Last week I had the singular privilege of staying in a hotel by myself for five glorious nights. Oh, and I also had the delightful experience of connecting with a global community of creatives. Both of those things are because of Alt Summit. And the latter was much awesomer (which is saying something, the hotel was insane).
Things like this happened, because this is standard for the Alt kind of awesome:
Other things happened too. Speakers and workshops and events, all geared towards sharing knowledge and kicking ass. Here are some of the big thangs I learned.
Alt Isn’t Just for Bloggers
So, Alt Summit is a summit for bloggers, straight up. Not having my own brand-attracting blog was intimidating, at first. "What's your blog about?" is the often asked first question after an introduction.
It’s been said before and will be said again: Alt is amazing for people who are already running successful blogs and people who dream of running a blog.
But, y'all. It’s more than that. It's also a place where collaborations between makers start. A chance to talk brand building on the most basic and elevated levels, things any business owner has to master to make it. It's a series of interactions and inspirations that can't not change you. It's a time to assess where you're at and plan, strategically, where you want to go.
And, it's a place where people whose businesses primarily exist in the Internet ether talk about wanting to bring it on home. It's why I was there sharing on planning local events, workshops and parties.
When I threw my hat in the ring to speak, I thought not being Madame Blogger would be a liability for my credibility. Like so many things (including our outfits) we were all way more worried about ourselves than anyone else was. I met more people doing more cool stuff, from women building birthing centers in Haiti to companies focusing on helping parents celebrate traveling with kids to publishers excited about bringing great stories into the world, and not a one was concerned about who had a blog and who didn't.
Show up. Do the Work. All of it.
This came from Lisa Congdon's opening keynote, every word of which I'd like to cloak myself in on the daily. We live in a pretty magical age where we can make a career out of our passions, toss it on the Internet and get started. It's rad, for sure. But we also live in a time when it feels like people pop up on YouTube or get a reality show and POOF. They've made it.
Lisa reframed "making it" by arguing we have to actually MAKE IT, whatever our it is, before we can make it in the success sense. That "overnight success is so rare it is practically nonexistent."
I always enjoy hearing about someone who, like me, had a previous life (we were both teachers, hey hey) and translated that into a new career. And I really love hearing someone talk about just how much work it is. From the outside, these creatively-minded lives we document and share look effortless and pretty. But they're filtered in every sense of the word. Behind the scenes we're all busting our humps to hustle and shine. Lisa's talk was in no way a woe-is-me about hard work. Instead it was a celebration of all we can accomplish when we show up, do the work, all of it.
Pay Attention, Even When It’s Not About You
Lisa's message was to the right audience. Bloggers work hard. I think, no I know, people write off bloggers sometimes. That they spend an hour staging a shot of their coffee and get 10,000 Likes and collect a check. What I saw was savvy business owners, big dreamers and folks who know as much about bottom lines and business plans as they do about Pinterest.
Some of the most critical takeaways for me came from a talk on monetizing your blog. Forth has a blog (hi, you’re reading it) but it isn’t a source of income for us at the moment, more a way to build and keep connected our community. I'm not sure what the next phase of Forth's blog will be but I was curious what Jessie of Style and Pepper and Hilary of Dean Street had to say. Because these gals were bright. Both in what they wore and what they said.
Post pre-talk dance party, it turns out they had a LOT to say that mattered to me. The top 3 takeaways:
1. The seasons of creative work
Beginning: You say yes. You hustle.Middle: You start to be more discerning.Long Term: The No Train.
This year, all 28 days of it, has been all about the no train at our house (my husband is also an independent creative). If the project, the timeline, the budget or the partnership aren't right, we say no. In the independent work world we talk a lot about the freelancer's reflex: you say YES because what if, most likely, probably definitely this is the last project you'll ever get. I'm four years in and still feel that way at times. Recognizing (and celebrating!) as you move through the seasons of work, whether it be design or blogging or writing, is a huge step towards making money and making your life sane. Conducting business in a way that allows me to conduct my no train is a singular focus for 2015.
2. Saying yes out of fear or love
THIS! I almost fell out of my seat when this was shared. We, especially we women, say yes a lot out of fear. Not that someone will whoop us but fear that we'll damage a relationship. Fear that we'll disappoint. Or miss out on The One Thing that would change our lives. And, when you're new to freelance/independent work, fear that nothing else will ever come along ever, rinse repeat. Those are not awesome reasons to do something and in fact set you up to miss the thing you can/should/must do.
I also took something a bit different out of the saying yes out of love bit. We often say yes to something that will not fit, make sense or help our current situations or sanity because we adore someone. We talk about that a ton as the Three Forths and it's something I am going to be ever-more mindful of moving forward. Overloading out of love just means you'll disappoint someone somewhere, most likely yourself.
3. Talk about numbers
Just this week I had a fellow freelancer ask if I'd talk the dirty talk of hourly rates. And I said yes. Both Jessie and Hilary were wildly blunt about numbers. Not just a range. It's takes grace and gumption (a Dean Street-ism), for sure, to do it right. Both women acknowledged that it is a vulnerable space for everyone involved, speakers and audience alike. So, to stand up in front of a room of straight up show your pie charts? Rad and done with class.
Let's talk money, y'all. First, I think it's critical for women to move into a space of not fearing the almighty dollar. It puts us at a disadvantage, full stop. Second, it's critical for creatives to be open and honest. It keeps us collectively safer and better paid, full stop.
Make It Your Own.
Alt is a visually-engaged community. Whether it's event planning or photography or Instagram, the vast majority of people there have an artist's eye, a graphic designer's touch or an ability to hand letter on the fly that sends me into a tizzy of appreciation tinged with envy (I'll admit it). Being around that made me all the more aware that I couldn't hand letter my way out of a box. Or even craft a box to get stuck in.
But looking around, I mantra-ed what Vana Chupp said back in our first year of salons: There's room for everyone. Two bloggers focused on deals could have a rich conversation without worrying they were talking to the competition. Wedding photographers swapped cards. Lifestyle bloggers celebrated the specific niches they served. I didn't see a single arm wrestling match over the limited resource of audience. Not a one.
It empowered me. If these talents could not-compete I could exhale and make room for my voice. I can take verbatim notes quickly and type quickly. At Dallas Clayton's closing keynote, I realized I could put some great ideas out into the world quickly. Am I going to win any design awards? Nope. Did I feel like I was contributing to the larger conversation in a way specific to me and my skillsets? Yup.
Yes, I figured it out on the last day at the last talk. But you know what? Alt's ALL about what you do after Alt.
What happens at Alt doesn't stay at Alt.
And that's a very good thing. The weeks leading up Alt were a flurry of business cards excitedly Instagrammed when they arrived, conversations and introductions in the private Facebook group. The week was spent trading stories, ideas and contact information.
Coming home I felt supercharged and superhuman. I'd do ALL THE THINGS. But as can often happen, momentum is hard to maintain in day-to-day triage. There's a kid to raise, clients to support and real life to live. Capitalizing on lessons, shooting off that email to stay in touch, doing what you say and want to do can be victimized by after-Alt reality. I got home and was tired. Super tired.
And then I got the first email. The first "Let's talk about your business." The first "Your roundtable was so helpful." Sure, this girl likes praise (and new business opportunities). But more, I got the confirmation that what happens there doesn't stay there. We left with actionable steps, accountability partners, bigger goals and ways to make them happen. We're in it together.
When in Doubt, Wear a Turban.
Early bird registration for Summer Alt (June 9-12) is open. You know I think you should go.