So…I did a thing.
This year, 2019, is a major self-development year for me. I have invested and reflected and strategized and planned, and I know that because of this year, the new decade will be my biggest and best.
Part of this development? I participated in Marie Forleo’s B-School earlier this year, which is a whole separate post I’ll write at some point, but what tipped the scales on joining was a free ticket to this event, The Entrepreneur Experience with Amy Porterfield: a three-day digital marketing conference in Coronado, San Diego, California, hosted by none other than the guru herself, Amy Porterfield. Her podcast, Online Marketing Made Easy, is amazing, and her paid material is just as good, if not better.
As soon as I saw the event advertised back in February, a voice inside said, “You should go.”
When that voice speaks, I listen.
I had never been to San Diego, or California – I don’t think I’ve been to the United States by myself.
Now, for the new readers joining me here – welcome. My name is Clare! I’m an author-publisher, aka, I write young adult science fiction and fantasy novels and I travel around Canada selling them. I also, somewhat notoriously, as much as one can be notorious for doing so, write about my book selling experiences here, on this blog. I’ve been doing so since 2013, and if you’d like, you can go back and see how I used to be, and follow me to where I am now.
I live in Calgary, Alberta, a place that has already had two snowstorms, and it’s already October. So, yes, I thought, I am definitely going to a place of seemingly eternal summer to learn about business.
And since I’ve travelled all over Canada, lugging and selling product, my first thought about travelling to San Diego with comparatively fewer logistics (aka, not lugging 4 suitcases around) was, “I can make this work.”
Fortunately, I did have a companion with me for the weekend. Sherry Peters is an author/writing coach in Winnipeg, and a friend of mine from the writing community. Sometime in March, I did a Facebook post related to B-School, and Sherry messaged me about it, and as it turned out, is also a fan of Amy Porterfield and did one of her online courses. We agreed to go to share a room at the event and generally be a support to one another!
This write-up isn’t like my usual post-mortems, since I didn’t go to California to sell or promote my business. I went to this conference as a business owner seeking to improve my online marketing knowledge. I came away refreshed and refined in my vision.
In the weeks leading up to the event, I was nervous. Travelling by myself is fine, though now that I’m settled in our house, it takes a lot more effort to leave. I was also nervous about travelling on business, even though I wasn’t selling or even promoting anything. There was no schedule sent out beforehand – only basic times for the three days. I was worried my many make-up products would be confiscated at the border, as I wasn’t checking a bag. I was worried about the political climate – what if something happened while I was there, and I couldn’t get home? I was also afraid that my anxiety would prevent me from having fun – isn’t it great when your fear of fear gets in the way?
Pavlova was like, “I come too?”
The actual getting there was straightforward. The event was from Thursday to Saturday, so I flew in on Wednesday and out on Sunday. The last time I flew into the States was with my family, when we did a Europe trip in 2009. I had no idea how long customs was going to take, so I went early just in case. I passed through with no issues, with all of my make-up organized and presented appropriately during US security, settling into the US side of the Vancouver airport with the biggest helping of Pad Thai I’ve seen in some time.
When I got off the plane in San Diego…wow. Palm trees. That was my first thought. I knew I was going from winter to summer, but seeing real palm trees reminded me that I’m really in another country now. Finally, my fears about the trip had subsided, and I felt…excited. I was in another country on a business trip to improve my business.
And also, PALM TREES AND TWENTY-THREE DEGREE CELSIUS WEATHER.
(that’s a picture at the resort – for lunch every day, I had poolside tacos with the palm trees)
Once I stowed my winter jacket in my luggage, I bravely figured out Uber (which I use frequently, but never at the airport, since pickup locations can be confusing, and certainly never in a different country!). The driver noted my excitement and told me the location of the event was an extremely nice place. This wasn’t the first time a stranger had commented on my destination. My seatmates on the plane mentioned Coronado was basically a resort town, located on an innsmouth, across a bridge from San Diego proper.
And, they were right. Driving into it, it was SO CUTE and the houses were large, or at the very least, beachy. Million-dollar homes, no doubt. We drove through Coronado, then along a beachside highway, and arrived at the destination: Loews Coronado Bay Resort.
