Last weekend I hosted my third Blognix conference, it was called the Blognix Retreat. It was a full weekend of activities designed to help bloggers, bloggers and content creators to come together in a countryside location.
Having hosted the past two Blognix events in Birmingham we decided it would make a nice change for a blogging event to be held in country with a retreat vibe. We wanted the focus to be on the business and wellbeing with the location offering a chance for the attendees to switch off with distractions of ‘city life’.
We picked a hotel that was roughly halfway between London and Birmingham which made it relatively central and easy to get to for most of the country. We chose to stay for the whole weekend with some attendees choosing to stay both the Friday and Saturday night as well. As organisers this was pretty essential as we had to set up the main room the night before as well as prepping all the goody bags etc.
I intentionally wanted the goody bags to feature a small number of brands that were relevant to the attendees. I’ve been to so many events where there is goody bag overwhelm, that I found this a nicer way to showcase a small number of interesting businesses. In the end I think it turned out rather well.
After a full-on day of set up and prep on the Friday we made it to bed before midnight. An utter miracle in the history of organising Blognix. We had been working 12-15 hour days for the few weeks previous and were running on empty. Sleep is totally needed with this kind of thing.
Thankfully Hellidon Lakes Hotel were kind enough to sort us our with a lovely comfortable room for the weekend and I slept incredibly well.
Saturday we were up early, down for a quick breakfast and then setting up the welcome station in the reception area of the hotel. The lovely Rebecca, Holly and Amy were kind enough to manage the registration process for me whilst Raj and I ran around setting up the rest of the conference and tech for the day. As always something technical goes wrong, we’ve done this enough times to know that, so with a last minute shifting of laptops and fixing an amp for ShopStyle’s video and we were good to go.
I could the chatter and laughter of the bloggers outside the doors as the grabbed a coffee and mingled before I opened doors. I took those last 10 minutes to myself to rehearse my welcome speech and calm my nerves. As often as I do public speaking, it is still a little nerve-wracking.
Thankfully, at 10 o’clock when the doors opened, the delegates filtered into the room with spirits high and smiles on their faces.
I started the conference with the usual welcome and housekeeping talk before launching into my keynote speech about my thoughts on blogging and what the Blognix spirit is all about. It was important to me that I stressed how vital the success of the weekend would be down to everybody in that room being receptive to one another, being open to sharing their own wisdom and to create the opportunities for themselves to learn what they needed. I’m not really about hierarchies, fame or cliques. I believe in openness, sharing and giving.
The motto for Blognix since 2013 has always been – learn, connect, inspire – and that was the mission for every person in the room for that weekend.
To get everyone warmed up I ran two icebreaker challenges to encourage everyone on their tables to get chatting and find out a bit about each other.
After the icebreakers, we heard from Chrissy at the ShopStyle Collective. She shared loads of details not only about how their platform worked but also how content creators could maximise their content effectively for affiliate advertising. Having dabbled a little in affiliates it was so useful to think of it in a strategic manner.
Next we had a coffee break to give the delegates a chance to mingle, refresh and chill for a bit. Most of them had travelled down early that morning so I knew they’d need a caffeine break pretty early on!
The following talk was from the ever-inspiring Ximena who shared super-useful actionable tips on how to launch a digital product and make thousands of pounds in the process. Ximena is incredibly charismatic and smart and whilst her blog is in Spanish if you hit Google Translate it does a pretty good job. She is a great example of an internet business adapting and growing with new technologies and tools as they come out. She shared with us how she is using Periscope successfully to help launch her products as well as thinking about a launch sequence with a mailing list.
After that we took a long leisurely lunch in the restaurant overlooking the golf course and the countryside. It was a three-course buffet style lunch and pretty darn tasty. There was a huge buzz in the restaurant as everyone was mingling and catching up.
Raj and I wolfed down some food then headed back to the conference room which was being switched up into two separate rooms ready for the afternoon workshops. We needed to make sure all the tech was in place and speakers were ready.
As is always the case, time flew by and the next thing we knew it was 2pm and the delegates were back.
The afternoon ran over three different sessions of about 45 minutes each, with a switch over time in between. The delegates could choose one of the two workshops to attend and everyone had the opportunity to sign up at the registration desk for their chosen slots. So in total there were six sessions of which each delegate went to three.
We had Monica from The Travel Hack chatting about how to successfully build business relationships with brands and PRs. It was awesome to hear how Monica has taken a strategic approach to networking and creating long-term campaigns with the right brands.
In the other room Amy from She Cooks, She Eats was running a workshop on how to start up a YouTube channel and some of the basics of vlogging. Loads of bloggers are looking at creating YouTube channels and adding video content to their blogs, so this was super useful starting point. Amy was so approachable and made it seem much less scarier to do video than some of us think it is.
Next up we had Rebecca from Lawyer in the Making discussing the importance of bloggers having contracts, terms and conditions, and how to think about the legal side of their blogs. This was super useful and incredible useful to get the conversation started. As bloggers we are running businesses the minute we receive something in exchange for a post, whether that’s a lipstick, a meal or cash. Therefore having everything in writing and establishing clear intentions is vital for covering our own backs and ensuring healthy working relationships.
At the same time Holly from Hey Holly June was running a Time Management workshop, complete with snazzy worksheets! Time management, or rather, lack of time to blog, is one of the most common challenges I hear bloggers complain about (and I’m one of them!) and as a life coach Holly helped the group work through their goals, priorities and then steered them into thinking how to manage them.
