Lessons Learned from Nearly a Decade of SQL Server User Group Leadership

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After serving the local SQL Server community for almost a decade, do you have any lessons learned that you can share? Aspects such as speakers, sponsors, meeting formats, etc.? I have considered starting a user group, but would be interested to hear your thoughts. Check out this tip to learn more.


Over the last decade, I have had the privilege to co-manage both the Northern Virginia (NOVA SQL) and Baltimore SQL Servers User Groups (BSSUG).  Both groups have been an investment in time, but I have had the opportunity to meet a number of great community members and give back to the SQL Server Community a little bit.  In this tip series, I would like to share some lessons learned from both groups in hopes to help you start and manage your user group.  As each tip of the series is released, this tip will be updated, so check back often.

Know Your Local Community

Understand your community members, know their preferences and motivations.  A firm understanding of your local will help guide your decision making, grow your group and make the experience enjoyable for everyone.  What's the best way to do this?

Don't Go It Alone...

Building a team to support your user group will be key.  Finding the right mix of leadership can be tricky, but do not make every de tail a committee decision.  From marketing to meeting coverage you need a team that can work together and get the job done.

Build Your Local Speakers

To me the biggest value of our meetings is the educational component.  The education is provided by the speakers, however few people are generally interested in speaking.  So how do you build this key ingredient for your community?

Community Communication

With too many emails and social media posts you are a spammer and messages are just considered "noise".  Here are some tips we have learned over the years to have effective communication and engage with the community.

The Venue

I say it all the time, "if we do not have a place to meet, it is hard to have a meeting."  I know some groups have gone virtual and I think there is value with that option.  I think meeting in person is a great way to learn from the speaker and the community members.  So what options are there when it comes to low cost or no cost venues?

Meeting Format

At both groups I have co-lead, we have tried different meeting formats.  I have seen expectations change overtime with more emphasis on learning at some points in time and networking at other points in time.  See what we have tested and learned.

Find Committed Sponsors

To me there is an ecosystem in the community.  Sponsors are a portion of the ecosystem whether the company builds SQL Server products, delivers professional services, recruits candidates or employs technology professionals.  Figure out how you want to embrace this portion of your community. 

Code of Conduct

I never thought a code of conduct was necessary until we had a speaker use profanity during the session.  We even had a brand new community member leave the meeting to never return.  Something to think about.

User Group Ambassadors

Marketing dollars are in short supply for all user groups, but getting the word out is necessary to build a thriving community.  Consider enlisting all of your community members to server as a community ambassador to spread the word and share their experience. 

A Picture is Worth...

When I started working with the NOVA SQL group, I do not think we had many pictures of the community.  With the BSSUG group, I have made more of an effort to have pictures taken and post them on the web site.  Is this worth the effort or just fluff?

The Food

In many respects, providing food helps make the meetings go a little smoother and the attendance a little higher.  Over the years our groups have had a variety of food, but is it a necessary expense to run the group?

Set Expectations

An ounce of communication can go along way to prevent an issue.  See some key areas we set expectations with for speakers, sponsors, the venue representatives and the caterer.

Quick Follow-up's Never Hurt

Have you set some expectations, but not heard back.  Do you assume all is running smoothly?  Not so fast.  Check out our critical path to make sure meetings are on track.

Organizational Structure

"What"?  That is the response I have gotten in the past.  Does your user group need to be incorporated?  Should you just work with a larger organization that can provide basic services like financial management, insurance, etc.?  I have been in three scenarios over the years and can share some of my opinions.

Is Insurance Necessary?

Just like organizational structure, when you talk about insurance you normally get a blank stare.  Is insurance necessary?  Do venues require it?  Is it a word to the wise to get insurance or just a roadblock to start a group?

Manage Costs

When it comes to managing the cost for the BSSUG group, we are on a fairly tight budget.  What options are available to preserve your budget for the most important aspects of your group? 

Next Steps
  • Co-leading two user groups over the last decade has been enjoyable and I see it as an opportunity to give back a little bit.  I encourage you to consider it, build a team and strive toward success each month.
  • Thank you to Dennis, Karen and the CPCUG board which helped both the NOVA SQL and BSSUG groups with financial management and insurance support.
  • Thank you to Brian, Andrew, Geoff, Jim and Ray for your help managing and growing the NOVA SQL and BSSUG groups over the years.
  • As a final item, I would like to thank everyone in the community who has attended any of my user group meetings or web casts over the last decade.  I appreciate all of your feedback, enthusiasm and encouragement.  I hope to continue to serve the community for many years to come and improve my value to you.
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About the author
MSSQLTips author Jeremy Kadlec Jeremy Kadlec is a Co-Founder, Editor and Author at MSSQLTips.com with more than 300 contributions. He is also the CTO @ Edgewood Solutions and a six-time SQL Server MVP. Jeremy brings 20+ years of SQL Server DBA and Developer experience to the community after earning a bachelor's degree from SSU and master's from UMBC.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

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