This past weekend I was at The Blog Connect conference, which was hosted by PHLbloggers at Saxbys Coffee’s HQ! I first heard about The Blog Connect and PHLbloggers as a reader of Amber’s blog Ember + March. Last year (2016) was the first year of The Blog Connect, and Amber was part of the core team who organised it, and also a speaker at the conference, so naturally she shared about it on her blog. Reading the post, I remember thinking, okay I’m going to that next year! I signed up to join the PHLbloggers network after checking out their website and then kept a look out for The Blog Connect 2017. When it came time for PHLbloggers to announce The Blog Connect 2017 and start promoting it, I bought my ticket right away (and got the early bird discount!) before I could talk myself out of it. Something I’ve come to learn about myself is that I will never feel prepared enough (in general) and I will always feel like I can prepare more (in general), so I just need to get a move on and dive head first (in general) (except for in the case of a shallow pool).
This was my first blog conference ever, so I read up on tips for attending blog conferences. I learned that I should have business cards, should check out the speakers, and should also check out the attendees, if such information is available. I can always read up on and internet-stalk speakers and attendees the night before, so the one thing I reminded myself to remind myself about since the beginning of April was to get business cards. Alas, the week of the conference arrived before I knew it, and I still hadn’t designed a business card. I knew there was no way to get business cards printed in time, so I problem-solved with a little crafting.
I bought two packs of 25 manila gift tags from Paper Source in a size that was as close to a traditional business card as I could get (I wanted to get paper bag gift tags, but they didn’t have them in the size I needed), found my ball of twine (also from Paper Source), dug up a black felt-tip pen, and borrowed Kat‘s ruler because the markings on mine were illegible. The plan was to make cute DIY business cards that would distract people from the fact that I have no branding. And aren’t handwritten fonts all the rage anyway? People pay $$$ for that shit.
Since we’re on the topic of preparing for blog conferences, I’ll mention a little something about preparing myself mentally for social/networking/social networking (lol) events like these, as an introvert. Maxie McCoy wrote a great guest post over at The College Prepster titled “What to Do If You Hate Networking.” My favourite tip was about finding a super connector. But for me, this isn’t about meeting 10x more people. For me, this is about hanging out with someone I’m comfortable with for most of the time with the added benefit of meeting more people, because spending your whole time at a conference with just one person seems like a waste of a conference–you might as well just go out for coffee with that one person then!
The Blog Connect conference was on Sunday April 23, but the kick-off party was the previous evening. I debated over whether or not to go, because when I went to Lokal Hotel‘s launch party (launch party experience will be briefly shared in April’s in-review blog post on May 1) and got back, I was utterly exhausted and also had a bit of post-party social anxiety, and it would be problematic if I got back from The Blog Connect’s kick-off party feeling like that, because I’d still have the whole Sunday to get through.
But I reasoned: I paid money for my ticket so I should get the full experience, and I know I want to blog about this (! my ! first ! blog ! conference !), so I should blog about the whole experience, which means I need to experience the whole experience, which means I need to get over myself and go.
I went to Lokal Hotel’s launch party with Jennifer, and before we left for the party, we were snapping each other possible outfits for about an hour (strugs of not living on campus together), so for this party, I sought Jennifer’s opinions again. I kinda like the outfit I ended up going in, so I’m sticking it in here. I’m wearing a red floral dress from Forever 21 that I bought second-hand off my college’s For Sale/Free Facebook group, and Dolce Vita over-the-knee boots. Don’t need to do too much outfit planning when the dress is the whole outfit. Although I’m pretty in love with those boots, which were very much a part of the outfit too (but I’m not gonna lie, they were as uncomfortable as hell–fine for a party where you’re just walking around, standing, and talking to people, but not fine for exploring the city or running to catch the train).
The kick-off party was hosted at Ellelauri, and Chrystina (the conference mastermind) was at the door checking people in and handing out raffle tickets for the giveaways they were having. Before even introducing myself, Chrystina identified me by name and face, despite the fact that I had only just interacted with her for the first time over a PHLbloggers Twitter chat some days ago (my first Twitter chat!), which is so impressive because Twitter chats are pretty fast paced and there are quite a number of participants. I appreciate this so much and aspire to be such a wonderful human being.
Other than the giveaways, the kick-off party also had small bites, a braid bar (Concihairge), and a flat-lay photography workshop (Ann Blake Photography) going on. I ran into a few familiar faces and also met a few more people. An easy way to do introductions is to ask for someone’s name and ask what they blog about (tip from PHLbloggers).
Now for the day of the conference! We had four speakers, one breakout session, and one panel:
Ten Game Changers to Take Your Blog to the Next Level | Sarah Morgan
Blogging got you feeling overwhelmed, overworked, or simply stalled? Stop doing ‘all the things’ and learn the 10 no-bs blogging strategies that will really take your traffic, list, and social media to the next level.
I was a little skeptical that this talk would be relevant to me, because I find that a lot of advice about blogging is targeted towards informative blogs (i.e. how to’s, calls to action), and especially targeted towards blogs that supplement businesses. My blog is definitely more inspirational than informative. I first became aware of this distinction when I came across Melyssa Griffin’s blog post titled “Can Only Certain Blog Niches Create Successful Online Courses?” While there were some tips that weren’t for me (like creating a mailing list (I KNOW. Mailing lists are a must! That’s what they all say! But I honestly do not think that a mailing list is needed for the kind of content that I am creating and the goals that I have. (The email subscription box I have at the bottom of my blog is just RSS subscription for those of you who want to follow the blog but aren’t on social media… or just aren’t interested in my social media T_T))), there were several more actionable takeaways that I’m interested in applying to my blog moving forward. I am zeroing in on making my content shareable by making sure that:
- post titles promote your post as-is (so someone could hit the Share button at the bottom of this blog post, and let’s say, share via Twitter. The tweet content would be the title of this post, so I need to make sure that my blog post title stands alone)
- multiple-sized platform-specific images
- add image title, description, alt text
Create Your Own Space in The Blogosphere | Sola Onitiri
#CYOS is a motivational presentation about the importance of honest branding in the larger blogosphere.
This talk really resonated with me. Sola talked about storytelling, and that is very much what I try to do with every blog post and have been trying to do ever since I started. A piece of advice she gave was to take an impressionist approach to blogging, so the idea is to “capture a feeling or experience rather than to achieve accurate depiction” or rather than to achieve factual depiction. She also gave us seven questions to ponder:
- What do I want my blog to be known for?
- What do I want my blog to sound like?
- How do I want this to look?
- How should people feel when they read my blog?
- How do you feel about your blog?
- How did I get here?
- Where the hell am I?
Finding Your Voice: Write With Confidence, for Crying Out Loud | Andy Shaw
Are you afraid to be funny, blunt, candid, or truly yourself when you blog? Discover HOW to write in your voice, not just what to write.
In my opinion, voice is not something you can teach, so I really like how the title of this talk used the term “finding.” Since blogging, I don’t think I’ve ever struggled with writing in my voice (though I have struggled about what to write occasionally during my first two years of blogging), but I know that this isn’t the case for a lot of people. I think that this is the case for me because I am always excited about what I write, or at the very least, I only write because I want to write (whether I’m excited or feeling some other feeling). I never understood being afraid of writing in my own voice or writing in whatever way you want to write online. The chances of people finding tiny little me in the entire internet is slim; of the people who find me and don’t like what I say or how I say things won’t bother reading my blog; of course people appreciate vulnerability (like no they prefer towering walls and stilted writing~); judgmental opinions are irrelevant because in the end we’re all insignificant so I might as well feel good about myself.
I like to think that my voice translates my natural desire to share. Andy posed a question that I need your help answering: Is my writing style identifiable? Take away all the images and fancy CSS and ask, is my writing style identifiable? You can also ask yourself this about your own writing. But yeah, your opinions about mine would be helpful, because of course I feel like my writing feels like me, but who knows.
Growing Your Blog into a Podcast | Angelica Yarde
Learn how to turn your blog content into a podcast worth subscribing to. Explore the ins and outs of creating a podcast.
This was the breakout session that I attended. The other breakout session options were about monetizing your blog with eBooks with Angela St. Cyril and about monetizing your blog with physical products with Jennifer Dziura.
