Create & Cultivate Chicago 2018: What I Learned & Would I Go Again?

Blue Velvet Chair surrounded by Flowers at Create & Cultivate 2018

Woman Smiling in Sequin Jacket at Create & Cultivate 2018

Blue Velvet Chair surrounded by Flowers at Create & Cultivate 2018

Selfie with LaCroix and Lanyard at Create & Cultivate 2018

On Saturday, I attended one of the most talked about women’s entrepreneurship conferences in the country: Create & Cultivate. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a jam-packed day of panels, networking, and instagram opportunities and boasts high-profile speakers like Shay Mitchell, Alli Webb, and Jennifer Hudson. It’s put on by a company of the same name that hosts events like this around the country and creates content aimed at millennial women looking to start their own businesses.

Honestly, I went because everyone goes and, this year, it was hosted in my hometown of Chicago. Yes, tickets are expensive (general admission costs about $350), but I made a promise to myself this year that I would push myself to cultivate my career outside of work and this seemed like a perfect opportunity.

So, was Create & Cultivate worth it?

It was definitely a unique experience so to answer that, let me break down the pros, cons, tips, tricks, disappointments, and complaints from my experience.

POSITIVES

  • It’s Instagrammable AF. If you’ve ever been to a blogger event, you know that high you get from being around so much Instagram fodder. Create & Cultivate knows how to set up a photo shoot and knows everyone is there for the gram. #content
  • You have real access to industry folks. If you’re brave enough to go up to someone you admire and introduce yourself, you will absolutely have the chance to do that here. This is probably the most valuable thing about the conference. Panelists and speakers are often just standing around in the crowd, so it’s definitely a great opportunity to meet people who may be valuable to your business.
  • It’s more than just a fashion-blogger conference. My fear going in was that it would be very fashion-blogger oriented and in some ways it was, but there was a huge range in the kinds of businesses represented beyond that, too. I was on Track One, which was focused on business and entrepreneurship, so I got to see a wider variety of people speak than Track Two, which was aimed more at social media and content creation. One of my favorite panels of the day featured successful women in the food industry actually, so don’t be turned off if you’re not a fashion person.
  • You meet pretty cool people. My goal for every event I go to is just to talk to one person. Of course over the course of 12 hours I talked to way more people than that, but I always think if I make one great connection with someone, it’s worth it. I met founders of furniture companies, social media managers for the government, business consultants, famous bloggers, tech company founders, etc. It was very cool to hear people be so passionate about a diverse range of projects.
  • So. Much. Swag. This is obviously not that important, but of course it’s fun to get a bunch of beauty products and cool stuff from brands! I got to do a little unboxing for my family when I got home, which was hilarious.

WHAT I LEARNED

  • On Pinterest: I thought Pinterest was dead, so I was shocked at how many people attributed a big part of their success to the platform. For many blogs and retailers, it’s still their #1 driver of traffic and one of their biggest drivers of sales. I believe it was Alaina Kaczmarski from the EveryGirl that made the point that Pinterest content lasts so much longer than any other platform and actually gains value over time. This is why it’s such a powerful driver of traffic. Plus, it’s totally passive – you post a pin and it does the work for you. A few other tips:
    • What performs well according to CEO, Ben Silbermann:
      • Showcasing a product in the context of real life
      • Vertical Images
      • Imagery and copy together – think text overlay
    • Focus on the number of views, not number of followers. People use Pinterest as a search engine and aren’t as concerned with following, so views are the real MVP.
    • Choose a few great photos from a blog post to upload to your Pinterest, instead of uploading every single photo. A few great photos will do much better than a bunch of similar ones.
    • Get a Business account because it signals to Pinterest that you want your account and pins to be discovered. And make sure to claim your domain so you can use the analytics tools.
    • People love Pinterest because it’s actionable – that’s why it’s such a hub for DIY content and recipes. If you have DIY content, it’s a perfect place to push that.
    • Tailwind was mentioned as a good app for managing Pinterest.
  • On Negotiating: The best advice I heard about negotiating was from Zoe Scharf of Greetabl. As an employer hiring people, she said that she not only expected everyone she hired to negotiate their salary, but it made her more confident in the abilities of the person she was hiring. If someone had the confidence and drive to negotiate for themselves, she knew they would bring those same abilities to negotiate on behalf of her company. I loved that. A few other good quotes:
    • If my value was 0, you wouldn’t have come to me.” – Blake Von D
    • Not related to negotiation, but I loved this quote from Zoe: “Design is the elevator pitch of the internet.”
    • “Time kills all deals.” – Reesa Lake
    • The quote of the session definitely was: “I’m not too expensive, you just can’t afford me yet.” – Blake Von D explaining that not everyone is going to be your customer.
  • On Feedback: On many different panels, I heard the old adage: stay connected to your customer. Of course I’ve heard it before and think that user testing is one of the most valuable tools out there. But I only ever thought about it in terms of product. What about for blogging? Who are my “customers”? I don’t create a product, but I do create content and I hadn’t really ever thought about doing ‘user testing’ for my writing. It definitely encourages me to solicit more feedback from people!
    • “Feedback is a gift.” – Alli Webb, founder of Dry Bar
  • A few other random quotes I loved:
    • One of my mentors, Patrice Yursik, tapped into my Marie Kondo vibes by saying “drill down on what brings you joy.” Joy can be active and productive.
    • Maxie McCoy (below), who is the perkiest human being I’ve ever met, said: “There’s a reason horses race with blinders on.”