I knew from the pictures it was swanky. I was already overwhelmed. A bellhop opened the door for the Uber, and the driver got my (one, small) piece of luggage. Behind the glass doors to the main building, Sherry was there, waving at me. I felt I could barely process it all.
She had been there for a few hours, as her flights were earlier than mine, and she’d already checked in to the room and registered. Good thing, as she artfully guided me to registration, where I was met with smiles from Amy Porterfield’s team. I got my badge, with my B-School flair, dropped everything off at the room, and the two of us celebrated our arrival on the busy veranda with tacos and desert (crème brulee, obviously).
The event itself consisted of multiple general sessions that were about 90 minutes each in a main auditorium (a giant ballroom), with 20-30 minute networking breaks and of course, breaks for lunch and supper. Just one session for everyone – no separate sessions based on expertise or business type. We got a schedule at check-in, but we were not told before hand who would be speaking when, or what each session block would be about. My sense was they didn’t want people to cherry-pick speakers or topics, which I can understand.
There were four main speakers, besides Amy Porterfield: Rachel Hollis, Stu McLaren, Gina Gomez, and Jasmine Star. Going in, I’d heard of Rachel Hollis, I knew Stu by name and business, and I’d researched Jasmine Star, Instagram guru.
The two major themes of the weekend were:
- You are a big deal: you deserve to take up space, you are worthy, and you are going to achieve your goals.
- Stop playing small in your business/it’s time to play a bigger game: Don’t let fear get in the way of going after your goals. Make the leap. Don’t use busy work as an excuse for not working on your big dream.
Writing them down like that is belittling, and it’s hard to communicate how deep these two ideas resonated with me, especially the second. I already know that I’m here to make a difference—that I am going to achieve my goals. But I have to work on playing big. It’s not something that you decide once in a different country by the palm trees. You decide it every day with your actions when you show up in your business.
Amy Porterfield, as expected, was brilliant in her sessions. She gave practical marketing strategies that I’m excited to try out in the next several months! Even though her focus is course-based business, almost every strategy she teaches can be applied to product-based businesses. Her sessions also included mini activities where we’d write down goals or thoughts, and she gave people the opportunity to share. This was annoying at times, as people can run long, but also inspiring. Most of the people there were women. I don’t think I’ve ever been around so many entrepreneurial women before, expressing their honest fears and joys at running a business.
(me and Amy Porterfield – I AM SO SHINY AND FRIZZY AHH). Amy is perfect, as usual.
Jasmine Star was an amazing speaker—extremely brilliant, present, and genuine. You really felt like she was there to help. She critiqued submitted Instagram feeds from entrepreneurs who attended the event, and then answered questions at the microphones—and brooked no long-winded stories! She made social media more approachable for me, and I know that’s an area where I’ve struggled.
Stu McLaren is a membership & subscription business expert. And a fellow Canadian! Like I said, even though this isn’t my business model, it didn’t mean that I didn’t have something to take away from his session on pre-launch content and showing up in a genuine way.
Gina Gomez is a business coach and she talked about one-to-one client work. While some of what she said was applicable for my creator-customer relationships, I’m trying to move away from my one-to-one client work, so this was a bit moot for me.
Rachel Hollis was a speaker I was unsure about. I read Girl, Stop Apologizing on the ride down, and was disappointed in the content. I wanted more. One of her concepts—her ten, ten, one system, which is part of her motivation/goal-setting journal that we all received—I latched onto, and have already incorporated into my daily routine since returning from the conference. More on my takeaway from Rachel Hollis’s talk below.
The three days were packed with motivational speeches and practical strategy. I’d say it was about 50-50, which I’m happy about. I’ve come to appreciate this year the value of the right mindset, and I can contribute that to B-School, Amy Porterfield’s content, and all of the books I’ve picked up since going on this journey this year.
Could the sessions have been improved? Definitely! I would have appreciated a choice of session on at least one of the days and a dedicated “quiet” room for reflection and journaling between sessions. We were encouraged not to return to our hotel rooms—totally understandable, they want us to mingle—but by Day 2, my head was spinning with ideas, and all I wanted was to leave and make a plan right there and then to implement everything I was learning.
Again, I’m so glad I had Sherry there with me. We dissected each session in the evenings, discussing our opinions, and how we were going to implement when we returned home.
Because that’s the hard part—the conference can be great, but if you don’t go home and make a plan and then implement that plan…well, what’s the point? That’s the other reason I had to do a post-mortem. So I could remember all the good that came from my trip, so I can continue to show up in the best way possible.
Overall, people were extremely polite and eager to make connections, during and in between sessions. Just talking with my fellow entrepreneurs in the flesh was like finding those who not only speak the same language, but your dialect too. I met so many people at multiple stages of their business journey, yet we all have the same problems: marketing, technology, and getting “stuck” in mindsets that don’t serve us.
About half the people I talked with had a standing weekly call with accountability partners across the country. The other half? They were looking for that connection, that business BFF, if you will. I realized, I already have an accountability partner–it’s Sam. We talk every day about everything under the sun but we keep each other going, creating, and I appreciate our special friendship all the more because of this experience.
Interactions: “So, what’s your business?”
This year, I completely changed how I answer this question. At the conference, this is how I responded:
“I write and publish books and I travel around the country selling them.”
It has taken me a long time to even FEEL COMFORTABLE describing my business in this way. Or calling Faery Ink Press “a business.”
Even in 2018, when book customers at my trade shows would ask if Faery Ink Press was my full-time gig, I’d proceed to vomit all over myself: “Oh, this? These books are just this…thing…I do on the weekends. I’m also a freelance editor, book designer, website manager….you know. Everything to do with publishing.”
Even though I spend countless hours writing, producing, and travelling for Faery Ink Press?
Even though book sales accounted for half my income in 2018?
“Oh, it’s just this…thing…I do on the weekends, whatever, you know.”
I was downplaying myself, making myself smaller to avoid dealing with the inevitable follow-up questions—which the other entrepreneurs at this conference dealt in spades.
So when I told them, “I write and publish books and I travel around the country selling them,” I got the following replies, pretty much every time:
- “Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book…” If I had a nickel! Write your book, what are you waiting for? DO IT NOW.
- “My [insert relative here] is writing a book, can I have your card?” Sure, but I don’t publish other people—right now, or possibly ever, we’ll see—but you’re welcome to read my blog for writing and publishing and marketing information!
- “Wow, I’ve never met an author before!” I am always in shock when people say this to me. You probably have met an author, you just don’t know it! 😊
- “So, okay. I need to know literally every single thing you do as an author and a publisher because it sounds fascinating.” Thank you! It is fascinating because I enjoy doing it, and I also enjoy figuring out ways to be better at it. This usually devolves into a long monopolizing conversation—which I only indulge if the conversational partner is truly interested.
Writing and publishing enjoy a strange, elevated place in the landscape—books are wonderful, magical objects that make us feel. Yet often people can’t imagine that they too can create wonderful, magical objects. You don’t need to wait for permission or an authority to tell you to do so. You don’t need a magical power or inspiration. You just have to schedule time and doing it. Because the truth is, writing a book is only just the beginning. Getting the word out there about a thing you create? That’s the real challenge.
(that’s the balcony of the sole restaurant on the resort. The sun is setting and the water is still, and palm trees poke their heads at the grey and pink sky. Sherry and I ate our last meal there after spending time at the beach.)
Finally, here are my key takeaways from the weekend.
- I am climbing a mountain.
I have always had a long-term outlook on my business. After all, I’m a writer, and you do that until you die. Yet when I experience a setback, or when I become anxious, it is difficult to see the path forward. In Rachel Hollis’s talk, she described the entrepreneurial journey—or any large business decision/undertaking—as deciding to climb a mountain. As she has a religious background, she puts it in the following (paraphrased) context:
When you make that decision to play a bigger game, and climb the mountain, God says, “Hmm, okay. I see you.” He proceeds to throw obstacles in your way. These obstacles might be more difficult than the ones you’re used to. If you give up, God says, “Hey, what’s going on? I thought you wanted to climb this mountain?” The obstacles are there to make you strong enough, tough enough, to survive the climb.
After we spilled out of the general session room, everyone was pumped up from her motivational speech, excitedly chattering away on the balcony in the sunshine, and all I could feel was this overwhelming, depressing heaviness. All I wanted was to go back to the hotel room and be alone. I stared out at the water, trying to figure out why I felt so affected, and slowly, it unravelled.
