Am I saying that you need to do that? Absolutely not. I am simply giving you a bit of background about how I began. Everyone is different and handles tasks and responsibilities differently. You should only do what you feel comfortable with, and maintain a level of involvement that keeps you and your family happy, and that won’t lead to you being burnt out.
That really sets the stage for what to expect the first few months of managing a user group. What do you expect during this time? That very question is what keeps the majority of people from even starting a user group. However, I will tell you a bit about it now…
The first thing that a new leader will need to get over is just having the meeting. All too often I have seen group after group go stale and never get off of the ground because the leader didn’t think there was enough people to have the meeting. I am always confused by this, as there isn’t a magic number that you should be looking for. Really, 3-4 people for your first meeting is fine.
Once you have the ability to have a couple of people to have the meeting, find a place and hold it. Your first meeting should serve at least one of two purposes. First, you need to talk to the people that show up, and find out from them what kind of user group they want to have. Even the user group is under your direction, you need to make sure that direction is what the people that come expect to have. Otherwise, you will lose all of your attendees.
The other purpose is to have a mini-presentation, but only if you have the resources to do so. No one expects too much for the first meeting. In fact, the ODUG’s first 3-4 meetings were all kind of this way. They tended to be more of a round-table discussion than anything else.
Don’t be surprised if your attendance levels aren’t packing the room the first few months. Depending on your area and many other factors, you may never pack the room, despite our greatest efforts. However, you shouldn’t expect too many people to show up to the first 3-4 meetings. Many people are waiting for those meetings to happen to see if there’s any buzz going on. If there is, they will likely be at another meeting soon.
That being said, make sure to keep your members in the loop, even if they’ve never been in a meeting. Maintain a consistent outbound flow of communications telling everyone how great the meetings are. Post pictures of all of the happy faces at the meetings for everyone to see. The more fun it looks like you’re having, the better it will be.
You cannot expect your first few meetings to have top-notch speakers. During this first period of time, usually the user group leader ends up being the presenter. So, have at least 2-3 presentations or discussions ready. I call them “canned” presentations, because they just need to be opened up, and you can make it happen.
Keep your first handful of presentations newbie-friendly. Anyone that’s new to DNN should be able to walk in and be perfectly comfortable with the topic and discussion.
Follow the marketing tips below to find more speakers.
Regardless to how many people show up, and how many new faces there are in the crowd, you need to give everyone in the room the opportunity to talk to each other, and in many cases, force them to do so. By our very nature, techies are anti-social, so you may have to introduce people to each other and so on.
Get people to talk about what they do, their latest projects, and more. When you see an opportunity to get two people to know each other that are working on similar projects, introduce them. You’re a DNN match-maker.
If you do this in the beginning, this will set the tone, and before you know it, the rest of the members will be doing this for you. From that point forward, all you’ll have to do is make sure you give new faces the same experience as future meetings occur. Your members will be looking for more members in tandem with your own efforts too.
Give your user group a website, and a twitter account. Make sure that everyone know how to share any information on either site. This will allow them to keep the conversations going outside of the meeting, hopefully gaining more and more new members.
Your meetings will happen. You will end up having a core group of members that always show up, no matter what. However, in order to guarantee growth and to keep a regular number of seats filled, you will need to make sure that you are always marketing the user group.
Get involved with the local .Net and SQL Server user groups. Make sure that they know who you are. Get a t-shirt made with the user group name and website on it (sites like cafe press make it easy and cheap). Wear it to every community event.
Have business cards on you that have the user group website on it (sites like vista print make this easy and cheap). Hand one to everyone that seems even remotely interested. Sure… You will see a couple of those cards on the floor later, but you can reuse those for other people. Don’t worry about it. I even use them to write technical information and other contact information on so that they will still see the user group info on one site, and the written information on the other.
Become friends with the other user group leaders and the local Microsoft Developer Evangelist. Have them introduce you to other people in the area that are influential. Remember to wear your garb and bring your business cards.
When you put this all together, you have formula that will guarantee the stable growth and culture inception of your user group. The growth will be a direct reflection of how much time you put into the formula. So, the growth can take anywhere from 3 months to a year. The important thing is though, the growth will happen! I cannot put into words the amount of gratification you’ll feel once you make it to that point though.