Boosting your profile and generating leads are two reasons to start and run your own Meetup group. David Reilly of digital skills training agency Lets Learn Digital runs through the 9 key steps to making yours a success.

After attending the London Entrepreneurs Meetup group back in January 2014 , I was inspired to start my own group – Future Thinking in Digital Marketing. We now have 672 members, but I know from my experience of organising it that it can be hard work, particularly in the early stages. But it’s undoubtedly hugely beneficial for small businesses.

Here’s my check list of things to consider when starting your own Meetup group:

What’s your niche?

Think carefully about the purpose of the group, your target audience, and what kind of profile member you are looking to attract. Are they business focused or hobbyists? Are you tackling a niche topic or is it populist? Is there potential to grow the group? I’ve been careful to not make my events exclusive to marketing people, but also entrepreneurs, futurologists and technologists who are curious about disruptive technology.

You can use the Meetup website to conduct your own research, search for themes and look for gaps in the niches you’re looking to start in.

Build a decent profile on Meetup

Once you’ve decided on your theme, you need to create a group page on Meetup. The cost of doing so for the organiser is $120 US dollars per annum or £80 a year. This will enable you to host the event on the website and Meetup will provide you some support, albeit limited.

Be sure to provide a clear description under the ‘About Us’ tab to explain what the group is for, who it’s aimed at and idea on what you’ll learn if you attend.

You should also create a distinct logo for your group and upload it to a relevant image.

Pick a date for the first event

Give yourself a minimum of three months to find speakers and generate support for your first event.
Think about which night of the week you should choose to ensure optimal attendance. This will also be determined by the availability of venues.

From experience, my preferred days to host a Meetup event are either on Monday or Tuesday evenings. This is because I want to make it easy for both regular and new members to attend, and I’ve found there are usually more venues available in London on these days.

Find a venue

This is one of the most challenging considerations when you host your first event, because you can never be 100% sure exactly how many people are going to attend the first one. With this in mind, for my first event I played it safe and decided to go with a venue that had enough space for up to 40 people but had the capacity to overflow if necessary. As it turned out, 25 people turned up and the room was reasonably busy. In my experience, typically two-thirds of those who confirm their attendance actually turn up.

Make sure the venue has everything you need. Do you need projectors for presentations? Sound capacity and scale? The ability to scale up for future events? All worth thinking about.

Decide on your topic

To maximise interest in the event, you should choose a topical theme Don’t overthink it. It doesn’t need to be complicated. But it’s useful to have something to structure the evening.

Find speakers

Good speakers are vital. This has been my key learning from running events. When you’re only just starting out it can quite challenging to attract good speakers. You need to be persuasive and clear about the reasons behind why they should speak. Most great speakers will do it for free – if only for 30 minutes. The other key recommendation is to make sure speakers educate rather than sell their product. This is important because the audience will switch off if they feel they’re being sold to.

Here are some suggestions for finding suitable speakers:

  • Reach out to the audience in your group to see if anyone would like to talk or if they know of anyone that would be suitable.
  • Use Twitter to post callouts.
  • Handpick people and reach out to them directly.

Schedule your Meetup group

Once you’ve decided on the topic, scheduling your Meetup is easy and will provide you with momentum once it’s confirmed. The description of the event is key here, as this is what will entice your members to sign up. Make sure that you write a captivating title and provide enough information on what attendees should expect. Details about the topic and the speaker should be included in the main description box and adding photos of the venue can help to drive interest.

Before you set the event live, you need to consider whether you’re going to ask members to pay to attend. My own advice is to charge, even a minimal amount, because then you sift those attendees who will definitely want to come along. The payment gateway on the website seamlessly connects to PayPal, so it’s very easy to set-up payment requirements.

Promote the event

You now need to allocate time to promote the event. The first one is critical.But it’s important to be realistic about attendee numbers. It takes time to build, so approach it as a long-term project. The marketing tactics you employ here will vary depending on the audience you’re looking to target, but below are some recommendations to consider:

  • Use all of your own contacts, friends and LinkedIn connections
  • Ask members of related Meetups to share withgroup colleagues and anyone else they feel would be interested in joining
  • Post on Twitter
  • Add it to Tech City News, Wired Events Eventbrite and other relevant listings sites.
  • Include the Meetup badge on your company website to drive traffic through to the page.

On the day of the event

You need to be really organised on the day of the event, particularly when it come sto speakers.

Here are some tips:

  • Get to the venue early to make sure everything is ready
  • If your speakers are using Powerpoint get them to send the slides to you a week before the event
  • A quick email reminder to all attendees should be sent first thing in the morning to check they’re still coming. The RSVP functionality within Meetup.com is great for you to be able to keep check on numbers and who is coming
  • Print out name badges for all the guests and include their company name and Twitter handles. It makes networking so much easier if you can see who’s who on the night
  • Print a sign that you can post in the venue to show members where to find you
  • Bring your camera and make sure you take lots of pictures on the night
  • Be prepared to welcome all your members when they arrive, explain any formalities of the evening and introduce them to other guests
  • Before the presentations start, call the group together and thank them for coming
  • Give all attendees a feedback form and ask them to fill it out at the start of the evening
  • Sit back and enjoy the evening – asking for feedback as you go. You can apply it to the next event

 

David Reilly is the owner of digital marketing skills business Lets Learn Digital http://www.letslearndigital.com/

Have you run a successful Meetup group? If so, share below