughout the webinar to increase engagement
  • Share your webcam so people can see you (with Gotowebinar, you appear in a little video box at the top of the screen, along with your presentation slides)
  • Engage with your audience in a way that presumes they are interested. Regularly ask questions, use attendee names, be real and be yourself. This is not a lecture.
  • Don’t panic. If no one is typing in questions or commenting, that doesn’t mean they’re bored or disengaged. Most of the time they’re just listening.

Con #2: No influence over audience distractions.

Despite your best efforts, a webinar attendee could be sending emails, taking phone calls, pouring a cup of coffee, or anything. You are less in control than in a live event, because your audience gets to decide how engaged they want to be.

The positive elements of this are:

  • You know this ahead of time. You can address it directly at the start of the webinar – asking them to close down any notifications, turn off their phone, take notes, etc. Whether they do or not is up to them, but if you know this tendency you can deal with it up front.
  • You’re only responsible for your element – speaking, making efforts to engage, using the mitigating factors noted above. If despite all this they don’t want to connect with you, that’s on them and not on you.
  • They’re still attending the webinar. Even if they only grasp one or two small points, it’s better than nothing – and best of all, the mere fact that they have registered (and/or attended) shows their interest in the topic, and gives you an opportunity to follow up.

Con #3: It can take a LOT of preparation.

As mentioned, your first webinar will take far more time and investment than you realise. If you’re thinking, ‘I’ll just run a webinar – it’ll be faster and easier than doing a live event’ – that won’t necessarily be the case the first time round. Some of the elements you should be aware of are:

  • Admin: Each webinar takes a minimum of 4-5 hours of admin to set it up, test audio and video, run a practice session, show up early, download reports, etc
  • Presentation skills: The better your presenting skills, the more engagement and the better results you’ll get. You may want to take some training courses, attend more webinars to learn from others, get someone in for coaching.
  • Marketing: It’s not just a matter of setting up a registration link – you need content for the webinar summary, the email invitations, the follow up emails, the call to action that you’re offering before or during the webinar, polls, surveys, social media posting, and more. Once you’ve got the content you then need to make sure it’s shared to your audiences.
  • Lead generation: If you don’t have at least 500 contacts on your database, you’ll also need to spend time (or money) to build that database so you have people to invite.
  • Follow up: Once the webinar is done, you’re just getting started. Someone should contact the particularly hot leads, probably you, and you may need a phone call or meeting with them. This can be the fun part, but it may take you a while to determine which are the hot leads and which are just the people who like free stuff!

Now that I’ve potentially put you off webinars entirely, there’s good news. We have an assisted webinar delivery service where we can do everything listed above with the exception of the one-on-one follow up. (We’ll still sort out the automated follow up, but the personal touch is down to you.)

Con#4. It’s up to them to come to you if they want to take action.

Actually, is this really a ‘con’? One of the things I love the most about online marketing is that it’s an ‘inbound’ marketing process.

This means that your prospects are coming to you when they’re ready. You’re simply sharing good content, ideas, expertise, training, support …and when the timing is right, they will contact you in some way. Over time, the more content and systems you have in place, you’ll find that this happens naturally, and you don’t even know where your leads are coming from (and neither do they, because they’ve engaged with you on multiple platforms). They could sit on your email list for three years and suddenly one day they open an email from you, attend a webinar, the topic is relevant to their current need, they get in touch – and hey presto! You have a new client.

I trust this has encouraged you about the power of webinars. If you’re ready to deliver one, check out last week’s tip on preparation for a webinar!