022: How Phil Taylor Started FinCon And The Financials Behind Running A Popular Conference

Phil Taylor FinCon

My buddy Phil Taylor of PTMoney.com joins me on the show today to talk about how he started one of my favorite conferences in the world, FinCon.

Seriously. I look forward to attending FinCon every single year and PT has done an excellent job of bringing together an incredible community of like minded people.

I’ll definitely be there this year and I’m proud to say that I’m giving another talk. In case you missed it, you can check out my speech last year by clicking here.

Anyway, if you are considering putting on your own conference or event, then this podcast is a must listen. And in case you were curious about the economics of running a conference, I’ve posted FinCon’s financials for the first few years below.

FinCon Financials

What You’ll Learn

  • The benefits of starting your own conference as opposed to just attending one
  • How to mitigate risk when starting your own conference
  • How to get great speakers early on when you are a nobody
  • How PT structured his conference so that attendees felt a sense of ownership
  • The economics of conferences
  • The advantages of holding a conference at a hotel as opposed to a separate venue

Other Resources And Books

Transcript

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Steve: You are listening to the My Wife Quit Her Job podcast where I bring in successful bootstrapped business owners, to teach us what strategies are working and what strategies are not. Now, this isn’t one of those podcasts where we bring on famous entrepreneurs simply to celebrate their success. Instead, I have them take us back to the beginning and delve deeply into the exact strategies they used early on to gain traction for their businesses.

If you enjoy this podcast, please leave me a review on iTunes and enter my podcast contest where I am giving away free one on one business consultations every single month. For more information, go to www.mywifequitherjob.com/contest. And if you are interested in starting your own on-line business, be sure to sign up for my free six day mini course, where I show you how my wife and I managed to make over 100K in profit, in our first year of business. Go to www.mywifequitherjob.com for more information. Now on to the show.
Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. We will teach you how to create a business that suits your lifestyle, so you can spend more time with your family, and focus on doing the things that you love. Here’s your host, Steve Chou.

Steve: Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job podcast. Today I am thrilled to have a have a good friend of mine on the show Phil Taylor, but everyone actually just calls him PT, so I’m going to refer to him as PT for the remainder of the show. Now, I met PT probably around four years ago, and he reached out randomly to me to do an interview and we’ve kind of kept in touch ever since. Now, PT blogs at PTMoney.com, but I actually brought him on the show to talk about how he started FinCon, perhaps the greatest conference in the annals of all conferences that I have been to.

Now, you probably heard me talk about FinCon multiple times already on this podcast, and that’s because it’s my all time favorite, now, lots of high quality people attend every year, and I‘ve met so many new entrepreneurs from attending, many of which I now call my friends, and, quite frankly I owe this all to PT. Now, anyways PT is an amazing guy, and did you know that he also raps? And I’m going to post a video below this podcast for you guys all to look at, but welcome to the show PT man, how’s the going?

Phil: It’s going great Steve, thanks man; great intro I appreciate you.

Steve: Yeah, so PT, let’s start briefly talking about your blog and give us the quick back story of why you started PTMoney.com and then cut to how this all evolved into the greatest conference on earth.

Phil: Yeah, sure. So, in 2007, I was totally passionate about the subject of personal finance, reading as many personal finance blogs as I could get my hands on, just really absorbing as many books and like Dave Ramsey, all this stuff about personal finance just totally kicking out about it. Eventually I just started, hey, you know, I’ve got a financial background, I’m a CPA, I’ve got some things to offer here a voice of my own, and so, that’s when PTMoney.com was born, and I just started to share my story with money, my tips and advice as well as kind of my experiences, what’s going on, getting well that beginning out of debt or starting cycle soles, or learning to invest, things like that.

And, what I discovered also was that having my own blog and they allowed me to tap into that community as well, so, not only could I continue to read those other blogs but now those folks who were my buddies, like those guys and girls who were people, who I could reach out to e-mails and say, hey I’ve got to this site as well like let’s talk shop a little bit, let’s talk about blogging or whatever it is. And you know, I eventually started going to you know, conferences, things like Win Press Conferences, Word Camps, New Mini Expo or affiliate summits and I just started meeting these people face to face, and it was through those kind of initial interactions where I saw the power of online communities coming together in real life and, especially for the financial community because a lot of those at the time were anonymous.

And so, we are out to share financial details online, and so there is this real connection between each other, and being able to sit down and have, you know, a drink with someone or have a meal with someone or just kind of talk, it’s pretty powerful in this community, and so I think that’s what makes things and will lead to kind of makes FinCon so special is the community, this sort of ready to corner face to face. And so, I just got tapped into that when I decided to eventually to start FinCon as well, but still the PTMoney, it’s a cool place I can still share whatever I want that’s going on with my finances, and how are other stores as well, like I did with you back in what was this– 2011 may be…

Steve: I think so, yeah.