Religious context and convenient synchronicity aside, her words revealed the theme of the weekend in a new light: the time for playing small is over.
It is easy for me to tell other people that this business is hard. That being a creative entrepreneur is tough. I have been selling books for a long time now, people read these post-mortems, and I have proven I have something worthy to teach my community. When I turn this blinding power on myself, I see how my anxiety shapes my decisions and how it keeps me small.
In a lot of ways, I am starting at the bottom once more, as I shed the old and unwanted parts of my work and take my business to the next level. While I don’t shy away from a challenge, I often agonize over all the angles and worst-case scenarios—which takes up a lot of mental space. What I took away from that hour of Rachel Hollis was not that I’m climbing a mountain, but to trust in the climb and my ability to deal with the obstacles as they occur.
- I’ve been upside down this whole time.
When most of you see me, I’m well put together. I make an effort on my appearance, I tailor my table display, my books are arranged prettily for you to browse. Likely, I’m wearing a nice dress and I’m probably feeling confident, even if I don’t have the homefield advantage.
All of this requires a lot of forethought. I don’t just “show up” to my shows and dump books on the table, especially if I have to travel to another city. I book or arrange accommodation, travel, and investigate my food options. I gauge trends from previous years so I can make sales predictions and prepare inventory accordingly. I ship product ahead and plan contingencies. I sort my display items and decide my set up. Sometimes I order new or replace old display pieces, which increase my value proposition for the reader.
All this happens before you even see me at a show.
Of course, this all made sense to me. I have to do these things. If I don’t, I don’t have a successful show.
And then it dawned on me.
>>If I approach MARKETING like I approach trade show logistics & prep, I could take my game to the next level.<<
I publish a book a year (two in 2019!), which is a fast turnaround for market standards. But by the time I get to “the part” where I “have” to market my books, I’m burnt out. I don’t even want to look at the book. I’m so nervous and blind to its imperfections, and yet weirdly at the same time, hyperaware of everything that could be wrong with it. Even though I worked so hard, I’m afraid of putting it out there so fresh and raw.
The problem of course, is I put all my energy into creation up front – instead of marketing.
I’ve been thinking about marketing as this nebulous, untouchable THING that I have to perform at least once to say “well I tried” before hunkering down on the next project. That’s why a lot of authors (including me) get stuck. They see marketing as a one-time, somewhat unattainable necessity, or as an opportunity to bark from the social-media rooftops for a week or two before returning to the creation cave.
Instead, I need to be thinking and planning my online marketing before I even write the book. Or at the very least, before the book goes into production.
This is a very bland takeaway, in one sense. Like, duh, of course marketing has to be planned. If I don’t plan it, it doesn’t happen. That’s Amy Porterfield 101, people. But I’ve been strategic about my trade shows and not my marketing as a whole, and that’s why one has been successful, and the other hasn’t.
We were also challenged to make a big decision about our business during the conference.
I will not tell you what that decision is here. It is more than just winding down my freelance work or creating a major marketing campaign or becoming a traditional publisher. It is about the Big Picture I’ve been fumbling towards, now crystallized clearly like a winding path, blazing up a steep, Banff-worthy mountain. It’s about changing the mindset of an entire industry. Instead of getting angry or frustrated at what my industry is, I have to take a deep breath, and embrace my path, and maybe others will follow.
Will I return?
I don’t know if I’d return to this specific event – as insightful and fun as it was! It’s a long way to go from Alberta, and travel, accommodation and food isn’t cheap! However, it helped me realize the importance of attending a conference for the purpose of learning and becoming re-invigorated in the why of my business. I certainly needed that. We all work alone, and for all of us to come together and talk about our process, even though we are in totally different industries, is VITAL to growth and resilience.
Perhaps I need an event that’s just for me and my self-development each year. I already know of at least one other in the US I’d love to attend, and there are probably a dozen more I could sink my teeth into.
Maybe I’ll return in a couple of years and see how much the event grows–I much I grow.
Thanks Team Porterfield for putting on such a great event!
See you next week at the Festival of Crafts, in Calgary, Alberta!