How to start a club

Meet people. Have fun. Save the world.

The thing about adulthood is that no one is coming to save you. So if you want to make more friends, you have to make more friends. The recipe = this blog post. The raw ingredients = people. (File under “metaphors that imply cannibalism if you think too hard”…) You clicked on this guide because you want to create a social group, whether IRL or online. Good news first: People inherently want to hang out with other people. They are mainly blocked by:

  1. Fear
  2. Lack of convenient Schelling points around which to coordinate
  3. Random life stress or personal problems

We can’t do anything about #3 so we’ll ignore that category of blocker.

Your job is to 1) conquer your own fear and 2) create Schelling points and advertise them to suitable prospects. That’s all you have to do. If you want to create some kind of programming for the group to enjoy, cool, but don’t feel like it’s required. (And if you don't know what a Schelling point is, no worries, I'll explain momentarily.)

The fear: If you put yourself out there and organize events, you might get rejected. What if nobody shows up?! Maybe you’ll invite someone you care about a lot and they’ll blow you off. Honestly, yeah, those dreaded outcomes might happen. The trick is to radically accept the possibility of rejection or “failure.” Which does not eliminate the pain if failure happens, but does enable you to move forward anyway. Because:

Be brave. Do it scared. Plan for how you’ll react to zero or low attendance, but don’t dwell. What if things go great? Your meetup dreams are worth pursuing because friends are awesome, and the motivating power of hope is worth occasional disappointment.

The lack of convenient Schelling points: “In game theory, a focal point (or Schelling point) is a solution that people tend to choose by default in the absence of communication in order to avoid coordination failure.” In other words, the obvious thing to do, like a sitcom coffee shop where the main characters always find each other eating BLTs.

Why are social Schelling points necessary? Because people are lazy, or, more charitably, busy with other demands on their energy. Managing meetup logistics is work they’re not getting paid for, and don’t feel particularly comfortable or confident doing. The dynamic is reminiscent of the rule of thumb that 90% of social media users just lurk and scroll, while 9% comment or respond to others’ posts, and just 1% create original content. Be the 1%!

You, dear reader, are not so afraid that you won’t try, and you’re willing to do a bit of work to create a Schelling point. So what are the steps to follow? Let’s review the Five Ws — who, what, when, where, why — and the equally important Singular H: how.

Who do you want to invite?

You probably already have a target audience in mind based on shared interests. Like if you want to start a knitting club, obviously you’re looking for people who knit — close to your area for an in-person group, or schedule-compatible if online. Think about the demographic tendencies of the people you want and extrapolate where you’re likely to find them. Knitters are mostly but not exclusively women, often visit craft stores for yarn, post Instagram stories about what they’re watching on Netflix while they work on their latest projects, etc.

You must consider: 1) Are there enough of these people near me? 2) Can I reach them?

“Enough people” is fairly self-explanatory and comes down to a judgment call regarding the local density of your target audience. Reaching them consists of putting in the legwork.

First, tap your social network by inviting friends and acquaintances who might be interested, and ask them to invite anyone else they know who also might be interested. (If you don’t have an existing social network, back up and start there. Attend other people’s groups or events and make connections.)

Next, spread the word far and wide, but in a targeted fashion. Post it online — social media, relevant subreddits, NextDoor, local Facebook groups or town-focused Instagram accounts, etc. Make fliers and put them up in places your target audience is likely to frequent.

What about, isn't that a thing? Yes and no. The tea is, a while back Meetup decided to start charging organizers to use the platform — fair enough, Meetup is a business and needs revenue. Unfortunately, that move dealt a blow to general hobby activity on Meetup. If it's still seeing a decent amount of use in your area and you don't mind the pricing, go for it. Eventbrite doesn't charge for free events, so that's worth checking out as well.

Okay wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

What are you going to do?

This doesn’t have to be complicated. The answer can just be “sit around and talk,” ideally at a location with drinks and snacks. But if that doesn’t feel sufficient, you can…

  • Choose a theme: Knitting for summer
  • Do hobby-related show and tell: Favorite knitting gear
  • Have a stash-busting exchange: Bring a skein, leave a skein
  • Give a presentation or demonstration: Techniques for sturdy socks

Be aware that a specific agenda can negatively affect attendance if the subtopic is too niche. You might be fine with that but it’s something to keep in mind.

When and where will you gather?

