Webinars—seminars or presentations that take place online—are an increasingly popular tool for many businesses. Webinars allow for businesses to share information and expertise and even demonstrate products or offer live tutorials to clients and customers, no matter where they are or what time zone they are in. As the technology continues to improve, businesses can offer live Q and A sessions, polls, video conferencing, screen sharing and more. As such, webinars can be incredibly useful tools in helping small businesses grow.Never hosted a webinar before? Here are a few tips to help you get started…

Start by setting a goal.
Get your team together and discuss why you’d like to host a webinar and what you hope you will achieve. What’s your call to action? Whether it’s new business, thought leadership, webinar experience or some other aspiration, declaring a goal and defining actionable objectives will give your webinar direction and purpose.

Define a target audience.
What audience will you have to reach with your webinar in order to achieve your goals and objectives? How can you find them? What style of messaging will appeal to them? This will help in selecting a topic, developing an effective presentation and marketing your webinar.

Select a topic and a time and date.
Once you’ve decided why you want to host a webinar and what you want to achieve, finalize a topic and a date. First and foremost, the webinar topic should be an area that you are comfortable speaking on at length. If your business has a blog, that’s a great place to start.

Once a topic has been decided upon, get a date in your calendar. This way, you can build a timeline for putting your presentation together and begin marketing efforts early.

Don’t forget about choosing a speaker!
Decide who is going to present your webinar. This person should have a strong phone presence, is comfortable speaking on the chosen topic and someone who is a good representative of your business.

Then, choose a platform.
As popularity in webinars has grown, so too have the options for how to host them. Popular platforms include GoToWebinar®, WebEx®, AnyMeetingSM and Thomson Reuters® and they each have similar functions but serve varied purposes. When choosing a platform, consider the cost of hosting—some are free, while others require subscriptions (both on your end and on the participants’), template creation, live support, automatic recording, text chat, polls and more.

Develop content that’s useful and fun.
Start with an outline and formulate an agenda. Be sure to use images—you don’t want people to just sit there reading your slides instead of listening to what you have to say. Then make sure to practice your presentation and gauge the right length for the time allotted. Budget time for Q&A as well! You may also want to have pre-webinar slides at the beginning to show while attendees arrive.

Spread the word.
Once the topic is decided and the content begins to get fleshed out, start promoting the webinar in order to get registrants. Start early and rev up marketing efforts especially around the two-week mark:

2 weeks before the webinar

  • Promote through social media. Let your social media following know about your webinar. Post an update to TwitterSM, FacebookSM, LinkedInSM, or any other social media site where you are active. Post frequently, too, to ensure the webinar remains in social streams.
  • Promote to your email list. Send a webinar invitation to your in-house email list or an appropriate segment of your leads and customers. Add reminders to e-newsletters and outline what’s to come. Add a link and an incentive like a mouse pad or USB drive to increase registration.
  • Promote on your website and blog. Add a call to action to your webinar landing page in prominent places on your website, like your homepage. Write a blog article or two relevant to the webinar topic and include a call to action to register for the webinar to learn more.
  • Promote through direct mail. Especially if this is your inaugural webinar and you plan on hosting more, make a big deal of it—send a postcard or thump mail with a fun gift, like computer-shaped sticky notes with the webinar title and date scrawled on them or a retractable computer brush as a reminder.

24 hours before the webinar

  • Remind your registrants. Some people will register for your event far in advance and forget that it’s approaching. Be sure to remind them—you can set up a reminder email to send from a system like GotoWebinar—as you near the event, particularly 24 hours before.

Practice makes perfect. Leading up to the webinar, be sure to practice plenty in advance. This will not only help with delivery of your webinar, but ensure you’re comfortable using the tools.

Follow up.
Finally, after you’ve completed your glowing presentation, be sure to follow up with participants. Consider a quick poll to gauge feedback and offer to provide links to the presentation or a recording of the presentation on your website or blog. Then, send the URL to these links via email with a thank-you note within 24-hours of your presentation. For prospects who participated that your business is especially interested in pursuing, consider sending them a good ol’ handwritten note with a token of your appreciation, like a tote bag or cookies and confections treat box. Webinars are a great tool for small businesses—check them out and see for yourself.

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