why i attend conferences

This week Delilah and I were interviewed on Work Life Branding, a web series hosted by Steph Calvert (Hearts and Laserbeams) and Nicole Longstreath (The Wardrobe Coach). Work Life Branding is a stellar resource for creative entrepreneurs. Delilah and I were overjoyed when Steph and Nicole invited us on the show to talk about how we started, grow and maintain Patchwork Show and Craftcation Conference. You can watch a rerun of the show here and listen to us chat about the ups and downs of our partnership, the moments that make long days (and nights) sitting at the computer worth it and how much we love the community we’re a part of.

One of the questions Nicole L. asked that I wasn’t expecting was, “what do you get out of going to a conference or retreat?” When Delilah and I produced the first Craftcation, I had never attended any sort of conference or retreat before. When we designed Craftcation, we didn’t have other events to look at to help us figure out what we were supposed to be doing and how to do it. Instead, we sought to create a conference that we would want to attend.

Now, with two Craftcations under our belt and approaching our third, we’ve been lucky enough to be welcomed into a community of other conferences and retreats and we’re so happy to support and attend those events. Check out my post on the awesomeness of Camp Mighty to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

So, what do I get out of attending conferences?

Let me start by saying that I do not like to travel. I feel like it’s unnatural for human beings to fly on airplanes (or fly at all – hang-gliding and parachuting are also on my not-to-do-list). Also, despite my outgoing nature, I’m oddly shy when placed in a group. Often times, I’d rather sneak way to the hotel bar with my sketchbook in hand than try to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Yet, striking up one of those precious intimate conversations with strangers is one of the main things that makes me feel less alone in the world.

Then, there are the issues of money and time. Conferences are expensive. Registration, hotel, plane tickets, eating out and time away from work. Now that Delilah and I know how important attending these conferences is, we scrimp, save and add these events into our yearly budget. We make it a priority to attend at least one and hopefully two conferences a year. The saving and time away from our families and work is so worth it if we attend the conferences that are a good fit for us.

Before we commit, we do our research. This is key! Don’t even think about registering until you do at least one or two of the following: look at the photos and videos from their past conferences. Scour blogs for reviews from other attendees. Take the time to get to know the event. Read their about page. Research the presenters. Go through the list of workshops.

At Camp Mighty, I ended up sitting by the pool one afternoon in front of a backdrop of palm trees and desert mountains and chatting with a woman about our mutual fear of and disgust for flying and what we do to get through it (cue the Zanax and lots of magazines). Another wonderful moment was when I decided to get out of my comfort zone and head to the pool alone. I ended up in the hot tub talking to a woman who turned out to be a conference producer as well. We exchanged stories about the good, the bad and why we do what we do. I listened to a host of speakers including one of Camp Mighty’s founders Maggie Mason who brought me to tears and made me laugh. Over the course of the weekend I pretty much filled my sketchbook with pages and pages of notes about creativity, contact info for the people I met and tips on life and business. It was monumental. During other poolside chats and while listening to panelists talk about their journeys, I longed to transport my friends and family into the room so they could glean the inspiration that I was lucky to bear witness to. The individuals I connected with at Camp Mighty feel like pen pals I dream of someday going to visit. If you haven’t done so yet, I urge you to read my post to understand how Camp Mighty made me feel like a better person and more connected to humanity as a whole.

Attending Alt Summit is what inspired us to start Dear Handmade Life. Hearing panelists talk about being authentic and doing what you love made me take a long look at what I love. Then I figured out a way to work it into my current business. The perfect way to marry my passions for writing, photography, design and all things creative and entrepreneurial was to bring them all here to Dear Handmade Life. Delilah and I were also inspired by the talks there about branding and decided to re-brand both of our businesses and give them a common feel and aesthetic. even though I’ve been taking photos since high school, I got a whole new understanding of how my camera works in a photography class. We also got to hang out in a city we’d never been to before, stomp around in the snow and cry from inspirational overwhelment during Stefan Sagmeister’s keynote as he detailed his struggle to find happiness. I finally got to meet the creators of blogs I’d been following for years and catch up with a community of people that I didn’t realize I was so connected to.

Being at Craftcation is a bit different, since it’s our conference. Despite the fact that we are as organized as humanly possible before the event, when it’s happening, I can’t truly enjoy it the way I enjoy other conferences. Yet, there are moments. Moments when attendees approach me and say that they have never felt a part of a community until coming to Craftcation or that now they finally understand what SEO is or how to build a blog from the ground up or grow their sales on Etsy or make a pie or sew a skirt. One attendee whose mother passed away told me that when she was young, her mother sewed all her clothes and she’d wanted to learn to sew her whole life and that finally learning to sew at Craftcation made her feel closer to her mother. Two attendees, a mother and daughter team, were so inspired by their experience at Craftcation, that they finally had the courage, skills and support to start the DIY workshop studio space (Creative Outlet Studios) they’d been dreaming about. Those two women not only started their business but came back to Craftcation the next year as a sponsor. Delilah and I were honored to attend the grand opening of their space and they have become dear friends of ours. When we were being interviewed by Nicole L. and Steph on Work Life Branding, we found out that they actually met at Craftcation. So many friendships and collaborations have started at Craftcation and continue to thrive. The feeling I get when I hear about these lifelong creative and personal connections gives me the goosebumps in the best possible way.

The changes that happen in my business and myself after attending a conference may not take affect right away. Sometimes they do but for the most part, the experiences plant seeds for growth and development in my life and work.

Craftcation may not be the conference for you. Maybe Alt Summit or Camp Mighty aren’t either. The point is, that if you’re an entrepreneur, creative person or an individual that enjoys learning, growing, getting inspired and meeting like-minded people, there is probably a conference that’s the perfect fit for you. Find it. Attend it. Reap the benefits. A better business. A better you. A better creative life. Being a part of your community. Make it happen!

P.S.- Delilah and I are at Alt in Salt Lake City today. If you’re here, email us at hello@dearhandmadelife.com. Let’s meet up! If not, stay tuned we’ll be posting about our adventures.



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