more than a blogging conference

I am trying to wrap my brain around my experience last week at The Creative Connection/BlogHer Handmade conference while also trying to catch up on work here at home. It was a great event, but also overwhelming. So many new people to meet, so many sessions, so much info… so many tweets to send!

The event was held in a lovely hotel right on the Mississippi river in downtown Saint Paul, Minnesota. I shared a hotel room for the conference with Crissy, the owner of IndieBizChicks.com. She had the awesome job of hosting and speaking on a panel during the BlogHer Handmade portion of the event. The panel was titled “Using Content and Community to Grow Your Reach” and she did a great job. I was in the front row and snapped the photo below. (You can read Crissy’s recaps of the conference here and here.)

There were approximately 2-3 sessions per day, plus keynote speeches at the lunches and dinners. Since I have been to a few similar conferences before, I had already heard a lot of the info about using social media and blogging to promote your business, but it was still interesting to hear the stories of how other women created and run their businesses. There were a few “a-ha” moments during the more inspirational talks. These are a few of my favorite quotes:

“Work/life balance is like juggling several balls – some are glass and some are rubber. Don’t drop the glass ones.”Stacy Julian of Big Picture Classes

“A happy ending is possible from any beginning.” – Holly Becker, decor8

“The difference in you is your super power.” – Karen Walrond, Chookooloonks.com

Everyone needs a little shot of inspiration every once in a while… It helps me to be reminded that running my own business is not so weird and that success is a possibility.

I had to include a photo of the food! We had some great meals and very tasty desserts. Starbucks was a sponsor, so there was always coffee to be had and we each got to take home our own big bag of beans. We were also given little bundles of swag at each meal. My favorite was the “Aspire” necklace from The Vintage Pearl that we received at dinner the first night. Very sweet. And, amazingly, I also won a Cricut Expression machine in a random drawing at lunch the second day! It is a machine that cuts intricate shapes out of paper and fabric — I am very excited to try it out! (It is being shipped to my apartment.)

The Creative Connection was sponsored by Sterling Publishers and Where Women Create magazine so there were lots of books, magazines, and authors at the conference. I couldn’t resist purchasing the new Celebrate: Where Women Cook book and had it signed by the author, Jo Packham.

There were many crafty internet “celebrities” — hey, they are celebrities to me! — at the conference, and despite not wanting to be an annoying fangirl, I posed for a few photos with some of the very sweet, creative women…

Crafty Chica spoke on a couple of the panels. She is an awesome, positive person who basically has a craft empire. She blogs, write novels, and even has her own line of craft supplies. I was pumped to get some of her glitter in our swag bags!

I’ve already gushed about Holly Becker from decor8, but I really admire her. She gave the keynote speech on the first night and was just wonderful. She talked about her life and growing her blog and business. She just seems like a very authentic, kind, professional person and I plan to keep following her story.

On the very last day of the conference, I finally got to take a true crafting class. (I was trying to be a good business lady and took all of the educational, business classes prior to the last day. Trying to learn how to do this whole LLC thing correctly…) My craft class was Inspiration Boards with Leslie Shewring of A Creative Mint. Leslie was awesome, so stylish and nice, and we had fun playing with pretty paper, washi tape, ribbon, and Leslie’s own beautifully styled photos. We created color-based inspiration boards that can be used as a starting point for larger design project. I loved it and wished that I had taken all crafting classes at the conference… next time!

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If you’d like to read more about The Creative Connection/BlogHer Handmade, check out these blog posts from other attendees here, here, here, here, and here.

For Swap-bot users: I am hosting a giveaway on the Swap-bot blog for a giant pile of some of the conference swag. Go comment to enter!

BlogHer – helpful notes and more thoughts

Even after 48 hours, my brain is still filled with BlogHer thoughts. Here are my notes from the sessions I attended…

Gen Y Passionistas: Making Your Passion Work for You – Jenn and Jill from Pursuing Our Passion spoke about about having the courage to do what you love. Some of their ideas:

  • Figure out what type of work brings you energy instead of leaving you feeling drained.
  • Do what you love, but make sure you are solving a problem that people need solved.
  • Show the readers of your blog that you are “listening” to them.
  • Keep doing what you love and the opportunities will come, but also know that pursuing your passion does not necessarily mean quitting your day job.
  • TGIMonday – enjoy seven days of your week, not just two.
  • Check out the book, “Making a Living without a Job” by Barbara Winter
  • Own your full name as a domain!

Mastering Intellectual Property Law – this sessions was hosted by two lawyers. It felt a bit dry and studious, but it included information that every small business owner needs to know to protect their work. A few tips from the session:

Good Blog Design: The Role of Layout in an Online Medium – this is the session I discussed yesterday that included Grace from Design*Sponge. They discussed general design principles and best practices when working with a designer. They did not delve into talking about code. Their design tips:

  • Originality is very important because it translates into instant brand recognition.
  • Never let design trump site function.
  • Carry your design style across all of your online presences, like Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Don’t go overboard with texture – one or two 3D-style items are enough.
  • Map out your past, present, and future content ideas before starting a re-design so that you will have room to grow within the new design.
  • Use CSS Type Set to create CSS code for your site.
  • The Bold Italic is an awesome website.

Creating (or Massively Altering) a WordPress Theme – This session had a few technical problems at the beginning, but it managed to delve deeply into the code-side of working with WordPress. I self-selected and placed myself in the more advanced group and the presentation was just slightly above my head, but it set me on the path to trying out some of the newer themes and options for WordPress 3.0. The main general tip that I picked up was that if you are comfortable working in the code, use a framework theme like Thematic that you can fully customize.

Closing Keynote: How to Use Your Voice, Your Platform, Your Power – I already talked a little bit about this inspirational keynote yesterday, but I wanted to share some of my more specific notes…

  • We all need to use our blogging voices to have important conversations.
  • Nobody has to do everything. All of us just have to do something. That is how we make progress.
  • More women in politics will make better policy and diversity of opinion = better decisions. Ask your blog readers to talk about one woman that they would like to see run for public office.
  • The more “deep” writing we all put out there, the more legitimacy blogging will have.

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For more perspectives on the conference, here are some links to other descriptive blog posts about BlogHer:

I am still digesting my experience. For me, the conference was a very positive two days, but I probably will not make the investment in traveling to next year’s BlogHer conference in San Diego. I had a lot of fun (I mean, where else do you get to eat a unicorn cake?!) and took home some good info, but I think the sessions were mostly geared toward beginning bloggers. I certainly know that we can all learn from each other no matter what, but as someone who has been blogging for nearly seven years and running my own small business for five, I may not have been the target attendee. I also got a little bummed out when I learned a bit about how much the corporate sponsors paid to be there (think hundreds of thousands of dollars) and how much profit the BlogHer organization took home. I definitely think the conference should be profitable, but I felt a bit naive when I truly realized that the conference was mainly a money-making venture and not necessarily only about empowering women… hmmmm… we DO all need to make money, though.

Were you at BlogHer? Have you attended in the past? What are your thoughts?