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An Open Letter To The SMBMSP Crowd

Social Media Breakfast Minneapolis St Paul

For those of you wondering what is SMBMSP it is the Social Media Breakfast Minneapolis St Paul group.

For those of you wondering why I am writing a letter, here goes...

Rick Mahn has decided to start charging $10 for the monthly events and I want to be very open and transparent about this, I support this change.

Here is a disclaimer, I am now one of the sponsors.

Here is another, Rick did not ask me to write this. He did not see this before posting. We have had conversations about this change over recent weeks.

Let me give you a short story about my own experience.

Summer of 2007 a few local friends and I created a recruiter event with the goal of getting some colleagues together for lunch. It turned into a half day event with breakfast and lunch provided by a sponsor. We had 125 at the first event and was born.

We did not expect it to take off like it did. If I remember correctly we added space for more attendees after the 3rd event for 250 at each event.

For our 10th event (we have done 3 or 4 a year) in December when adding capacity (250), adjusting for anticipated cancels/no shows (50) and those on the Wait List (81) what had been a volunteer turned part time job became overwhelming.

Have you ever tried to put on an event of that size? Managed a venue (thankfully Best Buy and General Mills are great hosts), speakers, registration and all of the administrative things that go into it? And do not underestimate how high maintenance some people can be.

I was putting 4-7 business days into every event.

I was able to cover expenses (thanks to some awesome sponsors).

But it became a part time job and a job that was taking away from my day to day business. I loved doing them but it was getting too difficult.

I struggled what to do with it for about 9 months and everyone told me to add a fee to attend. This way I could put more time into it, deliver a better experience for everyone and be able to rationalize continuing the effort.

I resisted every time. It did not feel right to me. For me it took away the community feel of getting people together and learning stuff and of meeting new friends and seeing old ones.

But there was a reality to this event that without more sponsors this would likely not continue.

At our 10th event in April I charged $25 for the first time. Between getting the notice out late and the fee, attendance was 170.

I was a bit disappointed we dropped that far.

I was relieved at how much easier doing the event became.

I was a bit shocked... feedback after was that it was our best event yet.

It was easier to meet people, to network, to share ideas. It was not cramped. It was more intimate. More people were able to get their questions answered.

Our 11th event was July 30th and we were back over 200 in attendance. We had a structured unconference and this really was a great event including getting a nice interview on KARE 11 relating what we were teaching to how job seekers could be doing their search.

Some folks are pissed that I am charging for the event. Others wonder if $25 is too little.

I guess that means I have the number where it needs to be.

With the fee comes expectations. I have to:

  • continue to offer content that people want/request
  • start on time
  • be organized
  • not run out of food and beverages

I have to deliver a great experience.

Why am I supporting SMBMSP as a sponsor?

Simple, over the 25+ events I have learned a lot from this community that I have been able to take back to my recruiter world and use. It has helped my business.

I am guessing that it has helped your work/business too or you would not have been attending.

I want these events to continue. I want events that get us to the next conversation while finding ways to support newbies in this space.

For those not happy about the fee, is it the $10 (plus $1.24) or that there is any charge at all?

Are you not getting $11.24 worth of knowledge from the events? If not, then we have a whole other conversation that needs to be had.

Yes, a lot of people have been a part of the inception and growth of SMBMSP.

Yes, this is a community group.

No, I do not think we should expect Rick, Mykl, whoever to donate this many hours every month because they are nice guys.

No, I do not think it is unreasonable that after all expenses are paid that there is something left over for them.

I think it is reasonable for them to cover their time as long as they are providing content and information that the community wants and needs.

Funny, it has been easy to give Rick my opinion on this with his group but I was unwilling for so long to do it myself.

OK, so there are some glitches with this transition. No doubt.

Starting this for the upcoming event might not have been great timing. Between the ticket into the fair, parking and my uncontrolled affinity for mini donuts will cost me some cash but yes I am attending.

Yes I paid my $11.24

I also think they could have done a better job explaining why the change. It was announced at the June event at Deluxe but I do not remember anything more about it.

Enough of my rambling….

What do you think?


kareem ahmed

I absolutely, 100% do not think that Rick and Mykl should not be making any money on these events.

I will not be attending these events any longer based on that sole reason.



