I'm going to start this post off by saying, that for those of you who don't blog or don't care about the business behind it all, might find this post extremely boring (and very wordy). And if so, that's fine.......just skip this one. Also, I don't usually talk about how I view and run my business, so I feel like I am revealing a little more of myself than normal. But I guess that's pare for the course of stepping outside of my comfort zone. It's hard to know where to start explaining all that was experienced during my three days at Alt Design Summit.....but I will try to do my best.
I chose to attend Alt for all the reasons I discussed in my previous post, but primarily because it was a design blogging conference. I originally started my blog as a place to share the projects I was working on, the recipes I loved and little tid-bits about our family with whoever would happen to want to read about. So I guess you could say it was a fun little hobby type of thing for me.
However, as more and more readers have subscribed and lots more people have visited the website, the tides have turned. And while I love blogging (I mean, I seriously love it), it is no longer just a hobby, it is a business in itself and an extension of my main business, The Cottage Mama. Blogging takes a lot of time and energy; therefore, I can only justify keeping up with it in the way I do if there is some type of financial component that can be used to help support my family. And thankfully, there is and it has been a huge blessing for us.
I pinch myself everyday because I feel like I am truly living the dream. I have the opportunity to stay home with my children and be a big presence in their lives and yet I am able to pursue this dream doing something I absolutely love. I am not perfect and I am not perfect at doing all of those things all of the time, but it makes me feel so empowered as a woman to realize that we really can have it all and make it work. I think there is such a stereo-type in our society that we are either a stay at home mom or a working mom, but we can't do both and that is just not the case. I am proof positive. And I am beyond proud that my girls see me as more than their mother, they see me as driven, ambitious, creative and someone who follows their dreams.......and that to me is priceless.
So as you read about the different classes and panels I chose to take at Alt, I just want you to understand the fact that this blog is a business to me. Yes, first and foremost I love it (I would not be doing this if I didn't) and I love all of you that visit and I really feel like some of you are truly my friends. I focused a lot of my energy at Alt in connecting with sponsors and learning where I can build my business from here. Yes, I think you could get some creative inspiration from Alt, but I definitely think it's a conference for creative bloggers who consider their blog a business or want to take it in that direction.
So here's how my Alt experience started..........
My sweet, darling husband took three days off of work so I could attend Alt. I felt a little guilty leaving him with the kids, but I knew he could handle it. I flew into Salt Lake City on Wednesday morning and headed over to the Grand America Hotel where I was staying and where the conference was being held. The Grand America is a five star hotel and it was fantastic! While I waited for my two roommates to arrive, I met up with Susan from Crafterhours and Natasha from Little Pink Monster for lunch. We had never met in person, but it's amazing how much you know about someone or they know about you when you follow each other's blog, facebook, instagram, ect. We had a great time talking about this, that and the other. And I'm really glad I had this one on one time with these talented ladies.
My two roommates arrived shortly thereafter and I was so excited to finally meet them in person. My husband says I can't call someone a friend until I have met them in person, but I completely disagree.......blogging is a totally different world. You know what I mean, right? I stayed with Jess from Me Sew Crazy and Stef from Girl. Inspired. I knew I would like these girls.......turns out I love these girls. I don't know anyone around here who gets exactly what it is that I do and how I try to balance it all, but these girls get it and they get me. And I so wished we lived closer (Stef is in California, Jess is in Virginia Beach and I'm in Chicago). This experience would not have been the same without them.
The first night when we arrived we attended a sponsor dinner. There were maybe 20 or so different dinners you could choose from that were hosted by different sponsors that wanted to connect with bloggers. I chose the Michael Miller Fabrics dinner (go figure, right?). Kathy Miller (yes, that's the Miller of Michael Miller) and Christine Osmers were the hostesses. Christine actually sent me a bunch of fabric to use in my book that comes out later this year, so it was really great to put a face with a name and meet her in person.
Instagram Photo - Michael Miller Dinner
The dinner was at the Little America Steakhouse. Kathy and Christine had an incredible table-scape that they had created using some of their fabrics and had adorable laminate and cotton tote bags for us to take home with lots of goodies inside.
