CREATE & CULTIVATE CONFERENCE: WHAT TO EXPECT & WHAT I LEARNED
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the Create & Cultivate conference in Chicago, and it was one of the most life-changing experiences of my life. The event took place at the House of Vans in the West Loop where they transformed this indoor skatepark and concert venue into a millennial girl’s Instagramable paradise. From learning about content creation, to social media strategy, to even meeting some of my favorite bloggers and celebrities in person, Create & Cultivate was an experience that I will cherish for a lifetime.
What is Create & Cultivate?
For those of you who may not know, Create & Cultivate is an online community and conference for women who are working towards building the career of their dreams. If you ever need advice on negotiating pay, profiles on people working in your field or even some career encouragement, this is the perfect website for you to visit. As a millennial woman, I try to be as open as I can about lessons that I’ve learned along the way, but because I’m still new to adulthood I’m always seeking out resources-specifically from other women- who have been through similar situations. As for their conferences, if you ever have money to spend, I’d highly recommend making this investment in yourself. Whether you’re a female entrepreneur, a marketing professional or a content creator of any kind, this conference has something that any woman can pull from.
What Happens At the Conference?
Create & Cultivate is an all day event, so make sure you plan accordingly when purchasing a ticket. I’ve only been to the conference in Chicago, but I assume that most of their conferences run on similar schedules. When attending Create & Cultivate, you have the option to purchase a General Admission ticket or a VIP Ticket. Additionally, the conference was divided into two different tracks: one focused on business and entrepreneurship, and the other focused on social media and content creation. Let me first start by saying that attending this conference is rewarding no matter which ticket or track you choose.
With that being said, it does cost roughly $300 more to be a VIP, and only you know how much you can afford to spend. Personally, I thought it was worth the investment to buy the VIP ticket because of the perks that come with it. When you are a VIP, you not only get to choose your track, but you also get to personally select the two mentors you want to speak with during their mentor power hour. Because there were certain people that I knew I wanted face time with, making the splurge on the VIP ticket was a no brainer. In addition to buying the VIP ticket, I ended up choosing the social media and content creation track. So, here’s the run-down of what the day looked like, and what I learned:
When you first arrive: The first thing we got once getting checked in were these fancy At-A-Glance notebooks. Piece of advice: take tons of notes! Although Create & Cultivate is a dreamland for the millennial who loves aesthetically pleasing Instagram photos (hence all of my pictures from the event), it’s also important to remember the reason why you’re there. Snapping cute photos is great, but what was even greater was all of the practical takeaways I got from the conference. It’s extremely rare to be able to learn and have face time with the heads of some of your favorite brands and some of the best content creators in the business, so I wanted to be sure I documented as much as I could. Moral of the story is use your notebook. You’ll thank yourself for it later.
Breakfast: Create & Cultivate has many sponsors and vendors for their event, so breakfast was sponsored by Health-Ade Kombucha. They had a wide variety of different breakfast options, and this was the perfect way to get energized for the day.
Meeting Jaclyn Johnson: As VIPs, we got the opportunity to have a meet and greet with the CEO and Founder of Create & Cultivate, Jaclyn Johnson. Let me tell you…I had to try SO hard not to fangirl over her! I think it’s so amazing what this woman has been able to build, and how the Create & Cultivate community has connected so many women of all races and backgrounds to the resources that they need, and to each other. During this meet and greet, we got to pick up a signed copy of her book WorkParty, and take photos with her which was awesome! She was so gracious and kind to everyone, and I’m so happy I got the chance to meet her.
Coffee & Conversation: This segment was with Jaclyn Johnson and the CEO & Co-Founder of Pinterest, Ben Silbermann. I am a visual person, so I’ve always been a fan of Pinterest, but I’ve been clueless as to how to best optimize the platform for my blog. In this session I got a clearer understanding of Pinterest, and how I can use it for my own business. Pinterest is a unique platform in the sense that is helps you connect with yourself, your interests and ultimately other users who have those same interests. The key to best optimizing this platform is beautiful imagery, great copy, thoughtful descriptions, a paid strategy (even if it’s just a budget of $30 starting out) and strategically utilizing text overlays. On top of that, you want to make sure that you’re creating good content to link back to. One of the main purposes of Pinterest is for users to branch out to other websites from each “pin”. In terms of starting a business, Ben said that there truly is never a “right time” for it. All you can do is find what you’re passionate about, and be consistent. Key takeways: I need to develop some goals for my Pinterest page, and I need to be more consistent with posting on my blog.
