Blogging Conferences-Should You Go?

When I first started blogging only 2 years and a bit ago I didn't even know there was such a thing as a blogging conference. I thought blogging was a lonely pastime with no real contact between writer and reader.

This year I have just attended the brilliant #blogcampuk in Birmingham, am gutted to be missing BlogOn Mosi but am looking forward to #BritMumsLive. My reasons for going have changed but I still enjoy the experience. I'm hoping that this post will help those who've never been or who are thinking there's nothing in it for them any more make up their mind one way or the other.

Let me rewind a little. I started blogging because my youngest child was about to start school and I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with the rest of my (working) life. I was a trained journalist, had worked as a news editor but if I'm honest really didn't fancy reverting to a 9-5 job in an office with associated holiday and sick-day childcare nightmares.

Over the years I have had other jobs-in a supermarket, pub, door to door sales and as a teaching assistant- but thought this was my chance to really focus on what I loved. Rather than just get any job to pay bills I wanted to be passionate about my work. I wanted to go back to writing but somehow work from home in a flexible way which would work round our 7 children.

I decided that writing online content might be the way forward and started this blog as a kind of online CV and outlet for my relatively rusty writing and computer skills. The rest, as they say, is history.

Within weeks of launching I realised the blogging community was immense! I made a couple of virtual friends on Twitter and then learned about events, awards and conferences.

I splurged on a ticket for a big conference and after a whirlwind weekend of excitement, exhilaration and exhaustion I returned home inspired and elated and convinced that I had found the perfect job for me. I also had a whole heap of new social media friends and followers. A great result for any blogger.

You see I think for me that's the main benefit of these kind of events. Making or mingling with friends, building contacts, networking. I enjoy it (despite my nerves before every event) and even feel  more confident in my everyday life. I no longer feel like "just" a mum.

madmumof7 and mummy endeavours
Madmumof7 & Mummy Endeavours
We "met" online and travelled to Britmums Live 2014 together.

madmumof7 with owl from Harry Potter at BritmumsLive 2013
An actual owl from Harry Potter -Britmums Live 2013
I sound like I'm advertising them. To be fair I must confess I was chatting to another fairly seasoned blogger recently and we agreed that the sessions on SEO, gadgetry and going Pro were exciting when the virtual paint on our headers was wet, but after a few years of conferences one could feel jaded. I know we are not alone feeling this.

But I still keep going to them.

So -what is the point of going to conferences?

If you are contemplating your first conference you are probably feeling apprehensive. Will people be friendly? Will you even navigate your way to the venue? What should you wear? My advice is don't lose a minute's sleep. Spend some time on social media (use the event's hashtag if it has one) and find out who else is going. You will almost certainly find others in your situation keen to meet up at railway stations and hotels.

All smiles at BlogCamp Birmingham 2014
Take some time to read the programme but don't worry if you can't fit in all the sessions you'd like to go to. Many speakers post links to their speeches or you will be able to find bloggers writing about the session in the days and weeks after the event. Or just book another conference - there are a few every year and sessions are often very similar in content simply because they are on subjects bloggers are keen to learn more about.

If you are slightly more experienced and are not immediately excited by the session themes, do what I do. Dip into subjects you'd like to know more about and use the Q&A period which most sessions include to pick the experts brain. Sometimes the speaker will offer to have a look at your blog or meet with you for a more detailed chat or will allow you to email them -don't be scared to ask for help.

Perfect your business chat-up lines if there are brand representatives at the event. (have your stats to hand and don't panic if you feel they are pathetic - I was given the job of one of the Butlin's Ambassadors when I had just 128 Twitter followers)

Being generally friendly is often the best way to go. I offered the loan of my phone charger to a PR at one event, was able to spend some time chatting to her and have since had a great professional relationship with her.

I'm sad to learn many of the very experienced bloggers I admired when I first started have decided not to attend any more conferences. They have their reasons I know but I love that bloggers on the whole are an inclusive bunch (in my experience anyway) and when I was a newby was welcomed with actual open arms and big hugs by people I considered famous in our genre.

I think even very experienced bloggers can benefit from conferences, if only from a social point of view. I often meet my blogger friends at PR events but since we are there to work there often isn't time to chat properly in between the Tweeting, Instagramming, photography and everything else.

madmumof7 keynote speaker at #BritmumsLive 2014
Madmumof7-keynote speaker at Britmums Live 2014
Conferences usually have built in down time for coffee (or wine!) breaks and lunch, and sometimes there are post conference meals or get-togethers giving plenty of opportunity to catch up. I spent much of last year's Britmums Live event in the Morrissons lounge eating ridiculous quantities of pineapple dipped in fruit jus and biscuit crumbs while talking talking talking. I won a trip to the M Kitchen in Yorkshire  while I was there too - don't know if that was the prize for the blogger who spent most time eating their food!

I've just returned from BlogCamp in Birmingham where I only sat in on about half the sessions but still picked up some really useful gems. I  had a lovely lunch chatting to a variety of bloggers, most of whom I'd never met in "real life" before and spent half an hour swapping tips with the lovely ladies from Frank PR who were there to promote Cow & Gate baby products. 

These opportunities to trade insights into our symbiotic industries are invaluable I feel and I came away thinking if nothing else I had helped improve understanding between them and us.

So take the plunge. If you can't afford a ticket hunt for a sponsor (maybe try local businesses) although having said that they seem to be thin on the ground this year and I don't have one for Britmums Live this year!

Or look for cheaper or even free events - Blogcamp organised by Flea Ents (who run the Tots100 HIBS100 and Travel100 charts) is and always has been completely free thanks to sponsors like Cow & Gate.
BlogCamp Birmingham 2014
My first BlogCamp in Birmingham in 2014
If you can't physically attend a conference find out and follow the hashtag. It's a great opportunity to "meet" new bloggers online and pick up tips being tweeted out throughout the day.

If you have any questions or tips related to blogger conferences, comment below.

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