I originally signed up for the video 101 workshop with Andrea Corson because I’ve been dabbling on YouTube, but the workshop got cancelled. I don’t think my blog content is the kind of blog content you’d repurpose for an eBook (back to that whole informational vs. inspirational thing), and I don’t think I’ll be selling any physical products either (although maybe my Brunch at Audrey’s earrings that I made in Berlin could be a thing (DAMMIT I WAS SUPPOSED TO WEAR THOSE TO THE CONFERENCE), and maybe in some other lifetime I could have my own cafe that specialises with brunch to accompany my brand), so I went for the podcast workshop. Plus, I listen to a lot of podcasts, so it’s definitely an area I’m interested in. Some of my favourite podcasts are Pod Save America, Call Your Girlfriend, Stuff You Should Know, Dear Hank and John, and Who Weekly. Angelica recommended some podcasts that are more focused on creatives and boss ladies, including Joblogues, Being Boss, and Black Girl in Om.
Just so you’re not confused: no I will not be creating a podcast, but just because I’m not planning to create my own podcast doesn’t mean that I’m not interested about the process. I learned that if you’re calling in people from multiple locations and want to record all of them for the podcast, Zencastr is a great tool to up your sound quality.
SEO Bootcamp for Bloggers | Jess Herbine
SEO is about so much more than keywords. Let’s unveil the mystery of organic search so that you better understand how to optimize your blog!
To be honest, this went a bit over my head. Search Engine Optimization is much more than just keywords, but keywords were definitely one of the easier things for me to vaguely understand. A concept Jess shared that I found very helpful was: SEO is a form of marketing; the keyword is the desire; the website is the product. Some other things I picked up on:
- improve SEO with user-generated content (i.e. comments and using keywords in replies)
- use nofollow links so that you don’t distribute your site equity
- Moz has a great guide for beginner SEO
Working With Brands | Erica Ligenza, Nicole Raudonis, Amber Burns
Three panelists will speak about how to work with brands. Both bloggers and brands will share their perspectives on finding brands, reaching out, engaging your community, being professional, and asking for what you’re worth.
This panel was invigorating. They got really passionate, especially about the topic of getting paid. I understand the frustrations of unpaid work. In fact, I’ve resolved to not take on anymore event photography for school clubs/activities/events. At least for the clubs at my school, they don’t even care about the quality of the photo; they’ll say things like “ohh you can send us all the unedited photos,” trying to be sneaky and make it seem like that’s for my benefit when they’re just trying to weasel out of paying full price. SO FRUSTRATING. Like, why the fuck do you need me to do it then?? Go bother someone else. I have zero patience for this nonsense.
Digression: I found this fantastic post about 10 ways to respect your photographer, by Katheryn Elaine. I’m going to directly share the first one here:
1. Understand the process and what you are paying for.
Think of paying for photography like paying a professional baker to make you a cake. You wouldn’t tell the baker “you’ll just take the batter and bake it yourself since you have an oven at home and have made a cake before” and you especially wouldn’t ask for a discount for doing so.
When you pay for photography you are paying for the final images, much like the final cake. It’s the finished product that makes it the artists work.
This means: You should never under any circumstances ask for unedited or RAW files. You should never say things like “My husband edits photos all the time, can we have a discount if we edit them ourselves?”
Like, get the fuuuck out. ANYWAYS. End of rant. Erica, Nicole, and Amber had excellent advice. In fact, let’s get back to that situation where your potential client says they don’t have the budget for you and try to lower your price. Never lower your price. If they want you, they will find the money. If they can only pay you so much, you can consider lowering your price but also taking away services, for example reviewing a product/service on your blog but not covering social media promotion. An example of this is not removing your photo editing service to lower your photography rate (grr).
Someone asked for tips about subject lines when it comes to emailing brands. Answer: include 1) who you are and 2) what you’re looking for. Get to the point. Be punchy. Same with the body of your email. On the other hand, don’t overstep and send your media kit right away. It is most important to build a relationship with brands you’re interested in working with. The metaphor they gave was: you wouldn’t show up at someone’s house and then make a bunch of demands and tell them everything you want and then introduce yourself. If they want it, they’ll ask for it.
Being hosted at Saxbys Coffee’s HQ meant having unlimited coffee throughout the conference, and not just cold brew coffee from a cardboard box, but Saxbys’ entire menu. I consider myself quite self-restrained for only drinking two medium British Islanders.
In addition to the speakers, breakout session, and panel, we also had a unicorn cupcake workshop with Cupcakes by Ruth. You know we bloggers are hopping on the unicorn trend. And in a better way than Starbucks (unicorn frappe, *barf*).
- Draw the unicorn face on the cup.
