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Our first coding workshop

What we learned so far of hosting a workshop without a budget

A view inside the Clarabridge offices where we held our first workshop

On a rainy Saturday in February 2019, our community organized it’s first workshop. With little to no experience regarding workshops we decided to do it anyway. Our workshop teacher was also a first-timer so it was good practice for all of us. We had a lot of fun and the workshop went pretty smoothly considering. Of course we realise there is room for improvement but it would be weird to nail it down the first time you ever undertake such an event, right?

So let’s talk about all the things we learned from this event.

It all starts with an idea

Like most things, it just started with an idea. Months before the actual workshop took place, we were already discussing the idea of organizing workshops.

In our community we have a lot of front-end developers and we also noticed the slow rise of functional programming; that’s what made us decide on the first subject: An Elm lang workshop.
It would combine both front-end and functional programming. On top of that we wanted to offer something different and a little more advanced; since beginners and/or getting into programming workshops seem to be sprouting everywhere lately…

Next up we created a mailing list to keep those who’re interested in the loop. And we also informed people who were attending our Tech Talk events about our upcoming workshop.

Keeping it small on purpose

We didn’t have much more than an initial idea yet. So, to get people interested in our workshop, we posted a teaser and let them subscribe to the mailinglist I mentioned earlier. What we did know was that we were going to keep it small. Ideally 5 to 10 participants would be perfect for a first time. We definitely had a lot to learn and wanted to deliver as much quality as possible even if we didn’t have the experience yet.

Quickly our mailinglist contained more than enough contacts to hold at least one edition of the workshop. Which we already thought was a step in the right direction.

In the meantime our workshop teacher worked hard to to get everything finished for a first test run.

Be prepared, do test runs

We like to be well-prepared, so we didn’t fix a date until we had AT LEAST one test run done. During summer the women.code team got together for a fun afternoon of coding and testing.

By doing this we both gained certain insights and could discuss how to move forward. Some of the things we learned from this:

After the test run, our workshop teacher dove back into improving the content and structure based on his learnings and our feedback.
For us this was a perfect time to move a step forward again and start looking for a host and venue.

Looking for a venue

Before looking for a venue, there was one more thing to do: narrow down what schedule could work for our future participants. We send out a small survey, with some more info regarding how much time was needed for the workshop for it to be meaningful and interesting. Both weekdays and days in the weekend. Even though we knew that it was nearly impossible to do this particular workshop structure on a workday evening. But we kept in mind that we could always split it up if our future participants opted for weekday evenings. So we stayed flexible, more or less.

The results came in, almost everyone seemed fine with weekends. Which honestly, was a big relief! But that made it a little harder to find a host and venue without a budget.

We nailed down a few possible dates and started looking for a venue.

Let your social media network do the work for you

As a community we are active on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, but for the purpose of finding a host and venue we only targetted Twitter. Which payed of big time! On the same day we received multiple interesting offers and decided to go with one that had a personal connection. We are very thankful that so many people responded, especially since we were asking for a free venue on a Saturday.

Now that we had our date, host and venue it was time to move another step forward.

Managing the event and setting the price

We already did some research regarding how were going to manage the actual event and it’s participants. For our regular Tech Talk meetups we use the meetup platform. But we wanted to separate the workshop from our usual events for multiple reasons. One being our meetup group is a private group and for this event we wanted people to see more info about it.
Another reason is that we experienced a fixed amount of no-shows (people that RSVP but never show up) on our other events, which also have limited seats, which meant that we wanted to prevent that by selling tickets for a reasonable price.

For us it made sense to use eventbrite, even though you have to pay a small fee per sold ticket. But we firmly believed it would be the best solution regarding the no-show-rate.

Determining the ticket price

Setting the actual price was rather difficult though, because we wanted the workshop to stay accessible and still cover some of the expenses.
When you look at most workshops they usually are pretty pricey. We saw prices ranged from +300€ to nearly 1000€ for coding workshops (usually for a full day), which are pretty normal rates. Which is more or less understandable since you have to pour in tons of work to make it happen and want to deliver someting inspiring or meaningful.

We decided set our ticket price to 25 €. This seemed enough to cover some expenses and limit no-shows.

All these steps lead up to the moment where we finally could start selling tickets and count down to the actual workshop date.

Countdown to a disasterous ticket sale

From the beginning our idea was to give the people on our workshop mailing list a pre-start to buying a workshop ticket. We would send them an invite with a private link to the eventbrite page and after 2 weeks we’d open up the event to the rest of the community and as a final step we would open up the event for everyone.

So we applied that strategy and failed miserably

Almost noone on the mailing list bought a ticket and we were starting to worry. This was even after we opened up the ticketsale to the rest of the community. Ticketsales just didn’t catch on…
We send out a personal mail to the contacts on the mailinglist, to ask what might be holding them back, because at that point, we just didn’t know.

Your guess was as good as ours…
After receiving a couple replies, we were very suprised to learn that the fact it wasn’t a free event was the actual issue. Some even called the price steep…
But then we remembered we never gave particular info on the workshop pricing in the early stages, nevertheless we also never mentioned it would be free. But people just assumed.

Also, functional programming only interests a small amount of people, since it’s not that “popular” and people don’t always want to invest in learning something new, even if they might benefit from learning it.

So lessons learned, always try to mention beforehand if it will be a free workshop or not.

Moving forward and making decisions

We didn’t change our ticket prices and kept moving forward towards the big day. So the only next step there was left to take, was opening it up for everyone. In the end 6 out 10 tickets were sold, which we consider is pretty good for our very first workshop ever.

By Claudia

I was never good at writing bio's, but here goes:
Avid (board) gamer, always wondering if someone got the number of that donkey cart? On a more serious note: Community founder and Chief of Sprinkles here at women.code(be), often planning our next move. May or may not have experience in front-end development, UX design and product management...