Maxie McCoy at Create & Cultivate 2018

Blue, Pink, and Glittery Balloons at Create & Cultivate 2018

NEGATIVES

  • Women shaming. My biggest criticism of the Create & Cultivate conference was the very shallow concept of feminism that dogged the event. Feminism felt like a slogan – “women supporting women” – instead of an integral part of the event and the conference lacked the intersectionality and inclusivity necessary to make feminism work at all. At one point a panelist even said “women create their own glass ceiling”, which essentially sums up the low-key women shaming that was happening throughout the day. A lot of the rhetoric relied on the assumption that women are weak, “intimidated”, and don’t know their worth, which I don’t think is generally true. But even if women do feel that way, it’s not their fault! The conference made it seem like it was a personal failing if women were socially conditioned to be more quiet and passive than men. I would have loved to see the focus shift from “women, here’s what you’re doing wrong” to “here’s what we can do to change the system”. I understand that I’m at a social media conference, not an academic consortium, but if you’re going to make feminism part of your brand you should at least have a basic understanding of what it means beyond “women supporting women”. In general, I was pretty bummed out at the assumptions made about women in the workplace at this conference. I heard the phrases “imposter syndrome” and “know your worth” so many times I could scream. Yes, fewer women negotiate their starting salaries and there are fewer women at the C level, but there seem like more productive and actionable ways to talk about this then scolding women for not being “brave” enough.
  • Lack of diversity. Beyond the unconvincing feminism at the conference, diversity was another big issue. The main stage conversations were sorely lacking in conversations about race and not once did I hear a white panelist call for the elevation of the voices of women of color, trans women, or LGBTQ+ people. If you want to talk about “women supporting women”, you can’t assume that all women are coming from the same starting point. The price of conference itself acts a barrier to most women! There were more attendees and speakers of color than I expected, which was great, but the conference didn’t feel like a safe space to bring those kinds of issues up. That crowd was such a powerful group of women, so I was certainly disappointed to see issues of race, religion, class, gender identity, and sexuality skirted around or outright ignored.
  • The information was very high-level and basic. I was really hoping for at least a few deep-dives into topics like monetization, up-and-coming apps, and ways to effectively grow your audience. But it was a lot of the same information you see online – “growth takes time and consistency”, “be your authentic self”, “it’s all about engagement”. I wish there had been more information about how to do these things, strategies people use to do it, and tools that are helpful. A lot of the advice just felt very generic to me.
  • They do not feed you enough. I know it sounds silly, but when you’re hungry, you’re not paying attention. When you’re worried about getting enough food, you’re not paying attention. When you’re leaving panels early to go stand in line to get food, you’re not paying attention. And since you can’t leave and return, you’re pretty much trapped there. Plus, you can’t help but think they’re sending a message to attendees when they only hand you a salad for a lunch!
  • No one wears name tags. I just thought this was weird! You’re at an event where the primary activity is networking and you’re already wearing a lanyard – why don’t we have nametags?!

TIPS

  • Go in with a game plan of who you want to meet. You will get a lot more out of the networking component of the conference if you know who you want to meet. Then, basically stalk them until you have an opportunity to go up and introduce yourself. People won’t be weirded out – the event sort of gives you permission to randomly talk to people, so it’s a great way to make introductions you might not be able to otherwise.
  • Ask specific questions. Otherwise, you’re only going to get high-level, not helpful answers. I wish I had come in with a more specific list of questions or a better idea of what kind of information I was looking for from speakers and other attendees.
  • Wear a statement piece. I know this sounds superficial (and you’re right), but I found it really helpful to wear something that made me stand out. I wore a ridiculous sequined jacket and it ended up being both a great conversation starter and a way for people to remember me.
  • Bring snacks. See bullet point 4 above.
  • Go to whatever you want. There was a panel on Track Two that I really wanted to see, so… I just went. The event takes place in an open air environment and no one asked me to leave, so I just watched the panel and then returned to my track. They make choosing your Track seem like a big deal (it’s one of the only big differences between the GA and VIP tickets), but you can honestly go to whatever events you want.

A Small Bottle of Chandon at Create & Cultivate 2018

IS IT WORTH IT?