When: Not to, like, completely state the obvious, but pick a time when your people will be available. The right choice is different for college students versus stay-at-home parents of toddlers versus 9-5 office workers. Again, consider the demographics you’re working with. If you’re trying to set something up for a preexisting group, it doesn’t hurt to ask members what their schedules generally look like. However, trying to find a specific date that works for everyone is a fool’s errand. There will always be someone with a conflicting commitment. Just choose what works for you. Where, IRL: The ideal meetup venue…

  • is relatively quiet and not too crowded (but not empty either),
  • has large tables,
  • serves both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks,
  • as well as appetizers or “small bites”-type food.

Coffee shops and beer gardens often satisfy these criteria. But work with what you’ve got! Church halls, community centers, parks when the weather is nice, somebody’s house… these are all options. Call or email and ask. If refreshments aren’t integrated into the venue, swing by a grocery store for supplies and/or encourage attendees to bring something to share.

Here’s where you should keep in mind what you’ll do if no one shows up. Will you enjoy hanging out there by yourself? Or if that’s a mood-killer, is there somewhere else nearby that would be fun to go?

Where, online: Zoom, Google Meet, and Discord are the go-to choices.

Why should anyone show up?

There are various different types of meetups — educational, professional development, networking, hobby-focused, etc. I contend that whatever the ostensible focus of the group, the actual point is just to talk to other people. This even applies to industry conferences. The official talks are there so you can expense going out for drinks at night.

You know the saying, "People don't remember what you said, they remember how you made them feel"? Yeah. That. It's your job as the host to make people feel good. Be enthusiastic and attentive, ask questions and follow-up questions, introduce people to each other. Brainstorm a few good conversation topics in advance. If this feels awkward, you just gotta fake it till you make it and brute-force your way into being charming.

How to host a meetup, the checklist

This is a worksheet — fill it out and you'll be 50% of the way to a fully planned event!

  • Who is the target audience?
  • Find them online:
    • social media — local Facebook groups and Instagram accounts, NextDoor
    • local blogs or community news outlets
    • (if relevant in your area)
    • Eventbrite (if relevant in your area)
    • Reddit (if you live in a big city or metro area)
  • Find them in person:
    • local cafes and bars, hobby stores, gyms, churches, libraries, community centers — anywhere that might have a bulletin board
    • telephone poles in high-traffic areas
    • INVITE YOUR FRIENDS and tell them to invite their friends
  • Date and time?
  • Location?
  • Theme / activity?
  • Day-of:
    • Refreshments (if not part of the venue)
    • Name tags + markers
    • Conversation starters / topics
    • Signup sheet on a clipboard + pen (if you haven't already gathered emails through online outreach)

Your club needs a newsletter

We've been talking about planning your first meetup, but I assume you don't want to do just one. You want to create an ongoing community of people who enjoy spending time together. A newsletter is the simplest, most reliable way to keep a group going, especially if you don't want to depend on social media algorithms, which are fickle at the best of times.

It really is so simple. Collect emails from members, then send a newsletter a couple weeks in advance of every gathering (or whatever makes sense for your cadence). A regular schedule will also help, if that works for you as the host, but if it doesn't that's not a dealbreaker. But not being able to reach your members would be a dealbreaker, and that's where a newsletter comes in handy.

Buttondown makes it super easy to get started, and your first 100 subscribers are free.

