But where do you begin?
I've blogged about this from the reversed perspective on my own blog about finding user groups with a small section about what you can do if your thinking about getting one off the ground which you can read at http://blog.kilasuit.org/2016/04/17/how-to-find-local-user-groups-events-my-experience/ and it was only natural to eventually blog from the other side too although this has come up a bit earlier than I had planned to but alas it gets it done
As the Coordinator for the UK PowerShell User Groups I learnt a few things the hard way with setting up a user group and here's just a few things that you will need to get sorted first which will hopefully will help you on your way.
- A way to Publicise the User Group
- A method to get details of attendees including the number of them
- Drive and Determination
Lets look at these in more detail and make a start with Venue.
This is in my opinion the single most important thing to get started with first as without a venue you will be unable to have a user group meeting unless you decide to go down the Virtual meeting route which is certainly the simplest way to get a user group setup and means that you can get speakers and users easier. This is certainly the cheapest option although it has the downside that you don’t really get the networking side of the meetings.
If you want to go down the virtual meeting route then you will need a way to host the meetings which could include the following
- Skype – the free consumer version
- Skype for Business – as part of an Office 365 subscription or a standalone subscription.
- Cisco WebEx
Personally I would be going down the Skype for Business route as part of an Office 365 subscription – I currently pay £4 a month for Exchange, SharePoint & Skype, oh and Yammer too, so to me its a no brainer
However if like myself you enjoy the networking side of things at a user group then what does the ideal venue look like to me.
There are a few avenues that I would try and go down first of all before looking for a venue elsewhere and these would include
- Checking with your employer if they had a venue space that could be used at all
- Checking with other people that you know locally to see if their employer’s have an event space available.
- Checking with local libraries, schools, colleges & universities
- Reach out to other local user groups to see if the venue they use could also be available for you to use as well.
- Reach out to any local Microsoft contacts that you may have.
- Reach out to other PowerShell User Group Organisers worldwide – there are a number of us and we can help out with any questions you may have
- Reach out to local MVP’s as well.
- Reach out to other local but well known community members
- Reach out to any companies that make tools around the products – so SAPIEN for PowerShell & Red Gate for SQL Server as examples
- Is there any companies that you know locally that may host your user group?
- Are there any big national/international companies in the area that could host your user group?
When you’ve gone down these paths and still need to find somewhere then there are a few things that I look out for in a venue which includes
- Location – is it easy to get to and is there parking near by especially for those travelling from out of town.
- Do they already host other user groups? (See the linked post at the top to check this) If yes then they are friendly to User Groups - this is a big bonus and makes your time dealing with them much easier.
- Cost – I’ve been quoted over £500 for the hire of a venue for an evening before any catering costs for the evening.
If your still struggling for a venue that has a technical background then ask at your local Pubs & hotels what their function room hire costs are – some of them can be quite cheap and pubs especially are good as they will sometimes do reduced rates on food and drinks for the User Groups – so win win
This can then be the next most difficult thing to get sorted when your getting the group off the ground so I’ll be honest here and tell you it straight. Be very prepared to be the only speaker. This is of course if in talking to the people in line with trying to get a venue you were unable to get any of them to commit to being a speaker as well, especially MVP’s and other local companies.
If that is the case then I would be very suggestive of doing an “Introduction to x” type session. Ones that I would suggest include
- Building GUI’s for PowerShell Scripts
- General PowerShell 101
- Tips and Tricks with PowerShell
These are all PowerShell specific but you can also use introductory talks about any topic at any type of user group - I personally find these go down really well with attendees of all skill sets and these tend to be relatively easy to pull together a session on in a short amount of time.
These topics are still highly requested by attendees especially if you can do a hands on session and/or can get any locally known community members or MVP’s to present.
Over time you will start to get attendees that will want to present as well so be open for giving them opportunity to do so in which ever form suits them to do so, whether it be a lightning talk of 5-15 minutes or a 45minute session or an hour session or a 2 hour session. One thing you want to make sure is that you ask for this at each event as you'll find some people will come back to you after the event with an idea for a session.
Also have a look at http://communityconnect.site/ for potential speakers as this is a community driven initiative to help share potential speakers with organisers & if you are a speaker please look to get yourself listed on this site.
Publicising the User Group
Next we will cover the ways to publicise the User Group.
