Now that cold calling has joined stockbrokers in heaven (or more likely the lower regions), seminars, “cold walking” and direct mail have become the only viable means of building a business.

Seminars are generally the most reliable of these, but there is no way to cover this expensive process adequately in a few articles, so I’ve established a specialized website (billgood.com/seminarhelp) — keep checking for updates as this series progresses!

Very broadly, success in seminar marketing consists of doing the right things and keeping good records of what you did and referring back to these records to ensure that you are staying in the seminar success “zone.” To do this, you need to score well at six different stages of the process:

1. Acceptance Rate. This is the percentage of invitees who accept.

2. Show-Up Rate. The percentage of those who accept who actually arrive.

3. Appointment Request Rate. The percentage of attendees who request an appointment on your “Seminar Report Card.”

4. Appointment Show-Up. This is obviously the percentage of appointment makers who arrive at your office.

5. Close Rate.

6. Post-Seminar Management.

In this first installment of a three-part series, we cover the first two factors.

Acceptance Rate. This needs to be at least 0.8 percent. If, over a series of several seminars, you average 1 percent or higher, your seminar marketing can be wildly profitable.

In general, five things will keep you out of the zone. If you’re getting less than that 0.8 percent return, your problem will usually be one (or more) of these. Fix it, and you can get your response rate up into the success zone.

No Meal. In today’s social contract, if you want two hours of my time, you buy dinner. “Wine and cheese” is not a meal. Neither is “heavy hors d’oeuvres” or “dessert and coffee.”

Bad Location. This is any place well-to-do people don’t go, including public libraries, public meeting rooms, your conference room, shared-office conference rooms, ethnic or cheap restaurants and, very interestingly, country clubs. Good locations are steakhouses or well-known and upscale hotels. There are no “upscale” Holiday Inns.

Bad Invitation. Invitations can fail in countless ways, including no labels, cheap paper or text that is too short to sell the seminar. There are really three styles: letter, wedding and flyer. For the most part, stick with wedding or letter style, and if you can’t get your response rate into the zone, switch. When your response rate goes down, switch again.

Many advisors ask a client or two to send them all their mail from other advisors. Odds are, if you see an invitation over and over, it’s working. If yours is not, make yours look like that one, and this will probably solve the problem.

I have seen countless invitations, but the one thing a successful invitation must do is sell the seminar. One great way to do this is by including some bullet points, as this example demonstrates:

In this timely workshop, you will learn: What to do with cash now. How to apply dollar-cost-averaging in volatile markets.Why a strategy of investing only in fixed-income might leave today’s longer-lived boomers out of money.

Bad Headline. This is actually a subcategory of “Bad Invitation,” but so common it deserves separate mention. When someone opens an invitation, you have all of five seconds to attract attention with your headline, which is normally the title of your seminar.

I recall speaking some years ago to a client who told me, “Bill, I did everything right,” but she still got a lousy response. My first question was “What did you call your seminar?”

Apparently it started with “Fiduciary Responsibility” whereupon I didn’t need to know any more. As far as your “investor in the street” is concerned, something that is “fiduciary” probably belongs to the Centers for Disease Control and is not anything he or she is interested in.

Bad List. There are lots of ways to have a bad list, but let’s focus on the two that will nearly guarantee low acceptance.

The people you invite need to be within five miles of the location. Yes, I know there are exceptions, such as in Texas where people will drive 90 miles just to get a cup of coffee at the local Wal-Mart. But once again, we are talking about the rules, not the exceptions. Beyond five miles, your response and show-up rates will drop dramatically.

And your list can be too old. You should be using a good list company that keeps its lists refreshed constantly. Hanging on to an old list means you’ve got people on it who have moved, plus you are missing the people who have moved in. So keep the lists refreshed.

Show-Up Rate. You can certainly congratulate yourself on getting better than a 0.8 percent acceptance rate. Now you have to make certain the people who said “Yes” actually arrive, because your show-up rate needs to be north of 80%, preferably higher.

Here are the four factors that cause a low show-up rate. Handle these, and you can turn that good acceptance rate into a profitable show-up rate.

No Meal. Surprise! Here we are again. In the unlikely event you got a decent acceptance rate without offering a meal, it is extremely likely that you will have a high “no show” rate. As people think about needing dinner and you are offering wine and cheese, they head for Taco Bell.

Bad Location. Surprise again! They may have thought the Moose Lodge was an intriguing idea for wine and cheese, but now that they think about it, Taco Bell looks a lot better.

Bad List. Surprise again! It’s too far away, so they change their mind at the last minute.

Bad (or no) Confirmation. This is usually the problem. Normally, if you didn’t offer a meal, have a bad location or a bad list, you didn’t have enough acceptances to worry about. So let’s assume you handled your low acceptance rate, but you are still only getting a 50 percent show-up rate.

Here’s the way you fix this:

When someone indicates they would like to attend your seminar, they get a confirmation letter that day or the next that includes a summary of the seminar, what they will learn, a map (if the location is at all complicated) and complete contact information for your office. Send a letter; letters have shelf life. Only confirm via e-mail if their acceptance comes within a day of the actual seminar.

The day before the seminar, have someone from your office (preferably not you) call each respondent to re-confirm. Normally, if your location, lists, topic and time of day are correct, you will get your 80 percent, if not perfect attendance.

Now let’s assume you have done all this and you are only at 60 percent. What do you do?

Simple. Add more confirmations. It’s at this point that you can introduce the menu choice. When you send out your first confirmation, send a menu card offering attendees a choice of New York Steak or Fish (or whatever). A reply envelope is enclosed. Anyone who sends back the card is coming. You now have plenty of excuses to call them again for their menu choice.

Maybe three days before the seminar, you can confirm again. Your confirmation script would say something like, “We are finalizing our menu and need to let the chef know the final order for our seminar coming up on Thursday evening. We have you down for one each of the steak and chicken. Is that correct?”

This gives you two more touches and quite frankly, when everything else is in order, I’m just not aware of cases where this does not get the show-up rate into range.

Next month, we’ll hit that appointment request rate. And after that, we’ll cover the rest of our success factors.

BILL GOOD is chairman of Bill Good Marketing in Draper, Utah, which for 20 years has produced a marketing system to help financial professionals produce the time and money they need to pursue the important things in life. See www.billgood.com.