A year after graduating high school, I remember throwing one of the biggest parties while my mom and step-dad were out of town one weekend. There were tons of people and for one night I felt like “the man”.
It was short lived as the police showed up to shut it down.
Nonetheless, it feels pretty cool to take a chance and throw an event that gets people excited to show up.
This past October I attended the first annual Financial Blogger Conference and it was, by far, one of the coolest events I’ve ever attended. It’s organizer, Phil Taylor, took a chance on putting on the event and to say it was successful is a major understatement.
For us personal finance bloggers, it was the “party of the year” and for that weekend Phil was “the man”.
Putting on a conference is a huge undertaking and I wanted to get the nitty gritty details on how to do it right.
If you ever wanted to put on a conference, get ready to take some notes.
Phil also did an awesome recap of organizing the conference on his own site. It includes every little detail you ever wanted to know in planning a conference.
The transcription is below…..
What’s going on everybody? Jeff Rose, goodfinancialcents.com and soldieroffinance.com hitting you again with another interview. I’m excited to have a friend and blogging ally on the show. His name is Phil Taylor. You may know him as PT Money or PTMoney.com. Phil and I have known each other for some time. We actually met in San Antonio for the first time for a little USAA conference, but nothing compared to the financial blogger conference which we are going to be talking about.
Just to put this into perspective so people understand what I’m talking about here; if you can remember whether it was in high school or maybe it was in college and you had your friend or a classmate that threw the sickest party, meaning that everybody that was anybody was there. Any guys that you wanted to be there or the hottest chicks that you wanted to be there, anybody that was the coolest showed up, and it was the event that everybody was talking about up until the actual party.
Everybody had a blast during the entire time, and then afterwards it was that party that you didn’t want to end. My friends, that was the Financial Blogger Conference for me. I want to say to Phil thank you for taking all this time and that is what I want to learn about today is how much time it really was, but truly just for taking it on your shoulders and throwing a really kick-ass conference or kick-ass party for us financial bloggers, us geeks out here.
Here’s a recap of the conference:
JEFF: I just want to say thank you Phil for doing that.
PHIL: Well, you’re welcome Jeff. It was definitely my pleasure and that was a wonderful way to describe it. I appreciate that. Yeah, it was a blast for me as well to plan, to be at and hearing all the recaps and reviews have been wonderful as well. People were really energized to be there and like you say it was the party everyone was ready to go to and it went down in a positive way. Yeah, I’m really thankful.
JEFF: It’s huge, man. Before I get ahead of myself, for those that aren’t really with you and what you’re doing on line, tell us a little bit about your blog and what got you started in the blogging scene.
PHIL: I started reading personal finance blogs back in ’05-’06 sort of to get my own financial situation together. Then in 2007 about April of that year I decided I should probably do this for myself, start my own blog. So I started PT Money. My name is Phillip Taylor so P-T and my friends from high school used to call me PT so PT Money just sort of worked. My blog is about my journey with money whether that is dealing with debt, figuring out ways to make extra money, how to save your money better or how to spend it more wisely. Just the whole realm of personal finance, not only my story, but information to help others. Maybe people that are younger than me who are just starting to save for a house or pay off some debt or figure out a side income project they want to get into.
That is what my blog is about. I have been doing it since ’07. I really enjoy it. One of the best aspects of being a personal finance blogger is getting to interact with people like you, people who are also doing it. I really took to that part of it as well, not only in my own community in my own voice reaching out to my audience, but also connecting with other bloggers themselves because often times that is a big portion of my audience anyway, my dedicated audience, other people who are doing what I’m doing. So that’s me. That’s PT Money.
JEFF: Yeah, I’m definitely going to have some links and screen shots. I think one of the coolest posts I think you converted to an ebook was your 52 ways to make extra money or side income. Can you share a little bit about that post and what that did for your site?
PHIL: Yeah, to be honest with you thinking back I don’t really remember why exactly I wrote that article other than to try to be helpful and to put together a resource for people who are just looking for little extra ways to make money, right. Whether it be to have more money to pay off your debts, whether it be to supplement your full-time job. People I guess are looking for that extra and as the economy has worsened it seems like that post has only gained traction. People are all looking for that type of information. I wrote that post and somehow I got picked up on MSN.com. It’s been a very popular post on my site for a long time.
