Not Enough Attendees For Going Solo Leeds

Yesterday mid-afternoon, I had to take the difficult decision to cancel Going Solo Leeds. The reason for this is that a bit over two weeks before the event, there are simply not enough registrations for it to take place under the conditions I envisioned for it.

After discussing the situation with my advisors, I reached the conclusion that the most responsible course of action right now was to cancel as soon as I could.

I’m aware that for some of the people who have arranged to travel to Leeds, it’s already too late to cancel travel plans. If you’re going to be in Leeds anyway, how about doing something together? Let’s gather on the 12th for a free SoloCamp where we will discuss soloist issues amongst ourselves in an informal way.

The Going Solo conference concept and the community around it live on. There will be a third edition of Going Solo — I’ve learnt a tremendous amount of things preparing both the Lausanne and the Leeds editions, and will be taking advantage of those lessons to do things slightly differently. How, when and where are still unknowns, but if you are subscribed to the newsletter you’ll be informed in good time.

I’d like to extend a huge thanks to all the people who took part in the Going Solo Leeds adventure: people who registered, sponsors and media partners, bloggers who promoted the event though blog posts or badges on their sites, advisors, speakers, and friends who helped out. To all of you who believed in this project: thanks so much for your help.

I’ve included below a mini-FAQ and will update it if other questions show up.

Why did you cancel?

Two weeks and a half before the event, just over 25 people are registered to be present at the event. Even though Going Solo aims to be an intimate event, I don’t consider it is fair towards the attendees, sponsors and speakers to run it with such a thin crowd.

There were 60 people in Lausanne, which made for a good audience. A conference with 25 people present is not the event I designed and advertised — and not what people paid for.

I considered giving it another week, doing the maximum to drive registrations, but in all honesty time was getting too short. Expecting another 25 registrations in 3-4 days was utopian. If the event has to be canceled, I would rather do it two weeks and a half before the date than 10 days or a week.

What about the people who had paid a registration fee?

People who paid the registration fee will be refunded. They will also be given a 50% discount if they sign up to a future Going Solo conference, when time comes.

Are you doing anything instead of Going Solo Leeds?

Yes. As we’re in town, we’ll meet up to talk about freelance issues, but in a very informal way: that’ll be SoloCamp. I’m not sure exactly what shape it will take, but it will be free and I’m hoping we can have a venue for it at OBH, where Going Solo Leeds was to take place.

It would be nice to have a sense of how many people will be present (5 or 30 makes a difference!) so let me know if you think you’ll be there, and if you want to get involved.

Will there ever be another Going Solo conference?

Yes. I still believe in the concept and format of the conference. The Lausanne event was a success, and the general enthusiasm for Going Solo has been huge (media partnerships, coverage, post-event feedback and general comments).

That it did not translate into actual registrations is more a question of circumstances. We learn as freelancers that how well you do does not necessarily reflect how good you are at your actual job, and I think the same is true everywhere. Having a good idea is not an immediate recipe for success — other ingredients are needed.

There will be future Going Solo conferences. I will approach the organisation differently, based on what I’ve learned over the last year. I’ll be writing more about what I’ve learned over the next weeks.

Why didn’t people register this time around?

That’s the big question, and I’ve spent the last month banging my head against the wall (not literally) trying to answer it. I think there are a bunch of reasons we can identify, and probably another bunch which are just “random” (having read Fooled by Randomness recently, I’ve come to understand that there are no absolute recipes for success or failure — chance plays a part in both). Here are some ideas.

I think the Leeds event was too close (in space and time) to the Lausanne event. People came from Lausanne from all over Europe. Those who wanted to attend Going Solo did so in Lausanne. The first event “exhausted” the pool of potential attendees, in a way.

The word “recession” has been showing up regularly on my radar over the last months. Though not everybody is hit, of course, I think freelancers are particularly vulnerable when the economy starts wavering: it’s easier to cancel the freelancer or not hire her than fire an employee.

The pound has gone down. I don’t know exactly how much impact that could have, but it does mean that the British economy on the whole is suffering a bit (just like we’re all feeling the rise of oil prices).

What about you? Do you have any ideas? If Going Solo seemed interesting to you and you are a freelancer, what kept from signing up?

29 Comments so far

  1. Philip Oakley on August 27th, 2008

    I did sign up so personally I had no issues but maybe the price and the location affected some. Events around London appear to get more attendees but there is a thriving tech and freelance community around the North including Manchester Leeds and Liverpool to name just three. It is a real shame that we could not have hosted an event like this to show that great events can be held outside of London. I look forward to details of the next event.

  2. Aral Balkan on August 27th, 2008

    I’m really sorry to hear the news, Stephanie. I know how hard you’ve been working on the conference.

    This is actually the second conference cancellation news I’ve received this week, the first being a Coldfusion conference here in Brighton that could not get enough registrations. I think you might be on to something with your observation about the fear of recession (and perhaps it was a little too close to the first conference).

