Who: Dan R Morris
Blog / Website: Blogging Concentrated
Have you ever thought about offering live, in-person workshops?
Want to grow your online audience, offline?
In this episode, I’m talking to none other than Dan R Morris. Dan is president of Audience Industries, Inc. and a co-host of Blogging Concentrated, a corporate training, education, and resource company that provides training seminars and workshops throughout the U.S. and abroad.
Dan started out developing Walgreens pharmacies, but transitioned into online marketing around 2003. He taps into his experience developing TV and radio infomercials to drive traffic to the web and uses that to help bloggers like you and I perfect the little things that make a big difference.
It takes a lot of effort to do his in-person workshops, but it has helped him to grow a very targeted audience.
Dan was ready to dive right into the meaty stuff, but first, I wanted to know more about him, because he’s got a great story. It seems like he’s been involved in everything under the sun, but Dan says he still has a bucket list.
At the top? Patenting an invention. He wants to design cough drop lollipops for kids that won’t be a choking hazard. Cool!
But how did he get into online marketing from building Walgreens stores? And what does building a Walgreens involve?
Dan was a real estate developer, so he was in charge of finding and proposing sites, making plans, applying for permits, figuring out traffic patterns, roads, parking lots, signage and so on. He also had to hire the architects and contractors to do the actual building part. And he was responsible for keeping everything on time and in line with Walgreens’ specifications.
So… online marketing. Next logical step, right? Not quite. But Dan worked for someone he describes as a “really rich guy.” The rich guy liked to spend his money investing in projects that he thought were worthwhile and would bring him more money.
So he funded a project called the OPC Factor, which was an antioxidant supplement. After checking out the product and funding a National Institute of Health Study, the rich guy decided that the product was marketable and bought the worldwide marketing rights.
At that point, he realized that the product needed an online presence, and Dan was given the job of figuring that out. Social media wasn’t as important at the time, so Dan focused on SEO and organic reach.
Luckily for Dan, there was money to spend on the project, and so they hired a lot of consultants to come in and give advice and training.
He more or less learned on the job through trial and error. They were able to try out something new every week and see what worked and what didn’t.
Once they figured out how to get people to buy the product, they set up an autoship program, where customers would get more of the product sent to them every month through a membership.
This had huge results. They were moving more product than much bigger health and beauty competitors. Dan ended up consulting with them, and learning a lot from their web developers, too.
From about 2003-2009, they had huge results. Then the recession hit, and the real estate side of Dan’s job “died.” He started transitioning away from real estate to work online full time.
One of the things that Dan had done when he was building OPC Factor’s online presence was to create an authority site about one of its key ingredients. The idea was that if people were searching for this ingredient, the authority site could lead them to the product. This strategy worked amazingly well.
As a result of that success, Dan got invited to speak at a blogging event. A couple months later, someone who had been in the audience emailed him to say that they had tried his strategies and seen great results. In fact, Dan’s advice had worked so well for them that the husband had been able to quit his job.
Dan thought to himself that these were the kinds of people he wanted to be helping. He felt that he had really impacted their lives, and that this was more meaningful work than helping a big company grow their sales.
So how did Dan get from online consulting to in-person workshops?
Dan says that he found a way in through informal blogging networks, where a bunch of bloggers get together to write and work over a weekend. Dan was invited to speak at a few of these events and absolutely loved it. He wanted to know how he could do more of them. Eventually, he thought, why wait around for someone else’s event when you could be hosting your own?
In 2012, he started hosting his own events, and Blogging Concentrated was born. He and his co-host Rachel Marie Martin offer local, one-day workshops, with a membership site to back up their teaching and offer continuing education.
What are the benefits of in-person as opposed to online workshops?
One of the big ones, according to Dan, is exposure and social proof. Sponsors get to see that you can fill up a big space in the middle of nowhere, and they want to be a part of that.
Dan and Rachel’s year-round model also gives them an advantage over conferences. Sponsors see that they can be getting seen at events every weekend all year, as opposed to over a short, four-day period once a year.
Another advantage for Dan is connecting with people who don’t travel and might not attend conferences. He’s developed a broader knowledge of the industry and found different kinds of networks than he would online.
Meeting in person gives Dan a different level of connection with his audience. He says that when you come to someone’s hometown, that’s a different kind of relationship.