Morning Moodboost: This segment was led by Maxie McCoy who is the author of You’re Not Lost, and a motivational speaker. Her job was to really give us the rundown of what to expect for the day, and she encouraged us to take advantage of this opportunity and to ask lots of questions. Her personality is so infectious, and her humor was just what we needed to break the ice!
Storytelling 101: This segment was so rewarding, because I got to hear from some of my favorite brands, bloggers and content creators. This session really talked about building your audience in the most authentic way, and how to best optimize your social media channels. It is imperative that you create authentic content that will resonate with your target audience. In a day and age where everyone and their mother is blogging, it’s so easy to get lost in trying to do what other people are doing. It’s no secret that Instagram is a platform that most content creators rely on, but posting everyday may not necessarily be a solution to growing an authentic following. By Instagram recently launching IGTV and Instagram Stories a year or so back, this allows content creators to connect with their audience in a genuine way through videos without having to go through the trouble of starting a Youtube channel. During this session, I realized something that I never realized before: not only has consistency been a problem for my blog, but so has a clear vision. I have been so sporadic in terms of the content that I post, and this segment really helped me see that I need to reassess what my brand goals are. Key takeaways: I need to do a better job at planning out posts ahead of time, authenticity is key and I need to utilize IGTV and Instagram Stories to further connect with my followers.
Workparty, Collaboration Over Competition: This segment featured various heads of well-known brands and content creators. The highlight of this segment for me was getting to hear from Emma Chapman who is the Co-Founder and CEO of the blog A Beautiful Mess, and my new favorite photo editing app A Color Story. On this panel, they talked about the importance of creating a positive work environment, and making sure there is collaboration and not competition. This is something that is stressed throughout Create & Cultivate messaging. We live in a society where women are constantly feeling like they’re less than when another woman succeeds, but the reality is that we can all learn something from each other. It’s also important to find mentors within the company you work for, and study under them. Finally, it’s important to stay in your lane. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve experienced the fierce competitiveness of a workplace where people will go out of their way to “one up” you in order to look like the shining star. There’s room at the table for all of us to succeed, and it’s important to focus on your strengths and talents than to compete with someone else. Key takeaways: I need to focus more on what makes me unique, and stay in my lane. Additionally, I need to make sure I’m doing everything that I can to create a positive work environment with myself and co-workers.
Boss Dot Com, Monetizing Your Blog & Working With Influencers: This segment was most relevant to me since I have been blogging for the last three years. This panel featured one of my favorite Chicago bloggers, Jenn Lake of Style Charade. In addition to being a full-time blogger, she also works full-time as a Senior Vice President of the PR Agency Zapwater Communications. This session talked about one of the biggest conversations that we have in blogging, which is money. Everyone aims to monetize their blog, but there are so many of us who are still struggling with this. With there being so many great content creators who have thousands of followers, it can be really discouraging being a micro-influencer who is trying to build a genuine following-especially when there are so many bloggers who pay for followers and inflate their stats (that’s a whole other blog post for another time). Something that Jenn talked about was not being discouraged by your numbers. At her agency, they work with bloggers with as little as 500 followers and bloggers with 500,000 followers. A partnership really depends on whether or not your content is something that aligns with a brand’s campaign needs. Something else that I learned is that the key to monetizing your blog/social media channels really boils down to quality content and looking at the data. Analytics is something that isn’t as “sexy” to talk about, but it should be the driving force behind all content creation. It’s important to know who your followers are, when they’re online, and what kinds of content they like to see from you. In terms of monetizations, it’s important to diversify your streams of revenue whether that’s affiliate links, email marketing or brand partnerships. One of the best things I learned from this panel was regarding choosing brand partnerships. I’m not someone who gets thousands of emails in terms of brand collaborations, but I do have some prospects that pop into my inbox on a weekly basis. I haven’t done any brand partnerships since my City Meets Southern days, and that’s mainly due to the fact that some of them have not felt authentic to my brand. So, what’s the first step in deciding if a certain partnership will align with your personal brand goals? Jenn offered up some great advice in the form of the three P’s:
Passion: Am I excited about this brand?