    Regardless, I hope this means that I’l be able to attend the next one that you organize as I was going to miss Leeds because of preparations for Singularity.

    Bon courage!

  3. notafish on August 27th, 2008

    Some of the reasons you said (I was in Lausanne) but I think I would have made the trip for brand new speakers. Maybe Going Solo is not as “local” as you thought? :-)

  4. Steph (Technofeliz) on August 27th, 2008

    Sorry you had to cancel this Going Solo session in Leeds… I guess organizing such a conference required a huge amount of work and energy from you.

    I signed up too… and was ready to travel from France to Leeds ! :-)
    I was amazed that the cost of the trip to Leeds (from France) was more expensive than the registration fee itself : I guess recession is not the only reason why people couldn’t sign up, maybe transportation costs (due to oil price raise) has something to do with it too.

    Good job anyway… thanks :)

  5. Alex Bellinger on August 27th, 2008

    A courageous and smart decision and one that I know everyone will understand.

    I’m sure in addition to what you’ve learned for next time, this cancellation will actually create feedback you can use to hone and iterate the idea further.

    Cancellation isn’t BSOD, it’s reboot to install even better software ;)

  6. Dennis Howlett on August 27th, 2008

    @alex nails it. Better to make the decision now than scramble later. The speaker roster was fine IMO (I would say that) but location is always an issue. Next time around, my vote would be London. Love or hate it, London has a bigger catchment area than anywhere else in the UK.

  7. Imran Ali on August 27th, 2008

    @Dennis: Leeds wasn’t the issue – there’s a huge creative and digital freelancing and indie community…approx 15’000 within the Leeds city region.

  8. Rahoul Baruah on August 27th, 2008

    I was one of the 25 and I’m gutted to be missing out.

    I’m not convinced that it was too close (in time) to Lausanne; I do think price is an issue.

    There’s a very tight-knit tech community up here (from Leeds across the Pennines as far as Liverpool) and lots of people were talking about Going Solo, but stumping up the cash is another matter.

    Attendance-wise there are more than enough freelancers/small businesses in and around the North of England to make a go of it. Barcamps get great attendances up here – but of course, they don’t cost.

    Anyway, sorry it didn’t work out. Maybe next time.

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  10. [...] – Sadly GoingSolo Leeds has been canceled. See here for more details. Will keep you in touch about future events though] I’m very happy to say [...]

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  12. Laurent on August 29th, 2008

    Re: Why didn’t people register this time around?

    Think conference bubble, generating a clear overload. There is a record number of conferences happening because the potential of a conference as a marketing tool has been understood by companies/indivuduals/cities. Lift06 had no similar conference happening at the same time. Lift07 had 3. Lift08 had 6-7. And I’m just talking about the European market.

    People’s attention and budget can’t cope with the inflation. Fortunately in two years it should be over… So if you have a niche positioning you’ll be alright.

  13. Darren Fell on August 29th, 2008

    Very sorry this was cancelled.

    I know this is in a different part of the country but it’s one I feel has an incredibly strong freelance community, as does the Leeds area, but I think with all the support from http://www.freelaneadvisor.co.uk, including advertising on what is quite a high traffic site for our community and working with great partners like Wired Sussex, I would be more than prepared to help everyone setup a Brighton ‘Going Solo’ event.

    If anyone has any comments on building a Brighton ‘Going Solo’ event up, please let me know: darren@crunch.co.uk and as I said I’ll do everything to help Stephanine.

  14. Tara Solesbury on August 29th, 2008

    That’s a real shame.

    It looked like a strong line-up and as a fellow conference organiser, I know first-hand how much hard work goes into producing an event.

    I agree with a lot of the comments above regarding the fear of recession and general conference overload but think, as also mentioned, that the Going Solo proposition is a good one and Brighton would be an obvious location. Cheaper than London, well networked and a very active freelance community.

    Drop me a line if I can be of any help in exploring the Brighton option, Tara

  15. Abelone Glahn on August 29th, 2008

    Sorry to hear this.
    I have mentioned the conference in the leading women business magazine in Denmark “CV” in its august edition, and I have blogged about it in Denmark, so sorry it didnt create any attendents.

    As a jounalist, freelancer and the initator of a large Danish network for freelancers http://www.mikronet.dk and as the editor of a series of books for micropreneurs, http://www.borsenmikro.dk I would like to share some experiences on creating events for freelancers.
    This will be to long to describe at a blog, but if you care to Skype or come to Denmark, I would like to share.

    best regards
    Abelone Glahn
    http://www.abeloneglahn.dk

    Denmark.
    For more information in English on Mikronet, and what we have gathered through 3 years:
    http://mikronet.dk/weblog/?page_id=276
    and
    http://mikronet.dk/weblog/?page_id=604

  16. Ivan Pope on August 31st, 2008

    I would also suggest a Brighton version!

  17. Marie-Aude on August 31st, 2008

    Very sorry for you. I’m sure the next one will be a success.

