Saturday 16th June 2018 was the date for the annual “Blogtacular” conference in London. It’s a colourful extravaganza of social learning and inspiration, and after following the conference online for the last three years, my F.O.M.O (fear of missing out!) got the better of me when I heard that 2019 will be a fallow year, so I moved my plans around, announced the shop would be closed that day and booked myself tickets to London.
It’s always a bit nerve wracking closing the shop – I’m lucky that I have lots of great friends and family so normally don’t have to – but I decided on balance, the professional development opportunities outweighed the risk of losing sales for the day. Small business owners are often guilty of working themselves into the ground and only considering it a “viable” spend if it can be seen in profits or stocks; I’ve been listening to a lot of business podcasts recently and someone pointed out that we also need to invest in ourselves, as often (and definitely in my case) the whole business revolves us and we need to be living our best lives to maintain that. So I took the plunge, and I’m glad to say I think it was worth the effort!
This was Blogtacular’s fifth London conference; the event was established back in 2013 when founder Kat Molesworth realised there wasn’t a networking event out there for bloggers, social media entrepreneurs and indie (independent) businesses – so she created one, for which I am sure many people are indebted to her. Now more broadly marketed at “creative entrepreneurs” who want to improve their online presence, it brings together a few hundred like-minded individuals, who partake in learning sessions, and network themselves hoarse.
My day started early (yawn!) – getting a train at 6:40am into St Pancras. Took the tube to the Barbican, toddled down the road, and was met with a huge Blogtacular logo and an even bigger room full of colourful individuals and big personalities. I was lucky to get chatting straight away, and found a friend in Claire from the HelloHoorayBlog (check out her gorgeous work please, you’ll love it). We posed for photos in front of the specially commissioned backgrounds, then enjoyed the keynote speech by motivational speaker Tiffany Han. Key highlights from Tiffany’s brilliant introduction include that we (indie businesses) need to remember to look beyond the numbers and value relationships with the people they represent, and that we should be prepared to tell our own truths, thus rendering ourselves relatable as humans. Both these things sound obvious but it’s amazing how often you forget simple things when you are multi-tasking on a running-a-business scale!
The day then took the format of three “workshop” sessions, which we got to choose from a menu offered by specialists and experts in the industry. Frankly, I would happily have spent the next few days there being a super keen bean and going to every single one, but that didn’t seem to be an option.
My first workshop was with Instagram celebrity Dominique Davis, titled Finding Your Photo Style. Dominique, whose amazing photos you can find on Instagram at “@allthatisshe”, was great (I love how her accent reminds me of home. I don’t know which area of the NE she hails from, but it takes me back to my Sunderland roots!) and her work is truly beautiful. I’m not sure I got much out of the session overall though, because through the rebrand of the business I had literally just done an overhaul of my Instagram, and as a business rather than a blogger or lifestyle photographer, I just don’t have the time to put as much effort into making my photos as epic (a girl can dream!), so it wasn’t the most applicable, but it was interesting.
Next up, I spent five fruitful minutes chatting to the lovely Sunita from @luckythingsblog and making a micro action plan for the business. Sunita was one of four experts sat like a dragons den panel on the “Creative Genius Bar” – designed as a drop in for us all to get some advice and have some useful chat time! Then followed a workshop with blogger and self-published author Natalie Lue, named Let’s Get Digital and was all about creating and selling digital products. This one was much more up my street and had tons more practical application for me, when considering my grand plans to publish patterns and similar online. Natalie has a great ethos and positive vibe, and loaded us with advice and tips – my hand hurt a LOT from taking notes at super speed!
The third workshop session I chose was titled Compelling Insta-Stories and was a shared presentation by Laura Jane Williams (@superlativelylj, a wonderful human being) and Carrie Santana da Silva (@wishwishwish, amazing insta feed) – this was another session packed with practical tips and tricks to up your game and make your social media generally more cohesive and appealing. Some of it was common sense (the kind you need reminding about) and some of it was new information, but all of it was useful to hear. All three sessions were thought provoking and had me scribbling away; watch this space for the fruits of my labour starting to appear at The York Makery!
The final part of the day was a closing keynote speech by artist and print maker Anthony Burrill, most famous for his popular letter press print “Work Hard and Be Nice To People”. It was an interesting presentation on Anthony’s life and work, although for me it did seem to lack a little bit of context – perhaps his underlying message was “this is what you can achieve if you work hard and be nice to people” – to be fair though, my brain was incredibly tired by this point so it was probably me! I enjoyed looking at his work, and watching the little video clips he had put together of how the letter press actually works (this is a craft I still need to tick off the list!)
It was a really interesting day over all. I’m not sure I will ever be a natural at networking; I find it hard to just repeatedly make small talk with different people. Maybe everyone does, I don’t know! It was lovely to meet a wide variety of people but by the end of the day, my brain had ran out of “So what do you do?” points. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. On a logistical level, the volunteer team running the event were wonderful, the venue was great for purpose, the rooms were plenty big enough and (always important for a lady-dominated event) the toilets were plentiful. The food was great, and in constant supply, so no worries about being hungry during the next talk, and we were given a lovely goodie bag to go home with featuring some great products.
Is it something I would do again? Yes. The learning opportunities were invaluable to someone whose business revolves around creativity, and the inspiration I gained from many of the fabulous speakers and workshop leaders will keep me going for a good while. Most of all, its just good to know that there are other people in the same boat as me; I mean, I always knew there were other people with craft shops, but it isn’t as simple as that. This event was full of other creative people just trying to find their niche and their voice in a technological world in which the platform and consumer is ever changing, and where you really do have to be committed and work hard to be where you want to be.
Tiffany Han ended her keynote speech by posing us a question which resonates hugely for a small high street shop; she said “Things are going to evolve whether or not you let them. Are you willing to be in front of the evolution?” – for me, I think this summed up my business attitude for the last few weeks, over my rebrand and online store launch. With the high streets all over the country being in the state that they are, digital and online presence has never been so important, and this conference definitely stoked my creative fires. You’ll find me aiming for the front of every evolution I see coming from this point on!
(The good photos in this blog post are from Will Ireland, Blogtacular's official photographer. The dodgy ones are all mine.)