Welcome to Part 2 of my posting offering some tips on how to become a successful CUGC leader! In this last entry, I’ll focus on the Venues, Sponsors, Marketing, and FUN!
- Pick your location(s). You will need to determine where the optimal places to meet are for your region or state. One area may bring more attendance (and sponsorships) than other areas. You could also adopt what we did which is a “revolving” location, in which we move between 3 parts of our state every other month in order to accommodate all our membership.
- Scope out some spots. In the beginning, you will probably only need a smaller space (if actually you need an auditorium early on to fit everyone, which would be awesome!). Check out local (and hopefully free!) public spaces like libraries, schools, and community centers. As you grow, you should progress into larger venues, and sponsorships should be available then to have them paid for. One other suggestion – ask your membership if anyone has a space at their company that you could use. Many companies offer up their conference spaces to such groups without charge, and may even get free Audio & Visual equipment use.
- Find out the logistics. What about audio and visual equipment for presentations, roundtables, and Q&A? Food carry-in or prep? Parking? Maps and directions? These are just some things you need to consider when choosing and starting in your venues.
Marketing the Group –
- Get your business cards. Believe it or not, this is one of the most requested means of contact that we as leaders get today. From sponsors to members, they all want our User Group business cards. Go online and get some made for $25, It will be money well spent, trust me.
- Create your social media. Create your social groups, handles, and presence. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram … all of these are essential for you to get the word out about your group, what is going on, and where it is going on. The audience for these avenues is huge, and you don’t need to hire a marketing firm to get them off the ground.
- Make friends with other groups. Hopefully, there are other user groups in your area or state that you could connect with and share promotions, ideas, venues, sponsors, and most of all, people. Scope out all the others you can find and hit them up! 99% of them (with the exception of competitor groups of course) will be more than willing to help you spread the word for a little help from you for their cause. A small price to pay, I assure you.
And Now a Word from our Sponsors –
- The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. No surprise here, but some sponsors are involved in the user groups for their own marketing purposes, and probably because their marketing budgets pay for them to be there and sponsor your venue, or food, or whatever. You need to understand that and make yourself accustomed to dealing and negotiating with them. The group is about the users, not the sponsors, and providing the technical information that your users want should be priority one for you as a leader. Communicate with sponsors, let them know your purpose, review their presentations for marketing fodder and useful content, and most of all, work with them to provide the best experience possible.
- Ask for Swag. Techies love swag, and sponsors love to give it away. Now, most of the time, they want a contact in return, but sometimes not. There are several national sponsors out there that will gladly provide their branded swag to you to give away at your meeting, and all you have to do is ask. Try it, hit up a few and you may be surprised at what you can get!
- Create a sponsorship agreement and guide. In early stages of your groups’ development, I would suggest that you start forming some type of sponsorship agreement that can be given to prospective and engaged sponsors so that you have a baseline for what you expect, what the costs are, and what they can and cannot do for your group and its meetings. Most sponsors are ok with these, while some have to go through legal hoops to approve them. If they won’t sign, unless you have some other agreement in place (even a handshake will do), maybe they shouldn’t be a sponsor. I’ve seen this work in most cases, but it does fail in some. Your mileage may vary.
And lastly, HAVE FUN! Take pride in what you have built! If being a leader ever becomes a huge burden on your professional and/or personal life, and you’re just not having fun anymore, then stop doing it! Turn it over to someone who can devote the time and energy and keep the group successful and your members interested and motivated!
I certainly hope this helps you on your journey to becoming a great and successful leader. Again, this list is not meant to be all inclusive, but hopefully will get you started. Please don’t hesitate to ask me or any other User Group leader for help. After all, that is why we are here, to help you and the users, period.