What I Learned From the 2016 Food Bloggers of Canada Conference
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Hey all!!! I'm changing it up on the blog today to share some of the lessons I learned from last weekend's Food Bloggers of Canada conference that took place at the Delta Hotel in downtown Toronto, as promised in last week's income report!
If you're unfamiliar with the Food Bloggers of Canada, they are a two-person team (oh hey Melissa and Ethan!) that run a yearly conference for food bloggers across Canada, and they organize branded partnerships and campaigns for food bloggers along with offering tons and tons of blogger resources. They are basically a one-stop shop for help of all kinds tailored specifically to Canadian food bloggers. I'm such a huge fan because they have really built a kind and caring community – one that consistently helps me feel less lonely while working behind a screen all day.
But anyways, enough of my lovefest with FBC. 😉
I really wanted to convey the value of attending conferences as a blogger in last week's income report, but felt like I totally couldn't fit in everything I wanted to say in just one post. So, I'm back with the Top 10 Things I Learned from the Conference. Read on for some more info about my schedule and the conference itself – maybe I'll even see you at next year's conference in Ottawa!
1. Network, network, network!
I knew going in that I would have the chance to network with a variety of brands, but what I didn't realize was how great it was to have the chance to network with other bloggers. Given the kind of industry this is, it is difficult to make money just blogging, so many of the conference attendees had other awesome professional backgrounds and as a new university graduate, it was great for me to mingle with other people with vast experience in similar fields.
I met several bloggers who owned other businesses, who worked in PR and marketing full-time or worked as freelance writers on the side – so many different skill sets and it was fantastic to get their perspective on industries I'm interested in while being in a more informal, relaxed and friendly setting.
2. Look at yourself as a brand
I attended four different blogger workshops on the second day of the conference, most of which featured hands-on exercises to help bloggers with common industry practices and problem solving. I attended the following workshops:
- Visual Branding For You and Your Blog by Brittany Stager
- Key Messaging for Bloggers by Heather Travis
- Food and Memory & the Art of Storytelling by Shayma Sadaat
- Creating Passive Income Through Your Blog by Dr. Kimberly O'Brien
Heather's Key Messaging workshop in particular really helped me see myself as an individual that is also a brand representative of my blog. As such, I need to be careful as to what kind of messages about myself that I put out on social media, and I also learned about tailoring a proposal to fit both myself and a brand's objectives for a campaign. It was such an eye-opening workshop!
3. Know your value
I know I mentioned this in my last income report, but Ayngelina of Bacon is Magic REALLY gave me a new perspective on realizing the value of my blog. She encouraged me to start charging more for sponsored posts, and it has really led to a breakthrough in the way I work because I am now able to do less sponsored work per month but still be able to make decent money on my business and see a good return.
I think what people don't realize is that I work nearly 10-12 hours a day, five days a week on this blog. I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to wake up every day and do something I love, but up until now I have been getting paid less than minimum wage if you were to break down the income I make vs the hours I put into it. So, here's to making (hopefully) more than minimum wage from now on! 😉
4. Develop effective marketing skills
Dr. Kimberly O'Brien runs her Healthy Life Redesign program online in addition to her naturopathic practice in BC, and I really took a lot out of her Passive Income workshop at the conference. She gave us a couple handouts with some good information on how to develop your own e-course or e-book, what software to use to host it on, what to charge and defining the parameters of your program to fit within your blog.
The most important information I took from this workshop was about marketing. Kim taught us not only how to market and sell products from our blog, but she also had some great resources to help us build our marketing skills in general and they were things that I've already started thinking about in relation to my blog, from designing a market research survey to doing a soft launch of a product to looking at affiliate marketing in order to spread the word.
Her workshop also got me thinking about launching an e-course or e-book for newer bloggers who would like to know how to build more web traffic and work with brands, so you may see an exciting project coming from me in the next few months!
5. Never lose sight of what inspires you
The general sessions on the third day of the conference were probably the most inspiring part of the whole weekend. Here are some of the excellent speakers from the Sunday sessions:
- Defining your own success with Claire Tansey and Noelle Chorney
- Food Photography with Dennis Prescott
- Stepping Outside Your Blog to Take it to the Next Level with Joel MacCharles and Dana Harrison
I've known Joel as the blogger behind Well Preserved for a couple years now, and he and Dana were beyond inspiring in terms of encouraging me to connect with my community and audience outside of my blog. For them, this involved hosting Home Ec events at their neighbourhood bar where people would come and swap preserves or teach people about craft beer and more. It was a great way for people to come together and connect offline and their events have since been re-created by others in different cities across North America. They ALSO recently launched their own cookbook called Batch, so they talked about different ways in which they were able to achieve this, a lot of which focused on helping other people to succeed.
It has been amazing to watch their blog and brand grow, and they are both the kindest, supportive people so I was needless to say very inspired by their talk. They also asked the audience what our “one thing” is, meaning the one thing we were all going to focus on moving forward with our blogs. Since blogging requires a whole bunch of different random, daily tasks and can be frustrating sometimes, this question was uplifting and has really forced me to reflect on my priorities, which has enabled me to achieve more of my goals! It's amazing what a little inspiration can do!
