INVEST // ATTENDING CONFERENCES

Alt Summit

One of the best decisions I made for my blog was attending a blog conference early on. I went to the 2nd ALT Summit before most bloggers even knew about it.

It was a HUGE investment for me at the time — the ticket to the conference, hotel, and plane ticket added up to around $1,500. To help bring the cost down I asked my good friend from college, and fellow blogger Camille if she wanted to come with me and split the hotel room, lucky for me she was game. My blog was making little to nothing at the time, but I knew if I wanted to take it to the next level I needed to get educated.

Blogging and social media was so new it seemed like the Wild West online. After just a few hours at ALT I knew coming was one of the best decisions I could have made for the future of my blog. During one of the breaks between the sessions I was talking to two people I didn’t know — one was Ben Silbermann — the founder of Pinterest. At the time not that many people knew about Pinterest or Ben, but I was already a huge fan of Pinterest and I was telling him how everyone at Hallmark (where I worked at the time) was obsessed with it. Of course I was too naive to realize what Pinterest was going to turn into (I should have asked him if I could come work for Pinterest right then!).

I realized later that it was lucky of me to come across ALT Summit online, lucky that they still had tickets available just two weeks before it started (now they sell out 600 tickets in a matter of an hour months in advance), and lucky that I could afford to go because it was a huge stepping stone in me becoming a blogger full-time.

One thing I didn’t really realize would happen at the conference was that I met a ton of bloggers and people that would become my friends to this day in real life. It’s been so amazing to watch them all in their successes over the years that all started with blogging — book deals, working with huge brands, new websites, etc.

I chose the photo above for a specific reason. Both Victoria and I are in it — this is where we met! A mutual friend of ours, Tobe, told us that we had so much in common and needed to meet, and we just happened to go to the same small breakout session one day. You can see me on the left in magenta, and Victoria’s dark black hair right above me in the photo. At this moment we didn’t even know each other, but we met right afterward.

This photo was from my second year at ALT, I spoke on a panel that year and the following year. The last time I went (2013) I realized that it was time for me to move on to other conferences. I had outgrown ALT and it also was a bit more niche with DIY/mom bloggers, so the networking and brands that were there wasn’t as valuable to me.

Now that there are so many more blog conferences to choose from — you can really find the one that works the best for you. I’ve attended and spoken at numerous conferences since my first experience at ALT Summit, and I can say that they have all been great experiences that were worth investing in.

I think I can speak for a lot of people when I say that attending conferences (and being proactive about meeting people and brands at them) was one of the best investments I made for my blog and future business.

Unfortunately, a lot of conferences can cost a pretty penny when you add up the hotel and flight (if you have to travel for it). If you plan in advance, find people to split hotel rooms with, maybe use points for your flight, you can bring the cost down. The good thing about the cost (if you are monetizing your blog) is that it’s all a write off for your taxes! The cost in many cases is worth it.

I don’t recommend going back to the same conference every single year unless it’s just amazing and there are always lots of new people and brands there for you to meet. Now that there are so many to choose from, you can attend different conferences each year and meet a new crop of people.

Victoria and I have written about conferences at length — you can read all the posts in our Conference Series for tips on what you should know when attending a conference. If you have no idea what conferences are out there — we’ve got a handy 2015 Conference Directory for you as well.

I’m sure there are a few people who have had bad experiences at conferences, or didn’t feel like the cost was worth it — but if you do your research on the conferences, the speakers, you are proactive about meeting people and brands while you are there, and you go in with an open mind to learn, it’s hard to not come out with some value.

For me, the first ALT I went to was definitely the most fun and I felt like I learned the most, and each year afterward, since I did so much research on my own, I felt like I learned less and less. But it was still worth it for me to go every time, and I don’t regret any conference I’ve attended.

Even though we live in a very digital world, human connections are still extremely valuable. I know that meeting people in person at conferences has started relationships and friendships that have turned into great things for not only me, but many of my friends in the blogging community.

 

Have you attended any conferences? Which ones? Did you like them? Did you think they were valuable?

 

meg sig

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Photo by Justin Hackworth

ADVICE FROM A BLOGGER // Carlene’s Top 5 Investments

carlene thomas

Today we have registered dietitian nutritionist Carlene Thomas of Healthfully Ever After giving us her top five business/blog investments. In addition to being a dietitian, Carlene develops recipes and styles/photographs food shoots. Take it away Carlene!

I think we’ve all been in the place where you feel badly about spending money on your blog. You internally argue with yourself that it’s just a hobby, it’s not making you money and “How can you have money leaving the door that you aren’t guaranteed to get back?” There’s a lot of risk involved in blogging and in business in general. But investments have a way of being scary…and then worth it.

Here are my top five investments for making your blog and business better: 

1. Branding

The decisions you make on your branding defines who you are to the world. It’s a harsh truth that people will indeed judge a book by it’s cover. Your branding could be a major factor in potential partnerships or contracts you score…or lose. If you are a designer yourself, you need to invest time the to make it happen. If not, invest in hiring a designer. And I need to be specific here because I do not mean the factory designers where you pay five dollars for a logo. Those who have design training are worth their weight in gold.