In my honest opinion, no. For $350 I didn’t feel like I got my money’s worth out of the Create & Cultivate experience. Yes, it was motivating to hear a lot of women talk about how they kick ass and I did really enjoy the people that I met. Plus, it’s always nice to feel pampered with swag. But the content of the conference itself was vague and generic, which was disappointing to me.

If you’re someone who responds really well to hearing other people’s stories, then you might have a much better experience. But I was hoping to take away some great tips to help my blog and my marketing work and I felt pretty robbed of both.

I would say that if you’re looking for a great networking opportunity and you are willing to pay that much to meet certain people in attendance, then it might be worth it to you. But if you’re going as a general attendee who wants to learn some things and meet some interesting people, there are other, cheaper events that you could go to. Create & Cultivate’s Work Party tour, for example, will likely draw a lot of the same people as the conference (minus the big names) without the giant price tag.

Of course, the most unfortunate part of the event, though, was the disappointing but unsurprising corporatization of feminism. Certainly the message was nice – I think we should definitely support other women! – but the conversation around it was not nuanced and inclusive enough to be relevant in 2018. I hope that Create & Cultivate continues to bring women together, but I also hope they more directly address issues that affect many women trying to develop their careers in this country.

Here’s to hoping…

 

Check out all my tips for networking (and how it make it not suck) here and, if you’re visiting Chicago this summer, check out my list of cheap and free things to do around town!

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Networking Tips to Help You Make Genuine Connections

As I’ve mentioned here before, I took about five months off from work this year and spent a big portion of that job searching. It was definitely exhausting, but, ultimately, I learned a lot about what I’m looking for in my career and how to get the kind of job I want.

By far the most effective (and most intimidating) tool for career development that I learned? Networking! I used to think networking was scary and fake, but I’ve actually had such a good experience with it recently and I think it’s really about finding people you actually like! Since I feel like there’s a lot of mystery and weirdness surrounding networking, I thought I’d write up some tips that helped me when I was starting out:

  • Start with people you know. This is the best way to warm up your networking chops! Talking to friends and family helps you practice your “elevator pitch” and they might even know people who can help you with your job search.
  • Find a mutual connection. After friends and family, the next group of people I recommend chatting with are people you have a mutual connection with. I find it easier to reach out when I have a conversation starter like a mutual friend or alma mater.
    • People connections: Friends of friends, friends’ siblings, parents’ colleagues, etc. are all great people to talk to once you have a good idea of what you’re looking for.
    • Place connections: Reconnect with people you went to school with, update former colleagues on your job search, join a local professional association, etc. Facebook and LinkedIn groups are great too if you’re not sure where to start! Also, some colleges offer career development resources, so check those out, as well.
  • Use social media. Having a social media presence and being active on it can be so helpful while you’re looking for a job. Use social media to share your portfolio, show personal projects, and put a face to a name. Follow people who do what you want to do and engage with them! Respond to their Instagram stories, reply to their tweets, and, once you’ve established a rapport, message them about their job. I’ve even had a couple of people pass along my resume to their company as a result!
  • Be open. You never know who might know someone, so be open to whoever people connect you with. Sometimes it won’t be helpful and that’s okay – think of it as practice, which is ultimately how you get better at networking. But sometimes you’ll meet someone who works at a great company or can give you a referral – you have to kiss a few frogs, right?

 

  • Go in with an objective. When going to a networking event, I find it really helpful to go into a situation with a goal. Sometimes that goal is to talk to ONE person and that’s totally fine. Other times it’s more specific: get the name of one company I should apply to, ask three people advice on framing my previous experience to better fit their industry, etc. This helps guide my conversations, gives me some questions to ask, and makes me feel like my time was worthwhile even if I don’t hit it off with anyone.
  • Ask “Who else can you connect me with?” I recently learned this tip from someone I networked with (Thanks, Meghan!) and it’s such an easy and effective way to keep the ball rolling: at the end of a good networking meeting, ask that person who else they can connect you with. People really want to help other people and it’s so much easier to connect with someone when you have a reference. LinkedIn is a great place to do this since new contacts can see who you’re connected to and they can skim your resume quickly, too.
  • Have fun! Okay, maybe that’s a bit of reach, but networking doesn’t have to be the most miserable thing in the world. Look for networking events that sound fun (or at least have an open bar) and try not to put too much pressure on yourself. If you’re meeting someone for coffee, go somewhere fun you’ve been wanting to try. Learn what you can from people and if you hit it off, that’s great! If not, no worries. Networking gets a bad reputation for being stilted and fake, but I think of it as an opportunity to find people you genuinely like.