Eventually, I did take that idea, that concept and expand it into a full ebook, which you can download for free on my website as long as you sign up for the email list. That’s been interesting. It’s been a big part of my site, I guess. A lot of my focus of my blog has started to shift toward helpful ideas to help people make money, sort of the next level of after you get out of debt, after you maybe learn how to save, then maybe what’s some ways to ramp up your income so you can get to retirement quicker or if you are still working on some debt how to get out of that situation quicker.
My blog, I feel like it’s shifting toward this- I don’t want to call it a make-money blog but- more entrepreneurial, extra money making ideas-type blog. That is sort of where I want to shift. Entrepreneurial stuff. Small business. That’s what’s starting to interest me so that is where I see my blog shifting.
JEFF: You have a podcast that you’re doing as well. Is that some of the topics you’re talking about?
PHIL: Right, yeah that’s what I do with the podcast. The part-time money podcast, which I talk about ways that people can make extra money with their part time. A famous author calls it the other eight hours. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. Basically, what are you doing with your part time, whether that be a part-time job you’re taking on, or whether that be some kind of part-time business that you want to start up. I’m exploring some of those ideas and interviewing people who are having success doing those things. Yeah, that’s a new area for me.
JEFF: So you’ve been blogging since 2007. You’ve made some good on-line contacts. At what point in time did you start thinking wow, it would be neat to have a conference? What gave you those ideas?
PHIL: Honestly, I like the blogging community. I started interacting with them in on-line forums. Emailing, commenting on their sites. Things like that. I also started attending a few conferences. I attended some WordCamps and some affiliate marketing summits. These were opportunities where I could actually meet some of the bloggers face to face. It was great. I left those off-line meetings feeling re-energized about my blog, more educated about how to treat my blog like a business and actually make some money off of it.
Also, I felt like the people who are also doing financial blogging were my kind of people. There was almost like an instant connection when I talk to these folks. I put those two things together and I said okay, well I want to have that feeling x10 and I want to have that educational level x10. Let’s get all these people together in one spot and then we can all just celebrate the fact that we’re all each other’s people. Here we are together and then we’re also helping each other learn and progress with our on-line businesses. That was the two-fold reason for putting it together.
JEFF: Can you recall approximately when was the month or the year that you said okay, I’m going to do it. I’m going to do a financial blogger conference.
Getting the Conference Itch
PHIL: Well, I would say back in ’08 I went to a WordCamp and I left that feeling like okay, we need to have a meet up. Since that point I have felt let’s have a meet up of some type. It just really never happened. I live in Dallas and there’s not really a lot of other bloggers in this area. They were having meet ups in D.C. They were having meet ups in the Bay area of California. That was cool, but I would have liked to have seen everyone come together. I would say after my blog started doing really well in 2010, then in the first part of this year I had some breathing room.
My blog was doing so well that I started looking at other projects and one of those was this conference and I said now that I have time and I have the freedom. I had left my full-time job so blogging was all I was doing and I said this is perfect. I have time to do it. Why don’t we do it? I think I read an article that January that said 2011 would be the year of the niche blogging conference. That sort of gave me permission. That sort of said okay, well that means you can do the financial blogger conference if you want to. There’s the beer bloggers conference. There’s the food bloggers conference. There’s all these niche conferences that are starting up.
JEFF: You can combine those for next year if you want.
PHIL: Let’s talk to the beer bloggers guys and see if they want to get together and do it at once. Yeah, so that was what sort of gave me permission. I tested it in conversations and emails with different people and their response was positive so I said well let’s do it. I had an energy behind it and I’ve learned when I think about something three or four nights in a row as I’m going to bed and I can’t get that idea out of my head……
JEFF: I have too many of those.
PHIL: Yeah, you want to act on that energy. I found that I’m most effective whenever I stop what I’m doing. So I sort of stopped PT Money for a little bit and said alright, I’m going to do this 100% because I have a lot of energy and passion behind this. As testing the waters with other people I could tell they were energetic about it too. I just knew it was right.
JEFF: For somebody else that’s in another niche and let’s say they haven’t put on a conference in that niche yet, what were some of the things that maybe the initial test or some feelers that you felt okay, there really is something here. Whereas if somebody was going to start in their niche and realized before they got too far, too much time and too much money invested, how did you really know okay, there’s really something here?
