Important Things I Learned at the Haven Conference

Regularly-Scheduled-Programming-is-ReturningThe Haven Conference is a great value! Seriously, home décor and DIY bloggers, if you haven’t attended during this conference’s first two years, plan now to attend in 2014.

There are many advantages to attending:

  • It’s an action- and info-packed two days which is the perfect length for bloggers who also have full-time jobs, or blogging moms with young children who don’t want to be away for too long.
  • You can take hands-on painting and tool sessions if you want to focus on improving your DIY craft, or you can take the business sessions if you want to improve your blogging craft. There’s something for everyone.
  • You can meet hundreds of other people who, just like you, create, photograph, write and promote their home decorations, renovations and DIY crafts. We all run into challenges with these things and this conference is where you can learn from others.

I learned a lot. So much, that my mind was spinning and after arriving home, I crashed on a couch and slept there for 12 hours straight! No joke! That’s what I mean about Haven being a “great value.” For my full-time job, I attend many conferences and they cost from $200 to $800+. Haven was about $200. BlogHer costs multiples of this. Even though BlogHer was in my hometown of Chicago this year, I chose to attend Haven in Atlanta instead. Glad I did.

I researched both conferences before choosing Haven, and other bloggers who’ve attended both mentioned that Haven:

  • Is a manageable size (true)
  • Has attendees who may be friendlier than BlogHer (I can’t speak for other blog conferences but I found everyone at Haven was friendly – but you do need to proactively approach people during receptions and meals, say “hi” and introduce yourself to the people sitting around you in sessions, etc.)
  • Has a pace that doesn’t make you run around like a crazy chicken to attend sessions (I’ve attended American Public Health Association conference several times with 14,000 attendees and it’s huge across numerous hotels and a convention center – conferences like that are a different animal – you need to research and decide what’s best for you)

These are things I did not know before attending Haven:

  • You don’t necessarily need 100,000 page views a month to attract advertisers and sponsors. Of course big viewership helps. But they also look for “influence.” If you have a small blog that has involved, committed readers, that’s great. They also consider how people communicate with you across various social media (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, HomeTalk, Houzz, Google+, etc.). They want to know, if you recommend something, do you have the trust and respect of people.
  • Related point (I already knew this but critical to repeat): You must believe in what you share and what you do. Don’t do it for money only. It’s obvious when you do. That’s counterproductive for everyone. Think of it this way, who would you most likely trust: someone coming to your door selling Amway, or someone you know talking about how a product helped her while you’re chatting over lunch?
  • I need a lightbox. I learned how important natural light is for photography, and to make quality “pinnable” photos. Our house is surrounded by mature trees. Even now at 4:00 p.m. on a sunny cloudless day, the lights are turned on, despite having four windows here in our living room. It’s a struggle to get crisp non-grainy photos in our home (as you may have noticed here).
  • For SEO, don’t waste your time on meta tags. Focus on your post title, meta description and writing a quality blog post for your readers. WordPress plug-ins let you edit your meta description and Haven attendees said Blogger now lets you edit that field too.
  • Posting your projects in linky parties does not help your SEO. So if you’re doing linky parties only to build SEO, you might want to put your time into something else that doesn’t add links via JavaScript.
  • Google is building Google+ pretty heavily, for future SEO. Focus now on building up your Google+ circles. It will help your search engine rankings in the future if Google adds Google+ influence to its algorithms. Google is moving towards recognizing influence of “personal authorship” – your influence as a person across the internet. Google will be looking at who links to you, who follows you. So set up Google+ for you as an individual rather than your business or blog. (And yes all this social media fragmentation is overwhelming! I’ve focused on Pinterest because I’m image-heavy. But Google+, here I come …)
  • I love Annie Sloan Chalk Paint! So far I’ve played with a sample pot of Emperor’s Silk Red. A blog post about that DIY is coming; unfortunately I broke my project and need to re-do it. I took the hands-on chalk paint class at Haven and oh, all the advantages of chalk paint – it glides on like a dream and a nice finish happens so fast! I can’t wait to do a bigger project with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.

If I didn’t meet you at Haven conference, please say “hi” here and please share your blog URL! I’d love to visit more blogs of people who attended. And in return, “here’s my card.” Ha, ha – business card sharing was very popular so we can find each other after the conference. Finally, visit here for more posts about this conference.