Kevin D. Hendricks

This is the first time I'm hearing about the new charge (I wondered why this month's event only had the $10 option and no free option). But then again I get to maybe 2-3 SMBMSPs per year and I did just welcome a pre-teen into my house last month. My mind tends to forget things lately. ;-)

I'm not thrilled with it because I'm a cheapskate, but Rick and Mykl definitely deserve something for their effort. It also means the next time I go to SMBMSP, I really need to make it count to get my money's worth. That means I'll be more likely to meet people and talk, and that's definitely a good thing.

It also probably ensures a more dependable supply of bacon.

Don Ball

@kareem I have to respectfully disagree on this one. Although I'm curious if you have a philosophical reason that I'm not aware of. If so, please explain.

I think if one can piece together an event that has some value to the attendees, they should be able to charge something. And we shouldn't begrudge anyone who figures out a way to creatively make a living in that manner. I wish more of us were able to create and be directly compensated for it.

That said, I think there are some events that are best off being free. True unconferences should be free, because then it takes pressure off the organizers to engineer the outcome and/or pander due to financial pressures.

But like I said, if Rick/Mykl can produce an event that ppl want to pay for (and $10 really is a token amount), then maybe they would be able to support themselves as independents and not have to slave at day jobs. Rick's done it. Now we just have to get Mykl to take the plunge. I'd pay $20 a ticket to see that happen. (yes, I'm a pusher)

Teresa boardman

I am totally in favor of charging and happy to pay it. I am always thrilled when I am fast enough to get a ticket. Bacon would be nice but we can't have it all. :) Thanks for all of your hard work. These events are wonderful.


Wow, thanks for that support Paul. Your tale about MN Recruiters Conference really paralells our efforts with SMBMSP. We've worked really hard to make the event a free one, to the extent of covering significant costs out of pocket when sponsors were hard to find.

We did share these plans at the last event in July, but not all people in the SMBMSP membership (around 2200 now) heard about it. Since I also didn't get a post up last week explaining this in better detail, I can see how folks might be concerned or confused.

The reality for SMBMSP mirrors what you've said. This event (a monthly one mind you) has become a 2nd job over the last two years and right now is approaching the scope and attention of a full time one. Sponsors can't cover all costs, and even when they do, it limits the quality of the event on a monthly basis.

To provide that higher quality of event, and more valuable content, we need to focus even more time and effort to make that happen.

I'm passionate about this community because of the people and the things we can do for folks. If some folks don't see the value in what we do, then they don't have to participate.


Rick Mahn


Don, not a pusher, but an.. "encourager"? How about an envision-er? :-D

Arik Hanson

If Rick, Mykl and anyone else associated with SMB can create compelling, rich content that helps you get smarter or create more meaningful connections with others (read: get new jobs, learn new skills, meet new mentors, etc.) then they should be charging for those events. If they're not, they're actually doing themselves a disservice. Period. Thanks for opening up the conversation, Paul.



As someone who handles large corporate event planning, I agree with this decision 110 percent. Not only does a fee option offer the planners an opportunity to produce a better program financially, but a fee invests the participants as well. Do you treat your house better than apartment you rent? Yes. You have an investment in your dollar, and the end result is better care. I have helped check-in at SMBMSP in the past, and was floored at the number of people who RSVP'ed for the event and then didn't show up. That is a waste of resources and energy. If someone can't make SMBMSP at the last minute, the nominal $10 fee will at least cover their coffee and bacon that was ordered and not eaten, and the ink wasted on name tags.

I say, well done.


I have to agree on this one! Having to pay for the event will make folks think twice before committing and in theory, taking the experience away from someone else because they signed up for a spot and then didn't show up. I will admit, I am guilty of this - but had a funeral to go to and I didn't have time to let anyone else know. So I geuss that is out of the norm. I think MN Recruiters and SMBMSP are GREAT opportunities to learn, grow and network for a minimal cost. I think about all the other CRAP I spent $10 or $25 on and I think these events are comlpetely worth it.

Ya'll are the bees knees.

Kasey Skala

My first response didn't go through for some reason, but the comments above reflect my opinion.

Because we live in a connected world where everything's online, we feel that everything should be free. That's not the case. This is no different than MIMA charging for their events, a business or organization charging to bring a "high profile" speaker in, etc.

Hopefully this fee also reduces the amount of pitches and announcements as well. The last few events had way too many announcements and not enough actual content (July's "pitches" were an hour).

kareem ahmed

Perhaps I do not think that the event is worth $10...maybe I am just not getting out of it what I hope to be getting out of it.

