My experience as a WooCommerce London co-organizer, one year on.

How I got involved

Back in February 2020, I did a WooCommerce related talk at WordPress London. The title was “99 ways to sell, but direct ain’t one.” I highlighted the need to engage and re-engage with your users before they would turn into customers based on using Google Analytics Attribution reporting. A talk which probably was better on paper than on in front of an audience. No doubt I would have improved on this with some more practice.
A week or so after I visited London, Lisa contacted me. She recently got in touch with WooCommerce’s Jonathan Wold, who heads the community efforts (amongst many other busy tasks) to restart the Meetups in London. Lisa was wondering if I would be interested in co-organizing this Meetup.
A couple of issues popped up; firstly, I don’t live in London, so for each event, I would need to commute (about two hours), and secondly, which could support the first part, I work at YITH. As an outsider, you could argue we are competitors, so there is a conflict of interest. But when you think about it. If one company thrives, the whole ecosystem benefits from it. So during the meetup, my goal is to get people to succeed with WooCommerce. Amazingly, Jonathan Wold was not interested in past politics but in making sure we create passionate communities and help with the mission of “Democratizing Commerce.”

First planning stages

When Lisa and I started talking to plan for a Meetup, we focused on finding a suitable venue. We looked at PayPal and Klaviyo’s office as both businesses would be appropriate sponsors and interested in sharing their facilities and possibly sponsoring some food for the attendees.

As we never met in real life – and to this date still haven’t – we spend quite a few hours talking and just understanding each other’s value, experience, and view on things. To me, this was very invaluable, as it meant that when we started the Meetup, we could call each other out by saying, “Hey Lisa, you are the designer amongst us, what do you think?”
Within weeks it was clear, we would not meet face to face for some time as the covid-19 lockdown had no end in sight, so we worked towards an online version. Initially, a temporary solution to build up some momentum was to be a permanent more with now about 40 meetups ‘done.’

Style and format

We agreed on a few key points that would be crucial in ‘us’ taking this any further.

  1. No pressure; we could not pressurize each other to commit ‘anything.’
  2. Manage a suitable time; we love our evening, and for me, it was crucial to not interfere with family life and my young kids’ demands too much.
  3. Little or no prep; each meetup should not involve too much preparation or planning
  4. No guest, no problem; we have 100’s of friends, plus tutorials, blogs, and each other as co-hosts with a wealth of knowledge. I have had a presentation prepared and never had to use it.
  5. The attendees are the most important people; yes, they give up their time, have questions, want to say something, or be heard. Therefore, we would make it a key-point to give them a voice. I would often say, “please, just unmute and comment.” 

Also, we never mind for people to plug their solution, company, service, or plugin. I believe we’ve made some good connections over the last few months amongst our members.

First meetup

For the first meetup, we put together some slides to give it structure. Probably more to help me to guide the conversation and the meetup. There would be four parts to the hour of the lunchtime meetup.

  1. News and skills; around 15 minutes of me sharing a few blogs, woo update, and interesting stories I found online in the last week. The idea is to allow people to tune in, create some consistency to the weekly meetup.
  2. Showcase; this would be totally open and could include a plugin developer presentation, one of the WooCommerce sites shown on the website we would go through, or a demonstration by one of the hosts on a particular setup.
  3. Questions; about 20 minutes would be allocated to general questions from the attendees to support them with any issues they would be facing.
  4. Announcement; More as a closing part with the information of what would be coming up next week, any job requests from members, and feedback link.

Generally, I would prepare all the slides each week, which consisted of minor changes to the same deck, and it would take me no more than an hour to find news, a showcase, and ask for the quickfire intro questions.

The first ten meetups

The first one was pretty exciting. Who would join us, and what would they expect? Our idea was to keep it really low-key without making too much fuss or preparation. The focus of the target audience would be those that are familiar with WooCommerce, but maybe not necessarily confident with solving issues to succeed. This could be down to technical, marketing, business, or problems. In a way to get them ‘over the line’ as suppose to starting from ‘fresh’ with no knowledge of Woo or even WP.