Finally, Raj and I were head to head with our workshops.
I was running a Pinterest workshop where I talked through strategic ways content creators can optimise for Pinterest engagement and traffic.
Raj who is also an accountant and business adviser for bloggers and small business owners with his company KonaSeven, covered the finance and accounting side of running a blog and business, pretty vital when we all want to earn money! His workshop was so well received that most of them left in silence. I heard that the attendees found his focus on business mindset super useful!
And in a quick flash, the conference part of the day was finished. We grabbed a quick photo before everyone went to get their bags and check-in to their rooms. The hotel kindly sent a receptionist down to our foyer to distribute the keys to each delegate and direct them to their room.
We had a quick break where I was able to get back to my room, put my sore feet up for half an hour and finish the quiz I had written for the evening dinner. Meanwhile Raj was sorting out some further admin. I could totally have fallen asleep then and there, but somehow managed to drag myself up to change into my favourite sequin skirt, top up my eye make-up and head back downstairs with quiz sheets in hand.
The hotel arranged for a round of pre-dinner drinks for us before dinner, which was super lovely. We had our own private dining room decked out in white with fairy lights. There was a table plan set up for us with place settings. Each attendee had pre-ordered of the set menu and it was important for the waiters to have everyone in one place. I had arranged for everyone to be separated from the people they were sharing a room with, or had come together with. At first I think this was met with a few grumbles, but as I suspected it worked out stupendously! It forced everyone to chat and get to know different people. Every table was buzzing with chatter the entire meal and new friendships were formed. It was marvellous.
Between the courses I stood up to read out a round of quiz questions, which in hindsight I realised might have been a tad challenging. I know my own table were not best pleased with the majority of questions asked, oooops! Again, it encouraged lots of conversations and included whole tables as they worked on the answers. It was so much fun! And I think I might have found my calling as a quizmaster – I loved it! Something about the power of knowing all the answers ….
Dinner itself was lovely, I particularly enjoyed my lemon tart pudding which I managed to wolf down between the quiz and sharing the answers! We treated the winning table to a bottle of prosecco as a prize and we all made our way over to the bar for more drinks and socialising.
By about 10pm the hotel offered us the chance to play 10-pin bowling downstairs in a rather retro looking 4 mini lane bowling alley. It. was. awesome. About half the attendees joined, the rest either made their way to bed or hunkered down in the bar for a more civilised bottle of wine and chat.
The rest of us hammed it up with a game of bowling. Oh, how we laughed. Such silly fun.
Eventually exhaustion got the better of most of us and we headed back to our rooms for some well earned slumber before the final day.
On Sunday I was up super early again to get myself ready for the last sessions. Our yoga teacher for Yoogaia taught an early morning class at 8am with about a third of the attendees making it along. We popped in for a bit and it looked great! The feedback from the group that went was fantastic and it seemed like a great way to start the day.
Sadly I was on organiser duties, so Raj and I grabbed a quick early breakfast before heading back to the conference room to set up for the last sessions. Once everyone had checked out their rooms and stored their bags we kicked off the final three workshops of the retreat.
First we started off with a creative thinking session with Jen from She Gets Around. It was an interactive session which included Jen encouraging us to write a poem, something I haven’t done in yonks! I absolutely love writing poetry, no matter how cheesy or crappy it is, and it served as a great reminder to stretch our brains in different ways.
Next we had Laura from Wholeheartedly Healthy running a workshop about self-care for success. As business owners, freelancers, folks often working all hours of the day, it is so easy to forget to take care of ourselves. And as Laura said “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. The workshop was also interactive and included a worksheet to help us think through our priorities for self-care and figure out how to incorporate that into our lives.
To round of the morning and to close the retreat I hosted the last session where I introduced the attendees to the concept of a business mastermind. I asked each table to take it in turns, have 5 minutes each to talk about their blog and/or business along with the challenges they currently face. The rest of the group then make as many suggestions as they can to help with those challenges. I joined one table myself and in that half an hour we learned so much not only about our own businesses but each others. It was a super inspiring way to end the retreat.
And with that I made my closing remarks, got a little bit emotional, and Raj took over with a few more words.
By then it was midday and the delegates were free to spend time at the hotel, have a spa treatment, grab lunch, take up a one-to-one session with Raj or ShopStyle, and a few gathered round with me for another Pinterest chat.
After a few hours most people had filtered off to make their way home and once the last person had left Raj and I were finally able to head back to our room to pack everything up and make the drive home utterly exhausted but pleased everyone left happy.
Honestly, organising this event has been a total nightmare, and I don’t know if I can face doing it again. But to see that the attendees enjoyed it so much and left feeling buoyed by the experience is incredible, especially knowing what it took to get us there. I think we need show great respect to the folks who organise value-driven events like this, chances are if you enjoy it then it took a lot of hard work, sweat and tears.
That being said, it was a total honour to be in a room with such warm. inspiring and genuine creators. It felt like everyone was on the same level, they had the same attitude which was in spite of the fact that as a demographic we crossed over many decades (shout out to the 40+ crew, whoop whoop!), came from all over the country (and Europe, shout out to Germany!) and all wrote blogs from a variety of different niches.
Something really magic happened there.
Like I said, it was an honour to host such fabulous creators.
To watch the official film from the Blognix Retreat go to YouTube here or watch below:
For my behind the scenes vlog of organising the whole weekend go to YouTube here of watch below: