This is the seventh part in my Start a Blog series about blogging. This post is relevant whether you’ve started your blog or not, but you might want to check out my other posts if you haven’t seen them since they lay the groundwork for starting your money-making blog journey. Also, keep in mind that some brands won’t work with you unless you have a dot com and you’re self-hosting (both easy things to do!!) so check out my post about setting up a hosted blog if you aren’t there yet.
I know that some of you are probably thinking, “Why are we already talking about blog conferences? I barely have a blog! How could you think I’d be big enough for a blog conference? You’re skipping ahead too quickly!!”
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: getting yourself to a blog conference when you’re just starting out as a blogger is one of the best things you can do.
I so wish that I had gone to a blogger conference early on in my blog, but I was two years into it before I went to my first conference. Of course, there were fewer conferences to choose from back then but I remember finding out about BlogHer when I was just starting to blog for money and feeling like I was too small to go to a conference like that. I just got back from BlogHer ’14 on Saturday night and I met tons of people who either haven’t started their blog or only have a few post. Smart, smart people.
10 one-sentence reasons to go to a blog conference:
1 /// You meet other bloggers who are just starting out.
2 /// You meet other bloggers who can help you.
3 /// You meet other bloggers who speak to your soul and light you up.
4 /// You hear key advice from bloggers who have “made it” and you realize that these are just normal people who work hard at what they do.
5 /// You connect with big brands who want to work with you.
6 /// You connect with small brands who want to work with you.
7 /// You connect with new brands who really, really want to work with you.
8 /// You have fun.
9 /// You get inspired to be a better blogger when you get home.
10 /// Occasionally, you get free stuff.
That last one is last for a reason. I think that there’s a bit of mythos around the world of blog conferences because if you follow them on Twitter or through people’s blogs it can seem like the conferences are nothing but bloggers eating great food and raking in free things because everyone thinks the bloggers are so awesome.
This is not true. Brands might think that bloggers are awesome, but they’re mostly concerned about what bloggers can do for them (as they should be). Remember: nobody is going to pay you to blog. Brands pay you to put their name out. This is true no matter what the pay is, so at conferences if there’s a fancy breakfast sponsored by a brand, you need to put their name out (and often you need to listen to them talk about their brand so you can help deliver their message). So it’s fun, but it’s still work.
As far as the free stuff, it’s really probably not what it looks like on the Internet. Sometimes all the bloggers get great free things, sometimes only some bloggers get great free things, and sometimes everyone gets the same amount of almost-great-but-kind-of-forgettable free things. When I went to BlogHer three years ago, I got about four times as much promotional swag as I got this year, which just goes to show how much of a spectrum there is even inside the same conference.
You have to remember that you’re there to explore brands you want to work with, so you’re more likely to reap a benefit down the road then you are during a conference where hundreds of bloggers are crowding around these brands. Most of the time, the fun is more in learning about brands and experiencing new products, not in taking them home, so I would never tell someone to go to a blog conference just to haul home swag.
Of course, they do give away some pretty awesome things at these conferences and at this last conference I won a few things, including this car seat (thank you, Kiddy!), a MacBook Air (thank you, Ruckus Wireless!), and this Louis Vuitton (Thank you, One Day!). So, you know, don’t go for the stuff but be sure to enter those drawings just in case!
Which blog conference should I go to?
Each conference has it’s own vibe so you want to find one that fits. BlogHer is a good catch-all conference because it’s one of the biggest, but it’s a little harder to meet people because you get lost in the crowd. Niche conferences, like Camp Blogaway for food bloggers, are smaller and you’ll find more people who have sites like yours but they don’t have as many brands present so it’s more about learning and meeting people. Other conferences, like Alt Summit, are small enough that they sell out quickly (sometimes only in a few hours) so if you have one you have your heart set on be sure to watch it closely to see when tickets go on sale.
I’ve been to a bunch of different conferences and I won’t call out favorites because they’re each so different that it’s apples and oranges. I will, however, give you fast reasons behind my attendance at each of my 2014 blog conferences:
Alt Summit (01/14) – This is a big, beautiful conference that happens here in Salt Lake City. It’s based around design and inspiration so I go because the people I meet there are delightful, the sessions are invigorating, and I always know I’ll have a lot of fun. Plus, I’m a local!
Alt Summit Summer (06/14) – This is the little brother (sister?) of the big Alt conference and I attended this one because I was a speaker. I might have gone anyway, though, because it’s such a shot in the arm as far as my blogging energy goes. I only connected with a couple of sponsors but I made a TON of new and dear blogger friends. Grow your circle!
Disney Social Media Moms On-the-Road (06/14) – This is a short conference put on by Disney and it’s pretty brand-focused. I attended because I have two Disney-specific brands and I knew it would be fun to hang out with other bloggers who love Disney.
BlogHer ’14 (07/14): This is a big conference with lots of exposure to brands and big-time blogger. It was reasonably close to me this year so it was worth the trip, although I had such a good time that I’ll probably fly the whole family out next year no matter where it is. I went mainly to line up the sponsors that I’ll be working with for the rest of the year.
Click Away (09/14): This is more of a photography conference than a blog conference, but I know at least a handful of the other bloggers who will be going. Photos are key for any blogger so I’m attending this one to sharpen my skills, learn about new products, and connect with photographers I might want to work with. Plus, local!
