SQL Saturdays Gone Wild!
Now that I’ve surely gotten your attention, first let me apologize that no this post is not about any underground rumors that folks are going to start doing risqué videos of SQL Saturday groupies. Granted, I’m sure they would likely be just as successful as SQL Saturdays have become, since geeks are the shizzle! What I want to talk about is the increasing number of SQL Saturdays and some of the struggles I am hearing about, and maybe hopefully offer up some advice to those who have upcoming events or to alleviate any doubts to those debating on whether or not to host a SQL Saturday in their town.
SQL Saturdays are defined on the SQL Saturday wiki site as follows: “It’s a one day free training event that targets SQL Server professionals. It’s held on a Saturday because many IT professionals have a difficult time taking time off from work for training. Training sessions are conducted by members of the community, sharing tips, tricks, and techniques that they have learned and want to share. So far the events have been in the well known conference style; multiple tracks with multiple speakers per track, but that is certainly not the only possible format.”
It seems like many feel like in order to have a successful SQL Saturday that they have to have many tracks, try to squeeze in as many speakers and topics that they can, and raise enough funds to put on what could turn out to be comparable to a super mini Summit all crammed into one day. As stated above, that certainly is not the only possible format, and from what I’ve heard, the desires of those who gave birth to SQL Saturday is to see more smaller events in more cities. The more cities portion of this equation is getting covered, but are folks really going for the one or two track days? Some are and have, but many are not. Let’s talk about what effect this is starting to glean out there that folks are writing to me about.
SQL Saturdays in the past have depended primarily on funds provided by vendors. Things that I am now hearing from smaller hosting cities is that they are having a hard time getting higher level sponsorships (more dollars), and some not getting anything at all from some vendors who have supported a good amount of these events previously. But as it turns out, even those who are in the larger cities that are having their 2+ event are having a hard time getting what they standardly have been able to raise in the past. So, it isn’t whether you are a large city or a small one, it is happening everywhere, and why? Because of the number of these events coming is the obvious answer, but it is also the amount of the sponsorship levels being proposed by the hosts of these events. In talking with several vendors recently, some have budgeted a certain number of SQL Saturdays to sponsor in 2011 and some have a dollar amount budgeted and are trying to determine how best to invest those dollars and spread them as best they can, and some are a combination of the two. Being in marketing for a software vendor myself, although I’m sure this is just common sense to most anyway, a vendor is going to sponsor where they see the highest return on their investment. I believe many of them wish they could sponsor ALL the SQL Saturdays, as many of the regular sponsors are just as much about community as we are, but that just isn’t practical from a business point of view.
The fact of the matter is if the size of the event were down-scaled, then the costs associated with putting the event on would go down, thus allowing vendors to sponsor more cities out there, and still providing to your communities a great free day of training. I think less tracks is actually desired by attendees, as it was a complaint on several of the evals I received from the last SQL Saturday in Pensacola. When you have too many tracks, too many great topics, all in the same hour, it makes it hard for folks to choose which one to attend, and at the same time, they feel like they are missing out on something else that would have been just as useful for them. I know now that if I were hosting another event in Pensacola, I would definitely be down- sizing it (which I just checked because my memory isn’t what it used to be, SQL Saturday #14 we had 5 tracks and SQL Saturday #22 we had 6 in Pensacola, although we had combined some non SQL tracks due to some large sponsorships from vendors on the developer side of the tracks, something I saw OK to do being Pensacola is so small). And now that I am helping with putting on a SQL Saturday in Hawaii, the plan is to definitely keep the number of tracks down to at a maximum of 3 (and one of these being a developer track, since the PASS chapter in Honolulu is a .NET user group…I couldn’t expect them to help put this event on and not cater to their needs, that would make for a bad hostess indeed).
Along with scaling down the number of tracks, I recommend offering sponsors lower priced amounts for your highest sponsorship levels. This too is something I am planning for Hawaii, which still in the works, but I am thinking I might just offer one sponsorship level, and if a vendor is able to be onsite to exhibit, I welcome them without them having to pay more to sponsor the event. I don’t imagine too many making it to Hawaii, but if they can, then I want to help make it reasonable enough for them as possible since travel costs are going to be involved and likely very high, and really this is my plan because I love having vendors onsite, they add to the fun and value for our attendees. Am I worried about costs for the event, sure, but with it having fewer tracks, my costs should be down for things like the speaker party and shirts, lunches for the attendees, any venue costs (as some colleges charge an insurance fee per room), and other smaller misc. costs. But if everyone overall would lower their sponsorship levels, more SQL Saturdays could be sponsored by the vendors.
Another suggestion I have for those trying to drum up funds, lean more on local companies, especially industries like recruiting companies. Your event has a lot to offer to recruiters, a day packed with IT professionals, some (and I tend to find many) who are looking for a job. It’s like an all-you-can eat buffet for recruiters. And I would even maybe include in your highest sponsorship level for companies like recruiting firms, sole recognition. Meaning, they pay the top dollar, they get to be the only one of their industry allowed to be onsite for your event. (By the way, this works really well for local user group meeting sponsorships, letting the recruiter speak about current openings they are trying to fill for the first few minutes of your meeting). Other local companies that I’ve seen attracted to sponsoring SQL Saturdays are those who provide technical trainings, such as New Horizons, obviously technology based companies (believe me, you likely have one or two even in your small towns, as Pensacola surprisingly has many), many that provide website designing/hosting, colleges, staffing firms, even your local Better Business Bureau is a good one to talk to. They are typically budgeted so many dollars a year to invest back into the community.
There are many avenues for fund raising, but again, keep in mind that you don’t have to have a monster-sized event. If you have never had a SQL Saturday, and really want to host one in your town, DO IT! Your community will welcome it, regardless of size. Attendees appreciate the free day of training and that is what the grassroots of SQL Saturdays is all about, providing free training to your community.
What are some other ideas for raising funds out there from those who have had a SQL Saturday in the past or are planning to sometime next year? I’d also like to hear any ideas that sponsors/vendors out there have for maybe helping get more SQL Saturdays sponsored in 2011.