9 min read
I remember the first time I hosted an in-person meetup through my business.
It was for my online community, which I started as simple Twitter chat years ago through the hashtag #createlounge, during a fall 2016 trip.
I was planning a trip to Atlanta to visit a few community members and thought it would be a great way to bring other people in the area together. The cherry on top was helping other locals find one another so they could continue to collaborate and create masterminds on their own.
That one Atlanta meetup inspired me to bring even more of my online community members together, starting with my home city of Minneapolis, MN. I dedicated the rest of 2017 to creating a small business conference that could give back to a worthy cause and gather a collective of inspiring creative entrepreneurs under one roof.
While I’m a fierce believer in the power of online community, there’s nothing like being able to sit across from someone you admire and talk with them about blogging, business, and beyond. In-person meetups allow you to do just that. So let's talk about how to start a meetup group.
If you’re hoping to invest more energy into cultivating your local community or looking to host events for people all around the world, it’s good to know what kind of meetup you want to host. Here are some of the most common meetup types.
This can be done through a public networking event where attendees can attend a happy hour or panel discussion, or it can be a private meetup for invited guests.
You can also choose to host regular networking events. There are a few meetup groups in Minneapolis that host monthly events I enjoy attending. Even though we have a mid-sized city, the regulars at these events feel like close friends. If you are struggling to find meetup groups in your own city, maybe it’s a sign to start yours even sooner!
This is one of my favorite types of meetups. A mastermind group is an intimate sized group (usually around 3-5 people, but it ranges) who consistently meet to give each other accountability, support, and encouragement. They become your sounding board for new blog ideas and can help you during the ups and downs of business.
There are some high-level mastermind groups that have paid membership, but you can also create one of your own for free. I unknowingly started a local mastermind group with two website designers after sharing our second year business plans together. Now we keep it going every year.
This meetup type takes less commitment to get started but needs ongoing commitment from each member to stay valuable. If you can be open and upfront about the vision you have for the mastermind and what you’re hoping everyone can get out of it, you’ll have an easier time finding people who are interested.
Retreats often blend the best of a mastermind group with a relaxed vacation vibe. If you Google “business retreats”, you’ll find everything from business trainings with yoga breaks to strategy mapping in a beachhouse. There’s no one-size-fits-all with retreats so you can have fun with this meetup type.
Retreats are often created to be full-blown experiences with paid entry but you can also create a retreat of your own. In 2018, I hope to gather a group of about 8 entrepreneurs together to share a lake cabin just north of the Twin Cities and talk about business expansion while soaking in the sun. Your retreat can be as planned out or casual as you want it to be.
Conferences provide attendees a great opportunity to not only make new professional connections but also learn from influencers. Conferences do, however, take more time in the planning stage because you’re usually gathering speakers, sponsors, and volunteers for the event.
You’ll also want to think about the event design and meetup experience, especially if you plan to host the conference annually. It’s a higher level commitment than any of the other meetup types listed here, but as someone who hosted a conference earlier this year, I can say from experience that it’s incredibly rewarding.
If you want to teach a group of like-minded people in a more intimate setting than a conference, hosting an in-person workshop might be a great fit. During a workshop, you educate people on a topic that relates to your niche and give personalized feedback to attendees.
Whether you decide to teach through a PowerPoint presentation or a live demonstration, workshop attendees will walk away with tangible value of what they learned. If you’re looking for a way to engage with your local community while helping more people than one-on-one client work, this meetup type could be your answer.
Once you’ve decided on a meetup type that fits your goals, you can start brainstorming how to put it together. When I started my small business conference earlier this year, I had no clue where to start since I didn’t have an event planning background.
Luckily, it takes a lot less to get started than you think. Here’s a simple and painless overview of the steps that go into starting a meetup group for your blog or business.
Choosing the right date is crucial for your meetup to be successful. First, think about what season is the most natural fit for your event.
If you want to attract people in the wedding industry, it wouldn’t make sense to host your meetup during the summer weekends when they’re hard at work. Instead, you might want to pick a midday time during the winter once their busy season ends.
Another aspect to keep in mind is the lifestyle of the people who will be coming to the event. Are they young twenty-somethings who love networking at happy hours during the evenings, or are they stay-at-home moms who want to fit the meetup in between school and activity drop-offs?
Once you’ve chosen a date of your meetup, it’s important to find a venue. For conferences, retreats, or workshops, you may want to invest in a separate event venue that can accommodate the amount of people you’re planning on hosting.
If you’re more interested in hosting a networking event, it could be as simple as getting a reservation at a nearby restaurant or asking a local company if you can rent their event space. If you host a mastermind, these can simply be done in a nearby coffeeshop (which is my favorite spot) or in the comfort of your own homes.
With your venue locked in, it’s time to decide on a specific topic for your meetup. For regular meetups, you may want to choose weekly or monthly themes (like Instagram photography or handlettering) within a broader interest group (like social media marketing or art).
If you’re planning to host a one-time meetup, you have some flexibility on what the topic is. Can’t think of a topic? You can survey your audience to see what they’re interested in or even ask through a social media poll. Do some research and think about what people ask you most about. That’s often a good sign that it’s a topic worth covering!
Speakers can make or break your event. While not all of the meetup types require speakers, events like conferences and retreats have speakers to present attendees with new information.
Before pitching speakers, it’s important to know what your total budget is and what level of commitment you’re asking them to make. If the speaker is from out of town, think about what travel plans might look like. While this may take a bit of planning, you’ll be so glad you locked down speakers early so you can get to the more fun parts of the meetup.
When I started planning my conference this year, I didn’t think about reaching out for sponsorships because, to be honest, I was nervous to ask. I was afraid that no one would “get” my vision for a 100% charitable small business event, especially since I was an event planning novice.
I remember meeting with a local event planner and friend who gave me some tough love. She told me I couldn’t leave our coffee meeting without pitching a few companies for food and giveaway donations. To my surprise, the majority of companies I pitched became sponsors for the event. I even had more requests coming in after the sponsor cut-off date.
I share this story to inspire you to think about the companies who will understand the heart behind your meetup and may want to get involved. It’s never too early to start networking and making connections with business owners you may want to pitch for event sponsorships later. Many people want to give back and foster in-person communities just like you.
Now that you have most of the behind-the-scenes event work finished, it’s time to promote your meetup group. If you’re not quite sure where to start, we have some quick tips below that might spark new ideas.
We’d love to hear about how you’re planning on bringing your online community offline! Tell us about your meetup plans in the comment section below.
Download this issue of Tradecraft as a PDF to read and reference at your own pace.