Conference Observations

During my limited time of running conferences I’ve come across some observations that I thought I would share.  This is from experience of organising TestBash.

People Advised Me Against It

Before starting TestBash I spoke to several people about the idea.  Many of them told me to be very careful. That conferences are very hard to make happen.  It’s hard to get the numbers right. Get the attendees and the sponsors. Etc.

This is them:

Camera Roll-485 Camera Roll-484

But then there was me.

Camera Roll-489

Sure I listened to the people warning me, but I also listened to my heart and what I felt was right for the community I was serving.  I believed there was a need, there were signs from within the community that people wanted a UK based software testing conference from STC and friends.  So I followed my heart.

Organising Conferences Is Like Child Birth

Ok, it’s not really.  But the topic came up whilst I was having a chat with a Test Ninja. I thought about it and made a diagram/mindmap thingy.

Child Birth:

Camera Roll-486

Organising Conferences:

Camera Roll-487

Remarkably similar, no? :)

TestBash Buying Cycle

I started promoting TestBash in September 2012.  It is happening next month (March 2013).  I’m actually starting to freak out a bit at what I’ve let myself into.  The event is bigger (and will be better IMHO) this time around.  With bigger comes more costs, more risk and of course more stress for me.

I’ve put some thought into how the ‘buying’ cycle happens and drew a picture. (Can you tell I am liking drawing pictures at the moment?), what I noticed was:

  • many of the people who bought the super early bird tickets went to last years TestBash or are known to me via Software Testing Club
  • people actually pay attention to these (super) early bird rates – most of the sales happen a week before them.
  • I laugh at this now, but no tickets sold between the 10th of December and the 20th of January.  I actually started to worry a bit.  I knew it would be quiet around that time, but the complete lack of sales between that period stressed me out.  I felt much better and on track after January 31st.
  • Point above is that people really do listen to the messages I’m sending out (it’s hard to know sometimes) and a cheaper ticket price gives people real motivation to get those tickets booked!

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About Goals

One of my main goals was to achieve a certain number of attendees.  For a bit of perspective TestBash 1.0 had just under 70 people attend.  I set myself a goal of 150 this time around and am pleased that we have achieved that.

To keep me through the stressful and worrying times I had the following as a background image on my iPad – constantly reminding me what I wanted to achieve.

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Thank you for your time! </end>

Thoughts On Conferences

Yeah, I’m running a software testing conference.  It’s only our second one. It’s still nerve racking. There’s still alot of work to do, it doesn’t ‘just happen’ and we are still learning with each thing we do.

We want to make it something we are proud of and this in my heart especially means giving people great value for their money plus having an experience to remember.

In my effort to create a great experience I’ve been to 3 conferences in the past 4 months.  All Brighton/local ones. Not testing related. One was web, one was business and one was UX.  I was interested in the topics, but was also interested to see how some very nice local conferences are run.  I was being an observant little Rosie.

As a consequence I’ve been thinking a lot about conferences and I think the market is changing.  The newer conferences know this.  The more established ones are yet to catch up.

What Are Conferences About?

Conferences are not about learning stuff from the talks.  How can it be if in most cases you can watch the videos for free shortly after the conference has ended?

Perhaps it’s about meeting people.  Organisers will claim that, but all too often I’ve seen attendees being bored. Not knowing what’s going on outside of the conference. Not feeling comfortable to network with others. Or not knowing where to go.

For the vendors they get to market themselves to the attendees.  Come look at us they will say. The only conversations had there are so sales driven that it doesn’t feel genuine.

So it kind of looks like below. There’s the speaker speaking. The people watching. Then at break times there are the vendor stands that the attendees all too often ignore and either end of speaking to other attendees or to no one at all.

conference

The speaker gets value, it’s hard not to be seen  and get noticed if they are speaking.  The attendees hopefully get some good learning value, but social experience could often be better.  The sponsors often are completely separate. They don’t go to the talks. They don’t really know what’s going on, are out the loop and often cannot connect with the attendees.

If I Could Design My Own Conference…

3ofthem

Oh no wait, I am…

Sales & Marketing Should Be Integrated

Seriously, why do the people at the stands not attend the conference talks or social activities?  People buy from people. Generally from people they like or trust.  Trust comes with time and building up relationships with real conversations and common interests.

Instead of trying to sell stands to sales & marketing departments, why not sell them tickets? Encourage them to get involved. Learn from the talks. Have real conversations and build up relationships with the attendees?

We are trying this out with TestBash.

Sponsor Stands Are Old School

They must go.  I’ve heard from too many people that each year they provide less and less value.  It also puts pressure on the event organisers to provide value – often spending huge amounts of time and money on it.

One of my pet peeves is that some sponsors can buy their way into talks, allowing attendees to get stuck listening to a 20-45 minute advert.

Perhaps replace them with activities, games or try out micro-sponsorship – it’s easier to make lots of small sales than many large ones – it’s also much more inclusive for everyone.