What customers say about Buttondown

Doesn't matter if you're sending out irregular updates to a few dozen friends, or marketing your business to a thousand recipients. It is absolutely a joy to use. The documentation is great. And Justin provides the best support I have ever encountered. Amazon isn't the world's most customer-centric company, Buttondown is.
Tilde Lowengrimm
Head of Strategy, Red Queen Dynamics
I made the transition from MailerLite and I have no regrets. I also like that Buttondown focuses on the essentials by design and keeps me grounded and centered on what really matters.
Arthur Cendrier
Author, Thoughtful Inquiry
Overall, Buttondown has been terrific to work with and I recommend them for anybody who's thinking of starting a newsletter or moving over like I did.
Andy Magnusson
Customer Engineering Leader
Wanna know how good Buttondown as a product experience is? I upgraded to Basic before sending the first email, and then upgraded again two days later.
Zak El Fassi
Founder, Zaigood Labs
Mailchimp lost me due to their inferior product and the nightmarish merry-go-around experience with their overseas support team. Buttondown won me over with their superior product and second to none customer service.
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Method & Matter
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Software engineer and writer
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Data scientist and storyteller
I just tested the RSS to Email feature for one of my blogs and it was incredibly easy to set up. It took me about 30 mins to figure out the same feature in Mailchimp.
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This long weekend I fulfilled a long-standing promise to myself to switch my RSS-to-email provider from Mailchimp to Buttondown, and it’s been such a great experience. It’s cheaper, more flexible, less cluttered, and it’s run by Justin Duke who is just delightful and answered a bunch of my questions over the weekend (even though I asked him to please not!).
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Self-Employed FAQ
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Staff writer, The Atlantic
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Tim van Damme
Founder, MVKB
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Founder, Inner Product
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Software engineer, Tamr
Hands down the easiest way to run a newsletter - and the free version is generous!
Javeed Khatree
SEO expert
With API and Markdown support, you can build workflows that make it so easy to write.
Westley Winks
Peace Corps
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Kevin Lewis
You Got This!
Buttondown remains the easiest thing I use regularly, and I am grateful for that.
It's a humble app doing a common job but with end users in mind.
Si Jobling
Engineering Manager
Buttondown has been an amazing experience for me. The service is constantly being improved and customer service is the best. My newsletter with Buttondown has grown from a fairly small list to over 15,000 subscribers, and it hasn't broken a sweat yet.
Cassidy Williams
CTO, Contenda
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Jessi Eoin
Illustrator + Comic Artist
You’ve truly built a great product that I feel good about using (vs a monopoly from our tech overlords).
2030 Camp
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Author, Debugging Your Brain
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I’m a sucker for elegant UI and I really love your site, but above that I think your product has so much value for so many different people. I’m not a coder, I’m only familiar with the bare basics, but I was able to figure out and utilise Buttondown quickly.
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Author, Writing is Designing
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Designer and developer
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Julie Kliegman
Copy chief, Sports Illustrated
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Devin Kate Pope
Writer and editor
It’s a pleasure working with you. Thank you! (And what a contrast with Mailchimp, where I spent two weeks and a dozen of emails trying find out why our form goes down sometimes (only sometimes), and never really got a real answer.)
Anton Sotkov
Software Engineer, IA
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Software engineer
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Designer About Town
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Magazine editor
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Podcast host
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Improv teacher
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Keith Calder
Film & TV Producer
I’d also like to add that @buttondown is an absolute joy to use. Hats off, Justin!
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Creative Director, Google Fonts
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Head of Ecosystem, Netlify
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Author, Your Website Sucks
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Extremism researcher
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Author & consultant
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Sumana Harihareswara
Open source maintainer
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Max Stober
Founder, GraphCDN
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Peter Gasston
Technologist and speaker
imo @buttondown is easily one of the best-designed services i’ve used in recent years, if you have a substack you should really consider switching!
Kabir Goel
Engineer, Cal
Thanks for getting me excited about email newsletters again.
Garrick van Buren
I'm very thrilled that I can just write in Markdown without having to deal with email builders and all that crap.
Parham Doustdar
Thanks again for all the help! You’ve really turned something super complex into something super easy – sending new issues is as simple as firing off a text message.
Kartik Chaturvedi
Thanks for creating a simple way for people who want to, like, put words in a hole and have it sent to people... I am just thankful that something just nice and human exists on the internet.
Emmanuel Quartey
I tried 3 other newsletter services today and I felt like wanting to rip my hair out. They were all painfully slow. I'm so glad I found Buttondown.
Mohamed Elbadwihi
I’ve found Buttondown to be a great fit for my workflow and have been delighted by all of Justin’s thoughtful features and improvements to the product.
Michael Lee
Like seriously, so many lovely little easter eggs in one could-be-boring service.
Alexandra Muck
I just switched over from Tinyletter and I'm really excited to have found a place to host my tiny newsletter that doesn't seem like it's assuming everyone sending newsletters is an email marketer / growth hacker.
Tessa Alexanian
I'm in love with the simplicity of Buttondown.
I’ve used similar tools in the past and Buttondown is by far the simplest to use and most promising.
Fabrizio Rinaldi
Thank you for creating such a simple and brilliant tool. I’ve just signed up and the experience has been smooth and painless (the docs are great too!)
Oliver Holms
As a developer who has hated every email system I've ever used this is so nice.
Drew Hornbein
I wish I still wrote a newsletter just so I could use buttondown again. It’s like that.
Steven Kornweiss
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