Phil: When we talked about how you built your online store business and what– the great thing you’re doing there on your blog. So, that’s kind of a quick intro of me, and ready to dive into all conferences, yeah.

Steve: Yeah, I just thought I’d make a quick note to what you just said, so, prior to going to FinCon, I felt like I was just blogging in a vacuum, like I wasn’t really talking to a whole lot of people, and FinCon was actually the first time where I got to meet a lot of these guys face to face. People who have been sharing content for many years, I finally got to see eye to eye and that was just awesome, and so I’ve been hooked ever since.

Phil: Yeah, and there is going to two ways you could do that when you have your own media company like you do, I mean, you could have a lot of media companies– they have an event for the actual readers which I think is a cool idea, but for me it really resonated to have an event for the people who are also doing what I’m doing, like have an industry conference, right? And so, that’s really– really gave me energy with what I was doing with my blog and it still does to this day and so that’s why I think FinCon came about because that was really passionate, something I was passionate about was being close to those people, so.

Steve: Yes, what are some of the personal benefits of actually just starting the conference yourself as opposed to just attending other conferences?

Phil: Well, it gives you a lot more work to do, so you do a lot of work [laughter]. Let’s say, you know it certainly, you know, positions you I guess in a place where a lot of people– more people might know about you or know what you are doing or be grateful through what you are providing, and so, it puts you on a position where you can serve a lot of people – put it that way. What is the cool thing? You know, giving to a bigger group of people and giving them something that they didn’t have before, you know, it’s pretty special, and so being in that position is great. Also, back to me face to face, you know, and I’m close to a lot of my sort of blogging heroes, guys like you, Jeff Rose and Luke Landes from Consumerism Commentary and just so many others that, you know, are read for so long, and just kind of held on this, you know blogging pedestal but now it’s like they are speaking in my conference.

So, there’s kind of a cool factor there I guess you will, but, just in general– just to me the benefit was being at the conference myself because I’d really created event that I wanted to be at, and so I think that’s important with creating events if you are in their planner or you want to be inspiring. The biggest benefit is that you need to craft this thing that is perfect from meeting your needs right, that’s what FinCon is or at least when we started and unusually was– is something that met my needs, you know. So that sort of it made a huge benefit and also, kind of another benefit for me is that I struggled for a long time for having a real physical product or service. PTMoney has been a great business but it’s really passive, and it’s also out of my control [Inaudible] [00:08:15] with the businesses that are out of my control or the way I have structured now they are out my control. And so, I always struggled with, man I really need a real product or service that my blog can support, and while FinCon isn’t necessarily that, it is a real business.

You know, it’s something that has like real customers, real customer support, real, you know face to face customer interaction as well as like real monetary exchange like physical exchange, and so, it’s really been cool to have like a real business, you know, to sort of balance what I’m doing with my passive business of PTMoney. And they are– luckily they are sort of indirectly related as well because certain folks , you know, a lot of people knowing now just from FinCon, and that has a lot of added benefit when it comes to PTMoney because some of that love comes back to that site and gives a low light to boost. So, yeah, lots of benefit I would encourage anyone who is looking to be– who’s passionate about a community or a set of people, who you can tell want to be together, if you can put yourself in that position to be the guard and bring together, I mean there is a lot of benefits to do that. I would highly encourage that, yeah.

Steve: So, just curious, I mean, you mentioned out of control– out of your control the PTMoney. Can you just elaborate a little bit about that?

Phil: Right, well, PTMoney is primarily a site that gets its traffic from Google search engines or other search engines…

Steve: Okay.

Phil: In addition, I don’t have a product or service to offer my– the people who do come there, from that other source. So, what I do is I pass them off to a relevant advertiser whether that be through an agents click or through an affiliate marketing purchase. So, I’m getting the customers using someone else’s channel, and I’m selling them a product or service that is not my own, that I can’t control and I can’t– there is no guarantee that I can continue to sell it. So, I’m just a middleman, a pure middleman information marker, and so…

Steve: Okay.

Phil: …Because I don’t have full control of what’s coming in and I don’t have full control of what I can offer, you know, you are handicapped, you are limited and things can be good for a while, you know, if that person sending effect– if Google sending you great traffic. They can be bad if they stop, and it can be really bad if in addition to Google stopping those customers– I mean those advertisers don’t want to work with you anymore either, so, you know, you are putting yourself in a bad position. This is not a real– it’s not a business that you have enough control over in my opinion. So, always see ways to correct that, or learn how to create your own traffic and learn how to create your product or service that you can offer. And so, that’s something I need to do with PTMoney eventually, but I got sidetracked with this other real business.
Steve: Yeah, I know, so that’s a really good point you just brought up, the fact that, because you are referring people to other people’s products you are not really establishing a brand or a product for yourself. And that’s why you are at the mercy essentially of other traffic sources and if those things dry up or one of your affiliate decides to stop the affiliate program, you are in trouble, right? Yeah.