Food Allergy Bloggers Conference (09/14): This is another niche conference for me. There are still not too many people blogging about food allergies (especially people outside the medical field) so I’m going to connect with brands but I mostly registered to meet other bloggers and hug other moms who spend sleepless nights thinking about peanut dust. The human component to these blog conferences can be a lot more valuable than getting sponsorship!
Fresh Summit (10/14): This one isn’t confirmed, but I’m hoping to be attending this niche food conference as a representative for an outside group. If you have a group or business who might be interested in sending you to a conference, that’s a great opportunity for getting the experience before you can afford to go on your own!
What exactly happens at a blog conference?
This is sort of different between conferences, so I’m going to lay out a really generalized plan of attack if you’re thinking about heading off to your first blog conference:
1 – Get your ticket early. Some conferences sell out fast and most offer an early bird discount.
2 – Get into the community before you go. Follow the hashtag on Twitter to see people chatting about the conference or to take advantage of sign ups for things like sponsored parties. You should also check to see if there’s a Facebook group for attendees so you can make some friends before you get there, especially if you’re new to the whole thing.
3 – Consider roommates. Roommates cut down on costs and they give you something of a base group to hang out with between events. You can find them on Facebook or Twitter if you don’t know anyone going or you can sign up and then convince your blogging friends to come along with you. Note: some people bring people who aren’t attending the conference but in my experience this is a little too distracting. There are often events that go from early morning all the way until midnight so it’s hard to have to keep checking back with people who aren’t at the conference with you.
4 – Make your travel plans, leaving time to be there a little early and stay in town for a bit after the conference. Travel delays can be a bummer if it means you’ll miss a key part of the event and if you stay a little later you can spend time quality time with people you met. Plus, sometimes there are “extra” events that sponsors plan outside of the times for the actual conference.
5 – Pack. You need business cards (often lots of business cards), clothes that you want to be photographed in, comfortable shoes, all the chargers in the world, and a notebook to jot down ideas. You do not need super expensive clothes or elaborate gifts for every conference attendee, so no pressure! People just do things like that for fun, not because they’re expected. Your business cards and wardrobe should be an accurate picture of you, not a copy of what you think you’re supposed to be doing.
6 – Get there, get checked in, put on a smile, and fake it. Guess what? EVERYONE is nervous when they first go to these things. It can be hard to know where to fit in, especially if it seems like everyone else knows someone. Your best bet is to walk up to a group, introduce yourself, and confess that you don’t know anyone. Be ready to answer questions about your blog and don’t forget to ask questions yourself to keep the conversation rolling! Do you have a blog? What do you blog about? Where are you from? Are you a full-time blogger? Have you ever been to this conference? Where did you get your shoes? Just keep talking to keep the jitters at bay and before you know it you’ll have fifty new friends.
7 – Follow the agenda, but know when to take a step back. A newbie mistake is feeling like you have to be at every event for the whole time. Most blog conferences are a pretty packed agenda full of meals, workshops, panels of information, and parties. These things tend to get a little exhausting and overwhelming for introverts, even if you’re having a great time. You’ll absorb more and have a better time if you occasionally give yourself a minute to walk around by yourself, call home, grab a snack, or just escape to lay down on your hotel bed and breathe.
8 – Stay professional. Don’t scoop up armfuls of free stuff from the same booth. Don’t get drunk and then get photographed doing something you don’t want your kids/employer/spouse/mom to see you doing. Don’t snark on other bloggers. Don’t complain because you wanted more swag, better food, or a fancier event. Don’t snub anyone, ever.
9 – Talk to the brands! In between workshops and parties, each conference will give you the opportunity to talk to brand representatives. For some reason, not all bloggers take advantage of this. Not only do the brands want to talk to you, they paid a lot to talk to you! Also, they’re usually represented by really fun and creative people because fun and creative people are the best at marketing. Go chat up the fun and creative people. Ask them about their product, find out what they’re hoping to gain from the conference, and tell them if/how you’d be a good fit. Do not (DO NOT) ask them point blank what they’re willing to give you for free or how much they’re willing to pay you. That flags you as either a newbie or diva.
10 – Relax. Don’t walk around stressing about who you aren’t talking to or what you aren’t understanding. Just keep putting yourself in situations that will expose you to information and/or connections. Sometimes it can be really hard to see the value of an event while you’re still in the middle of it so stay open, absorb, and smile!
You are not too small for a blog conference
My biggest piece of knowledge I want to pass on about these conferences is that they are open for everyone. Rarely do you need an invite, so if you manage to get a ticket on time, you’re in! Nobody will judge you for being a new blogger (OK, nobody who doesn’t suck will judge you) and you’re in an exciting position because you’re gathering all of this great knowledge so you can get started on the right foot. Everyone has to start somewhere and most of us just flounder around not knowing what we’re doing in the beginning, so I think it’s brilliant to arm yourself with as much info as possible.
Plus, you might be the person someone else is looking for! Don’t forget that it’s not just about what these conferences can do for you. It’s such a good feeling to be someone else’s touchstone, someone’s inspirational idea, or someone’s kind word. I’ve made friendships at blog conferences that turned into all sorts of other benefits beyond what people could do for my blog. I also love (LOVE) when people meet me at conferences and tell me they like reading my blog because it puts a face on my audience, so I’m always sure to reach out and tell people I love their site if I recognize them at these events. Yes, you might feel a little silly being a big fan (especially if they’re a huge blogger) but why not pass out the warm fuzzies?