You’ll meet people in Lansing, Michigan or Oswego, New York who might be financially unable to attend conferences, or can’t get away for a whole weekend because of childcare, but will drive three or four hours for a one-day workshop near them. There’s an appreciation and focus from people because you came to them. They’re really there to learn.
Dan says that running in-person workshops is a lot like playing gigs. You travel a lot, and you end up in lots of different kinds of spaces. But one of the keys, for Dan, was figuring out the most efficient ways to market the workshops.
His inspiration came from watching comedian Kevin Hart at Madison Square Garden. He had sold out the space, and Dan wanted to know how to do that. The answer was that Hart could rely, partly, on Madison Square Garden’s built-in traffic.
Dan and Rachel had been trying to drive lots of people to places they’d never heard of, exhausting themselves by aggressively marketing the event ahead of time.
Once they realized that they could be taking advantage of existing audiences, they started offering Blogging Concentrated as an add-on to conferences and other events.
It’s a great strategy when you’re starting out, because people are more likely to come check you out if you’re attached to a bigger, better-known event.
Dan says that piggybacking on someone else’s audience saves a lot of time, but you can’t exclusively do those kinds of gigs. You have to target the small towns, too.
If you just stick to conferences, you’ll only ever go to Chicago, New York, L.A., and so on. In a big city, your event is just lost in the noise. In a small town, you might be the only thing happening that weekend, so people will go out of their way to come and participate.
Dan and Rachel typically do 4 events in a single weekend.
On Friday night, they host a bloggers’ dinner, which they advertise using Eventbrite. Dan prefers Eventbrite to MeetUp because it’s free for as many events as you want, as long as you don’t charge an admission fee.
MeetUp is also exclusively local: it’s hard to “go national” on that platform. MeetUp is also a social network that requires continuous, local management, and Dan and Rachel might not be back in the same city for a long time.
The Friday night dinner is just an informal networking event. Dan says anyone in any niche can benefit from doing an event like this. It’s also a good way to get a few more people signed up for the main event.
On Saturday, they run a Blogging Concentrated workshop. They have a Facebook event page, but they manage tickets through their website. Sometimes, they’ll give a free ticket to people they know in the area who might be able to bring in more bloggers.
On Saturday night, they travel to their next city.
On Sunday morning, they run the Blogging Concentrated workshop in the new city. Then, Sunday night, they host another bloggers’ dinner. They usually get home late Sunday night or early Monday morning.
Rachel also runs findingjoy.net, so sometimes they’ll combine a bloggers’ dinner with a Finding Joy event, or they’ll run a separate meetup for Finding Joy.
Dan struggled with this question, because he says that he’s rarely done the same workshop twice! But he did give some tips for someone looking to build a workshop.
Early on, he and Rachel asked the audience which topics they wanted to prioritize. This was great, because people felt that they really got what they wanted out of the day, but the workshops had no flow.
They’d be jumping between topics in order of priority, rather than in an order that made sense in terms of content.
Plus, Dan says, sometimes people don’t know what they need to know. They might not prioritize a topic because they don’t know anything about it, but it could be really important or useful for them.
So after about six workshops, Dan and Rachel decided to create an actual curriculum. Rachel was key in working out the kinks and paying attention to what the attendees wanted and needed.
Rachel’s attention to the energy in the room was sometimes more useful than audience feedback surveys. If you do surveys, remember that not every comment will be helpful. You’ve got to wade through to find out what’s most useful.
Dan says that he rarely pays for venues. He’s worked in hotels before, and he finds them too impersonal. Instead, he seeks out tech companies in the area and makes use of their conference rooms or training facilities.
In return, someone from the company comes in and does a session for bloggers over lunch. It’s way more interesting than a hotel, and they won’t usually charge a venue fee.
Dan also would never run a free workshop. He definitely recommends charging people. He doesn’t even offer discounts. He says that if someone isn’t willing to pay the full fee, then they’re not really investing in the learning experience. He doesn’t want you there if you don’t think its worth the fee. He wants his attendees to be totally invested in the event.
To find out more about Blogging Concentrated and other stuff that Dan is up to, head over to BloggingConcentrated.com. Through the website, you can also subscribe to the Amplify Podcast, which puts out three new episodes every week.