Phil: And in fact I have one more note in this conversation is that, when you don’t have the product or services of your own, it’s harder to do marketing, it’s harder to do customer engagement, it’s harder to do these things if you don’t have that sort of in goal, like what you’d have with My Wife Quit Her Job is awesome but because you’ve got a product now and back in the back end there. Everything– nothing has to lead to that, but it can lead that, right? And so, you have this like security in your marketing that, hey, at least at the end of the day, at least we can move people toward purchasing that product, and so, that feels like it’s cool, it’s like real business, and so, the speaker one time I heard things like it’s going to work out, it’s like real business ass, like real business sharing, you know.

Steve: Hey PT you’re actually breaking up here, I’m going stop and then call you right back. Go on where you left off really.

Phil: All right, I think I was talking about the benefits of having your own physical product or service. And so, for me it’s given me a lot of confidence in my business skills and in pushing the life like, email marketing is so much easier for me now, because I have something to offer and I can speak to– I can serve a community, and eventually lead them to a product or service that I’m matched in with. And so, within conscience, it’s really fine to do an online business that has a real solid in goal. I want to encourage someone out there to do that. You may be working on something that’s more passive or more sort of out of your control, to kind of put something out there that they can lead people toward– anything, just your business skills– keep shopping so much quicker when you have something like that to offer.

Steve: Okay, so I know that making money was not the primary motivation for starting FinCon, but is the conference profitable?

Phil: It is profitable, I haven’t lost money on it yet which is great. Well, I guess if you considered the time I put into it maybe I have lost little money, but it’s been profitable on a couple of ways we talked– we eluded to how it sort of indirectly helped what I am doing at PTMoney which has been great. It gives me a lot more contacts there, a lot more relations– great relationships in the affiliate marketing world as well. So that’s how PTMoney– but the conference itself– it is hard to make money with an event, and especially an event that I consider to be a community or industry tagged event , right, because I am not the star of the show necessarily and I am bringing together a community that is making the thing great, right.

Well, I’ve got to figure out how to, you know, partner with the right folks and continue to make it exciting and fun, but also make a little, you know, it will be nice to make a little return for the time I’m putting into the thing. And in the past it, and you can see this on my blog– I was just going to tell you, in 2011 the first year of the conference we made between I think 15 and 20,000 dollars. So, you know, a nice little fly income but probably not worth the time I put into it. Then next year, we probably make 5 or 10,000 more than that, and then same rules as last year we probably made around 30,000 as well. So, it’s not been a big money maker for me yet, but I really treated it like a side business up to that point. So I don’t want to fool anyone to thinking that, you know how to start it off, is a 100% full profit kind of thing, let’s crank this out money wise, I would not have made that amount of money, I mean, I was how doing FinCon for different reasons, right one of which was to make a little side income, and I did that.

This year things have changed, and so I’ve set my sights higher, I do want to make six figures off the conference this year, that is what I’m planning for, it’s what I’m budgeting for, and I was putting all to you know, put the numbers on the paper and it looks to me like it’s going to work out up to this point, so a few things we need to do, but you know, I’m heading that direction. So, I’m really thankful that this year I finally sort of grabbed it by the reigns a little more to ownership of that, and my ability to do that, and we can talk about some little ways of– some of the things have changed if you want how things have evolved there too.

Steve: Yeah, I was going to– actually start from the beginning. So, first of all, this is– is FinCon going to make more than your blog or is your blog still your primary bread earner, at this point?

Phil: I expect FinCon to slightly surpass my blog for 2014.

Steve: Okay, so, one thing that you just alluded to is– personally what I like about FinCon is that when I go every year, everything is pretty much covered, there’s awesome events day and night and you actually feed us during the conference. Now other conferences I’ve been to don’t provide nearly as much, and they actually cost many times more too. So, clearly, you know, I was just I surprised at how inexpensive FinCon is. How do you manage to provide so much value for so little cost at your conference?

Phil: Right, so, it is heavily subsidized by the sponsors that we get to blog. Whether that be a corporate sort of sponsor or a specific sponsor, or exhibitor type companies also come and exhibit there. So, you know we’ve build it up to where part of the ticket price is or the ticket price is covering so much of the cost and then sponsorships help cover the rest and so, that’s primarily where we do it, you know…

Steve: So, how does it? Sorry go on.

Phil: And I wanted it to be– I wanted FinCon to be compared to a Word Camp, or some other type of industry conference like TBEX or lets travel blog’s exchange conference, or you know, some of these other events, where it’s more of that bringing the community together than it is about, you know, provide– I guess, meeting like the needs of like meeting you. You’ve established our business, right. So, I wanted [inaudible] [00:17:55] there, I wanted people who were generous that might work for company who is not really necessarily paying them to be there. So I really wanted to have the feel of like a complete community there, and so when you shooting for that, I think you need kind of be flexible in terms of who or how much you charge. And so that was my goal and I was not just interested– I was more interested in having everyone there than I was making money individually off those people. Because people are at different spectrums, some people are doing great with their businesses, some people don’t even consider themselves as business owner, they are just blogging.

