In May 2017 Rob Meaney and I started the Ministry of Testing Cork Meetup. In this blog, I will share my experiences and hope they are of value to others who wish to start a Meetup.
The Meetup Mix
1. Brand and Ethos
It’s important to have a brand from the beginning, we were lucky that the Ministry of Testing was willing to trust us with their Brand for the Cork Meetup. We use that brand through out all our marketing, the Meetup app was incredibly useful for spreading the word. We tried various social media channels including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. We found LinkedIn to be the most effective.
The Ministry of Testing Ethos represented what we wanted from the Meetup, progressive in both terms of discussions around quality and also that it was an inclusive group.
Finding a venue is one of the key tasks when setting up a Meetup. You may find that companies are often willing to host your Meetup for free. We were really lucky that the Bank Of Ireland Workbench provided a modern spacious venue for free.
Finding speakers can initially be a challenge, it can take some time to build up a pipeline of local first-time speakers. So Rob and I initially spoke at every Meetup at the beginning until we found a mix of local first-time speakers and experienced conference speakers.
Often experienced conference speakers are willing to speak at no cost if you are running a not for profit Meetup. If these speakers need to travel to your Meetup, it is typically assumed you are willing to cover any expenses. If you don’t have the budget for travel expenses, having speakers remotely present is another option.
It is also worth considering finding the speaker a paid training session in your city, in return they may be willing to speak at your Meetup at no cost.
Talking of budget it’s important to get sponsors involved to cover any costs.
Ministry of Testing covered out Meetup app costs and provided us with an annual budget.
Our main costs were the pizzas we buy for our members at each Meetup and the costs of Speakers traveling to speak at the Meetup, local sponsors helped cover these costs.
5. Share the load
Rob and I did everything at the beginning scheduling speakers, marketing and hosting the Meetups, etc.
Although we knew that the Meetup could not be sustained long term if it was just the two of us. So we asked those who frequently attended the Meetups to get involved. I created the concept of 2 roles, hosts and volunteers. Hosts take responsibility for hosting the Meetup on the night and do some of the Pre Meetup work such as checking in with the venue and speakers. Volunteers help set up the room and welcome members etc. Typically we all take turns as Hosts and volunteers.
Experiment with different formats for the Meetup. We found our members enjoyed lean coffee. Although if we held a Meetup that was just a lean coffee session, nobody turned up. Instead, members seemed to want a speaker followed by a lean coffee session.
If nobody attends your Meetup it is all wasted effort. So it’s important to initially reach out to your local community to find people who will attend and help spread the word.
Once you build up a loyal member base, it’s important to take their feedback on board.
There are huge benefits to running a Meetup, most importantly you get to contribute to your local community. If you want a Meetup to be sustained over time you need support from speakers, the local community and sponsor, at times be a balancing act but hugely rewarding