What I Learned at the Summit of Awesome

Summit of Awesome Goodie Bags If you've ever wondered if you should invest in attending a conference like Hello Craft's Summit of Awesome (here on the West Coast we have the Conference for Creative Entrepreneurs in San Francisco and Schoolhouse Craft in Seattle), the answer is yes.

Conferences and summits for creative business owners are an amazing way to bring great minds together with the sole purpose of edification and improvement. Nowhere else will you find a concentrated community of creative people that are collaborating to help you succeed.

The Summit of Awesome was a three-day event in Baltimore, Maryland, this year, and I learned a lot more than I expected to. But what's more important, I met even more amazing people and forged some new relationships that I look forward to nurturing, and I reconnected with old friends that I hadn't seen since last year. But more on who I met in the near future. I had a specific self-development focus for this conference, in that I wanted to hone in on what would help me succeed as a creative business writer as I develop my thoughts around The Ambidextrous Brain and this new blog. So let's see what I learned.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Laurie Henzel and Debbie Stoller

Laurie Henzel and Debbie Stoller, owners and founders of BUST magazine, led a session about press relations that really highlighted the importance of putting myself out there. They asked a number of pointed questions to help the group hone in on a real, pointed pitch. On what am I the expert? What's the angle? Is it new, timely or trendy? Even though my day job in communications relates to PR work, these two highly successful women really underscored the importance of developing relationships with the media that will help me succeed in ways that I can't achieve on my own.

Nerdy Tech: Understanding SEO and Analytics

Summit of Awesome Letterpress Cards

Tara Gentile, a woman who I've recently come to admire, led an approachable but nerdy session dedicated to the basics around SEO (that's Search Engine Optimization) and web analytics (how we understand the way people visit and interact with a website). In particular, I had no idea that search engines read the h1–h6 HTML header tags and bold and italic words as being more "important" than the rest. Talk about an eye-opener.

I also learned about a Wordpress plugin that will magically update my site map and broadcast that to the Google, and that Google results are different from computer to computer, based on your previous searches, location of your IP address and more. Nerdy, techy, but oh so delicious! SEO was one of those things I just kind of knew was important, but never put any effort into it, so I'm glad I learned some more about it.

Books, Blogs and Magazines

Kari Chapin (an author), Lish Dorset (a blogger) and Kate McKean (a literary agent) covered the nuts and bolts around getting your work published through various media. The session focused primarily on books, and I had a few interesting takeaways. Books are usually a three-year process, so if you're considering a book, it needs to be a subject that you can spend three years of your life on without hashing it to death (and it still needs to be relevant). Every blogger turned author started out at the very beginning, with one single blog post.

Knowing When to Hire Help

Willo O'Brien, Figs and Ginger, Jon Wye

The folks at Figs and Ginger, Jon Wye and my friend Willo O'Brien led a really interesting discussion about the dos, don'ts and must-think-abouts when it comes to hiring employees, contractors and interns. My own experience hiring temporary help earlier this spring was super-positive, so I knew that it was an important thing to do, but some of their points really hit home in ways that don't necessarily relate to hiring employees.

Other people are way better than you at some things. Yes! It's true! I can't do it all by myself. Well, I can, but the end result won't be as amazing, because I only have so many strengths and plenty of weaknesses to back them up. If I ask for help sooner, I can focus on what I do best. But most importantly, I need to learn when to step back and scale down.

Email Marketing

Okay, so I do email marketing as a major component of my day job, but I knew that I would learn something from the folks at Mailchimp who came to teach this session. It was nice that it wasn't a big sales pitch, though as both a Mailchimp and Constant Contact user, I definitely think they could have highlighted the benefits of the former over their competition.

Amy Ellis did a great job of relating email marketing etiquette to hosting a party, and this simplification allowed me to really step back and look at email marketing from a new perspective. I walked away with some bullet points that will help me in my day job as well as with my own personal email marketing. To sum up: don't yell at my party guests, be myself, know when to stop talking, and be a good listener. I also learned about some Mailchimp tools that I didn't know existed that I've really needed to use. Score!

What the Creative Business Owner Can Learn from Improv

Theatre Jose (Improv Theater), San Jose, CA

When I saw this session on the schedule I was perplexed, so obviously I had to attend. Amanda Hirsch lead us through some of the techniques used in improvisational theater and helped us understand how we can apply them to our work. I will admit I was looking for a little more direct application or real life examples, but the concepts discussed were just enough to pique my interest, which now has me thinking about taking an improv class next year to learn for myself.

What was most important? Life is unscripted, resistance is futile, so roll with the punches and start using "Yes, AND..." in my everyday life.

Podcasting 101

Talk about a dynamic duo. Tina Seamonster and Fozzie Bare certainly had theatrical chemistry, and we had a lot of great laughs during their run-down on how to start podcasting. I've been thinking recently that it would be fun to start podcasting (like I need one more thing to add to my list of things to do), so this was a great way to dip my toes in and see what it would take to start. Most of what they covered was technical and process-driven, so I won't bore you with the details, but the thought of supplementing this blog with an occasional podcast interview has me grinning. They also told me I have a great radio voice, so naturally my ego is swelling.

Connecting to Your Community

I joined Rachel Bone and Jen Menkhaus for a panel on Community, Mafias and Street Teams as the very first session of the conference on Wednesday, and it was great to get the ideas flowing and bounce things off of two other community leaders. It really set the stage for me for the rest of the conference and introduced me to the possibilities.

I'm not sure who made the call, but I'm glad that my own session on Connecting to Your Community was at the very end. Between forging new relationships over the few days we had together and seeking out new knowledge that would help me in my current endeavors to develop this blog, I was in the perfect frame of mind to take the 20 or so people that gathered to participate through my thoughts around contributing to a community.

The conversation was amazing and it was great to feel the energy of all those people who were seeking to feed their soul and give back in some way or another. Several people mentioned that my session was the best way to end the conference, and I have to agree with them. I walked away with a renewed sense of mission, my soul satiated just a little bit more.

I love my community.

Summit of Awesome Class of 2011

Many thanks to the dedicated folks at Hello Craft who put this conference together. We couldn't have done it without them!