Back in July, I asked the question, “Did you pivot your event strategy?” Since then, I’ve used the word “pivot” about 10 dozen times, paced my living room floor pondering this new virtual event space, tripped over my cat in the process, and eventually landed on a new question: “How can your event create a different kind of revenue?” Not as concise. No Friends meme to go along with it. But it gives you, your sales team, and your marketing team the start of a plan.

Back in 2019 when you still wore real pants to work, you planned your conference with a revenue goal that was based on registration and sponsors, right? Then 2020 hit and registration was down, sponsors were dropping out, and there was no way you were going to hit that revenue goal. So, what do you do in 2021? Team, THIS IS THE YEAR WE SHINE. We get up off the ground, brush the pet hair off our sweatpants, and think outside the exhibit hall.

You are familiar with direct revenue — traditional revenue from registration and sponsors. In the past, it has carried the bulk of the weight, been the easiest to plan for, and caused a lot of high fives when that goal was met. But in the world of virtual events, it is much harder to meet your old revenue goals using just direct revenue. So, we need to think about indirect revenue. High level, direct revenue benefits the event, and indirect revenue directly benefits the company. Indirect revenue is not always dollars and cents, but it can CREATE dollars and cents. 

Ok, so what exactly makes up indirect revenue? Indirect revenue can be expanded reach, increased membership, thought leadership, and member retention. Here are some examples:


Expanded Audience Reach

This is my favorite part of virtual events. In the last 12 months, I’ve started taking Zoom yoga classes — from a studio in Charlotte, North Carolina.  I’ve taken part in a panel discussion — with professionals from Mexico and New York. And I’ve done it all from the comfort of my living room in Indiana. All of those people who have not been able to attend your conference due to limited funds or distance can now take advantage of everything your event has to offer! The organizations that would normally send two people can now send 10. If you’ve been wanting to talk to the up-and-coming leaders in your member organizations, now is your chance. 


Thought Leadership

You are primed to solidify your place as a trusted and reliable voice in the industry. With more eyes on events, become their go-to resource. Create written, video, and audio content that is relevant and important to your audience. Members and potential members want to associate themselves with smart, trusted organizations. Be one. 


Increase Membership

This is a great indirect revenue stream, right? Get more members — great for the organization, great for conferences. You have the opportunity to reach a larger and new audience during your event, and non-members see your value and become members. Make sure you set up easy ways for attendees to become members!  You are helping to reach membership goals! 


Membership Retention

Probably not something that was ever an event goal, but your event certainly ties in with keeping members. If you are providing great content and valuable events, your members will stay “your members.” Like new members, allow current members to pay for their membership for another year. Consider offering some additional content for those who do extend their membership.


I love in-person conferences. I love sitting in the middle of an exhibit hall at 9 p.m. the night before it opens, having takeout for dinner, and watching overhead signs go up. (I don’t love watching them crash to the ground, but I’m ready for that moment.) I love the rush of adrenaline one hour before the opening keynote. I love the buzz of excitement when attendees are looking for lunch. But while you and I wait for the moment we can once again be problem solving from the back of an Uber on the way from the airport to the conference center, let’s ask, “What can we do to reach our goals from a different direction? What are indirect revenue streams that we can tie back to this event?

Maggie Hendrickson headshot

Written by Maggie Hendrickson

“I genuinely see the good in people.”