10 step to build a local community by Jos poortvliet

10 steps to building a local community
I’ve had the question a few times: how do I build a community [here]? With here being in a variety of countries and places. As I speak to quite a few people who lead local communities, I decided to put together a presentation with 10 steps. Feedback on this is obviously welcome, such a thing is never complete! The presentation can be found here and the notes have far more that what I put below.

Step 1: just start!
Start organizing meetings around the subject of your passion! That’s all it takes. Pick an interesting subject, find yourself a speaker and get going. Start small: invite friends and colleagues. A first meeting with 5 people is fine!

find a free venue, small is OK. Meeting room at company is always nice, but universities and schools often have something too
pick a time after work. 7-9PM works usually fine.
Make sure you have coffee, tea, cake. Not full catering or dinner but basics
try to offer this for free (see Step 5: sponsorship)

Step 2: Get interesting stuff to attract visitors
People come out of interest. So, you have to have interesting meetings. For that, speaker quality is crucial.

Get a good speaker to talk about an interesting subject! Someone who KNOWS HIS STUFF, preferably not a marketing person… but an engineer or so.
meet them before the session to get to know them
make sure they have a good presentation (eg avoid death-by-powerpoint etc), help them to improve if needed
maintain a good relation with speakers – you might want to invite them again!

Step 3: Make sure they stay
Make people feel welcome! A few tips:

make sure you talk to new people and introduce them to others. And introduce them shortly to the group before the talks!
if your group grows bigger, pick someone to do the introduction for you: appoint a ‘director of communication’!

Step 4: Advertise
Getting the word out is important.

set up a nice website with info on the upcoming meetings (something blog-like is fine!)
write short reports on the meetings
use social media: facebook, twitter/identi.ca etcetera. Be sure to automate as much as you can, often you can link those sites to your blog.
provide a place to talk online. Forum, mailinglist, comments on your blogs…

Step 5: Find sponsors
To pay for the coffee and tea it helps to have sponsors.

try to find local sponsors and don’t stop at one so you don’t overtax that one sponsor
ask in the meeting if people know potential sponsors
don’t ask too little money.If you ask $250 you might get 3 sponsors and if you ask $1000 you might only get 1 but – well, do the math… You must realize that $250 or $1000 is almost the same for a company, considering how much trouble they have to go through!
Let sponsors pay for things directly to save yourself the tax trouble; or use American Express gift cheques
reward the sponsors: put their name on your web site, talk to them about what you do, invite them, let them know they matter!

Step 6: Bring friends
Encourage your visitors to talk to others and bring friends. Reward them with some goodie if they do!
Step 7: Reward creativity
Often, people come up with interesting, fun, weird, creative stuff. They create a nice logo for your local community, postcards with the logo, want to give a origami course to fold it, stuff like that.
SUPPORT IT. Creativity is good; it’s fun and showing the love! Talk about it, give people a chance to show what they did. It’s good teambuilding!

Step 8: Find minions
You need to off-load work at some point. Find people to help you!

give responsibility, don’t micro-manage. Mistakes are OK, be patient!
value all contributions, no matter how small, it always helps
give credit where credit is due. If someone takes care of something for a while, give them a title. Nothing’s wrong with being Coffee Master!

Step 9: Be ready for bad weather
Keep the community healthy and fun. That means also to take action when the harmony is threatened.

set up a simple code-of-conduct on your site. Nothing complex, just “behave or you’re not welcome”
if someone mis-behaves, take them apart, talk to them. If they persist, tell them they can’t come for a while. Don’t argue: it’s YOUR event, YOU make the rules
if a public apology is warranted, do it yourself. Be non-specific, just say “something not OK happened, I’m sorry. The person(s) involved are sorry and won’t do it again.”
if the people involved don’t learn, they’re not welcome anymore, period. If you let it drag too long to keep that single person in the group you can loose the whole community! Nobody is worth that, even if they do a lot of work and don’t mean it that badly.

Step 10: Have fun!
With all the tips and ideas in here, you would almost miss the most crucial and important point. If YOU don’t have fun, you’ll be burned out quickly. So make sure it’s fun for yourself.


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