How To Start A PHP User Group – Hear It From Craig Willis Founder Of The LeedsPHP Usergroup – “The Meetup Must Have A Theme”

About This ‘PHP User Group Interview’ Concept

This is the #2nd set of Know Thy PHP User Group in an attempt to create more awareness of:

  • what is $this PHP UG about + get to know the leaders/Founders/Community behind it
  • what is a PHP User Group in general
  • to personally know all the PHP user goups Around The World – that excites me and I hope you too!

This concept is also a good opportunity for new elePHPants to know about PHP UGs.

PS: Are YOU the founder or organiser of a php user group? Get in touch with me for a similar interview, contact me and/or make a comment below with your email. I’ll get back to you!

PPS: We have a similar concept for “Know Thy PHP Conferences

How-To PHP User Group From The Experience Of Craig Willis

>> Could you tell us a bit about yourself + the user groups you created

I’m Craig Willis, the founder/organiser of LeedsPHP

The Leeds PHP User Group (LeedsPHP)The Leeds PHP User Group (LeedsPHP)
The Leeds PHP User Group (LeedsPHP)

>> What is a user group

Our user group is aimed at PHP Development.

>> What is the aim of a user group?

In my opinion a User Group is a place where people who share a similar interest can get together to share knowledge.

>> What are the things that we need to keep in mind before thinking of creating a user group

One thing I took into account was, is there a need and is there something similar that already exists? I had seen many businesses in the area that had adopted PHP and was willing to set up a group to target developers in the area.

>> What are the challenges that arise when creating a user group

There are several:

  1. Making enough interest is one of them.
  2. Finding people who would attend regularly to make the user group worthwhile.
  3. Sourcing speakers or content is another.
  4. You need to keep people interested in your user group.
  5. Deciding early on what you expect from the user group is also a challenge.

There are other things such as venue (etc) that are more superficial, but having a clear understanding of the aims of the group is important

>> How to create a user group (what kind of process should be adopted) – can you share with us your way of doing it

We started with a Twitter account. I followed a few people in the area and gradually had a base of about 30 people. We then organized a small ‘LeedsPHP Intro‘. This was were people who would potentially attend have their thoughts and ideas raised. From there, we had a rough idea of what people wanted from the group. We then set up a website and had our first talk a month later. I think keeping it all simple is quite important. You don’t want to rush into something.

>> Your tips & tricks of doing it right

  • Having regular contact with your attendees is a good approach. Either by a news feed, Google Groups, Twitter or a mailing list.
  • Find a venue that can adequately fit your needs, whether be an office, pub etc. People need somewhere they can sit down listen and discuss.
  • Finding the right content for your user group. If you are meeting regularly, then have content that people can listen to and maybe go home/work and use

>> What is expected out of the Founder of a group

As we have no hierarchy in terms of founder, organizer..etc, there are a lot expectations, such as having a talk, a venue and making sure that everything goes well.

>> Things that a founder MUST do

  • Keeping everything ship-shape is key.
  • Making sure you know who and
  • when your next event is,
  • promoting the event as much as possible is also key.

>> Things that a founder should AVOID doing

For us, making money wasn’t our main focus. So I think staying away from making money is important. That’s not and will never be our focus. Also try to avoid sponsors that are mainly focused on their own business/service. Another one is try not to change the format of the group too often. This can lead to confusion.

>> Now, the ‘after-creating’ the user group, how should a leader keep the group active

Make sure sure that you have some sort of schedule. Keeping the website, twitter etc regularly updated. There’s nothing worse than your members not knowing what’s going on. Have an actual meet-up is also important. You don’t want the group to go stale by not having your attendees a reason to be active in the group.

>> Your Top 3 tips to Sustain a user-group

  1. Communication – between all parties (attendees, venue, speaker etc)
  2. Have a meet-up regularly
  3. The meet-up must have a theme or have content that the attendees can take away

>> How do you plan meet-ups?

As we have a regular time and place for our meet-ups, that aspect is pretty much a certainty. The only other planning is to source the speaker and book the venue. We usually ask from within the group if anyone has a talk they’d like to present the following month, or we usually ask outside of the group (a couple of months prior) if anyone would like to come and do a talk

>> How to encourage members to participate and attend meet-ups?

This is quite hard to do. Within the group, we have about 20 who come down each month. From that, we also have 4-5 who regularly contribute with talks. So we are quite lucky in that aspect. We try to keep people interested by the content of the talks and more recently, with offers such as software licenses and books. We’ve also had members contribute in terms of website and hosting.

>> How to find (good) speakers

Again, this is quite difficult. As we’ve had several members help out with talks, finding people from outside can be a challenge. We’re quite close in terms of location to other user groups, so at times we’ve asked if anyone would be willing to help us out and vice-versa.

>> Criteria to select a speaker

As our main aim is promote PHP as a whole, we don’t turn down speakers. We’ve had some speakers who have never done so before and it is both beneficial to them to gain experience and also the community as a whole for them to share their knowledge and experience. We try to look at things that are relatively popular, such as Web Services, TTD or things that we feel could be used within PHP Development, such as Mobile Applications.

>> How to find sponsors and why kind/type of sponsors do we need to look for? What is involved

We initially had no sponsors, for quite some time. We had been approached by some, but felt that they weren’t right in what they offered us. For us, the financial aspect wasn’t that important. We wanted to find a sponsor that was actively interested in the group and not themselves looking to promote their own services. Every group is different and every group may have different reasons for sponsorship. you have to find a balance that doesn’t affect the user group as a whole in a negative way.

>> A mistake that you made and would like to share with us?

One mistake, has probably been handling a lot of the responsibility single-handedly. For a long time, everything was managed by myself, which was quite time consuming. Handling some of that to others has helped quite a lot.

>> Any other aspects that I missed and you think is important to be aware of?

Not that I can think of.

>> A final word before closing..

User groups are a great way of meeting new people. They are a fantastic way of giving back to a community that you love. It’s like a child, you watch it grow and are proud of it’s achievements. I’m proud to be in a position where I can help others.

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3 Comment(s)

  1. Very useful and inspiring article. I’ll spread that information and use it well for one of my groups in Slovenia as well. Thanks for sharing this info.

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