As you may (or may not) know, the FooPlugins.com official launch date was April 5th. We chose this date because it coincided with the main WordCamp Miami event sessions. We were also a Silver level sponsor for WordCamp and as long-time WordCamp attendees but first-time sponsors, we were pretty excited to be involved in a different way.
In this post I hope to give some insight into our experience with sponsoring a WordCamp from a business point-of-view. As I said above, our team has collectively attended many a camp, and I’ve personally presented previously, but as a sponsor my responsibilities and focus were different than any other camp previous.
Preparing for WordCamp
It all started with our FooBox plugin back in June of 2012. Brad Vincent and I began our partnership when we worked together on one of my client projects and realized we were both looking for each other’s skill sets. We decided that FooPlugins was something worth doing, and we’ve got A LOT planned for the future, but first things first.
Fast forward to preparing to sponsor a WordCamp. There is a lot involved with building a software business and even more when you are having your official launch very publicly in the community we all know and love. Add to that, you want to tell the world by sponsoring an event.
Along side of getting our products and website ready (no small task), we had to make sure we offered the opportunity for long term brand identity. We approached this with the creation of stickers and T-shirts featuring our loyal mascot, FooBot.
Stickers and T-shirts are not cheap, especially when you upgrade the shirt to the softer (more people likely to actually wear it) material. I’m sure you’ll agree that getting a free shirt is one thing, but getting one that is actually comfortable to wear is another.
It’s good for our branding because we figure there are a lot of WordPress users who attend Meetups and other WordCamps, and if our shirts are comfy…well, that’s just good for all of us.
Traveling to WordCamp (or beware of snakes)
We chose to sponsor and launch at WordCamp Miami for a few reasons…
- The timing was right
- It was close to where I live (4 hour drive)
- I’ve presented there in 2011 and it was a great event
- The organizers and volunteers are INCREDIBLE
So, traveling to WordCamp Miami was relatively easy for me, even with my “I must be prepared and have everything pre-packed days before OCD” to make sure I didn’t forget crucial items like T-shirts and of course…deodorant.
Our Support Solutions Manager, Matt Cromwell, also attended and came all the way from San Diego to Miami. It was a long day for him and I just want to say thanks publicly here.
The one interesting thing that happened on my way to WordCamp was when I was traveling on I75 South (also known as “Alligator Alley”) and ran over what I believe to have been a Burmese Python on the highway! I don’t care for snakes, and even in a 2ooolb vehicle traveling at 80mph, I still got the willies when it happened.
Rest assured I also opened my door really slow when I finally arrived and parked. I had visions of a snake attack ala Snakes on a Plane, but luckily it was all in my head;)
Here’s an image so you can get a visual of what I was dealing with mentally…
Follow the Hashtag
If there is one piece of advice I can give to anyone attending a WordCamp (or really any tech event), is to find the Twitter hashtag and follow it. In this case, it was #wcmia as seen below.
Not only follow it, but get involved. Tweet relevant information there and use the event hashtag. It will keep your name in front of others and if you’re providing helpful content there, people will remember you.
Following the hashtag is how I learn where others are at and generally what’s happening, and when. This is good to do both during the event and during the off hours in the evening and morning. By following the Twitter hashtag, I was able to connect with others in the following ways…
- Impromptu meetups
- Location information about the people I wanted to connect to
- WordCamp session updates via attendees quoting the speakers
- Promotion opportunities by tagging our discount codes (and an ill-fated 6 second video I made one morning…more on that below)
As with most events, the real meat and potatoes comes in the person-to-person connections and it’s seldom that these happen when you’re in a session listening to someone give a presentation. By simply keeping your eyes and ears open in the hotel, and not being a wall flower, you can meet some great folks and even make some initial business deals.
I was lucky enough to do both.
Oh, and if you are a wall flower, here’s a phrase you can use to connect…”Are you here for WordCamp?” It works wonders.
Same advice as above. You can do this off the cuff, or pre-plan as I did for one dinner. I had been following the #wcmia hashtag and connected with a person in the community I respect very much. That short dinner with Chris Lema has affected my business model and given me insight that I would have otherwise missed. Thanks Chris, you are a true gentleman.
After Party Meetups
I’m 41 years old with an 11 month old son at home. Let’s just say that my late nights have been over for some time. However, my advice to anyone reading this is to muster all the energy they can to “buck up” and “take one for the team”.
After parties are critical to overcoming the wall of “here’s what I do” conversations during a 10 minute break, to “here’s who I really am on a personal level”. As you probably know, business is about many things, but one of the most important are those personal relationships you forge with others in your industry.
As an example, I was up until 3:00am one night getting my brain melted on the finer points of Facebook advertising by someone who has a mere 126,000+ Likes to their Facebook page. Something I put into action just today.
Want proof? Go here.
WordCamp Day One
Get more T-shirts. They go fast!
Shake a lot of hands, ask what people do, and have your “elevator pitch” ready. In other words, sum up your business in a couple of sentences. Your products, your philosophy, and what the benefits are for your end users.
If you’re sponsoring or attending to both learn and make business connections, take some time and hang out outside the session rooms. You’ll have a chance to talk to more folks.
Hotel, Dinner, After Party Meetups…Again
Rinse, wash, repeat…quite literally.
WordCamp Day Two
Get up and arrive early…no matter how tired you are. Also try to solidify your earlier conversations from previous days. If someone says “let’s talk again tomorrow”, make sure to find them and talk again. Seems easy, but if you’ve attended any events before, you know that it’s easy to get distracted and sidetracked with the days events.
If you’ve done a good job with the items above, you will have a lot of business cards, Twitter connections, and probably some bar napkin chicken scratches. These are all things that need to be followed up on.
One tactic I use is to load up my phone’s audio recorder app and make notes that way. It’s easier than a stack of cards, and much easier to “read” than a bar napkin.
I spent the following day going through all of the items above and emailing, Tweeting, and even calling people on the phone (gasp!) to reconnect and schedule times to meet again online via Skype and other methods.
All in all, WordCamp Miami and our sponsorship of it has been a success. I’m judging this in various ways including the fun I had talking to people, the actual number of product downloads we’ve seen (including free products) , and the Analytics stats for visits to our site.