I recently attended my very first travel blogging conference! I umm’ed and ahh’ed about going for ages. The 2017 Women in Travel Summit (or WITS for short) was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin…just a 3 hour drive from where I now live in Iowa! I’d have been silly not to have gone! But all the thoughts were there…what if my old banger of an American car breaks down? Would I get totally lost driving all that way just 7 months after passing my USA driving test? Would I be spending the whole weekend alone? Is my blog too small to really benefit from anything? Little fish in a big pond…would all the other larger blogs outshine me?
I had NOTHING to worry about.
If you have second thoughts about attending for worries similar to mine, push them out of your mind and GO. You won’t regret it!
Here are some of my highlights and lessons learnt from WITS17.
It doesn’t matter about the size of your blog/business
Of course there are people there that blog full time and have a huge amount of followers, but on the other end of the scale, some people hadn’t even launched their blog yet and everyone was welcomed, embraced and treated on a level.
I’ll tell you a story. Possibly the biggest confidence booster a ‘small’ blogger (and a newbie in America!) could have received. I signed onto a pre conference tour to spend the day exploring Kenosha. I had a great day and genuinely found myself desperate to return (or move into one of the lake front properties there…) in the summer to see more.
The following day I received a tweet from one of the girls at Visit Kenosha, asking if I’d like to go out to dinner with them and a couple of other bloggers! We had a lovely meal at Kil@Wat in Downtown Milwaukee! Our server (Jo) was amazing and it was so nice to spend some quiet time with new friends! (I had a Lakefront IPA, a Milwaukee beer!)
It pays to just be your lovely happy self because unexpected things CAN happen.
People WILL talk to you.
I had a helping hand on this one. I’m part of the Midwest Travel Bloggers. The event was IN the Midwest so obviously a lot of the people I usually talk to were in attendance! Regardless of age, where you’re from, whether you have kids or not blah blah blah, you’ll be surprised by just how much you have in common with A LOT of people.
(Me and my conference partner in crime, Lori from www.lorilovesparis.com)
The simplest way to approach people was to just say:
- How are you?
- Where are you from?
- What’s your blog?
I discovered a lot of people want to talk about their blog. It seems common theme that partners and family members don’t often ‘get’ blogging. So when in a room full of people that understand and are interested, they can finally ‘own’ it!
My husband really doesn’t understand why I blog but my Mum is a HUGE cheerleader…here’s a behind the scenes secret…she’s actually my editor, I kid you not. I post when she’s online and she’ll go through it over FaceTime and point out any corrections. I feel sad for other people who don’t have this support from their parents! Not so much in an editing sense, just having them pay an interest in what you’re doing!
I turned up to the opening party alone. I HATE situations like that where you are wandering around looking for people you know. However, within literally 5 minutes, Kerri from Adventures In Wanderland, came over to me and we ended up spending the majority of the evening hanging out! We hadn’t even connected before that moment!
…and be prepared to give out business cards! (Not so much Media Kits)
Carrying on from the point above, business cards are your go-to for switching information. It’s not even so much for the benefit of sponsors, you will meet so many other bloggers, it’s just a quick way of swapping social media handles. There are business cards flying all over the place!
I had a small business card holder that I kept in my pocket with MY cards in. When others gave me their cards, I put them into my conference lanyard! Don’t be afraid to write notes on the cards either! I got speaking to one woman who was torn between attending 2 seminars, I was going to the other, so I wrote on her card to remind me to email her my notes from that particular session.
There will be other bloggers in your niche, you are not competing against them because you have your own unique story to tell.
This was something that I said a lot in different sessions and it is so very true. For example. You are bound to cross paths with other bloggers that visit the same towns, go to the same attractions, stay at the same places. Travel With Sara, one of the Midwest Bloggers, recently wrote a post about a hotel stay she had. I’m due to stay at the same hotel next week.
I’ve obviously already got an idea of the facilities I want to test out and then write about because that’s my niche and that’s what is important to me when I travel. HOWEVER, Sara mentioned none of these in her post because EVERY BLOGGER IS DIFFERENT, which is part of the beauty of travel. Everyone sees things with different eyes. She had a different angle that suits HER niche and I was obviously relieved that my post won’t be a duplicate!
Sign up for 1-to-1 meetings with the brands and sponsors, you have nothing to lose!
This is what I tell myself every time I pitch to a company. The worst they can say is no, so I may as well give it a try and see what happens! I met with WordPress.com and walked away very happy (they host my site so I have to keep them sweet and they have to keep me happy in return!).
I also met with a brand. I’m not going to lie, I think it went terrible. But just like having a job interview, it’s given me experience. With each pitch, I will get better and fine tune my speech. I’ll take it as a learning curve, rather than a fail.
I’m glad I took my car…I came away with FIVE BAGS of swag.
I’m a sucker for free stuff! I walked away with: a yoga mat, THREE t-shirts, food and sweets, bottles of soda, pens, sunglasses, a pencil case, a book of sticky notes, travel mug, hand cream, 2 tote bags, hair conditioner, lavender soap, lip balm and MORE. Visit Milwaukee gave us bunches of free entry vouchers for attractions and coupons for restaurant discounts in the city and of course there were loads of travel guides that I can’t wait to flick through!
Most of the meals during the conference were included too.
My favourite seminars:
- “From the Destinations: How We Want You To Pitch To Us” – Most of it was common sense but they said that sometimes it’s not a personal thing if they don’t want to work with you. A lot of the time they have a target audience and they like bloggers that fall within that category to attend the press trips as they will hopefully attract the audience they are after.
- “Bigger Isn’t Always Better: Understanding Followers and Engagement Metrics” – This was possibly my favourite talk from the conference. As a small stat blogger it turns out my engagement rates are actually pretty good, which means I may not have many followers, but the people I have are true fans that actually like what I have to say so thank you!
- “Negotiate: How to Make More Money by Showing You’re Worth It” – Again, another really helpful one. The session was run by a lawyer that specialises in online ‘work’ and blogging. As well as contracts, she also explained some of the legal requirements for websites.
Pre conference trips I attended:
‘Midwest Travel Bloggers’ Happy Hour @ Central Standard Distillery
Opening party at the Harley Davidson Museum
Yoga at the MAM
Tips For Attending
Do your usual travel research! The Hilton (where the conference was located) was $140 per night…I stayed 10 minutes away at the Motel 6 for $50 a night. The Hilton car park was $15 a day for conference attendees…I parked in the car park OPPOSITE the hotel for $6-7 a day. I travel on a budget so to me it was worth it, other people paid the price just for the ease of being where all the action was!
Next year WITS is being held in Quebec City in Canada! Are you going? What other conferences have you been to that you have found helpful? And of course, more WITS posts will follow!