September 09, 2015
AMAZING ALT!

 

Going to Alt Summer 2015 was an amazing experience for Nell and I, and this is our recap of those *magical* three days. 

Fair warning, this post is the mother-load of just about everything we learned in three nonstop days at Alt. Pace yourself! We wanted to share our experience, as well as document our learnings for our  reference. There is a lot of good stuff here, so take your time. 

We were lucky to be two members on one team, so we could divide and conquer almost all the great sessions. We’ll just run through the week and provide our major takeaways from the conference. 

 

Opening Dinners {Nell & Maggie}
Alt started out with a bang! Maggie dines with the Mailchimp team, Nell with Tagspire. It was an informal introduction to two great services and a wonderful way to get to know some amazing woman doing amazing things (Lille Baby, Among the Young, Spray Pal, Something Devine, Freckle Baby andThe Beauty Snoop to name a few) before the Alt Summer officially started!

 

Keynote Kickoff {Nell & Maggie}
Alt Summer kicked off with a keynote session by four amazing women who have paved the way for bloggers and creatives.  Their presentations were packed with inspiration and tips from their personal stories. 

Danielle Krysa, The Jealous Curator 
“There is room for everybody who wants to be creative. Including me.” Don’t let admiration turn to jealousy! Participate in the creative community by producing your own work, openly admiring other’s work, and keep failing until you become a genius. 

Jane Mosbacher Morris, To the Market 
Don’t get down on yourself for not doing enough, focus on doing even more good. Build on the good you're already doing, and take it to the next level. We particularly love her mission of creating a socially inspired business that shops like a luxury brand. It’s not charity, it’s just really good business. 

Rachel Ryle, Don’t Stop Motion 
Focus on doing what you love, put positive energy out into the world, and good things will come from it! It’s that simple. “Good things come to those who make.” 

Heather B. Armstrong, Dooce 
You’re a creative and you hurt. Don’t hide your pain or attack naysayers, try to understand that negative comments are their expression of a personal pain. 


Overall the keynote set the tone for the next couple of days by diving right in to what is important; remember about staying true to yourself, never be afraid to fail, work hard in things you believe in and you can make a difference. 

 

How to Successfully Pitch Content to Magazines and Television Shows {Maggie}
Olivia Omega, Amanda Kingloff, Kristin Guy, and Lindsay White of Lot 801
There was so much helpful information that these women shared with the group on everything from pitching to the media, working with celebrities, the difference between getting press and becoming a contributor, courting brands and editorial and the importance of packaging your product and your image. Here are a few points that really resonated with me: 

  • Do your research. Know who you're pitching to (and their audience). So few people actually READ the publication, before they pitch and are not aware of the tone of the media outlet. Research = pitching to the right people and then pitch your butt off.
  • Keep an organized list of who you have pitched to, when and what the pitch was for. Don't be a bother, pitch and follow up, but then move on if you have not heard back. Pitching a new idea to an editor who you did not hear from about another pitch is okay!
  • Craft your content by thinking creatively, thinking like an editor and thinking about universal appeal.
  • Make an impression when connecting with Brands and Editorial. Be clear, link to your bio, be professional in everything (writing, photos etc) and have a unique point of view. Be different. 
  • Packaging - yourself and your product (blog etc). Work and act like you have the job already, be consistent and never change who you are to fit the brand or media (don't try and be like everyone else). 

The one thing that was a clear theme throughout the talk was to do your research and to stay true to yourself and never change who you are to fit a brand.


Launching a Product {Nell}
 Jen Wakeland of Salt City Emporium, Sara M. K. Neal of Plumstitch, Alexis Mattox of Alexis Mattox Designs, and Emily Meyer of Tea Collection

Overall, I was blown away by the transparency and openness these women brought the panel. So many questions I had never asked either because I didn’t have someone with the right experience to answer, or I was just embarrassed that I had to ask it at all. 

Here are a few major takeaways: 

  • Manufacturing in house is a great way to ensure high quality, but it’s time consuming. Make sure you are weighing the pros and cons and producing efficiently. 
  • Make sure you’re building all costs into your margins. Don’t forget about your time - it’s worth real dollars. 
  • Building in a margin of 25% is a great way to plan growth into your business model
  • Trade shows are expensive and work for some, but not all. Plan on spending $10K minimum. Even if you don’t land any major deals, you can generally count on a fair amount of press from participating in the event.
  • Show Room Reps can be a great replacement option for going to an actual trade shows. Rates vary city to city, generally from about 5-30%. 
  • Creating a video to show with your look book for wholesale provides significant value to retail partners. 
  • Copyright plagiarism is a real issue, and one that can truly bog you down. The best way to beat this is to continue creating and being an influencer. Build a good brand and then just don’t worry about copycats. 