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Things You Should Do at the Haven Conference

Now that you surely won’t wear pants several sizes too big or chip a tooth before you attend a conference like the Haven Conference, here’s a few things that are good to do while at Haven:

  • Attend some sessions that feel like a coat that’s a size too big for you. Rather than feeling intimidated, I believe we should look at it as something to grow in to. Definitely go to sessions that deliver the tips and techniques you need right now. But also choose a few things that are several steps ahead. It will open your eyes to new possibilities, and who knows, you might be surprised and you might be using that info within the year! As for what I learned today? Well, I’m going to check out Google DFP, something I did not know existed. It’s for blog advertising and too advanced for me right now, but knowing about it gives some new “stretch goals” to work toward.
  • Instead of a laptop, which can get heavy to lug around, bring a tablet and/or pen ‘n paper. A pad of paper is great when you get visions (or hallucinations?) of an idea and need to draw. Such as this:


Well, I can “see” exactly what it is. It’s all in the mind’s eye even if my lack of drawing ability can’t quite get it on paper.

  • At Haven Conference, if it’s your first time and you don’t know anyone, no worries about meeting people! Just jump in and say “hi.” It’s as simple as that. I speak from personal experience: you will wind up laughing and enjoying yourself as you meet so many talented and passionate people. Here’s a map of where bloggers here are from:

Haven Conference 2013 Attendee Map

  • If you have introvert tendencies, be sure to take care of your need to recharge your energy. You’ll know when you start feeling tired and glassy-eyed and need to retreat for a few minutes. There is a coffee bar here but I took a short walk outside to Caribou Coffee. After sitting for hours, a brisk walk feels good, and just 20 minutes of quiet rejuvenated me for the rest of the afternoon.
  • Bring business cards. Some advise to not stress about having media kits here because you can always follow-up with people after Haven. That’s a great way to follow-up and stand out after a whirlwind of meeting people. But bloggers are sharing business cards with each other so we can find each others’ blogs after the conference.

And of course, feed your imagination with visual inspiration. I spotted this ball of knotted rope on the Ballard Designs bookshelf decoration contest here, and it reminded me that there’s a draft “ball of rope” post to finish and share with you. It all started with a hilarious family joke about a rope knot that cost $200. Yes that is $200, I did not misplace the decimal. FWIW, Ballard Design’s rope knot does NOT cost anywhere near that, and it’s a hefty size:

Haven Conference and Ballard Designs Bookshelf

The Online Fabric Store has big swatches here and this was my favorite. Hmmm, where can this fabric fit in our house or the India pied-à-terre?

Online Fabric Store

And from Southern Accents Architectural Antiques, isn’t this the coolest idea – use fragments of old wood and tile to make a collage:

Architectural Remnant Collage from Southern Accents

Haven Conference has a little bit of everything: blog business advice, power tools, paint, stencils, search engine optimization tips, photography tips, great people, fun people and outfit-watching, the cutest mini portobella burgers and really tasty margaritas. For more posts about this conference, visit here.

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Things You Shouldn’t Do Before Going to the Haven Conference

I’m a conference veteran – conferences are very popular for sharing info in my profession so I go to many every year. You learn how to pack your clothes so they don’t crease, how to meet people when you don’t know anyone, etc. etc. etc.

That’s all nice and good. But there are some things that are very important to not do:

  • Don’t wear knit jersey pants (oversize because you like ’em drapey) with a waist that insists on riding up to your bra. TSA will pat and stroke your belly. TSA will pat and stroke your belly real good. Apparently the grandma pant effect alarms even the TSA scanner screener.
  • If you must wear these pants (I find mine in the Target pajama section, love them! soft and comfy) then wear a shirt out over them to hide the whole mess going on around your belly. Which may alarm TSA even more.
  • Don’t chip a tooth the night before leaving. You’ll wind up feeling the tooth obsessively with your tongue during every second you’re not talking or eating. And then your tongue will feel weirdly raw. And then you’ll start thinking about that. It’s very distracting when you’re supposed to listen to speakers and your fellow conference-goers.
  • In addition, the broken tooth may make you wonder, “will I be able to drink cold white wine? Or will I have to gulp room-temperature red wine and hide the grimace?” Because clearly not drinking wine is not an option.
  • If you must bedazzle your sandals to replace the rhinestones that fell off, be sure to allocate 30 minutes in your schedule to carefully wash the powerful bedazzling glue off your fingers without tearing skin. Because hands with ripped up skin could make people afraid to shake your hand at conferences.
  • Related advice: it may be best to not start this project at 1:30 a.m. when you must leave at 7:30 a.m. to catch a flight.

You can see my bedazzled feet but not the grandma pants. Sorry.

If you avoid doing the above three things when going to a conference, you will be fine.

For posts during and after the Haven conference, visit here.

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