In that case, until I start hearing differently, I will assume that #SMBMSP will continue on the way it is.

I still do not agree with having a cover charge but that's just my opinion I suppose.

I believe that #SMBMSP is a community based event and organization that could and should be handled by volunteers.

In fact, I would be willing to bet that there are plenty of people out there that would be willing to handle these roles and help out in order to keep SMBMSP free for everyone.

Keith Privette

I have supported a pay model for a long time. I do believe Rick and I talked about this when we were at the library in Brooklyn Park. I do believe the structure of the payment will be to put back the money to the organization to future needs of this community. I think this is the evolution of things. I like and will pay, so suck it you haters! I am a consumer saying I like it!

The personal compliant I have is I have tried to offer up help with venues, topics, speakers and it seems like the response has been lack luster at best. So when effort becomes a topic I take issue with that personally. We always rail on the the control mechanisms elsewhere when we have them right in this very community.

I do believe one thing this community of folks could be doing better is bringing all the other acronym'd orgs together for bigger venue events and taking the lead to get some of the larger conferences here like BlogHer, BlogWell, UnGeeked, #140Conf, SHRM, MashableSummit, etc ( I am sure there are others....). This will truly be a benefit to all in this community Private, Public, and Non-Profit. You can sign me up to help with that. That is promise! You know how to get a hold of me.....

Hey Paul the Hulk should have come out! Love it when the hulk comes out!

Jason DeRusha

I think it's fine to charge, but I think it's a mistake to start the charging at an event at the State Fair.

I've enjoyed the SMBMSP events I've been to and I've always learned something, but I do think if I were paying for it my expectations would go up. And I'd be less likely to go to events with a topic that doesn't directly interest me. But that's probably a smart decision anyway!


I support Rick and Mykl on this one as well. This isn't a 20-person event at the HC Library anymore...this is a big community of people with big demands and their/our very own personal megaphones.

These guys invest a lot of time and energy in making the events beneficial for everyone, and I'm happy to throw $11 toward an event that I've found great value in over the last couple of years.

Kasey makes a good point about the "pitching" and I agree with Cindy on the "weeding out" component. A smaller, more dedicated group should lead to better conversations.

My two cents.

Kakie Fitzsimmons

I think Rick and Mykl have made a good business decision. They both have invested a great deal of time into helping others and their passion in making a difference has come through. They have built a community and pulled some amazing thought leaders together.

We live in a world where you get what you pay for and at some point something has to give. The topics and content they have provided has been great for me and the relationships I have formed are even better. It is great to know I can pick up the phone and call my SMB friends for insight, support and as a resource.

Thanks for this post Paul

@Kakief @Burbursfriends


Look at SMBMSP 28. There were at least 50 1st-timers, most were small business owners. Would they have paid $10 if they hadn't been before? Difficult to say, but the fact that it was free definitely made it easier for them to make the decision to give it a shot. Maybe there could be a free registration for 1st timers, like @CoCoMSP has?

I just want to see the community thrive. The power of the community resides within the members of the community, not the format. The community will flourish either way, in my opinion.

We play by the rules of whomever makes them unless someone simply changes the game.


Having put on events in the past $10 or $25 is not enough to compensate for how much work they are.

If people don't think they are worth that small of an amount why are they going at all even if they are free? Wouldn't their time be better spent doing something else?

People are free to start up their own events and not charge anything. There are plenty of Expert, Gurus, and Ninjas out there who will be speakers just to get exposure for themselves .

There is always room for competition.


As someone who organizes a similar event on the West Coast, I am all for charging to attend these sort of events. I organize the Bellingham (WA) Social Media group. We are a drop in the bucket compared to the size of either of the organizations outlined here. I have a venue that graciously allows us to use their space to meet for free. As a courtesy and out of appreciation for that, we use the restaurant downstairs (owned by the same guy) to cater food. We are charged $150 to provide food for approximately 50 individuals. Our speakers do not get paid; we tend to have folks from the local community or from neighboring cities (Seattle, Vancouver) come. So it amazes me that people make comments about our $5 registration fee (+ $1.26 b/c we use Eventbrite) and the $10 at the door policy. I instituted the at-the-door pricing because I need to get a head-count to make sure we have enough provisions for the event, and I was tired of getting almost half our attendees as 'walk-in' traffic and thus not being prepared. Organizing events is a job in and of itself, and I think people who just attend things don't have a clue about what goes on behind the scenes. I do not take any money on any of these events for myself - in fact, I've had to shell out almost $200 of my own money this year to cover our meager expenses. My learning lesson in all this is sponsorship, something I am working on for our group. I've also thought about the idea of waiving the registration charge for first-time attendees - a 'try it before you buy it' type of offering. Perhaps something like that would appease the nay-sayers.

