Whether you want to build a side hustle, share your knowledge or establish yourself as an industry expert, consider starting a seminar business. Training and coaching others is a great way to boost your reputation and increase your network. If you already have a business, you may hold seminars to market your products and raise brand awareness. On top of that, you will educate others and help them achieve their personal or professional goals.

The first step to starting a seminar business is to assess your professional strengths. Determine how you can use your skills and expertise to educate others, increase your revenue or build your reputation.

What Is a Seminar?

The terms "seminar," "workshop," "lecture" and "conference" are often used interchangeably. However, they're not one and the same. If you plan to start a business in this niche, make sure you understand what seminars involve and how they differ from other similar events.

At the most basic level, seminars are educational events that focus on specific subjects and bring together small groups, and attendees are encouraged to ask questions and express their opinion on the topic. A lecture, on the other hand, offers little or no opportunity for discussion, while workshops involve hands-on activities, exercises and demonstrations. Seminars are less interactive than workshops and last for just a few hours. Workshops can last for days and require attendees to brainstorm ideas, engage in debates and interact with each other.

Generally, people who attend seminars receive in-depth information or training about a specific topic, such as starting a business or marketing through social media. Speakers discuss the topic, share success stories, make video presentations and more. These events are often designed for those who want to learn more about a topic or get expert insights. They may also appeal to those who are experts in their field and wish to expand their knowledge or stay on top of the latest industry trends.

Why Hold a Seminar?

From increased exposure and brand awareness to lead generation, seminars can benefit entrepreneurs in various ways. It all comes down to what you are trying to accomplish in the first place. For example, if you're a cybersecurity expert, you may speak about the latest cyber threats and how to approach them. This will help strengthen your reputation, increase brand awareness and bring you more clients, and the seminar could be an opportunity to promote your apps, software programs, books or services.

Holding seminars is a good way to demonstrate your expertise. You'll tap into a whole new audience and reach prospective clients who may not otherwise know about your services. At the same time, you will increase customer engagement and build relationships with people who can turn into new clients. During seminars, you can network with other business owners, suppliers and potential business partners and exchange ideas or strategies.

Even if you're a startup, you may still benefit from holding seminars. Think of it as an opportunity to build your reputation, establish your brand name and showcase your knowledge. These events can also help you attract investments and drive business growth. Business owners can hold seminars to boost employee engagement, productivity and work performance.

Breaking Into the Seminar Industry

The U.S. has been home to 1.9 million meetings generating $845 billion in 2016 alone. In a 2015 survey conducted on professionals employed in senior-level positions, nine in 10 participants said that meetings improve their ability to close deals and build connections. More than half stated that meetings deliver a great return on investment, while four in five believed that in-person meetings yield better results than video and phone conferences.

These numbers show that starting a seminar business can be a profitable venture. It does require extensive planning, research and organization, but it's worth the effort. If you're ready to break into the seminar industry, follow these steps:

  • Research the market
  • Identify your target audience
  • Establish clear goals
  • Develop a strategy
  • Estimate your costs and budget
  • Find guest speakers
  • Define your revenue streams
  • Legalize your business
  • Plan the event details
  • Market your event

As a seminar professional, you can choose from several business models. Depending on your skills and experience, you may act as a trainer or speaker, work as a promoter or do both. It's not uncommon to see business owners holding seminars at which they work directly with their audience but also hire other people to do the speaking.

Planning Is Paramount

Every detail matters when it comes to starting a seminar business. It's important to set clear objectives for your seminar, decide on the topics that will be discussed and estimate your expenses. Always choose the topics with your target audience in mind. Ask yourself:

  • What does your audience want to learn?
  • What's your customers' age, profession, education level and income?
  • How much do they know about the topic?
  • What do they expect to gain from attending your event?
  • Why are these people important for your business?

If you're planning a big event, you may need to seek financing. Once you've identified the speakers for your event, inquire about their rates and conditions. Plan the event details, including the date and time, location, program, materials, logistics, suppliers, promotion and giveaways and consider any foods or refreshments that will be available at your event. Determine how you will promote the event and set up a website at the least.

Each of these aspects involves certain costs. One way to reduce your expenses is to barter for goods and services. More than 470,000 businesses in the U.S. actively participate in barter to keep their costs low, and you can do it too. For example, if your seminar will feature influential speakers, you may reach out to hotels and other venues. Ask them to host your event for free or give you a discount in exchange for exposure and brand awareness — it's a win-win for both parties.

While it's not required to have any formal credentials to start a seminar business, you do need to register your company with the state, pay taxes and obtain business licenses. However, having a diploma or a certificate won't hurt, and it may actually boost your credibility and help you avoid legal trouble later on. If, say, you plan to cover health-related topics, it helps to have a health care and science degree or hire speakers with a medical background.

Research the legal aspects before you make a business plan. Decide whether you want to operate as a sole proprietorship or a limited liability company. The first option involves less paperwork and lower costs. You can also form a partnership.

You will also need to register with the IRS and get a tax ID number, or EIN. If you opt for a sole proprietorship, you may use your Social Security number instead and file annual tax returns. However, you will need an EIN in case you decide to hire employees. Business licensing requirements vary from state to state, so contact your local chamber of commerce to determine what licenses and permits you need.