My Playbook For Putting On a SQLSaturday Part 1
The Long Road
I am going to post this as a series covering, in detail, everything humanly possible about the logistics of SQLSaturday #97.
Fiddly bits. I cannot tell you how important it is to plan in minute and excruciating detail. If you don’t have a ton of experience in event planning I don’t recommend you “wing it” or leave it for later. We had a very aggressive time table and little experience planning this kind of event. Both of those could have been the undoing of the whole event. Having several detail oriented people made the difference in our case. What we lacked in experience we made up with time and energy. We asked lots and lots of questions from other people who have done SQLSaturday’s. Jonathan Gardner, Ryan Adams and Andy Warren were all instrumental in the success of SQLSaturday Austin.
A Key thing to have in place before you can start your SQLSaturday is pretty simple. People, you must have a core group of people to handle the planning and logistics. For a small event three people may be enough to get everything done even if one person drops out. In our case I lined up five. We had one drop out but found a replacement so the workload didn’t get too crazy for any one person.
The first rule of leading something like a SQLSaturday event is respect. Everyone is volunteering their time or money and in some cases both. No matter how small the contribution realize that person didn’t have to give at all. Treat everyone with respect, period. Don’t belittle anyone or any task. Planning a SQLSaturday can become overwhelming very quickly and everyone will be leaning on each other for moral support. If you lay the foundation that you are the leader and everyone else are peons don’t be surprised if tasks are half done or not done at all. Lead by example, expect their best and treat them accordingly.
Don’t be afraid to delegate responsibilities. Realize I didn’t say “punt” or “push off” stuff to others. You are handing people important tasks no matter how small and you should treat it as such. Keep an eye out for early signs of tasks slipping and don’t be afraid to talk frankly and clearly about anything that is slipping. Better to have someone realize they are over committed and volunteer to reduce their workload or actually drop out than find out in your last week you don’t have lunch lined up yet. It isn’t failure if you back out, it is failure if you “stick it out” and don’t get anything done.
How Big Is Too Big?
Deciding on how big your SQLSaturday should be can be a real brain buster. When we looked around our area having a goal of 250 attendees seemed small! Dallas, Houston and Baton Rouge all exceeded those numbers. Looking back I would have probably positioned us at 150 to 200 max. It changes the requirements on the venue and also reduces cost. Since this was our first SQLSaturday we really didn’t know what the cost per attendee should be. Don’t be afraid to do a small event! If it is your first SQLSaturday it is much easier to recover from mistakes if the head count is 50 instead of 500. Once you do your first one the lessons you learn will apply directly to your next event. As you grow the size you are in a much better position to deal with any issues. Experience is a great thing to have.
We had originally set our attendance goals at 25o people. In reality, if you have 25o attendees you also have 10 to 20 volunteers plus 20 to 30 speakers and an additional 5 to 10 vendors. If you plan on housing 250 you are short 50 to 70 people. Keep this number in mind, since we were planning for 250 that meant planning for 320 instead. This can blow your budget up in unexpected ways.
Head count pretty much determines your minimum budget. At 250 I set the initial budget at 6,000.00. Remember the extra people, at 250 attendees I set the actual headcount at 350 for budgeting purposes. Better to over estimate costs and pay less, than under estimate and be short on funds. I was fairly confident that I could raise that kind of money, find a venue to house us and feed the event. Everything else was optional. It was also the maximum amount of money I was personally willing to risk. This will vary from city to city and state to state. Some may be much less some may be much more. We will get into a detailed cost breakdown in a later post. If I could secure a free venue I would have dropped this number to 3500.00. Food is almost never free. Even if you charge the maximum allowed it probably won’t be enough.
You Are The Bank
People rarely understand how events like these are funded. To put it bluntly, you are on the line for the money. If you commit to a venue and don’t have the funds in hand, they really don’t care, you are liable. Trust me on this one, I had more than one “What the hell am I doing!” moments. I would highly recommend talking to all your local contacts and leverage any vendor relationships you have to size up how much money you may be able to raise.
I cannot tell you how many people were stunned that I was financially responsible for SQLSaturday Austin. I was fortunate to have Jim Murphy also step in as a backer along with my other core board members, but when I kicked this off I had to assume there would be no safety net if things didn’t work out.
We don’t talk much about failures but they do exists. People have been out hundreds or thousands of dollars due to inexperience, or simply canceled the event and refund as much money as possible when it was realized that the budget was going to be extremely short.
DO NOT BASE YOUR BUDGET ON SOMEONE ELSE’S SQLSATURDAY BUDGET
If you didn’t plan that event you shouldn’t use it as your absolute guideline. I will be talking detailed budget numbers but your budget may vary quite a bit. Every SQLSaturday is different.
You need to look at how many attendees they planned for how much the gross costs were for the big stuff like venue, food and any other major expenses. I’ve seen several budgets and none of them had enough detail in them for a totally green outsider to use effectively. They do serve as a barometer of sorts. They help you rap your head around the expenses in a general since as well. Hopefully, they do provide some insight into how much money it takes, and what you could be on the hook for if things go south.
The Chicken And The Egg
The reason I stress that you are the bank is a simple one. You can’t sign the agreement with PASS and host a SQLSaturday sanctioned event without a venue. In most cases that may mean an up front cost of several hundred to several thousand dollars if you can’t find a free venue to host the event. They want to make sure you have done some homework and have at least put in some sweat equity before cutting you lose with the SQLSaturday brand.
Finding a Venue