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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.

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  1. Well said! Another thing that organizers should keep in mind is that vendors want an ROI. You should be able to answer the question “What am I going to get for my sponsorship dollars?” I don’t just say that because I work for a vendor now, but because vendors asked me that when I was running the local user group. They want to make sure that they were getting a fair deal.

    • Indeed, ROI is important to them and part of why for Hawaii I plan to keep it one level, and low costs, b/c I really can’t offer too in return being off the mainland. Would love ideas on what you think I could offer for vendors supporting an event in Hawaii. I think the biggest value that I offered in Pensacola was having their logos on the back of the event t-shirts. They looked really great, and are seen by many. But not sure my budget for Hawaii is going to allow this expense.

  2. Lots of good stuff in that post, nice job! I agree with Jeremiah on ROI, and it’s measured differently for different types of vendors.

    I’d really like to see more events AND smaller events. Nothing wrong with large events, but 50 people getting training and networking on a Saturday is a win too, maybe even more so if they wouldn’t normally have access to that kind of stuff compared to a large city.

    It’s ok to try things, take some risks (just not too many at once!).

    • Thanks Boss, I think smaller ones also leave the possibility open for more than one in that same city in a year. Something I would likely also had changed up in Pensacola this coming year. Just having maybe 3 one track days in a year would do really well there, and be very low in cost, and likely give speakers interested in coming more options on times to visit.

  3. Karla, wish I’d gotten chance to meet you yesterday! I love this post as my experiences with SQL Saturdays have been huge monster events that you describe. I agree that it would be wonderful to mix things up with smaller, more frequent sql saturdays and in smaller cities as well. Hope that these ideas catch on. Great info on the possibilites!

    • I had wanted to meet you as well, unfortunately had to leave very early, which really stunk, didn’t get enough of my SQL Saturday “fix”. Will you be in Houston for their SQL Sat? If so, let’s be sure to meet.

      I really do think that more smaller ones will start happening, at least I hope so. So many small towns that could really use a great day of free training. My goal for 2011 was to encourage 3 states to have a SQL Saturday that have never had one yet. Hawaii is now locked in for April 1st, and I hear that Tim Ford is looking at July for a SQL Sat (I still can’t believe Michigan hasn’t even had one yet), and I am now working on helping someone in Montana get a user group started and plan to have a SQL Saturday there. Not sure if that one will make it onto the 2011 schedule, but I’m hoping so!

  4. Mala permalink

    Karla, thanks for the great post..very necessary. Am just getting ready to blog on my lessons learnt from last sql saturday so i dont want to say too much, just a few things that come up –
    1 In our case we got bound by the location owners demands to pay for lunch for students. It was an awesome location but that takes away a big chunk of a small budget. Lesson: to find out approx size of people who get free lunches before committing to a $10 boxed lunch. I also believe more sql saturdays should go towards boxed lunches for sponsoring vendors and speakers only, attendees can make do with sandwiches or pizza which can be provided for free or with a minimal fee. I heard lot of comments on how one event provided free fresh baked cookies, another provided something else to eat and so on, food is nice but that is not what the event is about.
    2 Aside from the food issue, yes the $ is becoming a problem. Atleast 5 vendors we contacted said they had too many events to support.

    One prominent vendor was very impressed by how we ran it and promised to help if the same group did it again, so they do evaluate their results albeit in their own way. I am hoping PASS can help facilitate some talks to Microsoft and promote some funding. They are among the biggest sponsors and perhaps they are not seeing the value somehow. That is one area where we can and should ask for some help.

    More later, thanks for bringing this up.

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