So, I’ve walked in there too, and so what I have learnt to do, and you can see that in the pricing this year is that I have created experiences, or more value for people who are serious about it. And they can come to the conference and get sort of a higher level of interaction and business and sort of a more mature experience–that’s a bad word, but more involved experience I think calling for a higher price. And so, that’s something I have done to try to sort of solve that kind of conundrum, the fact that yes, you Steve are doing real great with your business and you all have to pay not hand boxed some of them make actually I mean that’s ridiculous. And you just mentioned that, yeah you gain a lot for being there, a lot of food, which is a big expense and so, yeah, certainly, that’s difficult to do but sponsorships help a lot.

Steve: So, with the tradeoffs, I suppose so you’ve been to World Domination Summit, which does not have any sponsorships at all. I imagine it’s quite a hassle to get sponsorships for this conference, right?

Phil: Well, you know, surprisingly it wasn’t that tough, it’s something you have to work at and you have to kind of continue to pay attention to I guess, but with PTMoney I had sort of existing relationships built in. So, I was working with a lot of these companies with PTMoney. And so, I just called up the person I knew from Prencence [phonetic] ID-Direct, or at the time or Ally bank at the time and said, “Hey, I’m in your affiliate program, we do some content exchanges, by the way I’ve got this conference going now, and you can be in front of all these bloggers and, you know, help support what we are trying to with this little community.” And so, that worked out really well, so the financial companies got up really quickly and they wanted to be a part of it from the onset.
So, we really do well with the financial side of the house because they see the leverage value of the conference, right. They don’t look at it as hey, there’s just 200 bloggers in the room. They look at 200 bloggers times the number of readers and followers that these people have, and so, they see a lot of value for that. Now, what’s been challenging for me is convincing web service companies to be there, hosting companies, you know, marketing companies. I mean, they sort of want to be involved, but they don’t want to spend too much money, because they are looking at it from all our perspective as a one on one thing, right, they see five or 500 people in the room, that’s the 500 people they want to reach by marketing in this event.

Steve: That’s not necessarily true, right, because even bloggers can blog about their service and they can get money that way as well, right?

Phil: Right, Yeah, solely and solely folks like yourself who sort of touch on small businesses as well as finances, so.

Steve: So, this conference mainly target bloggers then?

Phil: You know, I started off as a financial blogger conference, and certainly that was the community I was heavily tapped into when I first started it, but I can tell you from it, from– as soon as I opened the doors on the thing, that all different types of folks wanted to be involved, so just generally internet marketers wanted to be there, folks like freelance writers wanted to be there. So people who may not never had a platform already, who were just writing online for different publications wanted to be there, traditional journalists wanted to come out and be a part of it, and because they know that they are needing to learn those sort of on your own short skills, to try and create their own platforms if the one you are working for, you know, goes [Inaudible] [00:22:08] which they are doing every day.

Also financial planners wanted to come out, because they are using online marketing to– and counter marketing to get people attracted to their service. So, lots of different types came out and we quickly realized that this is bigger than blogging, and from that point I’m really pushing FinCon toward really being a new media conference. A mere what you see going on with blog or next door which not New Media Expo…

Steve: Right.

Phil: …And so to try to move my brand in that similar direction which is why I only call FinCon, FinCon now, and I don’t speak about being a financial blogger conference, because I want people to recognize that it’s something that’s bigger than blogging. Blogging was at the core of it, you know that’s what of what– there was a true community of bloggers, that helped build it and make it awesome, but it’s just become– the demand for it is outside of that skill, and so I need to meet the needs of the people who want to be there, I think, but still honoring the spirit of what made FinCon so great to begin with. And so, that’s what I am trying to balance and do, and that has added benefit of growing the conference– helping to grow the conference too, which is something, you know, I’d like to do, so yeah.

Steve: Right.

Phil: It’s been interesting to kind of follow that.

Steve: So, most people don’t know this, but a while back PT and I were actually thinking about starting another conference focusing on site also businesses, but the idea fizzled when I realized that I still had two kids, and all these businesses around and PT just had another kid. So, we don’t really have the time, but if someone wanted to start a conference of their own where would they start? So, take me back me to the first FinCon and just walk me through the process.
Phil: Yeah so, when you’re thinking about doing this, having an event, you sort of have a vision in your head, it’s maybe what you think this thing might look like, and that’s great, that’s great to have that vision and to hold onto, but it’s also good to have a community to test this idea against, and what I did was I started with a sort of a bit of group of folks, ten folks who I knew really well and I was talking with online every day. And I knew that if I made a conference for these folks that a lot of other people like minded may be at different points in their experiences, if building something online would want to come as well. There was also the factor of inviting folks who like J Ross, who really people just wanted to see and meet who are really super stars in the community, and so there was a little bit of that as well.

