In 2006, HubSpot coined the phrase ‘Inbound Marketing’ to describe a unified strategy for attracting customers. These methods place emphasis on providing excellent content and adding value to a customer’s experience at every stage in the sales funnel.

Since then, customers’ expectations of what they’ll experience as they research and buy has changed. Inbound marketing is more relevant than it’s ever been. Even brick-and-mortar companies who have traditionally used outbound strategies are updating their strategies to include inbound marketing, particularly in regards to their presences online.

The changes continue. Technology, shifts in SEO, and general trends in marketing make it difficult to keep up. HubSpot addresses these challenges by providing HubSpot User Group (HUG) events.

A HUG event is a free event intended to help HubSpot users keep ahead of inbound marketing trends and get the most out of their HubSpot memberships. HUG events are held in nearly 140 locations across the world. They’re free to HubSpot users.

For agency owners, hosting a HUG event comes with a lot of work and a plethora of benefits.

Besides positioning your agency as an expert on digital marketing, hosting a HUG event makes your company more visible to local and regional businesses. It also provides opportunities for networking with both prospects and potential partners.

Developing new partnerships through HUG events could result in fun and effective collaborative projects. Since many people are trying to establish themselves as speakers, you can further develop those relationships by providing top clients and potential prospects a chance to speak publicly at the HUG events you host.

It’s good practice for running your own conference someday, too, although it’s an enormous undertaking. If you’re an agency owner who’s interested in hosting a HUG event, this guide will walk you through each stage of the planning process.

Eight weeks before the event

If you’ve decided to host a HUG event, one of the first considerations is finding a theme that will interest and engage your niche audience. At this point, you should also be thinking about goals for the event and what you hope to accomplish.

Find a theme

Finding a relevant theme requires you to understand your niche audience. You’ll already know one or two things about them: they use HubSpot, and they live relatively close by.

Drawing on just those two facts, brainstorm some themes that would be interesting to the people in your area.

If, for example, you live in a relatively rural area, consider emphasizing how inbound marketing can help local tech companies reach larger markets. If your area is largely urban and local HubSpot users already have a worldwide reach, add an element of reaching micro-niche businesses located in out-of-the-way places.

Themes can also center on what you’d like to achieve, as well.

The most important thing to remember when choosing a theme is to make sure it’s relevant to the people who will be attending. Choosing themes that focus on market trends and how to use them to enhance inbound marketing practices is always a good way to go.

Your goals for the event can play into your theme, as well.

Set event goals

There are two things to think about when you’re setting goals for a HUG event. You need to know what you want to get out of it, and you need to know what you want your attendees to walk away with.

Thinking about why you want to host the event will give you a good basis for lining out two or three personal goals, like building a stronger local network or getting the attention of prospective leads by offering them speaking opportunities.

Give some thought to what the people in your area lack, as well. If they need training in basic HubSpot automation techniques or if they need help understanding how to develop effective social media marketing strategies, zero in on those areas. Set two or three goals to help them learn how to meet these needs.

Your HUG event will be a success if the theme you’ve chosen matches the goals you set. At this point, you can reach out to a handful of possible attendees and ask them whether the theme aligns with their personal goals. Use the feedback you get to tweak the theme, if necessary.

6 weeks before

The real work begins about six weeks before the HUG event. At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what you want to accomplish and what the main topics will be.

Lining Up Speakers

Finding speakers for your HUG event doesn’t have to be stressful. Many people like presenting and want to improve their speaking skills. Some will say yes to a request for a presentation request because they have a new insight to offer and they’re passionate about it.

You’ll need at least two or three speakers to make presentations based on our theme. Brainstorm possible speaker ideas. A list of twenty people is a good place to start.

Set the list aside for a day or two while you think about what each possible presenter has to offer. Then go back through it and prioritize your list, with those you think will have the most to offer at the top.

Your list might include clients or marketing executives from partner companies you work with, like Databox or SEM Rush. If there’s a HubSpot agency partner located in your area, you can sift through that resource for ideas for speakers, as well, and it’s another good way to build your network. Marketing specialists, CMOs, and CEOs, and academic professors are all good options. What you’re looking for most is someone who can bring value to the topic.

You shouldn’t have to pay for speakers. Many people in professional capacities are great presenters, and some will see presenting on a topic related to their work as a natural extension of their careers.

The point of a HUG event is to build enthusiasm as well as to inform, and the best presenters to do that are the ones who are completely involved in HubSpot-related activities. Choosing speakers who are engaged and knowledgeable will provide you with presentations that are as much fun as they are informative.

About halfway through the week, you’ll be able to whittle down your list to the top four or five candidates. Then it’s time to reach out and formally invite them to speak. If your top choices can’t make a presentation for this event, make a note to ask them for another time, and move down the list.

As you speak with possible presenters, make sure you mention the following:

  • Each presentation should be about 20 minutes long, and to be effective, it should be given in a TED talk style.

  • This is not an opportunity to market themselves or their company (although the exposure they get will have its own subtle marketing effect). Instead, they should provide insights on inbound marketing trends, actionable tips or other takeaways that will be useful to the audience.

  • Ask them to prepare a presentation or summary page that can be distributed afterward.

