Users Group Location (Location, Location, Damnation)
One of the most critical aspects of the users group you’ll have to overcome is a CONSISTENT SUSTAINABLE location. The users will need to know where the sessions are every month. A consistent place (and consistent area at that place) is so very important.
I’ve know of nightmares where users groups who will bounce from library to library, conference room to conference room, and move every time another venue has priority. This could be a huge deal breaker of a problem if the area that you have these sessions at are a major metro area. A location that in the matter of 10 miles will mean rush hour gridlock or smooth sailing drive times, not to mention the overall hassle of it constantly telling users a new place to go, breaking that comfort level you once had.
We in Baltimore are dealing with a situation somewhat in the middle. We have a consistent location, but the rooms change frequently because of other events that are planned there that earn the company revenue. We stay because the sponsor is great, gives us whatever we need if they can and have a great lab facility at our disposal, so there are pros and cons that are weighed out on this matter (starting to catch that pattern?).
Last year when we had our sponsor debacle and chose to move, we did a survey of all our regular members. In the survey we asked what town they lived in, and where they worked. Why ask such personal information you ask? Well there was a very good reason! We had the option of 3-4 different locations at our disposal, but we wanted to choose the location that had the most to offer and was in the most centralized location. We found that everyone was almost equal distance from proposed new spot. The only exception we had was one lady who it actually made the drive a longer one, however easier (more freeways) at the same time. So it seemed to all fall into place for us.
You obviously will not have this luxury just starting out, because you won’t really know who the users are until you actually start the group. In this case the best thing to do is just keep in mind how traffic patterns are, where your tech communities are and try to pick a spot that is convenient to most people and will add to the users wanting to come out each month.
The next thing I would address, as I said in my initial overview, is identifying if there are any other users groups in your area. This doesn’t mean the same technology as the one you are starting, but any that may interfere or challenge the user to make a choice between the group you are trying to get going and an already established group that may deal in the same line of technology (example: dot net group vs. a SharePoint group). In the spirit of the users group, you don’t really want to try to steal members away, that’s not the way to go about it. The way to approach it is to offer something that the other group doesn’t, make a time that doesn’t conflict and give the user the choice to go to one or the other OR BOTH!
Another important aspect of picking a location is going to be the ability for that facility to cater to your growth. The Users group you start will inevitably be small, that’s the nature of the beast, you’ll have to get the word out there and until you do be prepared to start off small. There will be a balance you’ll need to weigh between logical space now (something small) and a larger space to grow into.
There is a certain lack of appeal to walk into a huge room and yet only have 8 people sitting in there. It honestly is a little depressing. But I will tell you this; there is a lot of motivation to pack out that room every month. It will make you work harder to get more people in the room. The more you can stay motivated to get people in the door and spread the good word, the better.
As I mentioned above, the current location of the Baltimore SPUG has labs. UMBC Training centers is essentially that, a training center. They have a great program in place to image hard drives and get things on them that you need to do real time full group demos. I don’t bring this up to specifically pitch UMBC Training (even though they have SharePoint training as well), but I bring it up to point out that when choosing your location look past your current need. We wanted to hold code camps or hands on “SharePoint Saturdays.” We leveraged this location sponsor to help us get to the point of logical expansion, so should you.
I can tell you that a place that’s hard to find and harder to find a parking spot will turn the Users off very quickly. The first location we had was tucked back in a business park. For first time people coming to the group, it was tricky to find it. Even today our location is just a bit tricky to find, its back off the beaten path as a result we have had a few occasions where users will tell me they looked and looked but couldn’t find the meeting place.
Consider a slew of LARGE signs. 8×10 pieces of paper just don’t cut it when you’re doing 40mph down the road. Once at the correct place, smaller signs guiding the user to the correct session space. A great idea is those “house burglar alarm warning signs”. You know the ones like ADT or Brinks or any other alarm company? Well I don’t mean the sign itself because that might be much too small however, those little yard signs sometimes come with solar powered led lights that charge a small battery and at night turn on. These are great to put on your road side signs to shed a little light on dark nights (usually winter time). I’m sure you can find lighting solutions very cheaply online.
Hey they’re a sponsor right?
Keep in mind a location is essentially a sponsor. You should remember to extend the same perks to your location sponsor as the sponsor that feeds you. But you should also remember that a location sponsor has a lot more leverage in the users group.
When to bail? Let’s hope with the group you help establish you never have to address when to leave a location. Ideally you should make this choice once. But as I said in the last part of this write up, you have to be agile, and in being agile that might mean you need to cut your losses and pack up shop for another location. There are a few warning signs you might want to keep an ear to the ground for. First like I said above, you have to remember that a location sponsor holds the most active sponsorship in the SPUG. They have the power to close their doors, impose themselves more than the rest and align themselves over time because they could be the only long term sponsor you have. Be careful when you start hearing “User group brought to you by “X” “, or something to the effect of “we put on the Users group” etc. These could all be very innocent and just another part of the game you’ll need to play, but in our case they were indicators to something much more devious at hand.
ALWAYS have a back up plan. Always have a ace up your sleeve incase you need to move quickly. Have everything in order to pass that information onto the users and minimize the time down as much as possible. Be aware of this, I’ll cover this more in “Sponsors”.
What Makes a good SharePoint Users Group Location checklist:
- Stable Location
- Alternate User Group “Isolation”
- Centralized Location
- Growth Potential
Please stay tuned for the next segment of this 5 part write up: “Sponsors (When to say NO!)” this will be an important one.
(feel free to leave comments if you think I miss anything)