EricHarlan

How to start and run a successful SharePoint Users Group (Part 3 Sponsors)

Sponsors (When to say NO!)

This will be my most delicately addressed portion of this write up. There will be times where I seem a little tough, but that’s through experience I assure you.

What types of sponsors do you need?

Well that’s a great question really; it all depends on how you and the members want to run the group. Here are ones I can think of off the top of my head.  They are in order by priority:

Location

Basically what it says. The location sponsor, talked about previously, is your bread and butter sponsor and often the most overlooked.  You really need to get a good report with your location sponsor, and you need to be choosy when you pick them.  Give your location a lot of thought; it will save you a lot of hassle in the long term. Please read the piece on Locations above.

Food

Food sponsors can be a bit tricky, here’s the kicker with that. See the object of a food sponsor is to obviously feed the group.  Over the course of 2 years of the Baltimore SharePoint Users Group, we’ve had everything from pizza to seriously high end catered food.   But the problem with food sponsorship is that it’s VERY hard to get a sponsor to put money into the group each month for food (sometimes totaling up to 300 bucks), when they don’t always see any ROI.

As we said in the Locations portion, ROI is everything in the business game.  It will be very rare that you will be able to find a long term food sponsor that is willing to stick with you and shake it up a bit with regards to what gets ordered for each month’s events. If you do by chance find one HOLD ON TIGHT! This will be one of the group’s biggest assets outside of a location to meet obviously.  (Shameless plug, we’re currently looking for one for the BSPUG).

Financial Surplus

Let’s face it, money talks.  I’ll be the first to tell you that you CAN run a SPUG on bare bones funding.  To qualm the bellies of the educated, it takes a simple few slices of pizza, which I’m sure a lot of us could probably swing, hey maybe even a coke or two.  However that’s just simply not the best way.

If you can nail down a solid Location sponsor, you’ve got a great food sponsor and you still have more coming in, take the financial sponsorship. But don’t frivolously blow the cash on happy hour drinks. Save it, yes, be responsible and save it.  Because as I spoke on above, there will be times where there is no sponsor at all, or you have to front some cash for an event or something of that nature. It happens more than you think.

Hosting

For a while in the beginning we started with our site hosted on my personal Linux server. We used a free PHP CMS believe it or not.  We came to the conclusion that this method was free; it enabled us to keep our information fresh, a clean modern look and ability to change features quickly.  One day I received an email from FPweb.net offering to sponsor the users group with a publicly facing WSS 3.0 site.  Well at that point we had no excuse not to “eat our own dog food.”  So we rebuilt the site and skinning around SharePoint and re launched it. FPWeb has been great to us to date.  Try solidifying a hosting sponsor would be a good way to get off on the right foot and be able to get the information about the group out quickly.  But if you cannot score a SharePoint sponsor, make sure whatever you present to the world is easy to read, fresh and has correct information about your locations and sessions.

Swag

This one you can probably go without, but it’s worth mentioning. The swag sponsor usually comes in handy if you have a specific special event or an abundance of regular sponsors at your monthly event. My suggestion here is to harness your marketing skills to put off that sponsor until the next event an allow them to sponsor food which always seems to be the hardest part to come by, if you haven’t picked that up yet.

What makes the perfect sponsor?

The first attribute that I would say makes a great sponsor is that they get what the group is about. They understand it’s a community thing BEFORE it is a business opportunity.  That’s a hard pill for a lot of sponsors to grasp. In a day in age where ROI is everything, it’s often that agendas get wrapped up into something so simple as a food sponsor.

Another attribute of a good sponsor is they have their stuff together. We’ve had sponsors come through that are ordering food last minute or are trying to throw together a presentation.  If they don’t have their stuff together, in the end it’s just going to affect the cohesiveness of the group.

Remember to remain agile in dealing with sponsors, they do bail out, they get other commitments and a lot of the times you just need to fend for yourself. That’s where you’re role comes in, make it happen in adversity.  Plus it will keep you on your toes

Things to look out for

The hard sell

Inevitably you will have a sponsor approach you or has already solidified a speaking engagement at the users group, which would like to present their product.   Like I said before, unless it is someone in the community whose sole intent is to come and spread the gospel, and there are quite a few, company based speakers are coming for the purpose of selling.  Regardless of how they choose to pitch it to the group, they want to sell their product.  There is nothing wrong with this, in fact it helps the community overall HOWEVER, you need to go about it a specific way.

How we go about it at the Baltimore SharePoint Users Group is like so.  When we have vendors come in to present their products we have two options available. A 10-15 minute full on sales demo, they can pitch it as hard as they want but for a short time so it doesn’t get too old and it gives the users of the group something to look for (the end of the presentation) if the pitch is just too over the top.

The other method is to allow a vendor to have the entire session. GASP! What’s that you say? That’s insane?  Well maybe not, what if you required the vendor to demonstrate what their product does but without actually using their product at all.  We’ve had CorasWorks come out a few times and they’re great at this.

As I said in some of my Cons above, the hard sell downright sucks.   No one, including myself, wants to give up their weeknight just to hear how awesome a product that cost a lot of green is.  That gets really old after the first twenty minutes.  But what if a vendor, in order to show how awesome their product was had to demonstrate how you do something in SharePoint (any technology) without using the product, if it can even be done?”

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