So I want to encourage everyone, now to tap into the existing community if there is one. If there is not then find some stake holders that you can kind of create a community around. I used a little baby group, and what I did was just kind of put out on to them “Hey, if I did this event would you guys come?” It’s this simple question, you know, and I mean, I could just– I got the feedback I got was just overwhelming and it was just powerful like, yes, yes, yes let’s do it, a 100%.

I mean, just to validate my idea immediately and really strongly, and then connecting with those super stars like JD to be a part of it, and figuring out a way to make it what to offer them to show up and be there was also huge stuff in terms of marketing it. And then once I built up the site, for the financial blogger conference, the first thing I did in there was put some kind of social proof, so I kind of put a Facebook like box somewhere, really front and center so people could see who was liking it, so that they could see the other bloggers who were digging it and into it as well as an email form.

And I kind of mentioned this earlier, but my email marketing became so easy for me because these people– I had something to offer. I knew I was going to eventually have something to offer them. And so holding up this email list and saying “Hey, join this to find out more information about this upcoming conference, you can help me build it, you can help me make it great, join this list”. And so that was one of the coolest things I did, and before I knew it, like a week or two later, you know, like a 100 people on that list, and I was really getting real feedback, and real engagement in terms of, you know, trying to build up something great, so…

Steve: So, this list, you just put it out and what was the incentive for signing up, just for more information about the conference?

Phil: Totally, yeah, not even– no incentive at all really just hey, if you want to hear more about this, you know, when we announce dates, when we you know announce speaker information, things like that. I mean, people sort of understand how a conference works, but inherently– but certainly, you know, engaging them is something I wanted to do, because again I wanted to be a community over there, I wanted to be something that when people came they thought, “Yes, I help build a little bit of this, I was kind of a part of this in a little way.” And so, that was pretty important to me as well as it ended up being something that helped the marketing and helped make the conference cool, and it helped give people a sense of ownership of it. And so, they would want to come back and be a part of the thing that they helped create.

Steve: So, how did you attract some of the bigger names, like this is a no name conference in the beginning, right, so how do you attract the big names like the J.D. Ross, the Luke Landes’s and those guys?

Phil: Well, I am blessed in that from the most part they just wanted to be involved, you know, I asked them how they wanted to be involved, and they wanted to speak at it, and so I gave them sort of a platform there, and I made as much of a superstars they wanted to be at the event, I tried to make them that. And so different people came in at different times and wanted to participate and that’s cool. I’m so thankful for that, I asked guys like Pat McClendon to be involved early on and just asked.

I just said I’m having this event, and I really dig what you are doing, and you know, some I knew for a while, so I was like you’ve been a buddy for a while, I want to put you on stage in this conference and make you the star of it. And that had enough of an appeal, and again, you know most of the stars that I pulled from– or people who were part of the community too, and they just wanted to meet the other people in the industry as well, so, it’s kind of a no brainer for them as well. And that’s the power of having an existing community to tap into. I can’t stress that enough, if you already got that, it’s easy, you know, and really running event is really easy, if you’ve got a group of people who already want to be together.

Steve: So, how did the economics work, so did you pay these speakers in the beginning for the first conference?

Phil: I did– I let them come to the conference for free, and then I surprised them with a small payment once they got there, because, you know, I had some left in the budget and I just wanted to at least give a little bit of the money to help out with a little bit the travel. It wasn’t much at all, but it was unexpected and I gave them a personal note along with it, and I think it was something they all appreciated. That’s when I realized I wanted to maybe continue doing that. And so you know, having those people all born the feature meant a lot to me.

And, so I was really thankful for what they contributed and I am every year for the speakers like yourself who come and really bring like an awesome talk and so, you certainly want to reward those people and make it valuable for them. You should have figured out what valuable is, is different for different people. I mean some people want a payment, some people want some kind of a different exposure. With my keynote speakers now, some want payment, some want may be help with some book they’re promoting, some may be want a booth at the event, some want like a meet and greet type of thing to kind of make– kind of raise their status a little bit, and it’s just different things to different people. I’ll try to figure out what that is and I’ll have a– you know, everyone who speaks in FinCon, who prepares to speak– prepares to speak something certainly gets a free ticket to come.

Steve: Right.

Phil: And so, but that’s kind of the starting point.

Steve: So, in terms of the economics, you kind of have this chicken and egg problem, in the very beginning, right? In a nut shell if you’re going to sell these tickets and yet do you have to put a whole bunch of money down to plan the thing, before you even collect money?