- Frost your cupcake, then place it in the cup.
- Knead the confetti?sprinkles?sparkles? into the fondant.
- Roll the fondant into a long snake.
- Wrap the fondant snake around a stick.
- Stick the stick into the cupcake.
- Sprinkle cupcake with sprinkles.
- Fashion a rainbow tail out of rainbow cotton candy and stick it on or behind your cupcake.
At the beginning of the conference, when people asked me what I blogged about, I’d say, “Uhh personal…lifestyle…blogging…?” But throughout the day, I got a little more assertive with my introduction. This blog post by Ashley M. Coleman titled “Never Mistake Lifestyle Blogging for Personal Blogging Again” reaffirmed and helped me gain confidence in saying what I already [sorta] knew (that I’m a personal lifestyle blogger).
There was one moment during the conference when I thought “oh god oh god oh god.” It was during lunch. These free periods were stressful, because at least when you’re on a schedule, you’re around people working on the same thing or learning about the same thing. You don’t have to find someone to socialise with, because when you’re working on something, socialising is not a priority, and you make do with people in your proximity. You can work on your own thing next to someone working on their own thing and exchange some remarks, or you can work on something together. But during your free period, you have more freedom to choose who you want to be around, and it can be stressful if it feels like you aren’t anyone’s choice and you’re not sure who to start talking to.
I was talking to someone one-on-one, and then someone came along, so we took a little pause in our conversation, and she introduced herself to the lady that came along, but after the two of them introduced themselves, they kinda just got into it and I didn’t get around to introducing myself. Some people are good about bringing other people into the conversation and some people aren’t aware of it. This is something I started working on at the beginning of college when I was no longer surrounded by people I grew up with and needed to start making an effort on the social scene, so it’s a social skill that I’m very aware/self-aware of, and I don’t take it personally if something like this happens. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling weird! I was in this strange space where I was close enough and could have been part of the conversation, but also it had taken off so far away from me that I felt more and more removed, all the while I was sitting in the same spot. It felt like I was hovering, so I extricated myself, went to the bathroom to have a breather and because I needed to go to the bathroom anyway, came back to take photos (for this blog post), and then started talking to people again. All in all, it was maybe three minutes of feeling uncomfortable, and those minutes felt long, but the rest of the 8 hours and 57 minutes of the conference were great (11 hours and 57 minutes if you include the 3 hour kick-off party beforehand).
Tip: When I’m feeling anti-social in a social situation, I can usually rely on my camera to give me something to do, until I find the energy to socialise or a wonderful human being comes over to chat.
Now I’m going to plug in a bunch of names of the people I met at the conference, and if you want, you can check out some of these Philly-based creatives! I chatted with Priyanka, Melody, Khoi, and Chelsea, all who I met prior to the conference. I briefly touched base with Sarah, Julia, and Melissa, all who I also met prior to the conference, and also briefly touched based with Sarah. Shila reached out right before the conference and we got a chance to meet there. I finally met Amber. I met Angela, Ann, Gabby, Monica, Cassandra, Val, SiddeeQah, and Brigette for the first time. (The unicorn on the left is Gabby‘s!) Post-conference, I’m going to try to keep up with all these ladies via their blog, so if you pop by you might see me in their comments!
PHLbloggers organised swag bags for everyone, filled with products, gift cards and coupons, and snacks (not all pictured) provided by our conference sponsors. And on top of that, I won the Tea Box Express giveaway, which included a loose leaf vanilla lotus blossom blend, honey straws, chocolate covered sunflower seeds, a salted caramel almond cookie, and a little book of inspirational words! I never win giveaways, so this was such a surprise! I mean, albeit I did stick all five of my raffle tickets in the giveaway for this box during the kick-off party, and then I stuck all ten of my raffle tickets in the giveaway for this box during the conference hehe. (There were maybe four other things getting raffled off each day, so five things both days, so ten things total.)
Thank you to the PHLbloggers core team for hosting a successful conference! Thank you Chrystina, the conference mastermind, Sarah, the sponsorship co-director, Melissa, the sponsorship co-director, Priyanka, the party director, Sarah, the creative director, and Amber, the social coordinator.
What’s something you want to learn about (in terms of blogging)?
Photos in the last collage by Tim Becker.
PS: This blog post is quite lengthy, so I will give more time for this one to sink in and not post again this week. I hope you’ve enjoyed this one though!