How to Make a Successful ARCHICAD User Group (Part 1: Organization)
How to start and grow an ARCHICAD User Group
If you are just joining us, here are links to the other posts in this series. If you haven’t read the previous post, you might want to start there. What follows assumes you’ve read it.
- How to Make a Successful ARCHICAD User Group (Part 0: Introduction)
- How to Make a Successful ARCHICAD User Group (Part 1: Organization)
- How to Make a Successful ARCHICAD User Group (Part 2: The Meeting)
- How to Make a Successful ARCHICAD User Group (Part 3: Spreading the Word)
In this post I want to talk about how to organize an ARCHICAD user group. It’s fairly straight-forward, but doing this correctly is the difference between providing local meetings and fostering a community. I can never stress enough that the most important aspect of user groups is community building. A healthy user group makes people want to use ARCHICAD. It keeps people from feeling alone. It gets people excited to use ARCHICAD.
How to Make a Successful User Group (Part 1: Organization)
- The best thing you can do to build a user group/community is create an e-mail list. GRAPHISOFT North America (or your local GS affiliate) will send out e-mails about user groups—if GRAPHISOFT knows about the meeting, which they should because you will tell them. But GRAPHISOFT’s official announcement won’t reach everyone, just the people in their system listed as residing in your area. This means bosses, BIM managers, employees who deal with money and other people who have reason to connect officially with GRAPHISOFT will hear about the event. But the people using ARCHICAD everyday, those most interested in attending a user group, or others who have recently relocated might not hear about the event. Build your own list. E-mail everyone about the pending user group. Don’t worry that some people will get both an e-mail from GRAPHISOFT and you about the same thing. That’s good. People often need reminders. I currently use MailChimp (the free version is more than enough for our needs). For years back in Minnesota I just collected e-mail addresses and managed them myself. Don’t do that. Use MailChimp or one of their competitors. Mailing list services are easy to use, offer tracking features, and they also have easy links for people to add (or remove) their names from the list. It makes managing a growing number of names so much easier and it’s very low maintenance. I even add a link for people to add themselves to my mailing list when I post announcements on my blog. And then I verify at every meeting that I have people’s e-mail addresses. I don’t want anyone falling through the cracks. In addition to reaching more people, the other major benefit of a user run mailing list is that it puts a face to the group. Official e-mails tend to be cold and formal. If you create a mailing list and send out a personal e-mail to the other local users, then there can be personality to it. As a local user, you are an insider. You understand the dynamics of your region and your community. You can be you. And that matters because at the heart of a successful user group is one person bringing everyone together.
- Be the center of the community. Become the voice and the connector. If you live in a large enough metro, you’ll probably have a GRAPHISOFT representative in attendance, either an employee or your local reseller. It’s great having GRAPHISOFT at user groups, but the community really needs a user at the center. A user has lived in the community for a long time and probably isn’t moving any time soon (sorry Minnesota). The user can speak objectively and be trusted to think like a user, not an employee or a business. A user can be honest about the struggles with the program. A user can think about the architecture first and the program second. There is a big difference between a user group run by a user and one run by a company representative. Not that GRAPHISOFT led meetings are not good, but user led ones are better. If you are running the meetings and telling fellow users to attend, you become the person people e-mail looking for help. A strong user group is not just regular physical meetings, it is also a web of interconnected people there to support each other. That again is the value of the e-mail list. My most recent e-mail went like this: “we have a user group on the 30th & who needs help/who wants to freelance”. I got 3 responses (from e-mails to 39 people—my list is fairly new) looking for help/wanting to help. That’s how a community goes from disconnected to connected. A LinkedIn group creates a lot of loose connections, but a central figure and an e-mail list makes it easier for everyone. A random local user just needs to e-mail/connect with the center of their group. And that individual can connect them with the right person.
- Rally a Core Group. I said that at the heart of a successful user group is one person, but of course one person does not make a group. Outside of that one user managing all the logistics, is another core group of users who love coming. They might be gurus or long time users. But they might just be passionate newbies, loud veterans, or solo users who really need the company. Developing this core group takes effort. It might mean courting users at a firm known for high design or just developing strong friendships with other users and making the meetings an excuse to get together. In Minnesota my core was a mixture: two or three guys from a highly respected design firm, a bunch of the team from the firm who’s space we used, a sole practitioner who never missed a meeting, and Ben. Ben typically sat next to me at the front of the room and often acted as my co-host. If you can find a Ben for your group, you’ve struck gold. Ben always showed up because he wanted to learn; Ben was always up for hanging out before or after; Ben always brought questions and answers; Ben was loud; Ben got people talking; Ben always made the meetings more enjoyable. I knew if I was running out of things to share or the room was too quiet, all I had to do was say ANYTHING to Ben and we’d reignite the conversation. It also helped that Ben was an ex-Revit user, so he could always goad us all with memories from days past.
- Force of Will and Selfishness. As I mentioned above the key to a successful user group is one person working hard and making sure that they have some buddies who also love the idea of regular meetings. So you know what I do? I arrange user group meetings around my schedule. The time, location, and frequency is about making my life easier. Before I schedule a meeting, I will often ask whoever is hosting and a few other users who regularly attend which of a few days works best for them. But I rarely ask the group. I did that a few times. I even scheduled meetings in special ways for specific users who said that they wanted to come but always had this or that conflict. And you know what happened? Those users still didn’t come and the meetings were more of a hassle for me. So make it easy for yourself. If you like meetings at 7 pm on Tuesdays, do that. If lunch meetings are your style. Go for it. The group lives on your motivation to keep things going. Don’t make it harder for yourself. Remember, a user group doesn’t have to be a democracy. It can be, but sometimes (almost always) it’s better for a select few people to just make a decision and move things forward.
- Set things up to pass the torch. While this post is about starting and leading a user group, it’s also about maintaining a user group. And that sometimes means a change of leadership. As someone who’s leading a user group (and yes it takes a leader to run one), you should also keep an eye out for someone who could take over. Once you identify someone, find ways to get them more involved and see if they are interested in taking on a larger role within the group. Adam Rasmussen now runs the Minnesota group. There was a lull during the transition, but now things are roaring back. Adam was a very regular attendee at the meetings I ran and when I knew I was leaving Minnesota I carefully arranged things so that he could build off the momentum I’d developed during my years of running the group.
User Groups have Leaders
A strong user group needs a strong leader. It’s okay to be that person and take pride in it. You’ll notice throughout this series of blog posts I reference both the Minnesota ARCHICAD User Group and the Seattle Area ARCHICAD User Group constantly. I interchangeably refer to those groups as mine and ours. Both possessive pronouns are accurate. MNAUG and SAAUG are groups. They are collective and emergent. But they are also mine. Or MNAUG was mine. Now it’s Adam’s. Owning/running a user group is an honor and a burden. And it takes work. A user group doesn’t exist without someone saying “I want this. I will make this happen. This is my responsibility.”