Part 3. Securing a Venue & Setting a Date

While you’re trying to nail down who to have speak, you’ll need to nail down when and where to have your event. (When you have your event will impact speaker availability.)

Lesson 8 — Before you decide on where (and when) to hold your event: Research, research, research. The last thing you want to do is plan your event while something bigger or more established is going on.

  • Contact local user groups to see if they’re planning anything or know of anything happening in your area.
  • Check out Lanyrd & Plancast to see what’s going on nearby.
  • You’ll also want to check local event calendars to see if anything else is going on near your event. Nearby events could impact parking, getting to your venue, etc.

Lesson 9 — Venues may end up costing you more than anticipated. Get as much information up front as possible.

Shop around for venues. Depending on the type of event you’re having, you might be able to find a space for free (or trade). Rentable event space isn’t cheap. Reach out to local universities, libraries, businesses and see if any of them have space you could use first. If you have to pay for a venue, know that costs can and will fluctuate. Sound, lighting, labor: the costs quickly pile up.

  • Make sure they’re available on the day you want to hold your event.
  • Review contracts, rules and regulations closely.
  • Don’t sign or agree to anything without having others involved in your event review them first.
  • Don’t assume the cost you’re given is fixed unless it is explicitly indicated as such.
  • If you’re a first-timer, the venue may require up-front payment to secure your reservation.

Other questions you might want to ask a potential venue:

  • Are they willing to waive whole or part of rental fee in exchange for sponsorship? (Don’t be afraid to ask. They might say yes.)
  • Is parking readily available? Is it free?
  • Is wi-fi available? Can they handle X number of attendees?
  • When can you begin setting up?
  • Have they ever hosted an event like yours before? (Get what details you can. You might be able to track down that organizer and get their opinions on the venue.
  • Do they have an A/V system you can hook into? (If not, you may need to rent a screen, projector, sound system, etc.)
  • Do you have to use the venue for catering/concessions? (Some may have stipulations for a concession guarantee or charge a fee if you bring in outside goods. Some may outright prohibit outside food.)
  • Is event insurance required? Even if it’s not, I’d highly recommend looking into getting a policy. I used EventHelper.com and coverage for our event ran less that $130. If something were to happen to the venue you’re using, or an attendee was hurt, you could be held personally liable. That’s a bad thing. Trust me.

Part 2: Really Getting Started

Without _____, you don’t have an event.

It’s damn near impossible to market a first year event without a lineup. And you can’t have an event without a venue. And you can’t get a venue without having a date. And getting speakers to commit relies heavily on when your event will happen. (!) This’ll post focuses primarily on speakers.

Do you want to offer a curated lineup or put out a Call for Speakers and select from people who apply to speak at your event? With a curated lineup, you have more control over who appears in your event, but you can be limited by who you know. With a Call for Speakers, you may attract speakers you haven’t heard before. (Maybe a hybrid approach is best?)

Before I had an event, I understood that we needed to have a good core lineup in order to have an event people would pay to attend. Established, well-known speakers help get asses in seats. I reached out to a number of friends to see if they’d be available to speak, and fortunately, they were able to.

Finding local speakers was challenging. I’m not as plugged in as I’d like to be. This is where I leaned on others to help identify people that would be a good fit. (You may want to reach out to local user groups to see if they can suggest great speakers in the area.)

Lesson 6 — Don’t be afraid to ask someone to speak: they might say yes.

If there’s someone you’d really like to have speak at your event, just ask them. They very well might have availability for your event.

Lesson 7 — Don’t get discouraged if someone isn’t available.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear back from someone you’d love to have speak. Be persistent about following up, but don’t be obnoxious. And if they can’t work it into their schedule, thank them for their time and ask them to consider speaking in the future. Even though you’re only planning this event, it hopefully won’t be your last.