    The reasons you bring make sense, specially, imho, the short time between Lausanne and Leeds.
    Also I’m not sure mid september is really a good date, in some countries it’s “starting again after mid summer break”, and even if summer break was not a total stop september is always a heavy month for working.
    In some countries you also have tax payments…

    Leeds might not sound so attractive as Lausanne also (and I don’t know whether it’s fair or not).

    As you mention, the overall recession may have made it on ots own.

  18. [...] I announced, the cancellation of Going Solo Leeds does not mean that we will be idle on September 12th. The first SoloCamp, a barcamp focused on [...]

  19. Stephanie Booth on September 1st, 2008

    Thanks to everybody for your comments, feedback, and kind words. I have now officially announced SoloCamp Leeds, same day and place. Sign up if you want to join us! http://going-solo.net/2008/09/01/solocamp-unconference-in-leeds-on-september-12th/

  20. [...] 2nd, 2008 (7:00am) Imran Ali No Comments Late last month we announced the launch of the second edition of Going Solo, a conference for freelancers, due to take place in September, in the British city of [...]

  21. Fred on September 2nd, 2008

    1.- Time: September is one of the busiest month of the year for many.
    2.- Location: Location, location and location are important. If people can mix pleasure, tourism, work, … that’s perfect. London would have been a better choice.
    3.- Accomodation: ensure there is no other big event around which would book all the rooms in the hotels (Was not the case in Leeds for sure ;) ). A wide choice of accomodation is a plus.
    3.- Transportation: ensure that an airport with “easyjet” is nearby.
    3.- Deadline: as people register at the last moment, do not have your registration deadline too close to the event.

    hope this helps.

  22. Jim Wolff on September 3rd, 2008

    So sorry to learn about the cancellation.

    While there’s no substitute for doing things f2f, there must be some alternative that can be done entirely online. With flight prices going up, economies going down and the ecological cost of travel becoming more appreciated, perhaps the pioneering of online conferences is the way to go.

    Looking fwd to seeing how things develop. And will try to make the informal Leeds meetup all the same.

    Jim

    http://ki-work.com
    find outsource online work

  23. Ali Macleod on September 3rd, 2008

    Some feedback, if it’s helpful: I nearly signed up, but early September is very busy for me as I have kids; Leeds is quite a way from me for a one-day conference (yep, London would indeed have been a lot easier); and the line-up was virtually the same as in Lausanne. I’d followed the original event very closely and even watched some of the videos, so I felt I’d seen some of the content up close.

    I think though, the major factor was location, which meant that attending would involve an overnight stay.

  24. Erno Hannink on September 4th, 2008

    So sorry to hear this. Understand your decision though. With all the hard work it must have been a difficult one.
    We did a small conference in the Netherlands in June. Attendance was OK but we also expected more people to show up. Pricing was also an issue here.
    Looking forward to your new plans Stephanie.

  25. Stephanie Booth on September 4th, 2008

    Ali: thanks in particular for your comment. It’s precious to know why people who nearly signed up didn’t, in the end.

    To all others, thanks too — your comments are helpful and I really appreciate them.

  26. Derek Smith on September 4th, 2008

    Only just heard the sad news, sorry to hear you were not able to find the critical mass to hold this event, Stephanie.

    My advice would be to “think big” and try to put on a conference to attract 200 people.

    I can tell a larger conference isn’t in the DNA of what you have been trying to organize, but I think it would offer you a number of benefits:

    1) The viability of the event isn’t effected by the attendance of /- 20 people. It will be obvious earlier on if the event isn’t attracting the numbers too.

    2) Scale – it obviously takes

    3) Bigger draw for sponsors – as the economy flounders, sponsors will drop options with smaller returns first.

    If you did this in London, with a larger conference, I feel it would be easy to attract people from the regions as there would be significant reason to travel down. It’s a harder pitch to compel people to travel down to London for 50 people, and even harder pitch to attract people to travel *up* to leads for 50 people.

    Finally, I just wonder how much market research you’ve done to ensure that the conference is squarely targeting what freelancers need and want? Someone mentioned that Leeds has 10,000 freelancers – do you know why they didn’t come (given local attendance is the easiest to attract).

    Stephanie, I know you are trying to do something very new with GoingSolo – alternative locations, new speakers, small setting… but I just feel you are being *too* radical then you need to be. There’s so much opportunity and value here – it just needs a more simple and familiar execution.

  27. Chocolate and Vodka » Realisations on September 20th, 2008

    [...] recently had to take the unhappy step of cancelling a conference – Going Solo Leeds – she was putting on. I have enormous respect for her making that [...]

  28. [...] 22nd, 2008 (10:00am) Imran Ali No Comments Though the second edition of Going Solo – a conference for freelancers, planned for September – was cancelled, organizer Stephanie Booth [...]

  29. [...] donc pris la difficile décision d’annuler Going Solo Leeds et de remplacer la conférence par une rencontre plus informelle de type barcamp, SoloCamp. Et en [...]

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