2. Continuing Education

As a nutritionist, continuing education is a legal requirement (we have stay up-to-date on science so we don’t accidentally kill someone). But I read way more than my obvious professional requirements. Invest in subscriptions to business magazines (Inc. or Fast Company for example), take webinars (Creative Live), or go to conferences! Continuing education, virtually and in person, provides you with a chance to be inspired, learn, and make important connections. I am DYING to attend is Cherry Bombe’s Jubilee which is a must if you love amazing business women in the food world.

3. An Upgraded Camera/Hire a Photographer

Images sell you or they crush you. For years I put off upgrading my camera because at the time I wasn’t making money through images. But it was actually more like I was stopping myself from making money. Every image you post online is your résumé. You could be hired as a stylist, as a contributor to a website, or as a photographer based on an image associated with your brand. This has happened to me many times. I can’t even tell you how much business upgrading my camera has brought me. No one is going to take you seriously if you have poor images on your website. You’ve automatically done your brand a disservice by having poor images. If you have no interest in photography or you feel your abilities aren’t good enough, hire a photographer.

4. A Staple Signature Piece

Yes, I’m totally saying you can justify spending more than normal on a signature piece of clothing that will become a closet staple. For me, it’s handbags. People know me at conferences or speaking engagements by the bags I carry, and that’s fine by me! I would rather invest in a few designer bags that I obsess over, that will last forever and fit my personal brand than buy 50 subpar bags.

5. A Workspace or Community Space

To create something great, you need to have an inspiring space or put yourself in a place that will help your business and blog flourish. If you write from home, clear all the junk off of your desk. Make that tiny portion of your home beautiful, clean, and make it somewhere you want to be. I also strongly recommend finding a group office space or coffee shop that is filled with people who inspire you. Joining a collective office space (I share Meg’s office in D.C.) has done amazing things for my business. In fact, I rank joining that space alone as my best business decision of 2014!

 

Thanks so much for sharing your Top 5 Investments in your Blog & Business Carlene! 

 

meg sig

INVEST // Investing in a Mobile Responsive Design for your Blog

mobile responsive

If you’ve ever wondered whether you should have a mobile responsive design for your blog, here’s your definitive answer: yes.

If you had asked me even a month ago, my answer probably would’ve been “it depends.” Historically, it was important for you to take a look at your site statistics (specifically through a program like Google Analytics) to determine what percentage of your audience is accessing your site via a mobile device. If the percentage was on the low end, I would have argued that it might not be worth spending extra money having a designer/developer create a separate mobile responsive template for you, and instead, to keep an eye on those metrics and invest in it down the line, if your mobile traffic grew significantly.

What changed my answer so recently? Google itself. Well, actually, Lisa (my web developer) did, when a client of ours received a notification from Google that their non-responsive blog template may negatively impact their page rankings. Yep, you read that right.

Here’s what Google said on their own blog recently:

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.

 

In other words, beginning late next month, if your site is not mobile-friendly, Google’s new algorithm may rank you lower in search. If you’ve worked hard to develop great SEO, this could potentially be a very bad thing!

So here’s the deal. I think previously, mobile users didn’t mind pinching and zooming in to non-mobile responsive sites (to be clear, a non-mobile responsive site means the site appears on your phone as it does in the browser of a desktop computer — albeit shrunken). But as more and more sites have developed mobile specific templates — which allow you to easily scroll down to read content, or swipe left and right to navigate around — being able to easily navigate a well-designed mobile site has become all but an expectation on the part of users. Given Google’s new algorithm that more heavily weights mobile responsiveness in search results? Now I think it’s definitely worth investing in a great mobile design.

Do you know if your site is already mobile friendly? You can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool to type in your site URL to see. If it says “yes” after analyzing, you’re good.

How do you get a mobile friendly template? If you had your blog or site professionally designed, your designer/developer can work with you to install a separate mobile responsive template. Blogger users will find their sites likely already have mobile responsiveness written into their code automatically, though many of these templates don’t preserve your specific theme changes when viewed on a phone (again, talk to a web designer about tweaking this for you, and hey, at least you have a mobile template of some description!). WordPress.org users can Google “WordPress mobile themes” and find a huge number of themes at their disposal, though again, you will need to work with a designer or developer to customize them to your specific blog, if you already have a brand identity in place. Some WordPress desktop themes may also have mobile responsiveness built in — again, the best way to know for sure how Google is reading your site is to use the Mobile-Friendly test tool.

I’ll admit I have to lead by example here — my personal blog and website don’t have mobile responsive templates on them, so I’ll be working on this stat this spring!

victoria sig

 

*NEW COCKTAIL* — Instagram 101!

INSTAGRAM 101

We are so excited to announce our latest cocktail — INSTAGRAM 101!

Whether you have yet to start an Instagram account or it’s your favorite social media platform, this book is for anyone who is looking to up their Instagram game and learn more about one of the hottest digital media platforms being used by bloggers and brands alike. This ebook has 28 pages packed with great information from how to style and edit photos to how to find and use Instagram metrics to help you strategize.

