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An Event Organiser’s Checklist

Over the past three years I have been part of the organising crew behind the DDD Melbourne conferences. Together with my friends Alex and Mahesh we have put together the conferences from scratch and I thought I would share some of the points, thoughts and concepts we struggled with and overcame (mostly).

Although the event was a community event and the format was focused around the community, I won’t go into the structure of the event. The following points of advice are general and can be applied to any event format.

Venue

To me this is the most important point to get right. Once you have settled on putting on the event, you need to lock down the venue sooner rather than later. The venue is the heart of the event and most other points can be managed closer to the date of the event. You don’t want to be stuck with the wrong venue, nor having to suddenly move the whole event. Keep the following points in mind when looking for an event (in no particular order).

When you get a sponsor on board you get an association with that brand and their values.

  • Rooms: Based on your event format look for rooms to hold the talks, workshops, keynote, tea breaks, lunch and so on.
    Have an idea beforehand of number of seats needed in each room and make sure you can accommodate 10-20% extra. You never know if you might need the extra space.
  • Location: Make the venue easy to get to. Ideally the venue is close to multiple forms of public transport (trains, trams, busses, metro, kangaroos etc)
  • Price: Depending on the format of your event, try and get the venue for free or as cheap as possible.

Sponsors

Any event is in need of cash. Sponsors can provide that. But sponsors give you more than just money or prizes. When you get a sponsor on board you get an association with that brand and their values. It is important to choose sponsors well, and not just bring anyone in that gives you something for your event.

If you are putting on a technology conference, get sponsors in that space; sponsors that provide extra value to your event.

Make sure you have something to sell. Sponsors want to know what they get for their investment. Don’t be fooled; they only give you money or prizes because they see a return on their investment. Add their logo to your handouts, website, name tags, prizes, slide templates etc.

Set up different sponsorship levels (Standard, Silver, Gold, and Platinum etc.).  This will allow more sponsors to come on board and you can upsell their interest in the event. For example

  • Platinum: Logo on all material including name tags, slides, emails etc. Allowed to set up a booth in the common area of the event. Access to emails for participants (that have opted in to do so). Cash donations of X amount.
  • Gold: Logo on some material. Allowed to set up a booth in the common area of the event. Cash donation of Y amount.
  • Silver: Logo on name tags only. Cash donation of Z amount.
  • Standard: Prize giveaways only.

Presenters

You don’t have an event if there is no content. Engage speakers and presenters as early as possible. The content and those who present it is mainly what will sell tickets to your event.

Set up guidelines for the speakers and be in regular contact, so they don’t forget or are left to their own. Explain the format of the sessions, what you expect them to do, what they can’t do. At the last DDD event we had a presenter that we didn’t know or had heard about before. Nothing wrong with that. But they gave a too short presentation and it ended up being a sales pitch, which was one of the points we specifically had asked not to. Had we qualified the speaker and their motive beforehand we might have spared our attendees this experience.

If you pay your presenters make sure that it is all in writing and there are no surprises.

Chances are one or more will back out for whatever reason. Have backups ready at a moment’s notice.

Giveaways

Everybody likes something for free. Door prizes, spontaneous giveaways, exit-survey prizes etc. are all extra motivators to keep your audience engaged. Prizes don’t have to be expensive, large or unique. They do have to add value though. At one DDD event we had stickers from a sponsor. Only problem was that the sticky bit was on the back of the bit you peel off the sticker. In other words a very nice non-stick sticker. Safe to say not many people grabbed any of those.

Make something out of the giveaways too. Make sure as many people as possible see you give out stuff and put focus on it. After all you are giving away lots of stuff for nothing.

Catering

Hungry and thirsty attendees are a dangerous prospect. They are more noisy, less attentive, distracted and hard to manage. Make sure you have plenty of food and drinks for the event. I would not recommend relying on people to bring their own, as most wont. Which means they have to leave the venue, get back late, complains etc.

Outsource what you can (order pizza, sandwiches etc for lunch) and buy in bulk what you can’t.

Have Fun and Network

You are the main person for your event. Use it. Make sure you talk to presenters, sponsors and get your name out there. After all, the more you know the easier it is to get them on board again.

Have fun with it. Set yourself goals in terms of how many attendees you want and how many sponsors. If you are positive and believe in your event, you will get more just like you. After all, why are you doing it, if you don’t enjoy it?


Top 7 Things For A Startup IT Consultancy

In the not so distant past I decided to start up my own business. The idea was to earn a bit of extra cash by taking on small projects. A relatively simple way of helping out people who are somewhat dehydrated when it comes to IT skills. Oh boy have I learned. Over the past months I have considerably reconsidered my take on being a sole trader. Thus follows my take on the top 7 things to consider when starting your own IT consultancy.

Aim at setting up maintenance contracts, monthly subscription fees or any other form of recurring income.

