Attending TBEX as a new blogger

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I signed up for TBEX on a whim of sorts. I had just decided to start taking my blog more seriously and I knew that the best way to do that would be to get connected to more people in the industry.

I started following several travel bloggers on Instagram and Twitter, but I didn’t really have a plan. Through random chance – clicking here and there on social media and various websites – I landed on a blog page (I don’t even remember which one) where the author said if he had to recommend two conferences they would be “one I don’t recall” and TBEX.

Clicking on each conference page I noted that the other one had come and gone but that TBEX was not only happening soon … but happening in Huntsville, Alabama — which for me meant drivable and very cost effective.

Before I could think about chickening out I booked a ticket.

In case you think you’re TOO new

At the time I attended TBEX I had 13 posts on my blog, about 50 followers on Instagram, and had just set up Twitter and a Facebook page. Basically, if you’re thinking that you’re too new to attend, there is no such thing.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted my site to grow into but I knew I wanted to figure it out sooner rather than later. At the conference, I met bloggers who were very established and I met some who had just put up a website, so no matter where you are you’ll meet people like you. Many of the experienced bloggers have been doing it for 4,5, even 10 years and it’s important not to let that overwhelm you. They are people too and everyone starts somewhere.

In reading some blog posts after attending the conference, I heard some people criticize TBEX as “catering to new bloggers” as if that is a bad thing. I had no idea of this before going. To my mind it makes perfect sense to try something while you’re new before investing a lot of time, energy, and money into doing it the wrong way. Therefore I’m thankful I had the opportunity to attend and grateful for all the support, camaraderie and knowledge I gained. Everyone will have an opinion. I suggest just experiencing it with an open mind.

Before you go set goals

To get the most out of the conference you’re going to need define what success means to you. These don’t have to be crazy goals. Just something. Mine were simple.

Add 5 travel minded friends to my network.

As a single traveler in my 30s, most of my friends are settled down and married with kids. Meanwhile, I can’t stay still for more than two weeks without getting an itch. I wanted to connect with other like-minded people, make new friends who can show me around their cities, or who want to meet up and go somewhere new. Even people I can just talk to and know they understand my wanderlust.

Learn a lot!

With a bit of a coding background and working in WordPress for my day job, I knew how to set up my blog without help: domain, theme, hosting, setting up an email list, and creating pages and posts. I don’t even have trouble writing posts. I’ve been a writer my whole life and have entire books inside my head. But I needed to learn tons about social media, building readers and followers, SEO, and connecting with other influencers.

Decide on a direction with my blog

I wanted to come out of the conference with an idea of where my blog fit into the great big world. Was it going to be yet another “solo female travel blog”? Was it going to still sound like me if I started writing shorter posts like I saw on many other blogs. Did I have to list specific places and attractions in order to be a travel blog? Who the heck am I and who do I want to be?

Take with you

Business cards – I had a mini panic attack upon realizing I needed these a mere 3 days before the conference. Don’t sweat it if you don’t have any yet. I had a quick conversation with myself, realized there was no point in shelling out a ton of money for fancy cards plus the expensive 2-day shipping when I didn’t even have a logo or clear direction on my site yet.

I used simple matte white Avery business card paper from Walmart at $4.97 and made a simple gray and black card with my information on it. (Let’s face it, business cards will eventually end up in the trash!) The cards came out simple but great. (Pro tip! Once you separate the cards use a nail file to get rid of the perforated edges. That takes away quite a bit of that “did it yourself” look!) business cards
They got the job done!

Laptop – Great for taking notes but the internet connection was hit or miss … and mostly miss. Still, I found that I took a lot more detailed notes on the laptop and it was much easier to tidy them up and send them right off to other people who were interested in the session notes as well.

Notepad – I carried a notepad but didn’t use it as much as the laptop.

Pens/Pencils – Take extras! They’re forever getting lost in the bottom of your bag and having spares is a great way to make a new contact with someone who needs one.

A bag to carry stuff – BYOB (Bring your own bag) or you can use the swag bag you’ll most likely get at the conference. I enjoy having my own pre-packed back with pens, cords, snacks and water so I carried my own but you definitely need something for all the “stuff” you end up lugging around.

Consider sharing a room

The private TBEX Facebook group set up for the conference was a flurry of activity in the weeks leading up to the conference and I ended up connecting with another girl, Asia Adams of Navigable World and rooming with her. I had already booked a hotel but it allowed free cancellation up until several days before the event. I cancelled that one in favor of staying with Asia since her room was at the Embassy Suites and connected to the conference event space – The Von Braun Center – by a bridge.

That hotel had booked up by the time I even registered for the conference and I was lucky to get a room with her. In the future, I will always plan on staying in the hotel nearest the event space. The ability to walk right up to our room after a late night of festivities was priceless!

During most of my travels abroad and in an increasing number of US trips I typically stay in hostels so the idea of rooming with a stranger isn’t a big deal to me. I was fortunate that Asia and I hit it off right away and essentially were able to double our knowledge by attending different sessions and exchanging notes, and by meeting various people and then introducing them to each other.

I also had the opportunity to room with Scarlet Paolicchi of Family Focus Blog on the last night of the conference. Her blog is massive and deals with a huge number of topics including parenting tips, family fun activities and family travel. She and her blog are a huge inspiration into the number of possibilities that can be incorporated into a blog. If you’re not sure of the direction you want your blog to take because you have a number of passions, I’d highly recommend checking hers out to see how to blends hers.

When it comes to sharing a room with someone else at the conference, do whatever you’re comfortable with but I would highly recommend considering it.

