Seven Must-Read Tips For BlogPaws Conference Newbies!
For those of you who don't know, BlogPaws is a social media company focused purely on - you guessed it - pets (and their humans). Each year, they hold an annual conference where bloggers from all over the world (!) convene to talk all things pet blogging. This year I attended my first conference, held in Myrtle Beach, SC, and I've rounded up seven tips for first-time attendees! Read on for lessons learned:
As a newbie, I picked up some tips before the conference that I really really wish I had listened to - see Tip #7 - and some I learned firsthand through my experience at the conference. Here are my top 7 tips for "newbies":
Tip #1: Join a "newbie" Facebook group
This is something that I should have thought about BEFORE the conference but as Murphy's Law would have it (story of my life!), the few weeks leading up to BlogPaws was insanely busy for me at work, leaving little time to organize myself for BlogPaws. Thankfully, as I was waiting for my Uber at the Myrtle Beach Airport, I chatted with a fellow attendee and ended up sharing a cab to the convention center with Marla of @loveakasha. She added me to a "newbie" Facebook group which introduced me to a bunch of awesome people who I may not have met if not for the FB group. This really helped in having people to sit with at seminars, eat lunch with, and it generally made the trip more enjoyable to have other first-timers to share thoughts with.
Tip #2: Find a room share
In the same sphere of "meeting new people" - not to mention saving big bucks! - I would highly recommend finding a room share for the duration of the conference. Even with the BlogPaws hotel discount, a 4-night stay would cost somewhere in the ballpark of $700-800 for a single room. BlogPaws has a helpful forum in their SLC (Social Learning Community) where I was able to post a "room wanted" comment and other attendees could see my post and reach out if they were interested in sharing a room. Serendipitously, a fellow NYC-based cat blogger reached out - Dawn of Lola the Rescued Cat. We met at BlogPaws on the first day and it was fantastic getting to know her - and now I have a new blogging buddy in my town! She was also kind enough to let me hang out with her and the other bloggers she knew which helped with the whole "not knowing anyone" thing.
Tip #3: Bring plenty of business cards
I mean, you probably already knew you should bring business cards to represent yourself professionally, but seriously, bring more than you think you'll need. I grabbed a couple huge handfuls of mine from my box of cards and I went through ALL OF THEM. Thankfully I had some stickers with my blog logo on it to back me up, but I couldn't believe how many people I met and exchanged cards with. Between the bloggers in attendance (BlogPaws estimates that there are over 400 influencers in attendance), the awesome BlogPaws team, plus the brands you'll interact with in the Exhibitor Hall, you'll be doling out cards like they're going out of style!
Tip #4: Bring a personalized goody bag to hand out (if you want)
I had no idea this was a thing, but now you know (You can thank me later! Preferably in the form of a chocolate-filled goody bag!) Some attendees bring little swag bags with candy, cat (or dog!) toys/treats, and their business card/branding. This is a great idea to say "hi" to old and new friends. Since I am basically addicted to crafting, I was kind of bummed that I didn't think of this and put together an adorable baggie to hand out. Maybe I'm digging my own hole here, but next year you should expect an awe-inspiring swag baggie from That Cat Blog!
Tip #5: Step out of your comfort zone
I was lucky to have some built-in connections through my serendipitous Uber ride (where I learned about the "newbie" Facebook group), plus my conference roommate sharing a hometown and also being a cat blogger - but when I signed up for this conference, I knew I wouldn't know anyone else going. Of course, there were times that I was on my own at the conference, and in those times I would recommend NOT retreating back to your room, but stepping out of that safety zone we all live in. Even just waiting in line for something (like the buffet line), or sitting in the classroom waiting for a seminar to start, it never hurts to introduce yourself and ask your neighbor what his/her blog is about. I mean, we're all bloggers so it's not like you're at risk of striking up a convo with someone you have zero in common with. Another good icebreaker is to ASK PEOPLE ABOUT THEIR PETS! Duh. I'm pretty sure any one of us would take the opportunity in a heartbeat to gush about our pets.
Tip #6: If you can't bring a real pet, don't forget your flat cat (or dog! or lizard! or horse! etc.)
In my limited time to organize for BlogPaws, I actually did make a "BlogPaws To-Do List" - which I promptly forgot about. Which was a shame, because I forgot one of the most important pieces of attending a pet conference - representation of your pet(s)! FACEPALM. I saw so many cute flat cats (and dogs!), not to mention super-realistic Cuddle Clones. Seriously, I was doing a double-take on all of them because they looked real. But they weren't moving. And non-moving pets are bad. So maybe something's wrong with it. So I looked again. And what - it's just a Cuddle Clone. Also, you can't walk the red carpet without a pet (Well I guess you can but c'mon, is that weird? Or no? I couldn't decide).
Tip #7: Bring an extra suitcase for all the swag you'll come home with!
This is right up there with #5 (get the heck out of your comfort zone)! Bring an extra suitcase in which to lug your swag home. Before the conference, I asked Tamar (IHaveCat.com) if she had any tips and this was what she said. BlogPaws is very generous in the amount of freebies you come home with - and these freebies are GOOD - I'm talking actual cans of food, treats, toys, coupons, etc. Over the course of the conference, you'll talk to brands who give you samples and freebies, attend VIP events which offer their own swag bags, and don't forget about those personalized goody bags I mentioned earlier! One caveat to this is that the conference does offer on-site shipping on the last day for about 3 hours so you'll have to decide if it makes more sense to check a bag for your flight back, or wait in the shipping line and then pay for shipping. Me, I ended up shipping about 2/3 via UPS and packing the other 1/3 in my carry-on:
I ended up having a fantastic time, and made so many new connections both in the form of potential business collaborations as well as new friends. One final lesson that I took away was that blogging is so much more fun when you are exposed to a support network - something I didn't feel I had much of prior to attending the conference. Most of my cat-world connections are friends I've made through Instagram (whom I love!) but it was really cool to connect with other bloggers and get really specific about the technical aspects of blogging (SEO, sponsored content, and branding, oh my!), as well as just hanging out and talking about our pets.
And, one other awesome benefit is that you learn SO MUCH helpful information that you can immediately put to good use. I have to give a shout out to Christine Jerry who taught a "Canva Made Easy" class - I learned how to create the title graphic for this blog post from her seminar at the conference!
Attendees, would you add any other tips? What did you learn at the conference?