Deciding if Your Niche is Ready for a Conference
PHIL: Well, first there wasn’t any competition. There is Blog World Expo, which is the big blogger conference, but there really wasn’t any other type of financial blogger conference at this level. I knew if I did it I would be the only one, right. Secondly, I feel like I was connected to the right people. I started my blog with the second phase of personal finance bloggers and so I’m not “a big blogger” or an old-school blogger, but I know those people. I’ve had email conversations with those people. I’ve commented on those people’s blogs. They know me. They are aware of me so I had that connection. I also haven’t lost touch with the blogosphere as a whole. I have participated in the community. I’ve been a part of forums. Even the new networks that are starting up, even though I may not be a member of some of those, I try to reach out to some of those people and connect with some of those people. I feel like I was positioned in the middle and I could reach up to the people who had been doing it longer than me and they would respect me enough to feel like I could pull something like this off.
Also, I knew the community as a whole and could reach out to everyone and everyone new PT Money. They were at least aware of me. I had that going for me. Obviously in any kind of business or organization connection is powerful. I was able to leverage that. Not only that, but I reached out to the critical mass to get people. I held it in Chicago. I live in Dallas. I decided to hold it in Chicago because I knew I could get 10 or 15 pretty big bloggers that live in that area to literally drive in. It was within driving distance or a short plane flight. I knew if I could get those people on board then everything would domino after that. What I did is I took that information and I said okay, I’m going to get 10-15 people there. I know I can get those people there.
Get Some Big Names
Then I reached out to maybe one or two big bloggers and said here’s what I’m doing and here’s who has already committed to coming. For instance, when I showed that to J.D. Roth (Get Rich Slowly) he said, “Oh, I’m all about it. Let’s do it. If people are coming and it’s going to be a thing, then I’m going to do it.” Once I had J.D. Roth that was all I really needed. You need one super star at least to kick things off. Well, you don’t need it, but for me to take it from meet-up level to full blown conference I needed that. Once J.D. got on board that validated what I was doing. It linked credibility to the whole thing and it was what it really needed. For anyone who is doing this I would say sacrifice your own, I guess wishes to make sure that the people who need to be there can be there.
Do whatever it takes to get those first people and then it will build upon itself. That’s sort of what I thought I needed to happen and people in hindsight are like you didn’t need to do that. You could have had it anywhere you wanted. The energy was high enough. Just hold it and people will come. From my point of view that’s how I chose to build it and that’s how I built confidence with the event, sort of building it at an organic level like that. That helped to market it I guess.
JEFF: From the day that you said okay, I’m going to do the conference, I think you had thought maybe we’ll have 30-50 people attend. I’m not sure what your initial goal was and you ended up having around 280 people show up. I believe you had to turn people away if my understanding is correct. Walk us through the okay, I’m hoping to get 50 people here to I have to send people away and hope they return next year. How did that metamorphosis?
Marketing for Your Conference
PHIL: Well, first and foremost, as I said earlier I’m not the best marketer in the world. I’ll be honest with you. I’m not a sales guy. I’m not a marketing guy, but what I sensed was an energy from the community. This community was ready for this. They were looking for an excuse to get together and really that’s what I provided.
From the outset, I really just tapped into the market that was ready. I could have put together the worst thing in the world and people still would’ve showed up. I would’ve had more than 50 people there, I feel like. What I feel like the good things I feel like I did was first off I put together a decent looking website so I had an on-line presence. These are bloggers so you have to have an on-line presence for these people to associate to.
Secondly, I started an email list from day one. I said I don’t have ticket sales yet. I can’t ask people to register so when people hit this site for the first time I have to capture that email. I have to say if you want to be a part of this, sign up for the email list and you’ll get all the information. You’ll help build this event. You’ll help create what we are trying to build. I took that posture. I didn’t take the posture of this is my event. You can come attend my event. The posture I took was help me build something that we all want to be a part of. I think that message was well received in the community. They came to the site. They signed up for the email list. By the end of that first week, without even having a ticket to sell or even a location picked out- well, I had a location in general. I had Chicago area, but I didn’t have a specific location or a date. By the end of that first week we had 100 people sign up for the email list. At that point I said this is more than a 50-blogger deal because these people were serious about learning about this event and being a part of it. I really didn’t market it. I sent a couple of emails out. I told a couple of forums about it. Other than that, I didn’t mass email a bunch of people. I didn’t advertise for it.