Instagram: Growing Your Following, and Monetizing Options {Nell & Maggie}
Trisha Hughes of @GoEatYourBeets, Jenny Komenda of Little Green Notebook, Kirsten Grove of Simply Grove , and Jordan Ferney of Oh Happy Day

Nell: This panel was really, really fun. I love images = I love Instagram, and have been following some of these women for years. This was kind of a celebrity geek out session for me. 

Maggie: For me, this panel was like learning a foreign language to me, but WAY better. I am not great at social media, which is one of the main reasons I went to Alt in the first place, so this class was really made for me. 

But there were some actual, useful takeaways (aside from confirming that Jordan from Oh Happy Day really is as great in person as she is on screen). Here is a quick rundown of the highlights: 

  • Instagram is it’s own entity now, it should be viewed as a completely separate stream from your blog or other social outlets. 
  • If you’re working with brands to advertise their product in your feed, a good rule of thumb is $15 per 100 followers. You have room to charge more / less for posting at peak hours or including links and tags.
  • Giveaways and promotions are definitely helpful, but the best way to grow real, engaged followers is to have laser sharp focus in your feed and produce really high quality work. 
  • Don’t hesitate to delete images, no matter how recently or how long ago you posted them! If they don’t fit your feed or you no longer love them, get ‘em out of there! 

 

Round Tables (Small Group Sessions)

Creating a Type A Editorial Calendar with a Type B Personality {Nell}
Jill Swenson of Being Spiffy 

Basically this comes down to planning, creating deadlines for yourself, and sticking to them. Jill gave some really helpful tips for how to do that. A few of the standouts were: 

  • Use Google Predictive Text to help you write searchable titles
  • Have a balance of timely and evergreen content to help keep your site fresh
  • When you post, share on all your social media outlets
  • Remember two things when developing your post topics: Who is this for? What do you want to be known for? 

Iconosquare: Learn Your Instagram Stats & Optimize Your Instagram Account {Maggie}
Bethany Everett of Twenty Something Plus 

Iconosquare in an analytics app for Instagram. Bethany walked us through how to use it to identify your most engaged followers, find related feeds to connect with and monitor your growth. I spent the next hour and a half asking the most basic questions and while I learned a lot; Bethany deserves a medal for her patience. 

How to Get the Media to Give You New Followers {Nell}
Brooke & Brittany Graham of Twin Tested 

Brooke and Brittany were incredibly helpful in helping me streamline our pitch to media. They helped me boiled down my pitch to critical piece of info, i.e. Who What Where When Why. This seems so obvious, written out, but is somehow incredibly difficult in practice! I wasn’t thinking that I needed to supply to idea for the story - that Hi Little One is not a story, but a sneak peek at our new Fourth of July collection is. Serve it up on a platter so it’s impossible to pass up! 


Don't Be Afraid of Your Website {Nell}
Lisa Yoder, Front-end Developer 

I have worked in web development for over 8 years, so would say I am pretty comfortable with most things digital. Still, it was super helpful to have some 1:1 time with Lisa to chat about some nitty gritty challenges I’m having with building our new shop on Shopify. Namely, the blog designs are extremely limited and I’m having a very difficult time finding help online. Lisa clearly knows her stuff and gave me some helpful direction - i.e. there is no silver bullet and I’ll need to build the blog I want, myself. 

{The number one thing I’ve learned in managing web development is that it pays to find bright, talented people to work with! Lisa fits that bill if you need any front end work.}

 

Photography for Non Photographers {Maggie}
Gilit Coope
r of The Bannerie

Learning to take pictures for Instagram, Facebook etc... Not as easy as it looks, but with a few tricks of the trade (enter Gilit Cooper from The Bannerie) you can create professional looking photos!

  • Don't worry about getting an expensive camera if you cannot afford one. Most photos are taken with an iphone (set to square photo) and edited using photoshop.
  • Use natural light and try and get the lighting even (use a couple of white foam boards to help reflect the light).
  • Use the rule of thirds when taking pictures.

 


Photoshoot: From Concept to Styling to Shooting to Editing to Posting {Nell}
Candice Borup Stringham of Candice Stringham Photography , My Minds Eye and Handmade Mood

This was one of my favorite sessions of the conference, and not just because Candice started by admitting she’d prepped for her presentation by doing several power poses in the mirror. This session was incredibly informative, with immediately useful tips and tricks to help you guide yourself to becoming a better photographer. 