Emily Herrick of Crazy Old Ladies and Sarah from Sarah Jane Studios attended the dinner too. I got to sit next to Sarah at dinner and I always have so much fun chatting with her. I met her back at spring quilt market in Salt Lake City in 2011. I just love when you meet talented, creative people and they are truly nice and genuine. Just so you know, Sarah is just that and it makes me love her work even more.
At Alt Design Summit there were three sessions that took place at the same time. One group of sessions was for beginner bloggers (Track A), one was for more established bloggers (Track B) and one was for just about anyone (Track C).
The first morning session I attended was about Collaborations with Sponsors. I'd say my major take away from this was that sponsors want to connect and work with bloggers who have an engaged, loyal audience. It's not just about the numbers, it's about the conversations taking place and the community that surrounds the blog. I think a lot of bloggers get caught up in the number of followers and page views that occur on their blog, but really those don't mean much if you aren't engaging with your readers. Elembee has a great post that dives into the recap on this session even further (you can check it out here).
I needed this session. Like, really needed it. I am at a cross-roads with my business. Right now I am pretty much a one woman show. Yes, I do not have employees (in case you ever wondered). So that means I'm blogging, shipping retail and distributor pattern orders, ordering supplies, answering emails, writing a book, handling social media, sewing dresses, drafting new patterns, teaching classes and so on.........all. on. my. own.......oh yes, and my most important job in the whole world being a wife and good mother (yep, no sitter either......although I did have one part time when I was writing my book).
Yes, my mom will jump on the blog from time to time and my husband is very supportive and helps me make this all work. But at some point, that point being pretty soon, I have to bring on help in some arena of this business. Whether that means I bring on a virtual assitant, add contributors / creative team to the blog, or simply hire out some tasks like shipping and bagging patterns. If my mom lived closer, then we would probably be in this together, but for right now she is in Texas and I'm in Chicago.
A big take away for me from this session is that if you really want to take your business to the next level, then you must focus on what you are good at and hire out all the rest. Even though it might seem like a stretch financially at the time, it will free you up creatively to make that next leap.
Even the menus were pretty at Alt. I would have expected no less, but they were beautifully printed and well-designed.
This session actually made my entire trip! I almost didn't attend this session because there was another one that I was really interested in checking out. Jasmine Star is a well-known wedding photographer and such an amazing, inspirational speaker.
My biggest and most important take away from this session was realizing that not everyone is going to like me or my style or what I do and that is OK. It's very easy to get stuck in the mindset that you must please everyone. But by doing this, we do not reveal who we truly are and we don't allow people to form that connection and bond with us that happens when we are transparent. She was not saying that we should go through life without a filter, but people want to know who we truly are, what our opinions are and how we think and feel. I needed to hear this and I think I needed to hear this from someone who has become extremely successful in her business. It is an idea I am still trying to process, but I love it and it is something I will think about moving forward.
I was really excited about this panel, but it kind of left me a little flat. I was really hoping for more direction and a glimpse into the actual schedule and day to day life of these bloggers. Unfortunately, I didn't really hear anything, I didn't already know and that most people know about balancing work and life. And basically all of them had family that watched their kids during the week and / or childcare, which isn't really my situation. They did a great job, it was just that I, personally, did not really get much out of it.
There were several lounges set up during the conference where you could go and get some coffee and network with other blogger's and sponsors. The lounge below was the Bing lounge which was great and I didn't get pictures of the other lounge that was set up on day one, but it was hosted by Better Homes & Gardens, The Honest Company, Minted, Michael Miller Fabrics, Wimsey Box and Serena & Lily. It was a pretty amazing group of sponsors to get to connect with each day.
The Bing lounge had a really neat cork map of the US on the wall and you could see where everyone was from. Turns out there are quite a few bloggers in Chicago.
This was another beautiful thing in the Bing lounge. Isn't it cool? It's all made with thread. I love this!
You can't go wrong with fun embroidery hoops. I love the way some of these were embellished with hand embroidery, tulle, rick rack and buttons.
The Land of Nod Lounge:
(My Alt Roommates)
Land of Nod had a lounge set up on the second day that was a Mad Hatter Tea Party theme. They were serving coffee, tea, scones, croissants and lots more during breaks in between sessions.
I was actually on the same flight as the Land of Nod folks since they are based in Chicago. I knew that they were headed to Alt.......you could just sense the hip-vibe coming from them as they sat at the gate ready to depart. So it was fun getting to chat with them before we headed to Salt Lake City.