Travel & Accommodations

  • Be prepared to cover travel and/or accommodations for your out-of-town speakers. (These costs will impact what you need to charge for your event. Have these discussions as early on as possible. Don’t waste anyone’s time if you can’t afford to have them or if they have unrealistic expectations.)
  • Plan early. If you’re going to make travel arrangements for speakers, don’t wait until the last moment. (This was an area where I really fell down.) The longer you wait, the more likely travel expenses will increase.
  • If applicable, ask them if their company could cover any of their expenses in exchange for sponsorship.
  • If they live close enough, ask them to drive.
  • Hotels are expensive in most downtown areas. Ask to speak with someone on staff and see if they offer group discounts.

Communicate. Often.

Communicate with your speakers often. Leading up to the event, they need to feel comfortable you’ve got your shit together. Let them know if things change. Let them know what your plans are. Let them know when they need to arrive, where they need to be. Don’t let there be any guesswork on the day of your event.

Don’t make it difficult for them to get in touch with you or whoever your point of contact is.

Part 1: Thoughts from a first-time conference organizer

This is the first part of many. I started writing this back in May, right after Web Afternoon Augusta. I’ve been to a number of conferences as an attendee, volunteer/staff and once as a co-organizer of sorts… but this was the first time I really tried to pull a conference together as a lead organizer. (It’s not exhaustive, by any means, but it captures most of what I learned.)

Before I get into the what it took to pull together a conference, I think it’s important to discuss what led me towards thinking it was a good idea to begin with. Prior to Twitter, the web was a smaller, more fragmented place. You learned about things through personal sites and forums. And it was through those sites I first learned about events like An Event Apart and Webmaster Jam Session.

If I hadn’t attended An Event Apart Atlanta in 2006, I wouldn’t have learned about Webmaster Jam Session later that year. I wouldn’t have attended WJS in 2007 and I wouldn’t have met J Cornelius. If I hadn’t met J, I probably wouldn’t have attended any AWDG or any of the conferences I have since then. And I certainly would’ve never entertained the notion of trying to organize something in my own backyard. As I sit here thinking about all of the conferences I’ve been to in the past decade, I’m able to clearly see how they got me to where I am today.

It was because of these events that I met other people in the region and started attending?—?and later got involved in?—?events like ConvergeSC, ConvergeSE, AWDG, WordCamp Atlanta and Web Afternoon.

Lesson 1: Conferences taught me the value of community and the value of learning directly from peers.

It was because of these events and the people I met there that I was inspired to start RefreshAugusta in 2008. I worked daily alongside a very capable group of people, but we stayed to ourselves. I knew there was a tremendous community online, and I was certain there were others in Augusta looking to branch out as well. We held meetings every month from mid-2008 through 2010. We started meeting again last summer and have met almost every month since then.

After Web Afternoon Charlotte in 2012, I approachedJ Cornelius about bringing the event to Augusta. I knew he was interested in seeing the event grow beyond Atlanta, and seeing the Charlotte event succeed was the ammunition I needed to try to make it happen in Augusta. By the end of October 2012, I was emailing key friends about bringing Web Afternoon here and they all loved the idea. I knew I had to make it happen.

Lesson 2: If you care about your community enough, you’ll create opportunities to help it grow.

Give Yourself Plenty of Time

If you’re thinking of starting your own conference, awesome! Just know this: Rome wasn’t built in a day; your conference won’t be either. Give yourself plenty of time to get things ready. Depending on your event, and the people organizing it, you can probably pull things together in a short amount of time, but it’ll add way more stress than most can (or want to) handle.

Lesson 3: Six to eight months of lead time should give you more than enough time to get things ready.

Planning for Web Afternoon Augusta started in October 2012. The event didn’t happen until May 2013. The first few months involved contacting speakers, finding a venue, and reaching out to potential sponsors. As the event drew closer, it involved more time and more effort to pull things together.

Strangers Walk Alone

It takes a special type of person to pull off an event on their own. Maybe you’re that person. I wasn’t, even though I had somehow convinced myself early on I was.

Lesson 4: Don’t be afraid to lean on others for advice or assistance.

If, at any point, you start feeling completely overwhelmed by your event, you need to have a good support system you can rely on. At the very least, you’re going to need someone to handle administrative tasks, sponsorships, marketing,finances and volunteer coordination. Do you really want to be the one wearing all of those hats?