First was her 5 minute flip trick to discovering your personal style: 

  1. Spend 5 minutes flipping through magazines, catalogs, newspapers, anything with printed images. Tear out anything that jumps out of you (can be because you love it or hate it!)
  2. Tape all the clippings to the wall of a space you spend a lot of time in or walking through. Like your kitchen or entry way. 
  3. Every time you walk through the space, take down something you don’t like
  4. When you are down to 8-10 images, take a good look and pull out what is similar about them. The composition, the lighting, the subject matter? That common ground is your style. 
  5. Run with it! 

She had some practical tips for taking better photos: 

  • Use indirect light, no harsh shadows. (if you can see the edge of the window in the shadow, the light is too direct. If the light fades out softly, get it while the gettin’ is good!)
  • When sourcing product, stay away from recognizable (price or brand) unless that is what you are going for specifically
  • Camera’s meter for middle grey, and the style of the times is bright whites. You can trick your camera into giving you brighter whites by changing the settings on your camera: Set to A/V and dial your exposure settings to +1 or +2. 

Candice offers a 5 week course, Be the Boss of Your Camera. I am definitely going to take this - and don’t mention it to my college photography professor please! 
 


Driving Traffic to Your Site: Pinterest & Facebook {Maggie}
Teachers: Alexandra Evjen and Peg Fitzpatrick 
This was a great discussion on using Pinterest as a discovery tool (genius!). It was all about creating helpful content and to get people to engage with you via Pinterest and how to use it as a tool to be informative and how to share without spamming others.

  • When creating your own pins make sure the photos are taken vertically and > 736 pixels wide
  • Best to show products in use and use real people
  • Make your pin informative by using two or three sentences to describe the image.
  • Make some pins "a call to action" by suggesting the follower to click on a link to see more on the subject.
  •  Conversion= what is the goal when people visit your site? Getting people to comment or like your pin!
  • Facebook is your blogs best friend
  • Build a Facebook page for your site, not a page on your own personal site.
  • Use tools- Google and Pinterest Analytics are incredibly informative and helpful.


Self Management: Productivity, Energy & Work-Life Balance {Nell}
Monique Malcolm, Miranda Anderson, and Samantha Ettus 

Maggie and I decided that I needed this session. Bad. I might be known for over-booking, over-stressing and pretty much over everything-ing everything. I am happy to say that there is hope! This session gave me several practical approaches to taming my schedule and my crazy. I've been diligently implementing them for the past two and half weeks and am legitimately feeling more productive, organized and overall happier. What's the secret sauce you ask? Here goes: 

Productivity Hacking, by Monique Malcolm of Keep Chasing the Stars 

The top hits (for me): 

  • Stop multitasking. it’s a great way to do a few things badly Focus and complete tasks. 
  • Take frequent breaks to re energize and keep yourself focused. Monique mentioned the Pomodoro Method which is 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off. Complete four rounds then give yourself 15 minutes off. I’ve been working with a timer next to me (no joke) and find that knowing a break is right around the corner truly helps me maintain focus.
  • Batch Everything. I have been doing this since we started HLO and have found it beyond helpful. Huge tasks (like fulfilling all orders as they trickle in) are less overwhelming when I set aside a specific time to tackle them, and don’t think about them the rest of the week. 
  • Figure out how much time you have, and block it out in two hour segments. You think you have an 8 hour work day? Well what about lunch, or your commute or coffee break? Calculate exactly how much time you have, and budget tasks based on that. A good rule of thumb is to create three daily tasks, and batch the rest.

Personal Energy Profile, by Miranda Anderson of One Little Minute
This segment was about getting to your yourself and your energy profile, so you can be the most efficient with your time. “Time without energy is worthless”. Miranda started with this quote and it really stuck with me. So many hours spent sitting at my computer working at about half pace, because I was tired, or burnt out or distracted. She provided some guidelines for setting up a schedule that maximizes your energy when you need it. 

  • The golden energy hours: These are your best hours. Mine are 9:30AM - noon. Use this time to tackle the items you either loathe doing or need the most brain power for. Save your autopilot tasks for when you have less pep in your step. 
  • Do more of what you like, and less of what you don’t. Easier said than done, right? Well just be honest about what you are
  • Eliminate unnecessary decisions. Miranda gave the example of having a set dinner menu for e her family. Every Monday they have spaghetti, Tuesdays is for tacos and so on. She always knows what she needs from the grocery store, she knows exactly how long she needs to cook, and she has the leftover plan down. I think I’m going to implement this with my daily uniform! 
  • Quality breaks > longer breaks. Do something else! Don’t just move from your computer to your phone. Go sit outside and look at the clouds, go for a quick walk, change your scenery and your thought pattern. 