Business cards. Let's talk about business cards. I had been told that the business cards at Alt were going to be out of this world. And there seriously were. Some of them were like little works of arts, pretty packages and gifts all rolled into one.
I thought about redesigning my business cards to fit in with this ultra-hip crew at Alt, but I decided against it since I happen to really like my business cards. Instead, I added some stitching around the edge of each one with pink embroidery thread. It gave it a little some thing different.
Here is a handful of business cards that I got from Alt. This is not all of them, but you get the idea. They were pretty amazing. And I went through a ton of cards throughout the three days!
Darcy Miller was so lovely. For someone who works with the famous Martha Stewart, she was so down to earth and normal. She shared some of her tips and tricks for personalizing celebrations and gave a TON of sources for all things having to do with parties. She gave each of us these dark chocolate bars from Dean & Deluca that she had covered in her own custom candy bar wrapper. It was very exciting for me to hear her speak as Martha Stewart Living is a company I look up to greatly!
I really love social media and for the most part I feel like I have a pretty good handle on it; however, for some reason not very many people follow along on Twitter (insert sad face). For the last few months this has kind of bothered me. I try not to get too hung up on numbers, but I could not figure out why there are almost 9,000 Facebook fans and 600 Twitter fans? But this session helped me realize, that most of you are not on twitter......heck, I'm not even really on twitter.......I prefer Facebook because it's more visually appealing to me and feels more friendly. So if you would like to follow me on Twitter, that's great and I will still have my feed from Facebook feeding over there, but I'm done checking out that number. And by the way, I love getting to know all of you through social media. It really is such a highlight of my day!
This keynote was SO good!! It started off a little racy (yes, he showed us full-frontal naked pictures of himself), but his session got me thinking really deeply about creativity and life and in a way that made me a little uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable because of the naked pictures, but because he got me thinking in a way I wasn't used to. I like that. And I'm still thinking about his session. He was simply awesome and I think he might be a true creative genius. Yes, he was that good.
This was a great session! All of the panel members brought something different to the table and really had a lot of great advice to offer. This session was geared towards blogger's who are looking to take their business to the next level. There was discussion about managers, PR reps, and agents. As well as how to land larger sponsorship deals or collaborations. Also, they discussed certain ways to generate additional income through advertising, advertising networks, e-books and so on.
Some Goodies from Alt:
There were a lot of freebies and things that you do get by attending Alt Design Summit. Here are a few things that we received.......
Prior to Alt, we were sent sponsor packages each month for about five months. It was a great way to spotlight each one of the sponsors and it was really fun getting these different little packages. One that I was particularly excited about was the gift certificate to Blurb to make a blog book or photo book. I decided to make sort of a portfolio of all the clothing I have designed / sewn. I love the quality and how it turned out and it was super-simple to make. It's about 80 pages long and I made it in a couple hours.
On Saturday there were many different design camps you could sign up to attend. I chose Illustrator for Blogger's that was taught by Melanie Burk from Fifth & Hazel. I have always been fascinated by Adobe Illustrator, but have felt overwhelmed whenever I try to use it. Melanie did a fantastic job teaching this class. She took us through step by step talking about creating printables, digitizing images, adding text and design elements to photographs and more. I am a visual learner so her teaching style was perfect for me!
Probably one of the most fun events during my Alt experience, actually had nothing to do with Alt at all. Several of us had organized a sewing blogger's lunch at a local restaurant. Most of those that attended the lunch were not attending Alt, but lived in the Salt Lake City area. It was so refreshing to meet all of these talented ladies in person. And after feeling out of my comfort zone for three days straight, I felt like I had come home when I finally got to be with my fellow sewing bloggers.
I pretty much headed straight to the airport after the sewing blogger's lunch and returned home at around midnight. It was an incredible time and definitely a whirlwind of a weekend. I'm actually leaving again this weekend to teach for a week at the Martha Pullen School of Art Fashion, so after I'm done with all of this traveling, I will hopefully have time to start putting some of what I learned into practice.
I hope you enjoyed this post. If you've read this far, then a big thank you for getting through the world's longest blog post. I could talk and talk about all that I learned from Alt Design Summit, so I guess that in itself shows me that it was well worth the trip!