Outside Activities

Create social things around the event and talks.  Not only are these attractive to the attendees, but they really bring the community together.  Often these are what attendees remember the most.

If you are not doing anything, then at least know if people are doing their own on the spur meetups and get involved!

Still A Lot To Learn

I’m not claiming to be an expert.  Far from it. What works for my community may not work for others.  And that’s cool.  But in Rosie Land I’m looking to the future and trying to do my best to create a great experience, even if I find it difficult when I really see myself as a  quiet introvert :)

 

You don’t launch a popular _______

You don’t launch a popular blog, you build one. – Seth Godin

This resonates with me.

Because it applies to most things in life.

You don’t launch a popular community, you build one.

You don’t launch a successful career, you build one.

You don’t launch a successful startup, you build one.

You get the picture. One step at a time. Learning as you go. Understand what works and what doesn’t.

The drip that Seth goes on about is what happens to most successful people or busiensses.  Some of the drips you can see, may you can’t, until at least it starts looking like a river or waterfall!

Brighton Community Managers

Having run communities in various forms over the past 5 years or so I thought it was about time I met some other ‘community manager’ type people.  It seemed like the ideal time with Community Manager Appreciation day coming up in January.

So I went ahead and scheduled a meetup for community managers or those that want to learn more about community management, and what do you know, there’s more than one person down to attend :)

Come along if you can – http://www.meetup.com/Brighton-Community-Managers/

When Free Is Not Always The Best

I’ve had many thoughts and dilemas about how to approach building a community as a sustainable business.

People want things for free, no doubt about it.

But there’s also the trend of people paying for things because they like it.  They could quite easily get away with not paying, but many people are opting in to part with their cash.

In the case of comedian Louis CK:

“…Tens of thousands of fans paid $5 for that show even though they could have easily downloaded it for nothing”. – Read this and other similar references on GigaOM

There’s a deeper thing that goes into this though.  People are paying not just because they like it.  I believe they love the freedom and creativity of these things that these people and small organisations create.  They have more sense of belonging when compared to the corporate business and they believe that their money is going into something positive.

Perhaps as people we are tired of big companies being controlling and bumping up prices in order to fund their lifestyle.  Increasingly we don’t believe in their ethics and technology is changing things in favour of ‘The People’.  Whilst it might be a minority of people who are going direct, it’s an encouraging trend against the more traditional corporate establishment.

Or perhaps in the world of digital startups we are becoming tired of big companies acquiring really cool and forward thinking websites/services and then doing them no justice.  Success if all too often focused on a company being acquired or going public.

Surely there are better ways to measure success?

I liked using Gowalla.  That went pretty quickly.  I also liked using Delicious and Flickr.  They too haven’t progressed as much as one would have hoped.

There are numerous other examples of small startups being acquired and either being left to rot or simply closed down.  The almost humorous thing is that people complain about it.

People have no right to complain if this happens.  If you want to keep something alive in a positive form, then support it financially.  If there is no way to support it financially then get in contact with the company to let them know you would like to.

Staying Independent

There is huge value in staying independent, especially as a small startup.  I can’t speak for others, but for me I have no ambitions to go out and get acquired.  What I do is never going to be the next big Google or Instagram, but we serve a purpose and make a difference to people in the software testing community.

I love choosing the hours I work.

I love working from home.

I love the creative freedom.

I love trying out new ideas.

I love making decisions myself and not being pressured to do things I don’t believe in.

I love not selling out in order to pay the bills.

I love the work I do and work with the community’s interests in mind.  Most employees in a business will never go to the same length and depth as founder would.

I Pay For Stuff I Like

There’s an interesting post on Pinboard about why you should not be a free user.  It is worth a read.

So yeah, I pay for stuff I like.  I could get away with not paying, but I pay because I want to see them thrive and prosper.  Of course it doesn’t guarantee anything, but at least I feel like I’m contributing.

How Marketeers Ruin Social Media

I’ve created this based on my experience of community building within the Software Testing Club.  It’s mostly true, though somewhat (not very) exaggerated.

I should also add that not all marketeers are like this :)

How Marketeers Ruin Social Media

How Marketeers Ruin Social Media - Click for fullsize

Communities as a Business – A Checklist of Revenue Models

I’ve done my fair share of community building over the past few years and over that time I’ve researched and practiced specific business/revenue models. Some with more success than others! :)

I thought it would be handy producing a quick reference list of potential revenue streams to explore.  FWIW, I’ve not used every method listed here!  It is in MindMap (below) and list format (further below)

Community as a Business Revenue Models

Community as a Business – Revenue Models

Social Media Marketing

Promotion via ‘out posts’ – where you participate online with the intention of bringing people back to your community.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn

Products / Ecommerce

Branded Merchandise

  • Create and manage your own
  • OnDemand merchandise Eg – CafePress

What can you sell?

