How To Organise Bath Ruby Conference 11 October 2015

Earlier this year I organised my first conference and it seemed to go pretty well. I’d never organised an event on this scale before and the aim of this post is to share the budget as well as some of the points which helped make things run smoothly. I hope you find it useful and I’d be happy to answer questions or expand on any points in the comments or on Twitter.

tl;dr – If you’re only interested in the numbers, here’s a link to the budget spreadsheet.

The Idea

The idea of running a Ruby conference first struck me after attending Andy Croll’s brilliant inaugural Brighton Ruby Conference and thinking that the UK needed more of this kind of thing. As is the case with most big projects, the first step was to write some lists; lists of potential venues, brilliant speakers and possible sponsors. I also created a budget spreadsheet, filled it with guesstimates and started experimenting with different attendee numbers, ticket prices, etc. to make the figures balance.

I had to list the aims of the conference as part of a grant application to cover the venue hire and I think this sums it up pretty well:

My aim from the beginning was to make sure there was something for novices as well as experienced developers, and this was part of the reason why I chose the speakers myself rather than having a CFP. I started by writing a wish-list based on talks I’d seen at other conferences/online, people I’d heard good things about and people who were doing interesting things. Then I emailed each speaker with an introduction and offered them all the same deal.

Money

I’ve shared a simplified version of my budget spreadsheet with some rows merged together so as to obfuscate the rates of any freelancers I hired.

My first consideration was how much to pay the speakers and I was surprised to find that a lot of tech conferences don’t pay their speakers anything (apart from covering expenses). Much has been written about this, including a couple of great posts from Andy Budd and Remy Sharp, so I’m not going to bang on about it here. Suffice it to say that the speakers are the main attraction of any conference and I think they should be compensated appropriately. Compensating your speakers also changes the relationship from one where they’re doing you a favour to one where you’re paying them for a service.

In the end, after getting some great advice from Andy, Remy and Chris Murphy, I decided to offer speakers a fee/honorarium of £1,000 plus hotel and expenses. Settling this early on meant I had to be sure there would be enough income to cover everything and this influenced my decisions about ticket prices and sponsorship tiers.

Tickets

I wanted to keep ticket prices low and I released them in three batches at £59, £79 and £99, with student tickets always available for £39. This was made possible largely by the capacity of the venue – being able to sell up to 500 tickets means that everyone pays less. The £15,000 sponsorship income also helped to subsidise ticket prices.

This chart shows how many tickets were sold in the weeks running up to the conference, starting with the first batch going on sale at £59. The spikes at week 51 and week 3 were the second and third batches going on sale.

Sponsors

I had no idea what to charge or offer sponsors so I started off by visiting other conference websites and looking at their sponsorship prospectuses. I eventually ended up with this prospectus which seemed to do the trick. Once I’d done that, I started emailing it to people I knew as well as companies who I thought might be interested; after a while I had people contacting me out of the blue to ask if they could sponsor the event.

Charity

One of the things I worked into the budget was a donation to charity, because giving money to charity is a nice thing to do. Whilst I was still figuring out the budget, and long before any tickets went on sale, I decided to donate 10% of ticket sales to Shelter and in the end the conference raised £3,500 for them. It would probably have made my life around 10% easier not to do this but committing to it early on meant that it was never really a concern because it was in the budget from the start.

General Advice

Here’s a few things that I think contributed to the smooth running of the conference:

Summary

The 2015 Bath Ruby Conference was the first large scale event I’ve organised and I think its success was down to equal parts luck, naive optimism and hard work (from the speakers, freelancers, suppliers and volunteers as well as me). Organising something on that scale can be pretty stressful at times but, with enough planning, I think it’s something that anyone could do and the satisfaction you get from pulling it off is incredibly rewarding :)

Thanks and Credits

Finally, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Jordan and Andrew for giving their support, time and advice in the run up to the conference and for looking after everyone on the day. Thanks as well to everyone who bought a ticket, to Linda Liukas, Sandi Metz, Ben Orenstein, Katrina Owen, Tom Stuart, Saron Yitbarek and Phil Nash for being true professionals, to Dave Mercer, Dan Bryan, Stuart Nelson, Harry Llewelyn, Ruth John, Tom Hall, Oli Evans, Neil Ford, Baris Balic, Sam Treweek, Mauro Pompilio and Kelvin Gan for being the best volunteers, to everyone who gave a lightning talk, all the staff at The Assembly Rooms, B&NES Council for covering the venue hire, all our brilliant sponsors and the following people and companies for helping to make it happen:

For more details about the 2015 conference, check out the following links:

Bath Ruby Conference will be back on Friday 11th March, 2016. Visit the new site for more details.

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