Phil: Well, luckily the first hotel didn’t require a big down payment, but backing up a little bit, yes that is scary, that’s the biggest fear I had was “Hey, I’m going to be spending a lot of money, and then something is going to blow up, and people don’t come, and I’ll lose all this money.” Well, to the most part, you know, you can structure your events to where you can reduce your risk. One of thing I did was– as I told you I kind of had a grand vision initially of what I wanted this event to be, and then what I did was, I decided I was going to have– I was going to plan for two versions of the conference.

So I had that big vision of what I wanted the conference to be, and then I scaled it back probably 50% and said, okay, just [Inaudible] [00:31:08] for these many sponsors, this many attendees, and this much spent and budget and all that, and then, if we hit those marks, say within the first couple of months of marketing this conference, then we will open up the doors for conference B the big vision, and we will go for that.

So, I sort of had build in my mind two versions of the conference and, not out of my mind but physically, you know on paper, I put it up there then hey, this is conference A and we are going to shoot for this and at some point if we meet these marks, sell out all these– the base level sponsorships, sell all the tickets, then hey, we are going to open up the doors and so make it a big conference. And so, any new event planner that’s something I would advise you to do is going to have a two step process where you have the safe thing you can create, but if you hit it really quick in your marketing then hey, go for the big thing.

Steve: But, don’t you have to have the venue down ahead of time, and that venue can only have a certain capacity, right?

Phil: Well, you know, I was probably seven, eight months out– and yes you are right, but most events can handle– if they can handle something like for me a big conference for me was 300 people, so that was my big vision. And so, a small conference would have been 100 people.

Steve: Okay.

Phil: So, any– most places can handle both of those capacities pretty well. So, but I guess to answer your question more directly, you know, you don’t have to have the event– for me I didn’t have to have the facility initially because what I did was that I asked people, hey, where do you want to have it, you know I was like, what weekend do you want to have this thing? I got that granule with the email list in the early days of planning.

I helped them actually pick the date– help used them to help me actually pick the date, and I think I even like offered a couple of hotel options, and said, hey, would you rather have it here or would you rather have it here. And that’s how I got their input on both those things to kind of attract me six figure and I knew I eventually needed to have it. So, sort of buy that, you know, buy that– after that getting a little bit of that feedback, you know, I had like 100 tickets sold. So, I kind of knew at that point, hey, I needed to go this corporate B option anyway. So, I just sort of evolved while I was planning that it just so happened that I could kind of experiment with that bigger thing.

Steve: So, when does the sponsorship money come in place? Does it come in the end, and you don’t have to pay the venue until the end after the event? Is this how it works or?

Phil: Some hotels are going to require some type of a deposit but…

Steve: Okay.

Phil: But in all the ones that I have worked with, none have. They just want the agreement signed and then you are bound by that agreement and typically in a conference, the agreement spells out a specific spend on food and beverage. And in that case, I got all the conference rooms for free as long as I spend 30,000 dollars on food and beverage.

Steve: Okay.

Phil: And so, that’s what hotels want you to do, they want you to come in and buy their food, because that’s something that they can really mark up and make a lot of money on, and same thing with their [Inaudible] [00:34:16]. That’s really high margin products and services they can offer and so, that’s what they want to nail you down on. They can give you the space for free because they value build up space is not – it’s not going off their to give it to you as long as you’re spending money while you’re there and guaranteeing rooms as well.

So, that’s one thing that each of the hotels that I have worked with in the past have done. They will ask me to guarantee a certain amount of food and beverage spend and a certain amount of rooms guaranteed as well. And so, I’ve heard since, that you don’t have to do that, like you can get away with one or the other, a certain amount of food or a certain amount of rooms, but I think most will at least require a certain amount of rooms that you guarantee that you are going to need for you to freely come and be there– come there and use their space.

Steve: Okay, so that’s interesting, so, you’ve chosen to have your events at hotels, which I like by the way, everyone’s crushing in the same place and it’s awesome. Other conferences I have been to haven’t– they have like just linen spread out avenues, so I guess going the hotel route is just convenient, because it is like a one stop shop for everything. Is this why you chose the hotel route?

Phil: You know, I debated that early on, and I agree there is kind of a cool factor for may be having like a theatre or like an alternative space or something, and that’s cool and I like that, but I really liked having it– since we are a community of people, like who want to be together a lot, you know, and so, having stuff in the lobby of the hotel, having stuff at the bar and the hotel, I mean, people just want to be around each other the whole time.

And so, it just made a lot of sense to like all be together in the same place, physically like staying in the same hotel. And so, yeah, that’s been important to me in doing that and, yes, hotels do make it easy, I mean, you have to pay them, you have to figure– they are more expensive I think, and it’s harder to control the cost because you are depending on them so much, but, you are– they certainly take– they do these every weekend, they run these events every weekend, and they explore that, I mean, they don’t skip a beat, and they really make me as a conference planner look like I know what I’m doing, you know, they take a lot of the headache away.

Steve: Okay.

Phil: The staff, and their planning and their facilities, I mean they just know how to do these events, and they just make it so easy for you.

