I just had the pleasure of both speaking at and attending The Graceful Gathering—a boutique wedding photography conference—and I’m feeling pretty lit up.
While I used to prioritize attending a couple conferences or workshops a year, COVID prevented these gatherings from happening. And, as a result, over the last two years, I got out of the habit of making conferences a priority.
But, The Graceful Gathering was a beautiful reminder of (1) why these events matter and (2) the fact that conferences and workshops have been the inspiration for some of my biggest and most profitable business moves.
I truly don’t believe Victoria Rayburn Photography would be what it is today without conferences and workshops. And, as a result, in this week’s episode of Priority Pursuit, I want to discuss four reasons creative entrepreneurs should go to conferences and discuss how you can decide which conferences are right for you.
Now, like I said in the introduction, when I think back to some of the best business decisions I’ve made over the years, nearly all have been a result of learning something from or being inspired by something at a conference.
I’ll give a few examples in a moment, but in my experience and opinion, there are four reasons creative entrepreneurs should prioritize attending conferences on at least an annual basis.
First of all, you don’t know what you don’t know. As creative entrepreneurs, it’s easy to get tunnel vision, focus on the tasks in front of us, and not realize that there are better, faster, more profitable, different, or just more enjoyable ways to do things.
For example, a few years ago, I attended ShowIt United, a photography conference in Arizona. Since starting my photography business, I’d tried to sell wedding albums. However, sales were few, the process was stressful to me, and I’d more or less given up.
However, at this particular conference in 2019, CEO of KISS Books Shaun Austin Gordon was hosting a breakout session about wedding album sales. I attended the breakout session not thinking of much of it, and I was honestly shocked by the easy, streamlined album sales system that Shaun laid out for us.
When I went home, I implemented everything he told me, and a year later, I made $20,000 in album sales! Today, albums have allowed me to do things like hire a VA, pay for an editor for this podcast, and better serve my customers.
The fact of the matter is, album sales likely wouldn’t have happened for me if it weren’t for this conference, because I didn’t know there was a better way to sell albums. Attending this conference allowed me to connect with Shaun, ask questions, and learn and implement a proven system.
Essentially, conferences are a great way to fill in gaps in your knowledge you don’t know exist and introduce you to better or new ways of doing things.
When you think about the softwares, products, tools you use, and even the educators you follow and learn from online, where did you hear about them? Chances are, these items or individuals were recommended to you by a friend, or you found them online via a social media ad. (Or, at least this is how it’s worked for me!)
You likely bought in and have been using the same resources for so long that you don’t even realize that there are more efficient options or better choices for your needs, because you’re so busy doing all the things within your business.
However, when you attend conferences, you’re given the opportunity to hear about other or new resources that can serve you better.
For example, I used PhotoMechanic for years. I thought that was the only culling software (AKA photo sorting software) out there that worked remotely well. But, when I attended WPPI—a photography conference in Vegas—I got to see how AfterShoot, an AI culling software, works, and I instantly knew I needed to make a switch.
Photographers, in case you are interested, AfterShoot culls images for you. Rather than having to go through every image manually like you do in PhotoMechanic, AfterShoot looks at things like focus, composition, whether or not subjects blink, and countless other things and chooses the best of the best images for you.
AfterShoot has saved me hours upon hours of work this wedding season, and I only learned about it because I attended this conference.
Basically, conferences are a great way to be exposed to new tools and resources that will better serve you so you can better serve your customers.
Another reason creative entrepreneurs should go to conferences is give themselves time to focus “on” their businesses instead of “in” their businesses.
Like we’ve already discussed, as creative entrepreneurs and small business owners with full plates, it can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind and fail to take a step back to work “on” your business instead of “in” your business.
Personally, one of my favorite conferences to attend is ShowIt United, a photography conference in Arizona, because not only is the conference great, but it’s always in November, which tends to be the start of my slow season.
As a result, when I attend United, I’m given a chance to check out after a chaotic fall, spend four days assessing my business and setting goals for the next year, and just breathe in the dessert. (Plus, the change of scenery certainly doesn’t hurt!)
I know it’s easy to tell yourself, “I’ll take a few days off and do the same thing at home. I’ll finally take the online courses I purchased and spend a couple days getting myself and business in gear.”
But, friend, let’s be honest. If you stay home, will you really do that? In my experience, it never fails that even during slower times, a client always needs something, my family needs my attention to be elsewhere, or something comes up where I just can’t truly check out.
However, choosing to spend a few days at a conference or workshop will allow you to remove the distractions and focus on yourself and your business.
Now, friend, the three reasons creative entrepreneurs should go to conferences we’ve discussed so far are certainly reason enough to attend at least one conference within the next year. But, in my opinion, the biggest reason to prioritize attending conferences and workshops is the fact that these events allow you to meet and build community with other small business owners who understand your goals and struggles first hand.
There were so many highlights from The Graceful Gathering, but when I think about those three days, for me, the most rewarding, energizing moments were the moments where just a few small business owners were able to sit back and discuss their goals and struggles.
I mean, for me, I so enjoyed being in a car for five hours with my friend Kaitlin of Kaitlin Mendoza Photography. Then, at the conference, I really appreciated sharing a room with Octavia of Octavia Elease Designs. And, I certainly enjoyed sitting in the lobby with several creatives with bottles of wine for a few hours.
These conversations brought clarity for my business and goals, and they never would’ve been able to happen if I hadn’t attended The Graceful Gathering.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s amazing to live in a world where free resources and online courses can allow you to learn almost anything on the Internet. And, you can build community online. However, there’s something very special about in-person community in my opinion, which conferences make possible.
