I waited an entire year for this moment.
Last year I took a chance and drove 380 miles to a conference I knew nothing about with no expectations of it being a worthy investment.
Luckily for me, this turned out to be one of the best investments of 2015 I made for my business and was the launchpad for many new projects.
In all honesty, I felt like the 2016 Venture Pop Conference had big shoes to fill. How were they going to top what they did last year? For 2016, they put more time, effort and thought into promoting the conference and building upon what happened last year.
Instead of a one-day conference, the format switched to a two-day conference. I will admit last year everything was a long day and the speakers were back-to-back. Spreading the conference over multiple days allowed me more time to relax and absorb the information.
There were more speakers at the conference this year. The total count went from 9 to 17. The great thing about the speakers is each one of them is killing it in their respective creative field. They had some pretty big names with large followings, but I also appreciated that they introduced some speakers that I have never heard of, but were still just as skillful and knowledgeable as any seasoned veteran in the game.
I’ve been to many conferences where the speaker leaves immediately after their session like a revolving door. This year the majority of the speakers, for the most part, hung around and attended the conference. This allowed for attendees like myself to talk with them, make connections and ask deeper questions.
The new venue was a lot more accommodating and spacious and allowed you to focus more on the speaker since it was an actual stage versus the coworking space they converted into a conference space last year.
All of the changes made from the previously year shaped the conference, and for many first timers, it set an excellent environment not only to learn but also to connect with other creatives.
As mentioned earlier this year’s conference involved a venue change. I had never been to the New Orleans Jazz market before but after getting to the location I understood why they chose this place. Not only was it in the heart of the city but its location was relatively easy to find and still close enough to the main staples of New Orleans.
I walked in the building to familiar faces from the previous year. Check-in was easy and smooth. I simply gave my name and they checked it off of the list, gave me my name tag and directed me to a bag of swag items.
How to build a thriving online community from your couch
The first speaker was Sarah Morgan of xosarah.com. Sarah is very active on Twitter and Pinterest, so I was familiar with her work. I knew she had quite a large following online especially in comparison to myself, so I was anxious to hear what she had to say about building a thriving community.
Sarah first started blogging at the age of 13 and worked as a web designer. After working seven years in a corporate environment, she left her job in 2012 to freelance. Since that time she has transitioned from freelance design to producing 6 courses and a number of different info products.
Sarah made the pivot from one on one client projects to products that involved communities with over 1000 members total including people of all ages from 18 years old to 60 years
The online economy is shifting towards community.
If you think about Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat what makes all of these new platforms work is a sense of community. I am in the midst of building a community myself, so this talk was right on time.
Here are some key takeaways from her talk:
- If you’re building a product, you’re going to have to do research.
- Don’t take the long way of giving out a survey. Create a community which can then serve as a fun way to do research on what your audience needs.
- Answer the two-sided question:
- what is your purpose for building a community?
- What is the purpose of your community for your audience?
- If you’re thinking of building an online course, a paid community is a great way to add value to that course.
Facebook Groups versus Slack
Both of these work for a community but which one is better? Creating a public Facebook group is the quickest way to build a community but keep in mind that everything the group does will be on Facebook’s platform and you are notified of any activity that takes place in the group. For relatively large groups of people, Facebook groups may be more fitting.
If you have a paid community Slack is a great choice, with its easy to host chat system and the fact that you can separate out different channels it is perfect for organization.
How to partner with brands to support your passion project
Wesley is a photographer based in New York, and he created a project called One of Many. The goal of the project was for Wesley to travel the nation and feature various creatives entrepreneurs.
Wesley realized his project was bigger than what he first imagined, therefore he decided to seek out companies to partner and sponsor the project.
He went into detail about how he went about choosing partners to sponsor this project how he approached them, how he was able to come up with the pitch and lessons learned from the entire process.
Ultimately this talk was great because every person has a creative project they want to work on which may not be specific to client work. Wesley laid out a roadmap of how to accomplish it and turn a side project into a marketing/income opportunity for your business.
Some key takeaways
- When choosing a sponsor approach companies that you are already a customer.
- Ensure the partner for your creative project aligns with your mission for the project.
- Find out who you need to talk to within the company that may be interested in partnering with you for your project. (someone in marketing).
- Find something you have in common with the person you’re trying to speak with before contacting them and use that as a segue to introduce yourself.
- Think about why companies may say no to the opportunity to sponsor and you learn to overcome those objections before speaking with a potential partner.
- Gather data. You’re going to have to be able to show numbers such as website visits online influence number of downloads to whomever you are presenting the sponsorship opportunity
Branding You: Get Paid For Being Yourself
I hadn’t heard of Shenee before VenturePOP. I remember seeing her name on the speaker lineup, and when I did a little research on her, this girl knows what she’s talking about. One of Shenee’s specialties is helping creatives find what they do and communicate it effectively. In summary, she helps build brands and teaches people how to communicate the core essence of their brand.
Branding is about talking about who you are and packaging it up to attract others.
A huge part of branding is confidence. Everyone should have a certain level of confidence when discussing their brand. Not only do you need to communicate what you do but it needs to be written from a place of confidence because you truly believe you have the best thing to offer others.
Shenee was a very relaxed speaker I can tell she was comfortable when presenting her material, and it felt like a conversation with a friend rather than sitting and listening to a lecture.
Branding is a process. Shenee mentioned she is still working on her branding and changing things even though she’s been at it for some time now.
Panel: Law plus accounting too legit to quit
Adding a panel to the conference was something new. This session started a little strange. Initially the panel was supposed to be about law and accounting. For some reason, the attorney was not able to make it, but this ended up being a good thing because it allowed us to ask deeper questions about accounting and setting up your business.
If you do something that makes money you’re a business.
Amanda became a Certified Public Accountant when she was 16 and has been working in accounting ever since. She started her accounting company in 2012 which is entirely a cloud-based business. This allows her accounting company to be flexible and work remotely. She recommends to her clients use software simplify accounting.
Amanda had so many things to say about how to setup your business and this session became one of the best sessions of the conference.
Here are some key takeaways
- If you are starting a business, it is best to set up an LLC; this will provide you with some legal protection.
- Set up a tax ID known as in EIN which is free through the IRS website.
- Make sure to set up a separate business bank account from your personal account and do not mix the two.
- There are certain documents such as non-compete agreements, privacy policies, and terms of service, that need a lawyer to review.
- Know the difference between an independent contractor and an employee.
If a gift is given to you by a person or LLC that is over $600 and you will have to fill out a 1099 form.
Everyone is starting their own business you as a creative entrepreneur are a new Economy.
Kathleen Shannon and Emily Thompson
Goal-setting like a boss
The keynote speakers for the first day of the conference were Kathleen Shannon and Emily Thompson of the Being Boss Podcast.
As a quick sidebar:
I have a confession. I first heard about these ladies 3 years ago, and I felt like I was not their target market. They seem to cater more to women, and in case you haven’t figured out, I am not a woman. Just because I’m not their target market doesn’t mean I can’t learn something. After reading their blog, listening to their podcast and interviews, the information they talk about is relevant whether you are a woman or not.
Okay back to the review.
Both of these ladies are friends as well as business partners, and this dynamic came to life when they were on stage. I felt like I was listening to a live podcast episode. They gave us sound advice, but they were having fun while doing it and engaging the audience.
The whole point of their talk was setting goals and knowing how to set goals because that will drive your level of effort and your income and your business.
How much money do you want to make in 2017?
How many hours do you want to work today?
What’s one thing you want to make time for?
How do you want to feel about the work?
What’s one place you want to visit?
These are the type of questions you need to answer when setting goals. Not only do goals need to be set but they also need to be specific. Setting a general, ambiguous goal will not lead to action.
Building on this point they went on to talk about the chalkboard method. This is a method of writing out what your goals are and placing them in a visible place so that you can see them every day and are reminded of what you’re working on and what you’re working toward.
Goals are not intentions vision or values. Goals are things you are working for.
- Identify what you want
- Get specific about your process and measure your success.
- Do the work and celebrate success
- Use a tool like Asana to help you set deadlines and take steps towards reaching your goal
- Deal with and overcome your fear
We were given 1.5 hours for lunch which was more than enough to eat, connect with others and then return to the venue. At registration, we given a list of recommended restaurants. All the places were in walking distance and were no further than a mile away.
For lunch, I ended up going to the New Orleans public market. This is a school that was converted into a grocery store/restaurant. All in all, I loved the ambiance of the place, and on the second floor, they had ample seating if you want to sit down and watch TV and just connect with others.
If I lived in New Orleans, this would be a place that I would go to meet people and share a meal on the regular.
Instagram Marketing: Grow Real Followers
The 2nd day started with Jennifer Puno. This is yet another person I had not heard of but when she said she was from Houston that’s all I needed to hear and for her to have my attention for the rest of her talk. I love my H-town folk.
I loved her personality, Jennifer was goofy but knew her stuff when it came to growing on Instagram.