The places that you will want to do so are
- PowerShell.org Calendar and Blog Posts
- PowerShellgroups.org – I’m still trying to get the UK Groups published on there so if you know who runs that site please let me know! (This i think is no longer active)
- Twitter - set up a Twitter Account for the User Group
- Facebook – in the PowerShell Group and also in your own timeline
- LinkedIn – In the PowerShell Groups there and also by publishing it in your feeds and in the new LinkedIn posts too
- Your own blog
- The PowerShell Slack team – if your not already on slack then sign up at slack.poshcode.org
- Email using a distribution list or service like MailChimp (integrates well with Eventbrite)
- Eventbrite (because its free to use)
- Meetup although I’m not a fan of the cost structure for it but it is a good place for visibility. Please see my notes at the bottom of this section.
- Group Website – doesnt have to be fancy and GitHub pages are a good free way to get this sorted as well.
- Buy the Domain Name for your User Group
- Create Excel Surveys / Forms / SurveyMonkey's for Speaker Submissions, Topic Requests, Session Feedback etc and use subdomains for easy links
- Tell MVP’s as its the best form of free advertising you will ever get
- Attend other User Groups and tell people there about it
- Cold call/mass marketing to local/national/international companies and let them know about it – LinkedIn is a great source for doing things like this and you can do this via existing connections or just search for people in your local area and message them about it.
Notes - There's a lot of discussion about which platform out of EventBrite and Meetup provides the best value and feature set.
I was of the opinion that Eventbrite was the better of the 2 options for getting off the ground, however meetup has a more polished feel to it with features like shared groups, group search, discussion forums etc and also Organisations.
Organisations in Meetup allow for Collectives like the UK PowerShell Collective that have many groups across the UK to centrally manage them and also have a sing;e place to view all meetup groups as per https://www.meetup.com/pro/uk-devopscollective/ of which there is a cost to this but if you are organising many events in towns and cities that may be a better option for you. Another good example of using this functionality is the .NET Foundation - https://www.meetup.com/pro/dotnet
Meetup overall is a more social platform and therefore I would recommend using that one if you can justify the costs behind it.
Attendee Details and Numbers
So this is really a rehash of a little bit of the above however I’m going to give some pros and cons to both Meetup and Eventbrite so that you can decide which one you want to go with.
- Free if you don’t charge for the event
- Easy to use
- PowerShell Module to automate it is partially built (because I built it – will be released this weekend to the PowerShell Gallery)
- Social plugins to see if anyone your friends with on facebook are going
- Easy method to share about the event
- Can have a subdomain for your group like get-psuguk.eventbrite.co.uk
- Can send out invitations to previous attendees when you make an event live
- Mail Chimp can be integrated very easily as well
- Can get Name badges etc from it very easily if required
- Can add in questions and different ticket types - useful if you want to have organisers / attendees / sponsors tickets
- Can also ask questions on the ticket types – may help you plan for the audience of the event.
- Has mobile Apps
- Not as widely used as meetup for user groups now
- Its more pushed for larger events where there are tickets being sold as there are a number of marketing options built into it.
- Perhaps too clunky as it tries to do too much
- Much more social experience – Good to see you feature
- Can see if other friends are group members
- Can see other similar groups as well from the members that are part of the group
- Sponsor Section which is quite cool
- Share Stats, files run polls have discussions
- Has mobile apps
- Also has a PowerShell module being built to help automate meetups
- It isn’t free to use
- Again has perhaps too much its trying to accomplish so can feel clunky
This is one that is used by a group I try and attend called DigiCurry and it is just easy and simple – so perhaps start off with that at https://attending.io/
- Signups integrate with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn
- Perhaps too simple
- Not really great for bigger meetups
- Not well known
Drive and Determination
Going down the road of running a user group can be a lot more work than most realise so before you go down this road please be mindful to plan for the group to scale out depending on where you are located. The UK User Groups are growing at a rate where we are having to look at other possible venues to the ones that we have been using but as we are also a National User Group we also have to plan for new venues in new towns and cities around the UK.
Also be prepared to have to write a presentation in an afternoon or have a few presentations prepared to pull out of the bag incase speakers drop out – which can happen last minute.
If that doesn’t scare you and you want to plow ahead and do it (which you really really do) then I hope that this post has been useful to you
I would recommend as a final piece of advice I would look to to decide on a schedule for the group for a full year and stick to it – you can plan what topics / speakers you have as the time comes closer but get a schedule put together.
Lastly I would like to point you to another blog post on this by one of the other PowerShell User Group leads Thom Schumacher - https://powershellposse.com/starting-a-powershell-users-group-tips-and-tricks/
I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading and I will update this post as I learn more that can be helpful for you too and from what the community gives as suggestions
Feel free to leave any comments on here or to tweet me and have a read of the other articles I’ve written on here or my own blog and good luck on the path you are taking to become one of the PowerShell UG Leads – perhaps I’ll get chance to come speak at your user group in the future