Whether this podcast episode is inspiring you to make conferences a priority again after taking a couple-year hiatus like I did or it’s inspiring you to attend your first conference, I want to discuss a few tips you can use to choose the right conferences for you and your business. Afterall, conferences are an investment, and you want to make sure you choose conferences or workshops that are worth your while.
First, when deciding which conferences or workshops you’d like to attend, consider your business goals. Because, friend, chances are, a conference exists that’s specific to the next thing you want to accomplish!
For example, maybe you need help marketing your business. If that’s the case, attend a conference or workshop that’s marketing focused. (Shameless plug. Photographers, join the waitlist for The In Focus Marketing Summit—a marketing workshop for photographers!)
Or, perhaps you have a very specific goal, such as learning to shoot film or transitioning to shooting destination elopements. (Sorry for all the photography examples. This is just where my brain lives most of the time!) If that’s the case, a workshop—which is more intimate than a conference—could be the perfect place to immerse yourself in a specific area for a few days.
Basically, determine what your goals are. Then, choose conferences from there.
That said, like we already discussed, conferences are a great place to find out what you don’t know. If you’re just starting out or are in a season of needing inspiration, don’t be afraid to attend conferences that cover lots of topics. However, I would recommend taking the next two tips to heart.
I also highly recommend attending diverse conferences. What you don’t want to do is attend a conference that’s an echo chamber of ideals, systems, and strategies that are consistent with what you already know, because that isn’t how we grow.
Instead, choose conferences where there’s ethnic and racial diversity. Choose conferences that pull speakers from both inside and outside of your specific industry. Choose conferences where educators and attendees are in different seasons of life and business than you are right now.
Basically, if you’re going to invest in attending conferences, choose conferences that are inclusive and are going to expose you to new ideas.
Last but certainly not least, choose conferences that speak to your goals and values.
Now, on this note, I’m not necessarily trying to get political, although I do believe it’s important for us all to understand and do research on companies before making any major purchasing decisions so we know what our investments will eventually be put toward. However, I do think it’s important to attend conferences that are specific to your goals, values, and what you want to get out of both your life and your business.
For example, if you’re in a season of wanting to work less and reign things in a bit so you can spend more time with your family, a conference that’s focused on hustling likely isn’t the best fit for you right now.
When you attend a conference or a workshop, educators are going to share what processes and systems have worked best for them and their lifestyles. However, you might not want to have a lifestyle anything like theirs.
Essentially, as you research conferences, look at the conference leaders’, speakers’, and even attendees’ values, and ask yourself, “Do I want my business and life to be similar to theirs?” If so, attend the conference! If not, that conference or education opportunity might not be best for you.
While there are tons of conferences and workshops out there, here are a few I highly recommend:
Remember how I mentioned United before? Well, United used to be an incredible conference just for photographers. But, ShowIt decided to change this annual conference to what is now called “Spark” and invite ALL creative entrepreneurs!
If you have a small, creative business of any kind, I highly recommend checking out this conference, which takes place in Phoenix at the most relaxing hotel.
When I worked in marketing, INBOUND—a conference focused on marketing and sales—was one of my very favorite conferences to attend.
This Boston conference caters to both professional marketers and business owners alike and is a great way to learn about advancing marketing strategies and tactics.
Photographers, the next few conferences and workshops mentioned are specifically for you, and I have to say that I absolutely loved my time at The Arielle Peters Workshop. In fact, this is the workshop that inspired me to make photography my full-time job.
While these workshops used to take place in Indiana, Arielle’s next workshop is actually in Ireland. Photographers, if you’re wanting to break into the luxury wedding market, you’re going to want to check out The Arielle Peters Workshop!
If Arielle’s name sounds familiar, she has been on the show before. She’s a wealth of wisdom, and if you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out both “Episode 006: Building Your Business Through Vendor Relationships with Arielle Peters” and “Episode 015: Balancing Entrepreneurship & Motherhood with Arielle Peters”!
I’ve already mentioned The Graceful Gathering several times in this episode, but wedding photographers, if you’re looking for a boutique wedding photography conference that fosters amazing community and covers a wide range of topics, I highly recommend checking out this Ohio conference!
On top of being a wonderful conference, The Graceful Gathering is hosted by Robert and Courtney Cannon who are just two of the world’s sweetest souls. Courtney has been on the show before to discuss the importance of fostering community in “Episode 046,” and you just can’t help loving this sweet woman.
If you’d like to refine (or start) your marketing strategy and take photos in epic places, The New Adventure Workshop is likely a great option for you! Over the last couple years, my good friend Nate Dale has taken photographers to Hawaii, the Salt Flats, and other epic locations to both shoot and learn marketing tactics that actually work.
Nate has also been on the show before (Check out “Episode 013: How to Sell What You Love & Start Working with your Dream Clients with Nate Dale of New Adventure Productions” and “Episode 020: How to Identify Your Ideal Customer as a Creative Entrepreneur with Nate Dale of New Adventure Productions”!), and what I love most about his workshop is how he gives attendees individualized attention before, during, and after their time together to help ensure their success.
During this three-day workshop, we discuss all things marketing in the comfort of an Airbnb, where we all wear sweatpants, and attendees are given time to both learn and implement the strategies we discuss.
2023 details will be coming very soon, but in the meantime, you can join the waitlist at infocusmarketingsummit.com!
While I know it’s easy to dismiss the idea of going to conferences and sometimes difficult to get them on the calendar, I can tell you first hand that conferences and workshops can do big things for your business. So, friend, consider this your sign to register for at least one conference ASAP!
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