Conference sessions

No way around it, you’re going to have to make some tough decisions here. A lot of them sound good and with 5 offered in each time slot, I was torn time and again. The limited descriptions aren’t the greatest and I found that you’ll often learn more by talking to others and hearing their reasons for attending sessions.

TBEX Huntsville
Finally here!

As a new blogger, I didn’t let their opinions entirely sway me but it was very helpful to hear someone say, “You should definitely attend X, I heard her speak last year and she was great! You’ll learn how to do X and Y.”

Another great way of deciding on sessions was to get out and mingle! All of the speakers at the conference had a “Speaker” ribbon attached to their badge. I once sat down with a group of girls Asia introduced me to and before I knew it I was listening to Janet Newenham of Journalist on the Run tell amazing stories about some of her experiences in her amazing Irish accent. She was giving a session the next day on how to drive more traffic to your blog with Pinterest. Her friendly manner, awesome energy, and hilarious recounts of some of her experiences in our small group made me immediately make a mental note to take her session the next day instead of the one I had been planning on. I’m so glad I did. It was awesome!!

Take good notes and be generous with them after! Share them online in the Facebook group or directly with connections you made at the conference.

Conference events

Definitely participate in as many of the conference events as you can! With that being said, rest up in advance! Nights can go pretty late and the mornings come early so consider yourself forewarned. I detail the conference events for TBEX 2017 in another post about my trip.

After the conference

You’re tired, you’re finally home, you have a swag bag bulging with all sorts of stuff and tons of business cards in your bag, your purse, your name badge. They’re everywhere!

What now?

Get organized and get in contact with people. I admit, I wasn’t the best at this right away. I wanted to do it within two days but I ended up not getting to it for about four. I sat down, collected all of my business cards and reached out to people.

I didn’t want to be generic about it so I made sure to set aside several large chunks of time for this. I read several posts on their blog to get a feel for them. I wanted to remember the face that went with the card and, if possible, how we connected. Then I wrote each person a short, simple email, letting them know how wonderful it was to connect with them, asking authentic questions about something on their blog, or thanking them for something I learned, or mentioning something from a session or event we attended and met at. I would rather make 5 real connections than 50 generic ones so it was important to me to be authentic and I would encourage you to do the same.

The Facebook group continues to buzz with activity several weeks after the conference and can be overwhelming at times. Use the save post feature to bookmark things you’ll need later and then schedule time in your calendar to go back, review, and act on them. Many people post links to their social media and — as a collective group — like and follow each other so now is a great time to ride the post conference wave and add to your social media numbers with authentic followers.

Create a playbook for the next 3-6 months

Now that you’ve got all this great knowledge, how are you going to use it? I’d suggest creating a playbook for at least the next 3 months if not 6. How many new posts do you plan to write per month? If you don’t have topics yet, that’s not a problem but determine your writing frequency and schedule it in your calendar!

What strategies are you going to use from the conference? Don’t worry if you feel like you’ve learned 30 and don’t know where to start. Start with 1. Schedule time to learn more about it if need be, then implement it.

It’s not so stressful when you wake up on Monday and think … OK, Evo Terra mentioned building my reader base by sharing content on Medium. My goal for the week is to learn how to use Medium and import 5 of the best blog posts from my site. No need to worry about any other strategy this week, just this one in addition to my regular writing and posting schedule. It’s incredibly freeing!

Schedule, schedule, schedule. Paper agenda or Google calendar, whatever you use, get in the habit of scheduling blocks of time in your day to do these things. Not only does it increase the likelihood of it getting done, it frees you up to truly enjoy your non-working time without it nagging away in the back of your mind.

I used to think that having a schedule wasn’t possible since I’m traveling every chance I get. But that was just a cop out. I just have to schedule things 2-4 days in advance instead of a month out and always leave some wiggle room but it’s totally possible. I learned that having something on the calendar and having something come up isn’t a problem. I move the thing that needs done to the next available time and adjust. In the past, those things would have dropped to the wayside forever. It takes some getting used to but as my favorite blogger Ash Ambirge says … “Giving myself a schedule is the only way I am free, […] It means that the rest of my time is really mine.”

Take some time to reflect

I signed up for TBEX on a whim, went and experienced the whirlwind, and now is where things get real. It’s time to apply, it’s time to determine what I’m really going to do with my blog.

Words can’t express how grateful I am to have attended TBEX. I think it is a deeply personal experience no matter what anyone else says about it, positively or negatively. You have to go, understand what you want to get out of it and you and you alone are responsible for acting in a way that will get the most out of it for you.

I met all kinds of people with varying attitudes. Some are very concerned with social media numbers, some very interested in monetizing, some doing it as a hobby, some wanting to grow it into a full-time income. Everyone has their reason and it is important that you know yours.

Going into TBEX, I had my doubts about whether it would be “right” for me. I was so new after all. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to do with my blog. After the conference I’ve gained much greater clarity into why I write and my goals for my blog.

At this point the writing is for me and my readers who want to come on a journey with me. I’m not focused on monetizing or making this a business at this point. Somewhere down the road, perhaps. But right now it’s not a priority for me.

I want to tell stories my way, I want my readers to feel like they are on the road with me, going through the experience with me. For me, travel often isn’t about the destination but about the growth and learning that comes from getting to that destination and then opening my eyes and heart to truly experience it while I’m there. I want the freedom to talk about whatever I want my own way.

Some told me that I need to pick a niche, to make sure I understand my niche before proceeding. I can understand that. I’m sure it makes sense from a standpoint of appealing to and capitalizing on a certain market. My niche is me … on a journey to experience the utmost life has to offer … and wherever I go and grow, I hope to inspire my readers and bring them along with me.