Mid March I was able to attend my first ever blog conference – Blissdom 2013. My online friend Mackenzie, from Cheerios and Lattes, said, “You should come and room with me.” My husband and I talked about it. In the discussion, I was able to talk more about how blogging has snuck up on me and become a passion. He was supportive, and we used our airline miles to buy the tickets. It was official, and I began to prepare. I had no idea what to expect, and I did what any good blogger would do. I read other blogs to figure out how I needed to best prepare for this adventure. I read a few posts about how to design a business card. I took it all to heart and set out to get mine made. You should have seen people’s reaction when I pulled out these babies. Yes, they are metal. How cool is that? Thank you Metal Cards. Reading other people’s posts and conversation on our Facebook page was interesting. People were talking about being nervous. I couldn’t really relate to that. Other bloggers were saying, “I’m so nervous. I’m going to be meeting my blogging idols.” I’m kind of a unique blogger. I jumped into blogging on a whim. I hadn’t been following blogs. I knew nothing about the blogging world. I just started. I had no “blogging idols.” However, the more I read from other bloggers about Blissdom, I too started getting nervous. I don’t know if nerves are contagious, but I was catching them. It was a week and a half away, and I already had butterflies. I read a lot about people being nervous. I read about idols. I read about having the perfect outfits. I read about being prepared for the experience and the business side of things. I read about meeting a bunch of new people, which hasn’t really made me nervous in the past. However, suddenly to me it felt like a sorority party. Now I know about that. I was in a sorority. I had a great rush experience, but I didn’t love the other side of rush. People judged a lot on the outside. I began to think this Blissdom experience might be shallow and everyone would be fake. I got nervous. My husband encouraged me. He said, “I said I wanted you to go so you could have fun. You don’t need to know everything going in. That’s why you are going. Have fun. Learn. That’s the goal. Stop worrying.” It totally calmed me, and I was able to relax and let go for the final week before we left. Well, totally relax is a lie. I (technically my husband) was in the middle os switching me from Blogger to Word Press. There were some really late nights, and I wasn’t getting much sleep. I still am making some of those switches on my blog. Mackenzie and I were texting back and forth. The nerves had snuck up on her too, and we were able to talk about being genuine, meeting each other, and a meet-up we planned with other Christians. I became excited again.
Highlight #1 – Meeting my Blog Friend
I flew into Dallas, and Mackenzie was nice enough to volunteer to pick me up at the airport. We clicked immediately. I knew we would. We have only had conversations up until this point via email and a little by text, but I’ve always been able to tell we would be kindred spirits, and I was right. It was definitely a highlight to meet this friend face to face. I really had never sat across from another blogger before. I have had so many questions. There are so many things about it that my friends at home can’t relate to. I could “talk blog” (which has become such a huge part of my life), and others could actually talk back. What a concept. I trust Mackenzie and I will stay friends way past this experience together.
Highlight #2 – Meeting New Friends.
I mentioned that I thought people would be shallow, and it would feel like a sorority. I didn’t experience that at all. People were very friendly. The new friends I met seemed genuine. We were there to network, but we were there to engage, relate and grow. Friends were made quickly and easily. I met a number of women throughout the weekend, but it was kinda nice to find a group that immediately bonded and wanted to hang out. Many of them knew each other already. I knew no one – although I was a little familiar with some of their blogs. We hung out in someone’s room the first night, had meals together and danced away another night. It seemed that this was happening all around the conference. There were people that gravitated to each other. We would all talk to everyone and hang out with a lot of other people. We didn’t always sit together at every session. It didn’t feel like a click. However, it was comfortable to bond with with a group. I like feeling like a get to know people and make real connections. Some of my new friends (pictured above) are Taylor (It’s Taylor Made), Kristen (Kristen Duke Photography), Mackenzie (Cheerios and Lattes), Jamie (C.R.A.F.T.) and Kelly (Live Laugh Rowe). These girls are just fun. I’m pretty sure I was the baby blogger in the group, so I was able to ask my myriad of questions. Sometimes I felt like they were speaking a different language, but I listened, asked and learned. Now to find time to apply all I learned. Honestly, I gained more bloggy learning from them than from most of the breakout speakers. I’ll give a little plug for Kristen Duke’s books. She has a couple photography books that I purchased. I’ve been faking my way through photography. These are little flip books that you can stick in your camera bag that really break down a lot of the basics of shooting in manual mode. You can purchase the book through her website. Something I found ironic about the whole experience is that I have not used my camera less since I began blogging. My pictures are lame and done with my phone. I also had pre-written some posts, so I blogged less then ever the whole trip. There was no post writing, linking up or social media work. I’ve been working so hard since the start that it was a nice break.