6. Enjoy the moment
When I was at the conference, I found myself offline a little more than usual and out from behind the lens of a camera for once. I saw so many other bloggers taking tons of pictures and tweeting/'gramming about the conference and I'm so glad that we have the #FBC2016 hashtag to look back on all the excitement of the weekend!
For the majority of the conference, I checked out of social media, and I didn't take nearly as many pictures as I normally would on a weekend out. I also didn't write too many notes during the general sessions unless I found it absolutely imperative because I wanted to be in the moment experiencing the conference and feeling all the feels.
And you know what?
I think sometimes it's okay to just remind ourselves to slow down and take life's moments as they come. You don't want to miss out on something because you are trying to do too many things at once. For instance, yesterday I took a couple hours off work early to celebrate Halloween with my family and watch Beetlejuice while eating dinner and handing out candy. I would have normally never let myself take any time out of my workday, but for me, stepping back and enjoying life is something I've really found myself re-invested in.
7. Invest in yourself
Speaking of investments, invest in yourself and your business! After the conference I've really started to look at my blog as a business even more so than before, and I recognize that it is going to need investment to grow. And honestly, that's why I'm happy that I have started charging more for my work. Not because I want to take the profits and blow it on makeup and fun nights out (although that would be every girly girl's dream right?!), but because I want to re-invest the money back into my business to grow it so that I can be financially stable in the future and be able to continue to work on this blog full time.
For instance, right now my goal is to make $2000 a month off my blog while I'm living at home rent free. That allows me to take $1000 each month and put it towards paying off my debt, then use the other $1000 for taxes, personal savings, groceries and *gasp* a little bit of fun. Any surplus income, I use towards growing my business.
This month I made almost double my monthly goal, so I invested over $1200 back into my blog by purchasing lights for my videos, as well as a pitching brands e-course that will help me earn more money from sponsored work. I also bought next year's FBC conference ticket with that money because I see it as an invaluable opportunity to get out there and connect with brands and bloggers face to face, which is hard to do when you sit behind a computer all day!
8. Develop your authentic self
I think this is more important than ever in the blogging world: you really need to learn to be yourself and write about things that are important to you. Don't try to be someone else. Shayma Sadaat's storytelling workshop taught us that even if you think your life is boring or you have nothing to add to an already oversaturated blogging market, you're probably wrong. Everyone has a unique identity and a story to tell, even if it's in the little, tiny tidbits of everyday life, so stay true to yourself and find yourself along the way through your blogging journey.
Dennis Prescott also discussed storytelling in his photography and food styling, and has really made me think about what my authentic and personal style is and what kinds of stories I want my recipes to tell. I have since really focused on using props to tell familiar stories about the social experiences of food, and I also want to articulate how food is fuel that you can use for everyday healthy living, so I'm trying to keep both things in mind as I continue to build my own authentic sense of self into my blog.
9. Set professional boundaries
Claire Tansey discussed setting boundaries in her everyday working life. Having gone from the food editor of Chatelaine magazine to working as a freelancer and now a new cookbook author, Claire has a flexible schedule and often works from home. She also has a child that she would like to spend time with, so she has modified her schedule so that she unplugs by a certain time in the early evening to focus on her family.
This involves NOT responding to emails after a certain time, and this is something I really resonate with. It would be easy for me to respond to clients or fellow bloggers past 5 or 6pm because oftentimes I am still stuck at my desk wrapping up last minute projects. I also get email notifications on the home screen of my phone for time-sensitive opportunities.
However, I have convinced myself that I will no longer respond to emails on weekends and before/after my office hours. Heck, the fact I have now even set office hours for myself is a great way to hold myself accountable, and still separate my work and personal life. Then the gym is what signals the end of my workday where I physically leave my home and “office” to unwind.
10. Fit self care into your workday
Claire Tansey and Noelle Chorney really went into detail discussing their average work days and I was surprised to learn that they both incorporate fitness into their workday. The way Noelle explained it is that she is a “professional eater” of sorts, so working out is integral to her health and keeping herself going.
I will be the first to tell you that I definitely incorporate meal planning and making into each workday. I make breakfast and lunch while I'm supposed to be doing my day job, and it's important to me because I feel that I need the energy I get from good food in order to do my job properly. I have no energy to make meals for the next day at night, so I take breaks a couple times during my work day to make myself some good food that I will enjoy.
However, I tend to work out AFTER my long work day. Like, as in, after I've put in 10-12 long hours at my home office. Yes, I love what I do so my workday doesn't feel that long, but it's still hard to muster up the energy to work out after you've been working your brain that long. But fitness is super important to me and my mental health, so no matter how tired I am, I force myself to go at least 5-6 days a week, even if it's just for 20 minutes.
Well, Claire and Noelle now have me re-thinking that. Not only am I going to take some me-time in terms of my lunch breaks, but I'm also going to stop my work days earlier and go to the gym by 5:30 each day. It will be hard as that means I have to cut my workday down to nine hours instead of 10 or more, but I think I can do it with a little more focus (and energy!)
Okay, so that's a wrap for all of the excitement of FBC 2016! I absolutely loved every minute of it and feel so grateful to Melissa and Ethan for all of the hard work they continue to do for food bloggers across Canada. I find myself already excited and anticipating next year.
Are you thinking of going? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!