I prepared the slides, and Lisa was the ‘doorkeeper’ of the Zoom meeting. Fifteen turned up, and for the next ten meetups, this was about the average. Sometimes more and sometimes fewer. About 75% of the attendees were regular or those who would join almost every meetup if they could.

Having regular people join us is very nice as you know what they are working on and can continue the conversation from last time. Or simply asking, “did you manage to solve the Facebook connection issue?”

The next 16 as #woofix

Realizing that we miss out on the newcomers of those unfamiliar with WooCommerece, I decided to try and onboard some of them while keeping the regular attendees interested in either helping or learning some new. We would stick to the same format as we set out from the beginning, but each of the next 16 Meetups would be a new part of a journey to start with WooCommerce. First up was to start with your idea, which Jonathan Wold co-hosted. 

The schedule tells the rest of the story of how to make that first sale by Christmas, or ‘from Zero to Sale by December’ as I often referred to it.

WooFix_1Planning for e-commerce (Vendor)Jonathan Wold
WooFix_2Planning for e-commerce (Develop)Louise Towler
WooFix_3Domain and HostingTijana (GoDaddy Pro) Predrag (ManageWP)
WooFix_4Installing WooCommerce and styling itJamie Marsland (Pootlepress)
WooFix_5Product TypesRodolfo (Business Bloomer)
WooFix_6Postage and FullfilmentMark Cooper (Shipit)
WooFix_7Taxes and Payment TypesGroup
WooFix_8Upselling, increase AOVBob WP Dunn (DotheWoo)
WooFix_9SEO and your storeJono (Yoast)
WooFix_10Marketing of your storeMaziar (Growmatik)
WooFix_11Managing Woo with your hostAdam Warner (GoDaddy Pro)
WooFix_12Updating, Backing up, and testingRobert Windish (Inpsyde)
WooFix_13Test How payments work – SandboxJ Jay (Wp Hooked)
WooFix_15Selling – a group discussionGroup
WooFix_16Alternative Payment TypesAlessandra Favaro (PayPal)

Starting with full enthusiasm, I could see this going really well, and about 30 attendees joined the first #woofix. This fluctuated between 20 – 30 throughout the 15 weeks, and it was obvious that some speakers would attract a few more people.

The time it took me to make this schedule work, and flow meant I had to invest a bit more time into it. However, knowing interesting folks would join me was very encouraging and also interesting for me, both for content and networking. It did add some worry as changing speaker-slots kind of messed up my idea of the ‘15 weeks’.

In fact, the original idea was to mirror the different lessons and set up a store ourselves with every part covered after each week. This was quickly abandoned as both Lisa, and I had enough on our plate to get on with to just keep the weekly Meetup going.

When you think about it in the number of hours, 1-hour prep, 1 hour (plus extra overtime and discussion) of Meetup, and this quickly adds to about 10-12 hours each month. Not that much, considering that some monthly meetups require a lot more time to put together and run. And after all, most of it is done with interest and enjoyment.

One year on

The format of the meetup has not changed that much and depending on whether we have a co-host or speaker, we might do the introductions at the end rather than after the news. The main reason for this is that having about 25 people introducing themselves for a minute is taking over a big part of the Meetup. Giving people the chance to speak and share their ideas remains a big part of the community meetup.

Having co-hosted a meetup for the last 40 weeks on pretty much a weekly basis has at times been tricky, but not because of the fact that it is weekly, but when family life interferes, I have to make a decision. Luckily on a couple of occasions, due to a birthday or half-term holiday, Lisa has managed to host on her own with the help of some of the regular attendees. We should, however, make more formal arrangements, and we are discussing options to involve more regular co-hosts.

The future

We are very happy with the way it is going and are constantly discussing new ideas, though we often limit this by the key points we set out from the beginning in order to manage this.

As mentioned, we will work on some additional help with hosting, website upkeep, and other very small tasks to make our involvement to keep this Meetup going less dependent on just Lisa and me.

Lisa is contemplating starting a weekend hands-on workshop, and we have engaged Kinsta to sponsor us with a site. This can be particularly useful for new WooCommerce starting entrepreneurs to get some experience with the setup or for plugin devs to allow the Meetup community to try the plugin. The site will be multisite with a sandbox setup that can be set with a time limit.