Highlight #3 Great Keynote Speakers at the Big Sessions
Scott Straten – Scott Straten was our opening keynote speaker, and he was amazing. He is the author of the book “Unmarketing” and “The Book of Business Awesome,” the latter we were all given at the conference. Woo Hoo! His whole tag line is, “Stop Marketing. Start Engaging.” He was very entertaining to listen to but had really good content. You can look him up on YouTube if you want the flavor. He talked about how your “brand is not your logo. Your brand is your action.” People could care less about your slogan if you aren’t living it out in your passions and relationships. He encouraged us to truly engage our readers. “75% of Twitter is replies.” What I love is that he lives it out. I wrote him after the conference on Twitter, and he actually responded. I wrote another speaker, and they didn’t. Guess who my new favorite is. I didn’t have my book for him to sign, and I didn’t get a picture with him…bummer. However, he said I could bring my book back anytime or if I wrote him, he’d sign a sticker for me and send it. I believe he was telling the truth. I see in his engagement that he practices what he preaches.
He talked about bringing the social back into social media. He talked about caring about people, being willing to say sorry and engaging. By the way, I FIGURED OUT TWITTER!! Ahhhh….I guess a blogging conference throws you into that. Make sure you stop by and follow me -@MeaningfulMamaJ.
This is where I need to make an apology to you. I had on my old contact page that I wouldn’t be able to respond to all your comments. I was so busy and felt like something had to give, and that’s what I chose. It was the wrong thing. By doing that, I started talking at you. Yes, I wanted your feedback, but I wasn’t focused on engaging with you. I have done that wrong. I replied when people asked direct questions, but I don’t believe that is enough. I have enjoyed the dialogue back and forth with some of my readers. I want more of that. I do want to engage you. I want to know what is working for you. I want to know the question you have. I want grace-filled, constructive criticism. Thank you for those who engage through comments, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. Also a big thanks for those who share my content with others. Growing a blog is challenging. If you like what I’m doing, I really appreciate you spreading the love.
Jon Acuff – He was another great speaker. He was easy to listen to, engaging and funny. He was also a Christian and naturally brought Jesus into the conversation. If you are not familiar with Jon Acuff, I’d also encourage you to watch him on YouTube. What were my “take-aways” from him? The quotes above were powerful. I also had a conversation afterward with him about how to balance it all. He reminded me that the season with young kids is a season, and it is short. What I’m doing at home is more valuable than anything I’m doing online, so there was a reminder to keep my priorities straight. Don’t push my children away and say, “You need to leave me alone right now. I’m blogging about loving you better.” It was an important reminder, and I want to maintain a good balance. Here are some other take aways:
- “Creativity is a wild mind with a disciplined eye.”
- “People fail in imagination because they edit.”
- Create down time to help creativity flow.
- Find a good system for collecting your ideas.
- Don’t be afraid to finish.
- “Make the next 20 years about significance.” – Again, I believe this starts in the family. If my blog is getting in the way of my husband and kids rather than enhancing our lives together, I’m doing something wrong. I do admit I have gotten out of balance in this at times.
- “Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”
Shannon Litton – I really connected with what Shannon had to say in one of the break-out sessions. She was all about keeping your priorities straight. She is also a believer, and I connected with her priorities.
- “Be intentional about protecting your greater yes.”
- “Know what you were designed to do and own it.”
- “Where do I want to go? Sometimes your purpose is to go deep rather than wide.”
- What are the best things for me and my family?
Highlight #3 – Girls Night Out
Girls night out was a fun time to just kick back. There were a couple celebrity performers. Chris Mann was one of the final contestants on the Voice. Amber Riley plays Mercedes on Glee. Both were great performers. Amber…man, that girl has pipes.