Like I said the community was ready. That was the first big thing, the email campaign and the capture of that. Then it slowly built from there. I allowed people to sign up for the Facebook page and then I created the Twitter hash tag. I did these things which bloggers are comfortable with. Bloggers are naturally going to talk about an event like this. We’re bloggers, right? I didn’t necessarily need press because we are the press now. The message was getting out slowly. I just slowly got people involved, helped to build the conference. We picked the date. We narrowed down the hotel. We did a pre-conference content survey. I did all these things which helped engage the pre-conference community and get them energized about it and thinking about it before hand. It was like the best email marketing campaign I have ever imagined driving. That worked out to my benefit or all of our benefit. When I eventually opened up registration I rewarded those people who were on that email list with a discount code, only a limited number of those so those people signed up really quick. It just kept blowing up from that point.
JEFF: Like you said locking in J.D. who I refer to as the god father of personal finance bloggers, I think what really impressed me was I started seeing the speaker panel really evolve. The two names that really resonated with me personally were Ramit Sethi, IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com and also Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income who is not so much a personal finance blogger, but if you are in the blogosphere you know Pat Flynn. Everyone knows Pat Flynn now. What was it like contacting those and others that weren’t really in the niche and getting them excited to fly in to speak to personal finance bloggers?
Outside the Box Invites
PHIL: That’s a good question. You’ve picked up on that well. Pat, I did have to contact. He’s not necessarily in our niche, but he is a rising star and you know that. This guy is the real deal. We both know that. I said if there is someone outside of our community to come who do I want to come and he is the first person I thought of. He is very, very, tactical, real, personable, and I felt like he could do a good job of presenting real information. That’s what I wanted at this conference. No fluff, no people pushing something, not a lot of high-level stuff. I wanted people that could give me tactical information. He is one of the first people I thought of outside of our niche. I emailed Pat and I said, “Pat, the community really likes you. I know a lot of people in the personal finance community comment on your blog. We all respect what you’re doing. We’d love to have you there.”
So I presented it to him that way and that our community wanted him there, which I feel was not a false statement. Then we just worked it out to where he could come. He was very on board from day one. I caught him at the right time. You want to catch these rising stars early on. He is speaking at Blog World Expo so he wants to make this the next phase for him, and I think we were a good initial stepping stone for him to take his own personal brand to the next level. He completely performed. This guy had never really been on stage before and he closed our conference out, which is this great inspirational, motivational message that left everyone leaving that conference just inspired and ready to take on the world.
JEFF: I think I mentioned this to you before attending, but if there was one guy who I was intimidate in meeting, for me it was Ramit. I don’t know why that is. I’m actually writing a blog post to just express the reasoning. Ramit is just one of those guys that you might have a point, but he’ll take your point and make it that much better and make it seem as it was his point originally where you’re like oh yeah, that’s a great idea when it really wasn’t his idea initially; it was yours. He’s uber successful. He has a great blog. He’s making bookoo bucks, New York Times Best Seller. Was it any different approaching him with coming to the conference.
PHIL: What I did with Ramit was I reached out to some of my contacts and I think at some point they mentioned it to Ramit. We just eventually connected on the idea. He was just as fired up. It’s something he has wanted to do for a long time. He actually helped craft some of the final details of the event, which I thought were spot on. He’s a great blogger, and he’s a great idea guy and marketer as well. He helped put some of the final touches on the event, which is really great. He did an excellent job as well I think of bringing his message as our keynote speaker and also helping throw the party on Saturday night.
Two events, the key note was great and then the party just really made the conference. Like you said, really the party you wanted to be a part of and go to. Yeah, I owe a lot to those guys for just wanting to be a part of it. Ramit really added a lot to it. I guess I’ve had my own intimidation or whatever, but I guess just after conversations with him and learning more about him he is a really nice, practical guy. He’s like, five years younger than me so I can’t be intimidated that long.
JEFF: How old is he? I don’t even know.
PHIL: I think he like, 27 or something. He’s a whiz kid dude. He really made the event great.
JEFF: So you got some of the key personal finance bloggers to attend. You got some outside the niche to bring it all together. Now let’s flip the script and talk about how obviously to put on a conference of this magnitude takes some money. People were buying tickets so that was good, but then sponsorships also play another key part in making this a truly successful conference. Can you share some of those struggles or learning processes of approaching spon