Regardless, what people do not understand is that nothing in life is free. Even if it is free to you, it cost someone somewhere time, money, manpower, advertising, sponsorship, etc. My hats off to people who volunteer their time to organize special interest groups simply because they are passionate about the communities they serve. Communities, don't bite the hands that feed you. They'll eventually run out of steam and you won't have the resource for long.

Thanks for this post, Paul - I am going to spread it around our local community as well.



I'm brand new to the group and have to agree the communication on the change was very poor. The State Fair meeting seems like a very bad choice to be the first paid event. I will attend future meetings when I feel they directly relate to our business. I have a feeling it will be limited to 2-3 a year now.

Kate-Madonna Hindes

I'm cheap. I make sometimes difficult decisions on how to spend my paycheck and where. Rick Mahn and Mykl Roventine have BUILT SMBMSP to what it is with time away from their families and friends, hard work and sacrifice. As the events get bigger, and attendance grows, we need to keep in mind that years of sacrifice and building went into SMBMSP. Is the state fair the right place to charge? Maybe not. The more important answer lies in coming together as a community and realizing: $10, is money well-spent for the knowledge, networking and career leadership these two have offered.

Paul DeBettignies

Thanks for the many comments. This is a recruiter blog and it creates way more email inquiries than comments so it is nice to know this feature works :)

Let me be clear about something, this was something that was on my mind and I needed to get it out.

There was no intent to create controversy. If there was, and as Keith referred, I would have pulled out the Hulk avatar.

My issue with the idea being a volunteer organization is we are no longer talking about $200 for food/beverages at Concordia.

There are now financial, legal and in my case some contractual or liability issues.

Who is responsible for that in a volunteer group? Seems to me a board with positions and a legal status of some sort would be needed. But maybe I am not understanding what is meant by this.

I received an email about what expenses I incur for an event and on going. Not the dollars but the items. Here goes...

Ning site
Constant Contact (just switched to it)
GoToWebinar (I already use it for biz purposes so not exactly a cost)

Food/Beverages (include delivery and table charges, tax, add ons)
Name tags (include plastic holders)
EventBrite and PayPal have fees (if the event is free EventBrite is free)

I do not do live streaming for no reason other than I have not expanded to it and doubt I will.

Also, have an email wondering how much time I spend on each event.

Ballpark, 40 hours. When you add putting the event together/managing speakers, venue, attendees, caterer, security, registration issues, putting day of event material together and then add all the email/phone inquiries and communicating leading up to and after... 40 hours for sure.

Our events are from 8 - Noon, 3 or 4 times a year.

Add in the upcoming webinars and brown bag lunch coordinating too.

Last email question is, knowing what I know now would I go to a fee again (was it a good choice).

I still feel a bit awkward about it but yes I would. I can spend much more time on our activities/events and not be worrying that I should be working and billing. It is not an even trade but close enough for me.

That’s it for the email questions.

Thanks again for stopping by and I look forward to seeing how this conversation ad topic progesses



I'm humbled by the support this community gives, it's truly one of the many reasons SMBMSP has been a passion and labor of love over the last 2.5+ years.

Some comments are dead-on and I wanted to address them quickly. In short, the communication on this change was very bad, and that is my responsibility

In a community of great communicators, and working with PR pros myself, I did exactly what we all help our clients avoid: under communicate. I didn't get the information out early or often. That's being worked on right now, but doesn't make it right. Sorry about that.

The second item that's spot on is Kate's above. The additional costs of visiting the state fair grounds for an event, during the fair could in some cases triple the cost because of the fair pass and parking. Honestly, we had an August event in the works but had a major sponsor pull out. That's the way it goes sometimes.

In any case, I'm truly honored to lead and run SMBMSP, and look forward to bringing more great events and content to my hometown.