Managing Work-Life Balance, Samntha Ettus of SamanthaEttus.com
It was refreshing for Samantha to start her talk by acknowledging that work-life balance simply does not exist. You are not going to achieve this ongoing nirvana of schedule and happiness so don't beat yourself up over it when you don’t! But you can achieve happiness by setting attainable goals to work towards each week. 
Some helpful tips: 

  • Turn off your tech for 90 minutes a day
  • Outline the "Golden Triangle” (the three most important locations in your day, i.e. House, work, kids’ school) and do your darnedest to make all your errands fit within that perimeter. That may mean finding a new hairdresser, nail salon or just doing more shopping online. Small adjustments for big paybacks in time.
  • Get out of the house one night a week minimum. And not to run errands - to do something fun. Just you and your spouse or you and a girlfriend or just you. Make time to truly enjoy yourself every week.

Overall, the bottom line from this session was to prioritize, be reasonable with what you can achieve and let the rest go! (Working on it over here…)


How to Set Goals for Your Business {Maggie}
Nancy Soriano of NancySoriano.com

This talk was a great way to pull everything together that I had leaned over the past few days and how to take my to do list and make a plan out of it. Nancy broke down the differences between a goal and a strategy. "A goal without a plan is just a wish". In short , she was asking us if we were focused on the goal or the strategy.

  • Goal- object of ambition or effort. 
  • Strategy- plan of action to achieve your goal.
  • Write down your goal, be focused, be nimble.
  • Make your goals challenging, yet attainable and measurable.
  • Be action oriented and time specific (set 3 yearly goals to achieve and then break them into a daily, weekly and monthly specifics)
  • Understand where you are in your business and learn the business of the companies and products you want to work with.

Nancy described how how to effectively map out a plan using my own resources and business to make my goals achievable. This talk was invaluable!

 

Creative Collaboration (Versus Competition) is the Best Way to Grow a Small Business {Nell}
Cyndie Spiegel of CyndieSpiegel.com and The Collective {of US}

Cyndie’s talk was one of the best half-time-pep-talks I’ve ever had. She is super dynamic, sharp and motivating and full of a million reasons why you should be open to collaborating with just about everyone. If your brands align, no matter how many followers each of you has or doesn't have, you both stand to gain. And no matter how similar your companies, it pays to recognize that there is room for both (two t-shirt shops, two fashion blogs, two professional coaches) and you can benefit by working together. 

She gave some very actionable advice for a successful collaboration: 

  1. Agree on very clear terms
  2. Get it in writing so there is no confusion
  3. Make sure there is a mutual win

Most of all, remember you have a great product that is worth getting excited about! 


Closing Keynote, Guy Kawasaki {Nell &Maggie}

It was so so cool to have Guy Kawasaki, Social media master extraordinaire, round off the week with his guide to the art of social media. He had many great thoughts, here are the ones that resonated with us most: 

  • Perfect your perspective: We live in a Tinder-world. People are making decisions instantaneously so your brand needs to convey it’s most important items immediately. Every profile is your professional profile, since anyone can find anything online at any time. 
  • Perfect your avatar. It should show you as likable, trustworthy and competent. It should definitely show your face, asymmetric image if possible and be the same across all platforms. 
  • Your cover photos should tell a story. 
  • Embrace the re-share test when deciding what to post. Would a stranger care about this? Be sure you’re always adding value. 
  • Every post should have an image. Including images doubles engagement - even on twitter. 
  • Post a lot, and it’s ok to repeat posts (recommended is 3 times, 8 hours apart). NPR repeats segments for different people at different times of the day - you can too. 

 

And just like that we were done! The closing keynote was the perfect end to such an informative two days of learning and networking. One thing in particular stood out during the closing session, Guy mentioned that brought his daughter to Alt Summer 2015 because he wanted her to be surrounded and impacted by all of the strong, intelligent women (and handful of men) present and attending ALT. He also made no qualms about highlighting the work of his partner, Peg Fitzpatrick - going as far to say that she was the smartest person he’s had the opportunity to work with in the social media space. It wasn’t a showy sentiment for an audience of 98% women, it was the truth and it was clear he meant it. 

To say we left this conference feeling energized, capable and way behind schedule was an understatement. To say we left feeling inspired by strong women doing amazing things is also a total understatement. Alt was so much more than the notes we’ve made here. We would recommend it to anyone looking to boost up or jump start their creative endeavor, and we hope to go back again very soon! 

Maggie Allen