I attended the Creative at Heart Conference Round 3 in Charleston, South Carolina in November 2015. The conference hosted approximately 120 attendees, 10 panelists, and 12 speakers over the course of two days. Both mornings began in the ballroom with breakfast and announcements. Once the announcements were made, the first speaker of the day would kick things off. Each speaker had the floor for approximately 45 minutes, and would close their talk with about 10 minutes of questions from attendees.
After lunch both days we broke out into panels based on what part of the industry we fall in (planners, photographers, letterer/artist, etc.) and spent just shy of an hour and half in the panel discussions. In addition to the educational speakers and panel group sessions, on Sunday night the attendees were invited back to the ballroom for a pajama party and late night snacks.
We (attendees) were showered in swag, my personal favorite was probably the hand towel with the saying “live simply” that was at my place setting for lunch on Monday. In addition to the hand towel we were gifted, two mugs, a sequin makeup bag, fun “girl boss” engraved pencils, gorgeous printed sayings we can frame for our offices, and quite a few various discount codes for conference speakers and sponsors, in addition to the “here’s to the creative’s” tote bag that our schedule was waiting for us in on Sunday morning.
A few key factors led to my decision to attend Creative at Heart:
Mid-November is when my fall season slowed down a bit. I only had one wedding left for the year and thought it would be a better time to be out of office than earlier in the season, when multiple weddings were being finalized. In addition to the fall season slowing down, I also saw it as a great opportunity to get amped up and reevaluate business strategies before engagement season got started.
Creative at Heart Round 3 took place in Charleston. Since I am located in Charlotte, NC, I was able to drive down in only about 3 hours. This fall was so busy that my time was very limited and spending lots of time (and money) on travel was something I wanted to avoid.
Let’s be honest, for my first conference I did not want to make a huge investment until I had more firsthand knowledge. I paid just over $1,000 for Creative at Heart Round 3 and feel like it was a good investment that didn’t make a large impact on my business finances for the year.
In my opinion, the ideal attendee for this conference is someone in their first year of business. I have been in business for four years and was hoping some of the topics would have been much discussed more thoroughly. Quite a few of the speaker’s topics and panel time was spent discussing things that are helpful when someone is in the early stages of building their business. For example, Michael Aslop’s portion on “Five Ways to be Financially Fit” would have been SO incredibly helpful to me 3 years ago, but I have a business license, have an IRA, savings accounts, etc.
What I was looking for would have been more along the lines of, “this is specifically how we increased our revenue, this is when we knew to raise our prices, this is the formula for how we decided what to increase our pricing to”. Please don’t misunderstand, I took home A LOT of knowledge and insight from each of the speakers (especially Mary Marantz of Justin & Mary and Katelyn James Alsop of Katelyn James Photography), but I was hoping for a little more depth, less “have a big heart and you will succeed”, and more tangible steps to take your business to the next level.
The topics spanned from creating an authentic brand, blogging for profit, finding your niche, Google, finances, social media, and creating community with other creatives. In addition to those topics, we had a daily panel group for each group of creatives who were present. The panel leaders would open the floor and we were able to ask specific questions and discuss in a group setting with like-minded creatives.
Of everything we learned and discussed over the course of the conference a few key takeaways for me:
1) Create a community for your past clients
Katelyn James really drove this home for me. Your clients are your biggest cheerleaders. Create a place for them to all get to know one another and build relationships. Not only is this a great way to keep up with them, but it’s a great way for them to build relationships and they will be more likely to refer you to one of their friends they want in their “tribe”.
2) Instagram tips
I have heard of so many creatives booking clients via Instagram, but I didn’t know what they were doing differently. When we were in our panel group sessions on Monday, I asked the group if they were doing it and how. I wasn’t sure if it was dependent on hashtags, images, tags, etc. – the great feedback I received was it’s not about how many followers you have, but how many people you interact with. The best way for clients to find you on Instagram is to build real relationships with other creatives and comment with real conversations back and forth…don’t just like or post an image, really connect with people.
3) Diving deeper in your niche can open doors you didn’t know existed
I will be honest, since getting back from the conference I haven’t had much time to sit and explore how I can hone in on my niche, but I am going to spend time on it in the coming weeks. Shay Cochrane spoke on this topic and did a great job explaining how going deeper to find your niche will impact your business. “For the greatest chance of success you must go at least 3 layers deep in your market” – I am planning to start with the sentence “I am a wedding planner and designer” and get deeper in detailing what type of planner and designer I am and what sets me, my business, and my clients apart from the others.
I would absolutely recommend this conference to new planners and photographers in the first year or two of business who are looking to learn from other professionals in the industry. Because I was hoping for something a little more specific to planners, I likely won’t attend Creative at Heart again. The speakers who I learned the most from were photographers – they are great business women with amazing advice. The next conference I attend will be tailored 100% towards planners, and include education that ranges from improving how you plan events, increasing profit, wedding design, and everything in between.
This is a guest post from Lauren Pressley. Lauren is the Executive Planner & Lead Designer for Southern Savvy Events, based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is in her fourth year of business and loves that she is constantly learning new things about both the business and creative side of this industry.