When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone?
While I know that most of you who follow my blog are looking for recipes and meal ideas and are not bloggers, I thought I’d let you know what I’ve been up to lately and give you a recap of my recent trip. While I sometimes include travel posts, this trip was work-related, but so much fun!
During my years as a teacher, I attended conferences regularly. I enjoyed getting together with other teachers, sharing ideas and learning new practices. I’m a full-time food blogger now, so when I read about upcoming food blogging conferences, I knew I wanted to take part. Staying on top of new trends and ideas is important in any field. Bloggers, like teachers, can sometimes feel isolated, so getting together with other bloggers in “real life” to learn about new industry trends and techniques is incredibly valuable.
I chose to attend the Chopped Conference in Kansas City. That’s a long way from home for me! I could have attended one in Seattle, but I liked the friendly, small-town feel of this one (even thought it was hosted in a big city). I have been following the ChoppedCon podcast since its inception, admiring how the host, Marly, expertly draws out gems of helpful tips from other bloggers and those in the blogging world. It seemed like the perfect fit for me, so with encouragement from my family, I registered and was on my way!
Now I don’t know about you, but walking in to a room full of strangers who (you think) are all w-a-a-a-y more experienced bloggers is an intimidating situation for me. Marly made this easy by offering a buddy program. My buddy was Heather, who manages the blog and social media marketing for Weber Grills. It was fabulous to have someone to meet for breakfast on that first day before we headed to the conference. I really enjoyed spending time and getting to know her over the two days. Meeting dynamic women like Heather who are rising stars in their business is so inspiring! (And seeing the photos of her cute Malamute was fun too.)
While the conference provided lots of food and two receptions, we decided to go out for dinner afterwards. Here’s Ally from Ally’s Sweet and Savory Eats, Heather from Weber Grills, Michelle from Simplify.Live.Love and me! Three girls from the midwest and one lone Canadian.
Many of us stayed at the Hilton President. It is a gorgeous old hotel, built in 1926, with the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. King sized bed, 5 pillows, all to myself. Heaven.
Here’s a quick recap of the workshops and sessions. Thursday had two lengthy workshops but we couldn’t believe how the time flew by.
1. The Food Blog Success Summit
This was the most valuable session for me, bar none. Six bloggers had previously agreed to be in the Hot Seat to have their blogs displayed and critiqued. Tessa from Handle the Heat, and Kathryne from Cookie + Kate moderated this session along with Marly. They highlighted aspects of the blogs that were working well and pointed out small changes in each that could be improved. I furiously scribbled notes of things I can do to improve my site for my readers. So valuable! Thanks are due to these bloggers who offered to participate: Jess from Inquiring Chef, Beth from Eat Within Your Means, Jennifer from Crockpot Gourmet, Kathryn From Family Food on the Table, Angela from Handmade in the Heartland, and Mariah from Mariah’s Pleasing Plates.
2. Food Photography Workshop
Matt Armanderiz, author of Food Photography for Bloggers gave us helpful tips on food styling (be messy), lighting (it’s everything), composition (different angles), framing (off to one side or smack dab in the middle), backgrounds (try making your own) and so much more. He created food porn from a simple plastic glass of ice water!
Friday was chock full of back to back sessions with lots of food breaks!
Amanda Reddke from I am Baker had us in stitches with her self-deprecating humour. She loaded us up with tips for attracting and engaging readers on our blogs, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. I took six pages of notes from her talk! One that stood out the most for me was to do something different. She related how she recently posted a photo of Red Velvet Cupcakes, normally viewed around Valentine’s Day, when her Facebook feed was overloaded with pumpkin recipes. (When will this pumpkinmania end?)
Beth Hornback from Eat Within Your Means spurred us on to stop procrastinating, to let go of fear and get busy making small changes every day. (How coincidental is it that we were seated in the same row on the flight from Seattle to Kansas City!)
Next up were Lennie Ferreira and Denise Woodward from Chez us. Video! It’s a must for bloggers now. Lennie gave us options and I came away feeling “I can do this!” Seven pages of notes this time, on little tips that will make a big difference in my shots.
After lunch, we got to participate in a live Chopped podcast. Marly interviewed Sarah from bestfoodfacts.org. We’ll be able to listen to it soon, I’m sure. (Did I just see on Instagram that Sarah just got engaged?)
Megan Gilmore from Dexonista outlined 5 strategies to get a book deal. If you haven’t seen her beautiful cookbook, Everyday Detox, it’s time you did! 100 recipes to promote gut health in a gorgeous book. She described the sometimes mysterious process for getting a cookbook published.
Matt Armanderiz was back Friday with his message to Be Authentic, both in your photos and your writing. Being yourself makes writing so much easier. Ha! It makes LIVING so much easier! His formula? Authenticity + Creativity + Sweat = MAGIC
Camille Beckstrand from Six Sisters Stuff (fascinating story about how they began their blog) and Kyle Ivins from the Blogger Network led a super informative session on monetization, explaining all those confusing terms like CPM and ECPM and RPM (have I lost you yet?) My biggest takeaway from their session was that while my site is currently mobile responsive, it needs a mobile template to properly display ads. A huge proportion of traffic is from mobile technology and our blogs need to respond to it.
Alexa and Payton Schirm from Simple Roots Wellness were next on the roster, giving us tips from their success in creating and delivering online courses. These smart entrepreneurs know that depending on outside sources for your income can be risky. 98% of their income comes from their own product.
Liz Della Croce from The Lemon Bowl is simply lovely. She gave us ten tips for avoiding blogger burnout and creating a healthy work life balance. She spoke about the dangers of comparing ourselves with other bloggers. In her daily blogging life she models kindness towards other bloggers by being truly happy for their accomplishments and sharing their success with others. As a result, she has a hugely successful blog herself.
The day closed with a very inspiring talk with Jay Pryor, a life coach. My takeaways?
- Your perception of your life IS your life.
- Chip away at everything that is not your highest, best self.
- Progress, not perfection.
- Create your life exactly the way you want it.
- Give yourself the space to just BE and CREATE.
- And finally: Bloggers are the new thought leaders of today.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Traveling on my own, half way across the continent and putting myself in a situation where I worried that everyone would be in cliques, that everyone had been blogging for years, and that everyone would know a hundred times more about blogging than I did was definitely putting myself out of my comfort zone! However, I did not need to worry. Marly had gone out of her way to promote an atmosphere of inclusivity and I discovered that food bloggers are very friendly people! I gained so many tips to improve and expand my blog and “take it to the next level” and was truly inspired to dedicate myself to continue learning, creating, and growing my online presence.
So next time you’re faced with moving beyond your comfort zone, what choice will you make?