A huge highlight of the trip was dancing the night away. I love to dance. My husband doesn’t. I don’t feel like I get many chances to get out dancing anymore. What a safe environment too – a bunch of women with no fear of guys hitting on you…just fun. There was an 80’s cover band called Spazmatics. They had a really fun thing going on as they were all dressed up as nerds. They were fabulous too though. They played 80’s songs that just pumped you up. We had stayed close to the stage until they arrived, so we were acting like total groupies. I guess they’re a pretty big deal in Texas, and I can see why. I’m from the Seattle area, so this was my first exposure.
Highlight #4 – Meals Out
Anyone who knows me knows I love food. Meals will always be a highlight. I do believe that people bond over food. I went out with Kelly, Mackenzie and Krisit (I Should be Mopping the Floor) for my first ever Texas BBQ. I also had Mexican with the girls I’ve already mentioned plus my other new friends, Allison (House of Hepworths) and Jessica (Don’t Mind the Mess).
Highlight #5 – Learning how to Monetize my Blog
Most of what I learned about monetizing my blog came through conversations with my new friends as well as connecting with the brands at Blissdom. I have been really busy producing content for my blog that I haven’t spent much time figuring out how to monetize it. It is a lot of work to be able to put out this content to you, and it only makes sense to try and make a little money doing it. I know there are some people who get really annoyed at sponsored posts or advertising. I just want to put out there that we are working very hard as bloggers. We are putting out information that is free to our readers. We are often trying to help support our families. The bloggers I met seemed genuine about the brands they represent. Here are my promises to you as I move forward in pursing sponsorship:
1. I WILL TRY AND MAINTAIN THE INTEGRITY OF MY BLOG There will be certain brands that I have already or will turn down because it has nothing to do with the content of my blog. I’m not going to do a sponsored post for car batteries because I don’t know much about that and don’t think it would add much to my readership. I was tempted to accept a post about tires recently because they wanted me to relate road trip stories into the post, and I have some tips for traveling with children as well as some experience with road trips I could contribute. I was on the fence with that one. I turned it down, but you may see some related content like that in the future. I was recently asked to do a movie promotion of a movie that had not come out in theaters yet. I turned that down because I couldn’t preview what I would be promoting. I want to keep things family and child friendly. I don’t want the integrity of my blog to be compromised by the brands I choose to represent.
2. I WILL KEEP CONTENT AS THE #1 PRIORITY OF MY BLOG – I have heard people complain about bloggers who are now all about sponsored posts and advertising. I don’t intend to make my whole goal making money. My goal is to motivate myself and inspire other parents on this crazy, challenging journey of raising children. Does it mean I won’t monetize my blog? Nope. Does it mean I’ll limit how much I do? Yes.
3. I WILL NOT LIE – As I have previously stated, I will be choosey about who I represent. I will not lie about my experience or opinions. If I don’t like the product, I will not write the post or write honestly. It’s that simple. I want you to trust the content I put out there – whether it is sponsored or not.
4. I WILL LET YOU KNOW IT IS A A SPONSORED POST – I will have a disclaimer at the end of each post stating if it is a sponsored post. Sometimes a post I do may sounds sponsored, but I blog about it simply because I like the product and you might find it helpful. I’ve done that a lot already with Candy Melts and Duff fondant. These people don’t know I exist, but I like their products, so I pass it on to you.
5. KEEPING ADVERTISING CLEAN – I am with an advertising agency. That is why you see ads on the sidebar, top and bottom of my blog. I want to keep family friendly advertising. As I catch ads that are questionable, I ask the agency to remove them. They do. The trick is first I need to catch them. Then, it takes a little time to get them removed, so please give us all some grace.
THANK YOU READERS FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT – Jon Acuff talked about haters out there. He encouraged us to not be a hater with a sign that said, “Don’t be a jerk.” Another speaker said 20% of people are going to love you, 60% will be ambivalent toward you and 20% will not like you at all. That may be true, but I have experienced nothing but love from me followers. There have been a couple people who, in grace, have questioned what I meant or brought up something they disagree with, and I really appreciate that. I don’t want people to be passive. I just really appreciate all the feedback, and I do want to thank you for not being a jerk.