  • Physical goods
  • Digital goods
  • Online products / services / SaaS
  • Events – Training, Meetups, Conferences
  • Your Time: Coaching & Consulting

Premium Membership

What can you offer that people will pay for on a monthly or yearly basis?

  • VIP access
  • Premium Content
  • Discounts
  • Etc

Listings

People are always looking for  ways to promote themselves or their products or find work:

  • Job Boards
  • Directory Listings
  • Classified Ads

Advertising

Types of advertising:

  • Sponsored Brands
  • Display Advertising
  • Types
  • CPA (Cost Per Action)
  • Affiliates
  • CPC
  • Sponsorship
  • CPM
  • Email Marketing/Advertising
  • Affiliate Programs
  • InText Links – advertising
  • InText Links – affiliates
  • Sponsored Content

Advertising Selling Factors

  • Audience
  • Ad Types
  • Quantity of Ads
  • Location of Ads
  • Size of Ad
  • Interactive ads
  • Targeted ads
  • Subject Matter

Selling Advertising:

Research the competition:

  • Marketplaces
  • BuySellAds.com
  • BuyAds.com
  • AdEngage
  • Adsense

Put your ads sales hat on:

  • Make it easy for buyer
  • Create a MediaKit / Media Page
  • Easy to get in contact
How to sell:
  • Market places
  • Adsense
  • Direct / DIY / Manage your own relationships
  • Online Ad Managers e.g. OIO Publisher

How Will You Make Someone’s Day?

Small things can really make someone’s day.

A compliment.

A pat on the back.

A thank you.

Mostly people don’t bother, think it won’t make a difference.  This is a shame.  I’d really recommend it.  Perhaps commit yourself to going that extra mile for someone once a week…what’s the worst that could happen? :)

I’ve been putting in some decent work into creating some testing related MindMaps over on The Ministry of Testing, check them out! This is what made my day, in an email from Matt:

A few days ago, I visited one of the testers on another team and he had one of your mind maps on his desk.  I think it was the mobile testing one.  I asked him if he knew the author and when he said “no” I gave him your name, which obviously instantly went into Google.  When I left him 10 minutes later, he had browsers open with the STC, TTP and MOT.  I’m not sure he got much work done that afternoon, but it’s probably done wonders for his personal growth :-)

This is the kind of stuff that keeps me motivated :)

 

On A Diet of Information

So, the consumption of information is an interesting topic for me. It’s kind of crucial to have an understanding of it in order to run the Software Testing Club and The Testing Planet.

It’s part of the job of running a website, community and publication, isn’t it? I should understand how people are consuming information. How people consume. How they should be consuming. And generally good practices for creating and communicating content.

For The Testing Planet, it’s always been high on my agenda to produce quality/reviewed/edited content that isn’t published because an advertiser has paid money for it.   All to often (websites and publications in general) are swayed on extra marketing instead of focusing on producing quality content.  I can understand this, they have a business to run, but many of us choose to do business in different ways.  Our focus is on producing the best relevant content possible, we believe having paid and interested subscribers is an ideal model to work with  – for the readers and the sustainability of the publication.

Running an online community also brings it’s own challenges of ensuring that the members communicate and engage in an appropriate and useful way.  We have fairly strict standards on STC.

Whatever it is that we produce, there is never a right or wrong answer.  It appears to be constant (and fun!) challenges that we face.

I recently came across this video on SlowTech and I found myself nodding, smiling and saying ‘hey that’s me!’

It was quite timely as well as I had been reading something similar in Information Diet.  The book is interesting and takes an interesting slant on the current state of information, the web and how we consume – comparing it heavily towards obesity.  We are consuming too much information and alot of it isn’t good for us!

The book felt a bit more like a call to action to do something about how we think/consume/produce about information and data, rather than direct tips on how to deal with information.

What I took from Information Diet is…

  • We need to develop a way to ‘filter and process’ our personal approaches to consuming data.
  • Become better at data literacy – judging the source of content.  The author, for example, is in favour of some paid publications as a way to consume relevant information
  • We should work on our Attention Fitness – managing our time effectively and being able to switch off all those notifications when (email, social media, etc)
  • Global issues can paralyze us.  Yes they can be important, but often it makes sense to get more involved at a local level where you can actually do something about things.
  • Produce more than you consume.  Especially aimless consumption, where you go out and get lost in the interwebs.  Producing something is a great learning process, whether you publish it publicly or not.
Most of this isn’t really new information to me, but sometimes it’s useful to spend some time focusing and taking some action.
I made some notes on the Information Diet, as a MindMap :)
Information Diet MindMap

Practically, I’m starting to take small steps at improving my own information consumption and creation.  One of my current activities is unsubscribing from all those email marketing messages I never read.  It’s an interesting ‘challenge’, one that I’m being a bit obsessive about and taking screenshots of my experience.  I may share it soon!

I’m also making a very conscious choice to consume less, and use that time to create.  It’s partly why I’ve been blogging alot more recently :)