 

A Few Don’ts:

  • Ask people for a job. This is the number one thing I needed to wrap my head around when it came to networking. It’s not about meeting someone once and getting a job, it’s about getting information that could ultimately lead to a job. It’s a marathon, not a sprint! Instead of asking if their company is hiring, ask them about their experience at the company, what they like about the industry, what frustrates them, etc. Get to know them first and see if they’re even the kind of person you want to get a referral from! If after a few conversations or interactions you want to ask them if their company is hiring then go for it.
  • Only network when you’re job searching. I learned this the hard way – network early and often! It’s a long game so don’t wait until you’re actively applying to meet people and see what’s out there. I know it can be hard to carve out time to chat with people while you’re working full time, but try baking it into your work routine. Now that I’m working again, I try to dedicate at least an hour a week to reaching out to new people, catching up with old connections, or researching companies that sound interesting.
  • Pay for LinkedIn Premium. I tried the Free Trial when I was job searching and honestly, I would not pay for this service. I could see who viewed my profile, but that fed my curiosity more than it helped me network. If a recruiter wants to get in touch with you, they will. Premium also gives you the ability to send up to 3 messages to people you’re not connected with, but the success rate of cultivating a great connection based on a random message is pretty slim. LinkedIn on it’s own is an amazing tool (and actually how I got the job I have today), but Premium just isn’t that helpful.

 

Are you guys on the networking grind? It’s definitely a lot of work, but in the long run I think it’s totally worth it for the insight you get from people and the chance at a foot in the door. And if you meet a few people you genuinely like along the way, that’s awesome!

Now that I’m back in Madison, my next networking move is to meet more people here! If you’re a Madison person and want to talk digital marketing, social media, or blogging, hit me up! (See what I did there? 😏)

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Is Slow Instagram Becoming a Thing?

Crusty french bread in baskets

In the world of social media, everything is instant: instant sharing, instant shopping, instant gratification. But is there a movement emerging on social media to slow things down – is Slow Instagram becoming a thing?

So, what does it mean for Instagram to be “slow”? I stole the term from Slow TV, a type of long-form television popular in Norway that shows ordinary events like train rides or knitting circles in their entirety. Slow TV is often of “marathon length” – a single ‘episode’ might go on for 8 or 9 hours – and it typically features ambient and almost ASMR sounds.

Slow Instagram isn’t an exact translation of Slow TV, but it shares some of the same tenants:

  • Long-form. Slow Instagram is typically much longer than average content on a certain platform (the way 8 hours is an eternity on TV, 5 minutes is a century on Instagram Stories). It also often takes place in real-time so there’s no editing or changing camera angles.
  • First-person. This applies mainly to Instagram stories, but by and large you won’t see someone talking to the camera. The story puts you in the place of the viewer.
  • With no discernable plot. Instagram today is all about telling bite sized stories, but Slow Instagram plays with the opposite. Walking through a meadow, making a salad, mixing paints are all very Slow Instagram. They might be part of a larger story or world the account creates, but the content itself is pretty pointless.
  • Very little #SponCon. Slow Instagram exists (for the most part) outside of sponsored content and brand affiliation. It creates content for the purpose of creating content.

The first account that inspired this idea was Jamie Beck’s @annstreetstudio where she documents her life as an artist in Provence. In a world of #ootd’s and in-your-face content, her account feels subdued and quotidian. Obviously her photos are of fantastical proportions – they look more like paintings than photos – but her subject matter is often every day objects, including herself, elevated into pieces of art.

But it’s her Instagram stories that really define Slow Instagram for me: a five-minute story of putting together a still life, ten photos in a row of flowers in a field, close up shots of items at the local brocante, a video of a baker pull baguettes from the oven.

This isn’t the glitzy, over-filtered Instagram we’ve come to expect; her stories require patience and a desire to slow down. Her stories examine beautiful, everyday things closely and for a long time – and I think that’s the key to Slow Instagram. It’s bring you into a slower state of mind that is uncommon in the instant gratification world of social media.

Plates of food in front of open windows

Another related account is @chateaugudanes, a chateau being renovated in France that features fresco renovations and tableaus of fruit in front of open windows. The account shares finds from the antique market and slow pours of sauce over food. Beck even stayed here recently, which was a Slow Instagram wet dream.

But Slow Instagram isn’t exclusively reserved for those in France, it can appear anywhere and on accounts that aren’t traditionally Slow. American Ballet Theatre (@abtofficial) sometimes shares long Stories of their rehearsals, animal Instagrams like @coogi.boogie share videos of real-time doggy mischief, fashion bloggers like @somethingnavy Instagram live their children playing.

There are elements of Slow Instagram everywhere and, honestly, it gives me hope that we still crave quiet moments and everyday joys in a fast-paced world. Slow Instagram reminds us to examine the items and experiences in our lives with a closer lens. Instead feeling the pangs of jealousy at other’s lives, Slow Instagram urges us to find the extraordinary in our everyday – we just have to have patience.

[Top photo by Jamie Beck of @annstreetstudio and bottom photo by @chateauduganes.]

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