Having organized events for a local non-profit for the past 9 years, I wholeheartedly encourage you to charge a fee to cover any costs. Not everything can be covered by sponsorship money nor are sponsorships easy to come by these days. That said, I realize most people have a limited budget and I wish all events could be free of charge. I encourage potential attendees to carefully select the events that are of interest to them. People's expectations of you and your events will likely go up once you start charging a fee - which can only result in even better events with more contents & depth.
PS: I've only been able to attend one SMBMSP and I gladly would've paid $10; the presenter and subsequent discussion was well worth it.

Nate Kadlac

How is this even an issue?

The irony is that most of the people who go to these events spend a lot of their time convincing clients that they should spend money on social media.

It's $10. Skip your two trips to Starbucks the next day.

*Disclaimer: I've only been to 4 events, but the amount of time that goes into organizing these events is certainly worth the small amount they are now asking for. Support the event if you see value in it.


Matt Tompkins

As the Common Man says, "Free, free, free...everybody wants something for free." This is true, but there are some things we can't expect to be free forever - usually big events/seminars are one of them.

I suppose more sponsors could be found for SMBMSP, but since time devoted to creating each event seems to be at a premium, I'm not sure how much more time they want to lend cultivating these sponsors.

We choose to be members of this professional organization, and don't most charge an annual membership fee, plus the fee for events? I think SMBMSP is letting us off the hook, for now. I wouldn't be surprised to see a paid model at some point.

$10 is the least we can do, I guess, to grab a bagel and coffee and talk with some really cool people when I might not otherwise get to. Looking forward to see what's coming.

Bob Stanke

It really doesn't matter to me whether SMBMSP charges or not because I don't go to any of the events anyways, mostly because a majority of the topics covered are more appropriate for small business owners and consultants just getting in the game, not for individuals who have been doing it for 4+ years. I can get more valuable content from Mashable and other advanced social media blogs in a more time-efficient manner than attending an event in the middle of the day, taking me away from what really makes me money... executing at work.

That being said, I do believe in paying for quality content. When there is a free and a fee-based app in Android market, I ALWAYS get the fee-based one. Why? Because I support independent developers and freelancers. I want them to make money, because that is what keeps a stream of quality content coming. I pay (and my employer does as well) to attend conferences each year all over the country, from trusted, solid organizations with speakers in my line of work. By paying to go to AdTech, for example, I know I am getting the best-of-the-best. I support that. If SMBMSP does that for others, more power to the pay model.

One thing I do want to point out, however... everyone keeps saying that Rick and Mykl "put in a lot of work" and "devote tons of time" to the group and therefore deserve to get paid. I think it is important to remember that them getting involved was a choice for them - not a position they were hired to do. When you initially volunteer for something, you don't do it in order to cash in on future rewards or kick-backs. I would hope that Rick and Mykl take 100% of the fees and put them back into the group. And because it seems that everyone believes this to be a community based group, those financials should be community-owned. If they choose to make this more of a formal business, I would hope they follow the proper legal roads and set-up the organization under the laws of the State. This would also help creditability as well, and perhaps bring in more clients. When I took my business to INC status in 2006, that made all the difference!

DISCLAIMER: I don't personally know Rick or Mykl's intentions, nor am I a professional event organizer. I am merely commenting based on Paul's post, these comments, and the article in MinnPost today about this topic of paid content by Arik Hanson.

Have a great day!

Bob Stanke

Paul DeBettignies

Bob, thanks for stopping by. I think you should take a morning (not the middle of the day) and stop by an upcoming event. You will find that you will have a large group of peers who have been doing this for 4+ years.

You being sent to AdTech points out one reason why these events are valuable. Not everyone works for a company who sends them to the “cool kid events” around the country. And this is not just a small company, consultant or newbie thing. Many of the large employers in the area are not sending their staff to those events.

While I agree with you that this is a community group I disagree about the financials being community owned. If that is the case, then SMBMSP should have been charging long ago to break even on the events.

If the group has grown to a size that it becomes more than they can do as volunteers what do you suggest they (and me for my group) do? Maybe you can share some of your experiences with the group you started.

Here are three (that I know of) blog posts from yesterday:
Meg Canada http://www.megssinglestep.com/?p=1156
Arik Hanson http://www.arikhanson.com/2010/08/17/when-is-it-ok-to-charge-for-content/
Kasey Skala http://kaseyskala.com/cost-of-free/
Kate Hindes http://www.girlmeetsgeek.com/2010/08/16/the-land-of-the-misfit-social-media-enthusiasts/

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