When I ran my annual survey back in December last year, a few people mentioned that they wanted to learn more about creating their own meetup or conference. When I reviewed the responses last in January and saw that, I immediately thought of Ciera, The Made In Mind Social, and her ebook, The Meetup Guide.
Ever wish you could get together with inspiring, like-minded people right in your city? Maybe you’re looking to network, collaborate, or simply make some new friends. If that perfect local event doesn’t already exist, have you ever thought about starting your own?
Planning a local event can feel intimidating. Where do you start? How do you create a successful meetup, the kind that makes people want to return each time it takes place? How can you avoid starting from scratch and learning everything through trial and error? I had the same thoughts when I set out to start my own local event series, The Made In Mind Social, two years ago.
Prior to founding Made In Mind, I didn’t have any experience with event planning. In the beginning, I faced a million questions, did tons of research, and had more than a few challenges. I really wished I had some kind of how-to guide to lead me through each step of the planning process.
The good news? I learned a lot about how to plan and host a successful event through these experiences—and I’m ready to share that knowledge with others who hope to do the same! Like many strategies, you need to start with the Who, What, When, Why, Where and How.
WHY: Purpose, Passion and Goals
It’s not what you do but why you do it that matters. By creating a vision and setting goals upfront, you will be able to maintain a focus throughout the planning process and more easily define the event itself. A clear vision will set you up for success—and concrete goals will allow you to measure that success.
WHO: Partners and Attendees
Of course, you’ll want to think about attendees, who you’ll be inviting. But you’ll also want to consider who you want to work with. To start, think about whether it makes sense to bring on a partner—someone to act as a co-host, a planner, or a coordinator. The other piece of the “who” puzzle is the attendees. Who do you want to invite to the events? What types of people do you see attending? You may wonder if anyone is going to show up (I certainly had that fear!). But just keep in mind that people want to connect. In this age of working from home and electronic communication, many of us are craving real-life, in-person connections. It’s okay to start small and grow from there.
WHAT: Event Format, Branding and Design
Now it’s time to get started on designing the event itself. This part of the process involves two aspects: deciding what type of event you want to host and developing the branding. Let’s be honest, the typical “networking event” involves awkward small talk and stacks of business cards. Giving people something to do or talk about is a great way to encourage conversation. Get your attendees engaged with something active, hands-on, or interactive. Think about what you and your audience enjoy and weave that aspect into the event.
WHEN: Frequency and Timelines
The type of event may dictate when or how often it happens. Or, if it doesn’t, your next step is to select when the event will take place and how often it will occur. Will you host a weekday happy hour—or maybe a weekend brunch? Will it take place once a month, every other month, or quarterly?
HOW: Budgeting and Sponsors
Here’s the good news—you don’t need a huge budget to plan and execute an event. When starting an event series, you may want to consider funding the first event out of your own pocket (or have a low ticket price) to show you’re capable and committed, which is key for establishing credibility once you’re ready to find sponsors. Managing money and getting sponsors on board may seem intimidating, but with a little organization and a professional demeanor, you’ll be able to make things happen!
WHERE: Venue, Vendors and Details
Now, you’ll want to nail down the very important question of “where” (the venue!) and make sure you plan for all the elements of the event itself—the décor, entertainment, food, photography, or anything else you want to include. The venue is something you’ll need to establish as early as possible in the process of planning the individual events. Often, venues will schedule events weeks and months in advance, so you may have to be flexible with your event’s timing if your heart is set on a specific location.
If you want to start your own local event, you don’t need to start from scratch. This list is just a taste of the insights and information I’ve collected in my e-book, The Meetup Guide: How to Create, Plan, and Host Your Own Local Event Series. It’s 60 pages of actionable advice and tried-and-true tips, along with worksheets, recommended tools, and tips from others who have executed many of their own events. It’s everything I wish I had known from the beginning.
Simply put, if you’re looking for a resource to guide you through the process, this is it! You’ll learn your own lessons along the way, but the great part about hosting an event series is that you have a chance to improve the event each time.