  1. Find residual income
    For me the main reason was to build a business that would generate more income the longer I was working it and the more clients I had dealt with. The only way that can happen is through residual income. Finishing a project for a lump sum is nice in that 30 minutes after you get paid. But then you realise that you now have to find another contract. You are simply trading time for money. It is essentially still a job; only difference is that you are your boss. Aim at setting up maintenance contracts, monthly subscription fees or any other form of recurring income. Create once, sell multiple times.
  2. Double the analysis more than halves project time
    Because you are only yourself, you need to be incredibly time efficient. Something I do really poorly. I have more than once jumped straight into a project, where the path was very clear in my head. But poor analysis of client requirements sunk the timeline for the project, as the client thought you meant round, when in fact you said square. Find out what the most important feature or part of the project is in the client’s eyes and go from there.
  3. Understand what the client wants
    An oldie but a goodie. Have you ever asked a tradesman to carry a job, only to find out he understood it completely differently? It is no different in IT. Because you are the expert, the client will talk about concepts and ideas, which are clear in their head, but poorly communicated. You need to come down to their level and speak their language to get in their head and extract the idea in terms that can be put down on paper. I once had a prospect come to me with “I have a Nail & Beauty salon, I’m thinking of having a website.” That was it. Now go and design and code the site. Impossible.
  4. Learn to say “no”
    The most overused word by business people that don’t have a technical background is “just”. Can you just move that up there. Can you just make those pictures smaller. Can you just…. As soon as you open the door to accepting their comments of “just”, you are heading for a loss. A loss of time, loss of scope, loss of profit, loss of sanity. If you have any doubt, re-read point 2 above. Get to the core requirement as early as possible, and stick to it. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the client will back down when you say no. You are the expert, you know what is possible. Say no now, but open the door for more work post completion of the project.
  5. Only take on projects of interest
    I took on a project where the client wanted a web server set up as part of the project. I am a developer, not a sys admin. I can probably set up web servers for my own use, but professionally is another thing. I like developing software and exploring new technology. I really have very little interest in servers and infrastructure. I ended up getting a friend to do it and the project took much longer than necessary. The client was unhappy and I was unhappy.
  6. Communicate
    If you don’t regularly communicate with your client about wins and losses, they don’t feel warm and fuzzy. Reassurance from you as the expert, that you are on top of things is paramount. If something breaks and delays the project, tell them. Honesty goes a lot further than silence. I always tell things as they are. If something goes the wrong way, analyse, figure out a solution then tell the client. Let them know that you are on top of it.
  7. Have fun
    Sound like a cliché, but it is true. If you don’t enjoy what you do, then everyone around you will feel miserable too. I will argue that you can’t be successful in your own business if you don’t enjoy the work and the challenges. Sure, there are obstacles, but it feels great to power through them. If you don’t have the passion, don’t bother.

Windows Phone Clawing Back

I have been using Windows Phone as my primary mobile OS since it came out in October 2010. I had an iPhone, which I was very happy with, but the lack of innovation and the extremely strict rules imposed on the device I own made me consider my options, once my contract was up for renewal. I have probably always been a bit of a Windows Fanboy, but the first iPhone available Down Under (got mine in 2008) was by far the best device on the market at the time. The Windows Mobile offering (which incidentally preceded my iPhone) was clunky, ugly and designed by developers.

When WP7 came out in Australia the iPhone penetration was close to 50% for all mobile web traffic and that was only due to Android. No one really cared about WP7. Except me.

To me it was a lime green car, a platter of raw marinated fish, a … Allow me to explain.

I would argue that most of the “popular” consumer items have the sheep effect. If it is shiny and the guy next to you have one and tells you how great it is, you must have one too. Surely it must improve your life exponentially and you can get all the benefits that everybody else gets, combined. This shininess is a major part of anything being successful, as well as a well-oiled marketing machine. Most of the people I ask why they have an iPhone, will say something like “It is the best”, “I can check my email” or “I can listen to music and download apps”. Most bought it because it is “what you do”. This is what I call the sheep effect. Just look at the long lines outside Apple stores when a new product is launched. None have held the device or even seen it, yet they still part with a large wad of cash buying an unseen and untested item. Hats off to Apple.

And this is where I like the lime green car. Most people buying a car will get a silver, black or white car. Mainly because of resell value, but also to not stand out too much. They want the safe choice that everybody else has. In my world the grey, silver or black car is the iPhone. Not terribly exciting, but shiny and has some nice buttons. Oh, and everybody else has one.

I want the lime green car. The option that is against the stream, against the norm. I want to consider all choices, and then choose the option that best does what I need.

And all this leads me to an article I recently came across. For some reason people are now starting to port the Metro UI from Windows Phone to iOS. Seems odd that someone will try and force a conceptually completely different paradigm onto the iOS platform, but all I can surmise is that there must be a market for it. Perhaps it is a case of “because I can”.

I am generally not a fan of making something fit into a mould that was never meant for it in the first place, and this is the same. If you want Metro UI, get a Windows Phone. Or even Windows 8 very soon.