Steve: Okay, yeah, so I just thought I’d add one of the things I really like about FinCon is that, since I walk in the lobby, I see all these people that I know and it takes, and usually a couple of hours just to get up to my room in the first place. And I like how everyone’s just crushing in the same hotel, you don’t really get that at other conferences where everyone is just kind of spread all over place. At one of the other conferences I went to, it was like a struggle for me to meet up with other people, and that’s what I really like about FinCon.

Phil: And we have the benefit of being a smaller group too which makes it easier, but as we grow that is becoming more of a challenge of having to look for hotels that can accommodate more people. But I love that aspect in FinCon, and yeah I’m glad you noticed that, and that’s something that’s been intentional, so.

Steve: Yeah, so, let’s go back to the launch, right. You’re trying to sell tickets, so do you– is there a strategy involved and just– yeah, you mentioned two plans, right, so do you just release these tickets kind of piece of meal, or how does it work?

Phil: You know, after some initial planning, doing some surveys, and getting on the– sort of the email list going, with getting people’s feedback, there became a point where I said all right this is going to be my day when I release tickets and answer to the list. I went in on Eventbrite.com, that’s a tool I use to build out the ticket options, and you know, I just came up with a number that for me sounded reasonable compared to other conferences, as well as sort of calculate it up to a number that based on, the number of sponsorships I was going to bring in as well would ensure that you know, I didn’t lose money on this event. So, yeah just Eventbrite.com is hugely helpful advertising with PayPal and they have– even have like a widget where you can add the Eventbrite.com tool to your website as well. So, it’s really seamless, they have a great tool and have a lot of control behind the things, behind the scenes, sort of wedges that can kind of help, you know, do the event a little better, but yeah.

Steve: So, yeah, one thing I kind of noticed was that, you started kind of releasing the tickets out in phases so to speak, like you have this kind of…

Phil: Yeah, yeah, yeah so, certainly with events yeah, I mean good point, and that was part of my plan initially with the two different conferences, was so that I can have confidence in meeting at least conference A, I needed people to buy tickets, buy certain times, so that I can make the decision of, hey let’s go to conference B. So, certainly I set a date for myself and said, okay, if tickets purchased before this time, we’ll call early bird tickets and then after that will be normal ticket pricing. So, if you buy before this point, you know, you will get a big discount. And so, I think it was like 30 or 25 bucks discount. It wasn’t much, but we are talking to financial bloggers here, they are not looking to save…

Steve: Yeah.

Phil: …25 bucks if they can so, that was huge in marketing the event, and that’s not something that’s put out there from an event marketing stand point to, you know, trick anyone, or to harm anyone. It’s not like negative marketing I’m trying to do there, it’s this– the realities of having an event and holding yourself up there and the far that you get down the pipe with all your marketing spend, all your commitments to the hotel, to speakers, things like that, the more confidence you need to have in that people are going to be there. And so, that’s certainly why we do the other word pricing, and reward people who are– know they are going to come back and faithful to you purchase the tickets early on and really help support what you are trying to build, right.

Steve: Yeah so, that’s so really smart, so just to summarize you let out these early bird tickets at a discount, and then those early tickets go on and that just kind of gives you the confidence that things are rolling, that you have the confidence to invest even more and then release that second round of tickets.

Phil: That’s right.

Steve: Okay.

Phil: And with this current FinCon we’re on now, we’ll hit that point at the end of June, so June 30th is when ticket prices go up, you know heavily. And so at that point I have confidence that I’ll know, I’ll be calm looking at the type of Con. That’s what you want to do with an event, as early as possible you want to build the stair down the event that you are going to have on the day– on day one of the conference, like if you can sort of vision that and see that a couple of months out two, three months out, then you are really doing great in terms of your event planning, and so having ticket pre-sales, trying to get your sponsorships knocked out really early, key speakers knocked out really early.

I mean those kind of things help to formulate a conference where two, three months out, you know, you see the vision for the conference, not just a vision but you see the conference that you have at that point. And you could sort of extract an idea out, pick up a few more sales here and there, but for the most part this is the conference that you are going to have, and then the last three months become so much easier because you just kind of plug in holes where they are, and really refining the conference and making it special.

Steve: Right, so after you’ve kind of reached that breakeven point so to speak, it’s all good from there. So, how do you get the word out about your first conference? You mentioned the email list…

Phil: Yeah.

Steve: …And what else to do.

Phil: So, I did the email list, I was a part of forums and some other communities online where I just tapped into that. I also gave people– I believe I gave people some type of button to say they were going to the conference, they could put on their site especially the speakers I think. So, I gave them something to highlight to their communities as well. User usually leverage the power of the folks who you are involved with. I mean there is so many things we do now, that we didn’t do that first year, like, you know, a lot of conferences will have webinars or podcasts or some type of content offering from the speakers who are going to be at the event, and then that leads to more exposure and more awareness of the event for new folks as well.