Get others involved that share your passion for bringing this event to fruition. If they don’t care about what you’re trying to put together, do you think they’re going to care when you really need their help the most? Passionate people give a shit.

Conferences Cost Money

Conferences cost money, you need to be prepared to handle dealing with it. Consider creating a separate bank account to handle money that comes in. (At first glance, PayPal might seem convenient, but I’ve heard more than a few horror stories about frozen accounts from other organizers.) Running it through personal accounts is certainly easier, but it could create tax implications for you or whoever handles the money.

Lesson 5: Before you collect a dime, have a plan for how you’ll handle it.

Keep track of all income and expenses. Keeping an accurate accounting of everything that’s come in and gone out is one of the metrics you should use post-event to measure whether another event is viable or not.

While it’s not required, having a line of credit will help expedite your ability to make things happen. Having to wait on ticket sales or sponsorship money will delay your ability to pay for things like your venue, food & drinks, etc.

GiantConf

I’m happy to announce that I’ve been selected to speak at GiantConf in Charleston, SC next summer.

Over the coming months, my talk will likely evolve somewhat, but right now I plan to focus on Leveling Up: In order to grow as a designer, developer and a person we need to step out of our comfort zones more often. This talk will be an exploration on things we can do to push ourselves towards being even more awesome, even if you’re in a situation where that isn’t always possible. It’ll also be a discussion on embracing the things we hate doing. (That which doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger.)

“What you do today can improve all your tomorrows.”
—Ralph Marston

It is a tremendous honor for me to be included in such an incredible lineup. And to be completely honest, I’m nervous as hell. But I’m looking forward to embracing this challenge and being apart of something that could be pretty damn amazing.

See you in Charleston in June!

2013 Jingle Jam 10K

Last year, I joined the Jingle Jam 10K’s Board to assist with design, marketing, and social media. And I’m doing it again this year! (It’s amazing how helping to plan a non-web event can help change your perspective on planning things.)

It’s been a very rewarding challenge to work on the Jingle Jam 10K. I know that it’s supporting an excellent cause, SafeHomes of Augusta, and that I’m doing work that raises awareness of domestic violence. And being able to design things for all aspects of the race, both online and off, has been a great exercise in branding.

2013 JingleJam 10K Run/WalkThe Jingle Jam 10K is a fun-filled, Christmas-themed road race. Runners receive a long sleeve Dri-Fit shirt, jingle bells, and other awesome giveaways! (And there’s also a costume contest!) I would love it if you’d consider participating.

Sign up between today and 10/5 with the code GINORMOUS and you’ll save $5 on registration for the 2013 Jingle Jam 10K. Visit jinglejam10k.com for more information, or head directly to raceit.com to register.

On the fence about whether you can finish a 10K? As long as you can run or walk 10K (6.21miles) within 2 hours, you’re golden! (That’s something even I’ve been able to do!) Need help getting ready?Something like Couch to 10K might help.

Gabba-riffic Redux

In 2009, I released a set of Yo Gabba Gabba iPhone wallpapers. I decided to revamp them slightly, and release some retina-sized images. Enjoy!

Click a thumbnail to view the larger version:

Grab all of the Gabba-riffic wallpapers here.

Yo Gabba Gabba is copyright Wildbrain. No infringement intended.

Preprocess all the things!

preprocess

On October 17th, I’ll be giving my first talk in quite some time, and I’ll be covering a topic that I once feared, but have quickly grown to love: CSS Preprocessors.

Writing CSS isn’t inherently difficult, but it could be much more efficient to author. In this talk, I’ll introduce you to the wonderful world of pre-processing with LESS and Sass. We’ll work through a sample project, where you’ll learn how to write your own mixins, use variables, and more. (And fear not, getting started is easier than you ever imagined.)

TransformAthens — October 17, 2013

Update: I’m also going to be giving this talk at the October 22 RefreshAugusta. You can RSVP here: http://www.meetup.com/RefreshAugusta/events/134933502/