While you’re conversing with your potential speakers, ask about possible days and times that will work best for them to present. If you can get a list of at least three or four days that might work, the next step will be much easier to complete.

Choose a date and time

Choosing a date and time has to be completed in conjunction with finding your speakers and your venue. You don’t want to schedule a speaker and then create the event when he or she will be out of town, for example. Make sure you communicate with them about days and times that work with their personal schedules.

The date and time also depend on the venue you choose. If you want to meet after work, for example, a bar or restaurant might be a logical choice.

Morning events tend to do well because many people have family commitments after work. Also, while some attendees will be able to count a HUG event as part of their work time, others will have to take time off. If the event is held in the morning, they can be ‘late’ to work and still fit both the event and their work priorities into one day.

Having the event during the first half of the week is also better. Toward the end of a week, people often have plans or are busy trying to wrap up their work week and prioritize their to-do lists and calendars.

Choose a venue

Like choosing speakers, choosing a venue doesn’t have to be costly or stressful. There are many free spaces willing to host events. Research the possibility of using a Google campus, Microsoft Scaleup or coworking spaces such as WeWork.

Entrepreneurial incubators run by local universities might be good options, too. Local city offices, trade schools, and university extension sites might also be available.

Sometimes a city or other small government entity will partner for events like this, allowing you to use building space for free if you allow the public to attend. That can mean more publicity and networking possibilities for everyone involved.

Don’t be afraid to call up and ask, and don’t drag your feet. You’ll need to have your space booked about six weeks in advance to make sure it’s available.

Visit the venue if you've never been there before. Ask whether amenities as a projector, screen, chairs, internet and audio systems are available. If not, you’ll have to find another venue that provides those things or rent them through a third-party, which can be expensive.

Also, ask about parking spaces or public transportation options and which rooms or spaces you’ll be using. Make a note to include that information in the invitations you send out.

Create your event on a hosting platform

Create your event in Eventbrite, Anyvite, or some other event hosting platform that allows you to track signups, so you know how many people to expect.

You can also create a unique landing page with a trackable URL for the event. Include a registration form like 123FormBuilder or Event Espresso. A system that integrates with WordPress, Hootsuite or other packages you’re currently using will help simplify the tracking process.

There is usually a 50 percent turn-up rate for free events, so always aim to attract double the number you would like to attend. That leads directly to the next step—promoting your HUG event.

Promote your event

From week six on in, promoting your event is an ongoing process.

First steps

A top priority will be to fill out this form so HubSpot can send an e-mail to their list of contacts in your area. This should be done at least a month in advance.

If you know of other HubSpot users nearby, you can also contact them yourself with written invitations or personal e-mails. If there’s someone you especially want to attract, consider placing a phone call to extend a personal invitation.

Email your database, as well, but make sure to filter the relevant contacts for your event.

Utilize Social Media
  • Create an event on Facebook. Share it with your relevant contacts. Promote the link. Every week, post a quick reminder to encourage people to RSVP to the HUG event on your Eventbrite page and link back to it. If they’ve already done that, it will keep the event in mind, and it will attract others who haven’t heard of it yet.

  • Share the event within relevant groups on LinkedIn. You’ll have to do this in a way that avoids spamming, so consider adding it as a link inside of content you’ll share organically within your industry anyway.

  • Share it in relevant Facebook groups, as well.

  • Write a blog post on the topic. Include a call-to-action that encourages people to attend the event. You can tweak the blog post to be as informative or as informal as you want for sharing on different social media sites. LinkedIn shares should be professional and informative, for example.

  • Ask your local network to tweet about and retweet the event and the blog post about it.

  • Use images and short videos to promote the event during its planning stages on Instagram and Snapchat, too.

  • Use paid ads to promote your event on Facebook and LinkedIn within your city or local region.

  • Use Canva to create banners for social media and your event pages.

Reach beyond your circle of influence
  • Ask the speakers to promote the event to their network. This is a great way to extend your professional network and put your speakers in the spotlight.

  • Ask the venue to promote your event. A coworker location can promote to the people that work there, and those people can forward the event page to their contacts, as well. If you’re working with a city, library or local government for space to meet, ask them to put a note in their newsletters and on their landing pages.

4 weeks before the event

By now, your event is set, and your promotion is well underway. You’ll be working on building momentum during the next two weeks and on monitoring the details as they come together.

Continuing promotion

If you haven’t already done it, re-share the event in relevant Facebook and LinkedIn groups. At this point, you can also look for more groups that would appreciate knowing about the event.

This also might be a good time to send out a quick video on Instagram about the planning process and why you’re excited about the upcoming event.

Hopefully, you’ll already have a handful of registrants. Check the numbers every day so you can tweak your promotion campaign if you need to. Follow through with questions that people who are interested in attending the event might have, and encourage them to register as soon as possible.

Following the process

Check in with the speakers. Ask how their presentations are coming. Remind them that you will need a copy of their presentations and takeaway handouts a week before the event. This will give you time to make sure you have enough time to print copies of any handouts and make sure the necessary technology is in place.

This is also the time to look for a caterer to provide light snacks. Sometimes the venue can take care of this for you, so ask about it, but don’t feel shy about looking for other options. Since HUG events are free, you’ll want to make sure you’re staying within a reasonable budget for food.