Jennifer used to work for Activision with the video game Call of Duty. After growing tired of her 9 to 5, she quit and began to build projects online with her husband who is a programmer.
Start acting like a business and treat yourself like an employee.
Jennifer used to post on Instagram aimlessly in hopes of getting more followers she noticed that she quickly plateaued until she made a decision. That decision was to create an Instagram for her personal account and an Instagram for her business account. Once she separated the two, she began to see traction.
She spent 6 months putting only curated content on her business account and answering a series of questions.
Analyze your partners.
Who are your influences?
Where do you start?
What hashtags do people use?
Does your brain relate to a Partner’s brand?
Not only was Jennifer looking at competitors and major brands and comparing and learning from them she engaged in a process called mind and grind. This is a mixture of studying under other brands and engaging with people on Instagram for an hour every day for 6 months
To see exactly some of what she did to grow you can go to ilovecreatives.com/
Dear World Portrait Project Presentation
This session was one of the most inspiring sessions of the entire conference. If you’ve ever seen a picture online where someone wrote their story on their skin, you would see the influence from Dear World. What started out as a project by a photographer from the city of New Orleans, exploded into a global movement and has given the birth to a new storytelling.
Jonah told the story of Dear World and also highlighted the stories of some key individuals by sharing their stories. From Stuart Scott battling cancer to the Boston Marathon bombing, Dear World chronicled these events by creating engaging content. Some of the videos they showed were so engaging people cried.
Learn to tell the story in an engaging way, not just facts.
My main take away from this session: remember to tell your story and connect with the emotions of others. When you do, be relatable and be yourself.
Creating and Community
David Jones II and Jesse LaBawe (Pioneer Collective)
David and Jesse are both the leaders and founders of a creative agency called Pioneer Collective. They also have a community of creatives at wepioneer.tv
In order to tell an effective story, you have to go beyond storytelling
Their mantra is simply “we go there.” Before taking on a project, the clients’ story has to match their beliefs. They have even turned down work if the companies goals don’t match telling a compelling story. Every story they work with must have:
a meaningful purpose
an aspect of community
For David and Jesse community is adding value to someone when they are also adding value to you.
Community is the new marketing of 2016.
I definitely plan to be more involved with their website and their creative community.
Tippy Tippens, Bernie January Jr., Natasha Noordhoof, Janna Hart, Stephanie Hepburn
How to start, manage, and grow a Social Good Business
The second panel of the conference focused on product creators whose product has an impact on social change.
I wasn’t sure what to think about this when I initially saw this session on the agenda. I originally thought they were going to cover how to partner with nonprofits or donate a portion of their proceeds to charity.
I was pleasantly surprised because the mixture of all of these people led to an insightful talk on some different things:
- How to get started with your business
- The difference between an LLC and incorporating.
- Manufacturing and how to find a manufacturing partner
- How to go about finding funding
- What it’s like to work with someone that you are in a relationship with
- Finding support in your local community
Ultimately I can say this was a well-chosen panel because they were not only that very sweet thing they answered any question and the answers were very helpful and insightful.
Understanding Your Goals
We were finally at the last speaker. I’ll be honest it was a long day, and I was fighting the itis. But I didn’t want to fall asleep on this speaker because I had heard a lot about her and saw Tara on Creative Live, teaching on business, money, and products.
Tara mentioned she changed the topic of what she wanted to talk about on the way to the conference because she felt like there was something else the audience needed to hear.
You change the way you approach a problem based on its size.
Tara said this quote in regards to setting quantifiable goals so that you take action to finish something. She went on to tell us that we should not just do what we know we need to do something bigger.
There are six steps to doing that bigger thing.
- Want more
- Give mad respect
- Set a goal and then 10X it
- Recognize your process
- Create a stupid first draft
- Make your first sale
My main takeaway from the entire talk is it’s not enough to have a goal and have a desire to do something you have to not only take action but take action quickly because there are many things you learn along the way and your first draft, product, attempt does not have to be perfect.
The afterparty went well. It was a time to speak with everyone that I did not yet get a chance to meet. Another advantage of this conference is it’s not so huge that you do not get a chance to meet everyone.
Another bonus was a taco food truck came and you can never say no to a good taco. Not only that but in true New Orleans fashion a band came through and we got to Second Line.
Changing things was for the better because it gave me more time to not only take in the information but to connect with other creatives who are willing and ready to take action.
If you’re looking for a creative conference to attend, this is one of the better ones in the entire nation, and it’s still somewhat of a secret so get in on it while the mystery is good. Until next year.
(Photo Credits: Trevor Mark Photography and VenturePop)