In 2018, I went to six conferences, which is, according to my bank account, too many conferences.
Today I have a new podcast episode out with Clint Proctor, about how going to FinCon, a conference for financial writers, helped him go from a blogger to a freelance writer billing $8,000 a month in one year.
Meeting people IRL makes a huge difference. It shouldn’t, we should live in a meritocracy where the most talented and hardworking people get the best opportunities. But unfortunately, we live in a world where the people who get the best opportunities are often the people who just happen to be across a table from the people empowered to give them out.
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It’s a fucked-up system, but it’s the system in which we’re working.
So, as a writer, how do you decide which conferences to go to, and which are worth your time?
Let’s look at what I decided was worth my time last year:
- AWP: This is the biggest conference for writers. I have a lot of identities — writer, student, educator, designer, entrepreneur — but the one I cling to most is writer. So this is the one conference I would most likely choose to go to over all others. Cost: $155-$320. Plus hotel and airfare.
Last year it happened to be in Tampa, where my mom lives, so I stayed at her house, and she packed me a salad every morning with a note in it. I go to AWP because it’s for people like me, which brings us to…
- The Habit Summit. This is a behavioral design conference put on by Nir Eyal, whom I helped last year with his book Indistractable. While I’m interested in behavioral design, as a writer who helps writers be writers, I mostly went for this reason: This was the place not for people like me, but for people who want to hire people like me. I thought it would be the perfect place to find more corporate clients, and I wasn’t wrong. I landed Fender there.
But I was broke AF, finishing Welcome to the Writer’s Life that year, so I had to stay in a dorm room in San Francisco, on a fucking bunk bed (hence the photo). I also bartered photography services for a free ticket.
- Lola. I got to be a speaker at this conference for women and money. Payment: $200. Enough to help with the ticket to New York. This year, it was in Seattle, so I went and moderated a panel and did photography, earning $400. This conference combines the people who do what I do and the people who want to hire people who do what I do. I landed a client, but not only that, a woman who constantly sings my praises to other people looking for a writer or designer. That’s another kind of person you might meet at a conference — your cheerleaders.
- Statement: This was similar to Lola, but more of a mastermind of women entrepreneurs getting together, many of whom were writers. We went to a house in upstate New York right after Lola. Cost: $250, free place to stay. The best thing I got out of this was hearing women talk about money in a way that shocked me. In this open, businesslike dialog, they convinced me to double my freelancing rates, which I did and still got work. Benefit: knowledge.
- FinCon: Like the AWP for people who write about money. Huge gathering, which was in Orlando. It’s the conference I am currently, as we speak, missing, because I chose to do the financially responsible and stupid thing of staying home from it this year. It’s the worst. Last year, I got a fairly cheap AirBnb and packed lunches.
- Seattle Interactive. I wanted to go to this because interactive design is part of my online courses, and I wanted to learn new techniques, and also meet locals, including Chase Jarvis. I met my best client here, sitting next to her before a session. They gave me a non-profit ticket because my course is through writing centers, for about $200. No plane, no hotel needed.
As you can see, last year was really finance-heavy. I was still basking in the glow of The Fuck Off Fund, thinking I might run that as a separate brand. This year, I decided to roll personal finance into my brand of me as a writer who helps writers be writers.
When I look back at all these events, what I think about is how fun they were. I remember though, last year Erin Lowry skipped FinCon because she was planning her wedding, and, she said, “It takes a lot of time and energy to plan a conference in a way that makes it worth the money.”
I was like, oh shit, should I have been planning more than just my outfits?
The ROI of Conferences for Writers
The return on investment for a conference can be hard to gauge. Here’s one number: I’ve billed $3,446.67 worth of work to the client I met at Seattle Interactive.
But what I can’t put on a graph is the worth of knowing and enjoying people I respect in my industry. Even if nothing ever “comes of our relationship,” the relationship itself is a joy.
But perhaps that’s why I’m broke and Erin Lowry is not.
If you can afford a conference:
- Try to set up meetings or coffees with people beforehand, so that you have some valuable events on your calendar.
- Connect with the speakers over social media, and let them know you’ll be in their session.
- Use the hashtags to track your time there on social, bring cards, connect with people on LinkedIn. Solidify your network.
If you can’t afford to go to a conference:
- Follow the hashtag, sitting in your nightgown, and tear up looking at photos of everyone having fun without you. Then start budgeting a little every month to be there next year.
- Check out the schedule, and follow all the speakers on social to stay in their loop.
- Look at the conference’s website for any extras, such as videos, handouts, or slides. Have a little at-home conference while eating ice cream and extending zero effort to look cool and comfortable in a room of a thousand strangers.
I already have a budget line to save monthly for AWP. If you wait until the conference is HERE, the cost is going to slap you in the face like a dead salmon.