So, with– for instance with FinCon this year we are doing podcasts with all of our keynote speakers and those who are in the back they are on iTunes now, so I knew where to pick those up and learn about the conference. So, but also more than that those speakers have big audiences. So guys like Chris Tucker, Path Lenn [phonetic], Fernice Trobby [phonetic] who’s one of our keynote speakers this year, I mean they have big communities and when they share the content that they are offering up, it leads to more exposure as well. So I definitely earlier on especially leveraged the fact that, hey you know, some of these speakers have bigger audiences than me, and more influence in the personal parts of blogging communities than me, and so to try and leverage those relationships, was key, you know as well.

Steve: Okay, yeah that’s great advice. There’s actually also a whole bunch of set up too. You mentioned the hotel staff takes care of a lot of it, but you’re by yourself right, so how did you manage all that stuff for the first FinCon?

Phil: Well, I just spend every waking hour on it Steve.

Steve: Okay, did you get help from others or was it just…?

Phil: You know, there were certain elements of the conference that I knew I wanted to work on for instance the scheduling and the speaking, who I wanted on the stage, things like that. I just really wanted to do that myself. And so, I took them on myself, but then there were things like, you know, building up the badges which was very, you know, technical from our ad perspective and logistical perspective. There were so many things like that, where I knew I could do it, but I was busy spending my will a little bit, so I started relying on a couple of freelancers that I had worked with on PTMoney.

So Jessica who was my VA on PTMoney– I started leveraging her to help with some of the event planning, as well as she likes carrying the menu, planning for the hotel, she chose some of that stuff, she also calls some of the outside vendors, some of the places we would go for like parties and stuff at night and sort of set those things up. She also did a little bit of like speaker management, where she sort of gathered their bios and their pics and built up some things like that, and then also hired a guy to do– but my friend Ryan, who still works for me– with me today freelance basis. Then he did all the badge design, he did some other total designs for me, sort of took care of the T-shirts, things like that.

So, yeah, I’ll leverage a couple of freelance people– people I’ve worked with PTMoney before, and people who I really trust in. And then in certain aspects of the conference itself, you know, I again I listen to what the community was trying to tell me. I think even once I made some initial selections on speakers I sort of did evaluating process to– for the attendees who are already signed up to say, hey, here are the people who I’ve submitted speaker proposals, what’s about on these, like you guys tell me which one of these you want to hear from, or which one you– you know, these topics you want to see at the event. So, I use a little bit of that to help crowd source kind of coming together with the event, but yeah, I mean just a lot of time and energy spent on myself worrying about every little aspect of it, you know.

Steve: Yes, I mean, I just– thinking about all the little things that I notice at the conference, you have swag bags, you have all these banners, and indicate design, you even have a magazine that goes out, it’s just crazy amount of work. So, I really appreciate all the things that have just come together with the conference, and I look forward– it’s like one of the one things I look forward to, you know, every single year is going to FinCon, So thank you for that.

Phil: Yeah, thank you.

Steve: So, I don’t want to take up too much more of your time, but so I’ll link up all the resources you mentioned in this podcast, but where can people find you?

Phil: Yeah, so hit me up at PTMoney.com or @ptmoney on twitter, and then starting with the conference, finconexpo.com. This is the website and like Steve and I mentioned early bird tickets are still on sale so get those before June 30th and then on twitter we are FinCon or @FinCon.

Steve: Okay, awesome, so, I will be there for sure, so if any of you guys want to come out and meet, I’d love to meet out with the people that that are listening. All right, thanks a lot PT, thanks for your time.

Phil: Thanks to you, pleasure being on.
Steve: Yeah, pleasure having you, thanks. I wasn’t joking in the podcast. FinCon is easily my favorite conference in the world. PT has created an incredible community of people that really care about each other and he’s really put in a ton of work into this conference. So this year, I’m going to be giving another talk at FinCon, so please come and support me. Last year I talked about how I made over 300k over the last two years with an email auto responder, and this year I will likely talk about e-commerce. For more information about this episode, go to MyWifeQuitHerJob.com/episode22, and if you enjoyed listening to this podcast, please go to iTunes and leave me a review. When you write me a review, it not always makes me proud, but helps keep this podcast up in the ranks, so other people can use this information, find the show more easily, and get awesome business advice from my guests.

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One thought on “022: How Phil Taylor Started FinCon And The Financials Behind Running A Popular Conference”

  1. Ryan Guina says:

    Awesome interview with Phil. I’ve attended each FinCon since the beginning, and it’s my favorite conference too – primarily because I know so many people. But also because of the atmosphere. Everyone genuinely wants to help everyone else. There is no sense of secrecy or competition that you find at some of the major affiliate conferences. I’m looking forward to FinCon 14. Hope to see you there, Steve (and Phil!).

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