I spent the weekend in Minneapolis for a one-day blogging conference.
I’ve been to several blog conferences and workshops now, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one, but it was fantastic. I’d venture to say that this is one of the very best blog events I’ve attended.
When they first announced SoFabU On the Road last year, I was immediately sold on the idea that, instead a blog conference where you leave with an enormous to-do list (that you never get around to actually doing anything about!), you work on things right there at the conference and instead of a bunch of inspirational talks about finding your passion, the focus was going to be tightly only how to grow your audience and make more money, since that’s what the majority of bloggers are the most interested in.
It was a fairly small workshop – about 25-30 attendees, I’d guess, with ten or so members of the SoFab team in attendance too, which I thought was just the right size. I really got to know several other bloggers and had time to really interact with the speakers.
I’ve never been to a conference where I went up to thank a speaker after and she pulled my blog right up, said several nice things and then suggested a way for me to make more ad revenue on my mobile site.
And so often I feel like the organizers of events kind of hang out together and don’t associate much with the attendees, but here they scattered among the tables, and really got to know us. One of the SoFab community leaders, finding out where I lived, immediately texted another community manager who lives in Arizona, discovered we lived only five minutes apart, and put us in touch.
During the day, I finally got my Google Websmaster tools set up, had my Rich Pins validated, and had a chance to practice some photography. There were three speakers, and every one of them taught something new that was instantly useful to me.
I told Bart on the phone that evening that I felt like this conference was way less interested in having the most amazing, beautiful set-up or the best swag bags (although, I got three packs of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, so this may have been the best swag ever, actually) and all the focus had gone to making it actually educational. I love beautiful things as much as the next person, but what I most want is to learn something useful. If I have to choose between the two, I’d rather useful (if I can have both? Even better, obviously).
Plus, the other bloggers were all very impressive, but so low-key. I think sometimes a blog conference turns into a show-off parade, but this wasn’t like that at all. In fact, my original impression was that most of these bloggers must be pretty and new to blogging, because everyone just seemed so normal – no fancy outfits, outrageous business cards, or talk about how enormous their blogs were. But as the day wore on, I realized that all these normal folks sitting around in jeans were running some pretty impressive sites, knew their business and blogging stuff, and, best of all, were so willing and open to share their best tricks and wanting to help each other out in real ways.
I got a grant to attend, but even if I’d paid for every cent of it myself, I would have absolutely felt like I got my money’s worth.
In the last couple of years since I went to Alt Summit in Salt Lake City, I’ve gotten a fair number of emails asking me for my thoughts on various conferences and if people should go or not (usually those emails say something like, “I’d really like to go to _________” but I can’t decide if it’s worth the money.” Sista, I know just what you’re saying).
I’ve attended Alt Summit five times, Mom 2.0 three times, Snap Conference once, AdThrive once, and at least a dozen other smaller conferences. Basically, I’m a total conference junkie.
Here’s what I think you should think about when you’re trying to decide whether a particular conference is a good fit for you:
- What do you want to get out of it? Are you looking to connect with brands and sponsors? Do you want to network? Are you hoping to learn new skills like how to make money on your blog or take better Instagram photos? Every conference offers something different, so you’ll want to think hard about what YOU want, not just conference is popular at the moment. Look through the classes and sessions being offered and think, “Are these things going to be useful to me?” Who is sponsoring? Are they brands that make sense for you to work with?
- Where is it located? After going to Alt Summit multiple times, I realized that the vast majority of bloggers and small businesses that attended were fairly local (Alt Summit took place for years in Salt Lake City, Utah, and I’d say 80% of the people I met both times were from Utah, California, and Arizona). I think you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck if you go to something in your general area because you’ll meet people and businesses that are close to you and that you can continue to work with or meet up with in the future. Not to mention the fact that it’s usually much cheaper to go to a conference close to home where you don’t have to fly or get a hotel room.
- How much does it cost? In a perfect world, this wouldn’t be a factor, but I think for most of us, it’s a huge consideration. I think a lot of the time, it’s hard to make the money back from a conference right away, I asked a blogger friend recently about a conference she’d gone to and she said, “That’s some expensive inspiration.” I definitely don’t think more expensive means better – sometimes it just means fancier. Also, usually the longer the conference, the more expensive it is, but I think it is hard to absorb more than a day or two of information before you just reach saturation. Shorter generally means less expensive, less nights in a hotel, and less arrangements to be away from work or children.
- How big is it? I really tend to think smaller is better. If there are 1,000 people there, you’ll very likely just get lost in the shuffle. Yes, you’ll meet a gazillion people, but you won’t have time to really create solid relationships with very many of them. To the sponsors, you’ll be one in an endless stream of bloggers, and it’ll be much more difficult to stand out. In a small group, it’s easier to say, “How are you growing on Instagram?” or “Could I join your group Pinterest boards?” or “Would you introduce me to this company you’ve worked with?” and you’ll feel more comfortable sharing your knowledge and network with those people too. When I attended the Brand Market Workshop in Atlanta in 2013, I felt like that small size really helped there too.
- What will make you feel like you got your money’s worth? For me, this weekend, I wanted to actually get some things done on my blog that I’d been meaning to sit down and make happen for ages. When I went to Alt Summit last January, I wanted to be able to meet some brands that I could do paid work with. If you don’t know what you’re hoping to get out of a conference, it’ll be hard to figure out if it was worth going.
- If you’re going to a conference, TAKE ADVANTAGE. Merrick and I were chatting about this recently; she’d just returned from a conference and was amazed at how many bloggers, who had paid a lot of money to attend, slept through the morning sessions. There were also big sponsor booths in the hallway and she said when she went through, it was nearly deserted, giving her a chance to talk to every sponsor she was interested in with virtually no competition. I’ve seen this same this same thing, where people sit in the hallway or spend the whole conference glued to their smart phones. I know it’s hard to make small talk or pitch your blog or business, but if you’ve put money and time on the line to be at a conference, get in there and get a return on your investment.
If you have other questions or recommendations about blogging conferences and workshops, I’d love to hear them!