What all is included in the Instagram 101 ebook? 

+ The best practices of setting up your Instagram account
+ What types of photos typically perform best
+ What an Instagram “style” is
+ How to take good photos for Instagram
+ How to edit and style photos
+ What apps you can use to make your photos better
+ What type of captions to write for your photos
+ What hashtags are and how to use them
+ What tagging is and how to tag
+ How to find and analyze your Instagram metrics
+ Strategies for growth
+ How to engage your followers
+ How to monetize your Instagram account
+ What type of expectations to have
+ Statistics and Strategy Worksheet

28 pages full of knowledge for the price of one fancy cocktail.

GET INSTAGRAM 101 HERE!

We hope you enjoy!

both-sig

INVEST // Should You Take a Skills Class?

good post to read if you are thinking about investing in blogging skills classes

You may have noticed over the years that Meg and I have each recommended a few different resources for online blog skills classes, from photography to graphic design and more. My last post about Adobe Creative Suite is a great example — some of the tried and true online programs include BlogShop, Skillshare, Nicole’s Classes, et al. However, I know there can sometimes be some hesitation around spending money for online learning. Will you actually learn what you want to learn? How helpful can an online course really be? Today, I’m sharing a few considerations and recommendations if you’re thinking about taking a skills class online.

Tip #1: Before you spend any money, check out YouTube

It seems obvious, but I know a lot of people forget: virtually anything you want to learn how to do on your camera or in a creative program probably already has a tutorial created for it on YouTube. I taught myself many, many skills by watching YouTube tutorials. To find an appropriate tutorial, just go to YouTube and search for what you’re trying to do. A great example (and something I get asked about all the time) is a search such as “Adobe Photoshop how to erase background.” Guaranteed a bunch of results will come up!

The downsides? Quality amongst producers is going to vary greatly, and sometimes, you can get 4 minutes into a video only to realize it’s not addressing the exact question you have, or the method/techniques they’re using aren’t as quick as you want them to be. However, it’s still a great place to start, and if nothing else, watching tutorials here can help familiarize you with tools and settings on whatever you’re trying to learn, so you’d be a little more prepared if you decide to take a more formal skills class. Additionally, following YouTube instructions will give you a good idea as to whether video instruction will be a good fit for you. If you have a tougher time learning with this method, you know right away that spending money on an online skills class might not be the best fit, and in-person instruction could be more beneficial.

Tip #2: Ask before you buy!

Many online courses list a pretty comprehensive curriculum so you know what you’re getting into, but if you’re looking to learn one particular skill or skill set and want to be sure it’s included, email the instructor or organization and ask! Understanding more about your needs can help them direct you to the right course.

Tip #3: Ask your network what they think

Have a network of bloggers you chat with? Have a Twitter or Facebook account? Now’s the time to utilize these things to ask for recommendations or feedback. Tweeting something like, “Has anyone taken a @nicolesclasses course before? Thinking about taking Photoshop 101!” can not only give you feedback from others in your network, but the organization — in this case, Nicole’s Classes — can reach out to you to help address any questions you might have, or offer a referral of someone who has taken the course previously. Getting that feedback can provide more information for you about what to expect, helping you make a final decision on your investment.

Tip #4: Be honest about your time budget

One commonly misunderstood thing is that an online class is still just that — a class. There is no course that can show you how to do something once, then automatically, you are the world’s best at that skill. So keep in mind that investing money in a skills class also means an investment of your time down the line to keep up with the things you’ve learned. Some skills classes also have homework, which is typically optional, but it is meant to help you work on the items that have been discussed between meetings.  And, completing these assignments can also result in feedback from an instructor, helping you further your skills. Bottom line though: if you don’t think you have time to really sit down and continue practicing the skills that are discussed in your class, it’s probably not worth the money in the first place. But, if you’re blogging regularly and using these skills for your posts multiple times a week — here, photo editing is a great example — then you’ll naturally be practicing anyway!

Now, all this being said, I wanted to share my own experience with an online skills course. A few years ago, I took the Illustrator 101 class from Nicole’s Classes. Other than YouTube tutorials, this is the only formal online class I’ve taken (though increasingly, I have noticed that Skillshare is offering a lot of blog-specific creative courses, and were I new to blogging, this would be a great place to start!). I personally really liked my Illustrator 101 course. Nicole’s Classes is set up on a module system, so you can view skill-specific videos on your own time, pause, rewind, etc. Additionally, each module came with a PDF that discussed everything, along with screenshots, so that if you’re the type who learns better by reading through notes, you could reinforce the lesson. We had homework each week that we could submit to the instructor, and you could actually view other classmate’s submissions (it provided a little extra incentive to get creative and do a good job!). The instructor would leave you personal feedback on your homework, and was available by email for any questions, which was helpful too. Overall, the class gave me a great foundation for what I wanted to know about Illustrator at the time, but like I said, practicing those skills afterward are what really helped cement things.

What about you? Have you ever taken an online blog-related skills class? If so, share your experience below — I’m sure your fellow bar patrons would love to hear about it!

Image: Death to the Stock Photo

victoria sig