We have contemplated doing an evening session, but with so many Meetups being hosted in the evening and this to clash with our own personal lives, we have not done this or is it in the planning, but we keep the options open.

WooCommerce’s Global meetup is super useful as a backup and reference to guide people to when they are starting out with WooCommece. I’d like to see more of a global, regional, and local coordinated effort. But things are happening from within WooCommerce, so I have full faith in this structure working out.

Recourses, administration, tools, talks, backup hosts, address list of speakers, ideas, and more… maybe an effort can be made to combine this with a central hub, point of contact to support all Meetups. 

Key components that worked or didn’t work

The meetup size of those attending on a weekly basis has been perfect. Around 15-25 is big enough to keep a discussion going and give those attending some time to speak or ask questions. Anything larger, and this becomes unmanageable. Discussions amongst the attendees are still the best part of the Meetup; they lead the subject, flow, and get the questions answered that are on their mind. Being a moderator is fun, sometimes tricky, but thanks to Lisa’s backup and well-timed interference, this is totally manageable. 

The format and topics being discussed works, though I hear some feedback that discussing new plugins is not ‘developer’ enough. Not that we cater for developers, though I try to keep a balance to make the meetup valuable to everyone. Whether you want to find out what’s planned for the next Woo update or understand how to extend the functionality, giving a total overview is hopefully useful to everyone. 

Checking the developer’s blog, some news sites give me a feeling of being in control of the Woo ecosystem, and sharing this knowledge is important to me, even if it is for only 5 mins. This bit of research I happily do every week, which probably is about 1 hour of my time when you consider discussing these topics. 

Making the Meetup enjoyable for me is the most important part. I enjoy talking with attendees, ask their opinion, and make connections. If I hear of people connecting outside of the meetup, I am pleased I made this happen.

Giving people the opportunity to share their product is insightful for the bigger picture, even though you might never need the plugin or payment form.

We are not Automattic! This is something that should be mentioned and understood that WooCommerce is owned by Automattic, but for us, WooCommerce is a platform, ecosystem, and community. We can also be critical of WooCommerce’s corporate decisions, enjoy its work but most importantly include all aspects of the ecosystem, which includes giving space to third-party services and plugins. 

At times, I ask the attendees what they like to see in the next release or what the developers pay attention to.

If the aim is to make the Meetup as large as possible, then we would have to seriously contemplate the setup and tools used to make this happen. At the moment, keeping it contained, friendly, and fun is the most important part.

Are you thinking of organizing a meetup?

At first, it might seem a huge commitment but once you get the hang of it, it all becomes second nature. What is crucial, is that you don’t overdo it and the key-points we set out from the beginning, have always served us well in making sure we keep it manageable. Having a set routine that you can change at last-minute notice is useful. Panickingbefore a meetup as to what are you going to talk about is not great. So setting the expectations and allowing your members to get involved makes everything so much easier.

Weekly or monthly?
Well, ultimately this is whatever works for you. We chose weekly, simply as it would be an hour and there is always an opportunity next week to continue, which makes next week’s Meetup already easier to fill. In a way, you keep the conversation going, and many attendees like this. This also makes it fun for me, I get to know them, we get to chat, and often connect outside of the Meetup.

Once restrictions end…

Well, we have spoken about returning to physical meetups, but I strongly believe we will keep the virtual ones in some shape or form. I believe they can complement each other as each format connects with people in a different way. Also, I must admit, I will miss my Meetup friends from every corner of the world who tune in at every hour of their very, very, early morning.

Need help? You can contact me and I will be happy to talk to you or support you!

Meetup Links 

WooCommerce London Meetup (My Meetup that I co-organize)

WooCommerce Global Live Meetup (WooCOmmerce’s Meetup if you want to start out with Woo)

WooCommerce Builder Community Events (Do you build with WooCommerce or sell a product or service? – check this one out)

Meetup, WCLDN, WooCommerce

Ronald Gijsel

WordPress user, community contributor and more. Father of two boys and a Dutch husband to a Turkish wife. Ex Italian restaurant owner in Evesham. A good mix of cultures, languages, cuisines and points of view.

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