Prestige: Is this an industry leading and/or industry disruptive brand?
Profitability: What will be my return? Can I make money from this? Does the work align with the compensation the brand is offering? Keep in mind, blogging is not this glamorously easy task. It takes time (and money) to hire a photographer, put together outfits and props, take photos, draft the blog post, make sure the content is rich in SEO, search for all product links and go through the editing process with the brand to ensure they have the content they need (more to come on this in another post). Is this company profitable? Can I help this brand in terms of making conversions? Brand awareness is great, but at the end of the day you want to be able to show more than just engagement on your blog and social media posts. While some brands hire influencers mainly for brand awareness, being able to provide those conversions will help you build long-lasting relationships when you can prove that you’re able to drive sales.
Lunch: After a jam-packed day of learnings and networking, we got to finally each lunch! All the food was provided by one of my favorite healthy spots in Chcicago, sweetgreen. Check out their website to find one in your city!
Mentor Power Hour: Remember when I talked about the perks of being a VIP? This is one of them! This hour is filled with two, thirty minute sessions with the mentors of your choosing (you get to choose your mentors if you’re a VIP, and you’re assigned mentors if you buy a GA ticket). My work experience is very unique in the sense that I could go the marketing or editorial route. Because I’m working in a field where I am combining both of them together, I wanted to make sure that I had one mentor who is leading in the social media space and another mentor leading in editorial. With this in mind, I ended up choosing Erin Silver who is the Social Media and Influencer Marketing Lead for Volvo USA, and Sacha Strebe who is the Editorial Director for one of my favorite websites My Domaine.
Session #1 with Erin, Social Media and Influencer Strategy: One of the main takeaways I had with Erin was how important it is to be on top of social media changes in the industry. If you look down for too long, you’re likely to miss a key change that can make or break your business. I’ve been working on a certificate in social media strategy with Hubspot Academy for the last few weeks, and this session gave me the kick-in-the-ass I needed to get it done! In order to be amongst the best in the field, you have to make sure you’re on top of your sh*t. In terms of working with influencers, it’s important to allow them to tell the story. The more handholding you do and the more stipulations you put on contracts, the less authentic the content will feel to their audience. Trust your influencer partners to tell the story in a way that will reflect brand goals on both sides. Lastly, my favorite takeaway was that organic content still matters. Social media has become a pay-to-play industry, and at times we get lost in paid posts and bigger social media budgets. Although paid ads are still a huge piece, organic content is still an important component. Content begins to feel less authentic when all you’re doing is bombarding consumers with advertisements. (Erin was honestly one of the nicest humans on the planet, and I learned so much from her in this short amount of time.)
Session #2 with Sacha, Editorial Planning and Digital Content Strategy: First off, Sacha was an absolute dream to meet in person. I’ve known who she was (through social media, of course) for a while now, so I felt a little star struck finally seeing her face-to-face. My Domaine is under the umbrella of Clique Brands, who also owns Byrdie Beauty, Who What Wear, and my former employer, College Fashionista. This session was critical for me in terms of blogging, and planning for the future. The biggest takeaway I got was consistency. No great site was built on posting sporadically or producing subpar content. It’s so important to make sure your building out those editorial content calendars for yourself, and placing yourself on deadlines so that you can stay organized. While I don’t think daily content is something that I’ll be doing on my blog, I definitely got the motivation I needed to do a better job at planning and being consistent. After the session was over, I got the chance to talk with her one-on-one about creating content in a space that is extremely saturated. She encouraged me to stay true to myself, and really do a deep dive of what I want to share on my platform. She said theres only one Danielle Sandifer in this space, and that’swhat I need to tap into. Yes, there are millions of bloggers and content creators who are posting content of a certain type, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for me to be unique.
Squad Up: This segment was all about creating a strong sense of self, encouraging others to do the same and surrounding yourself with people who are going to make you the best version of yourself. It’s so easy to get discouraged by what everyone else is doing to the point that you begin to lose all sense of self. This is something that I struggle with on a daily basis, as I am always battling feelings of not being good enough. I especially loved hearing from Danielle Moss who is the Co-Founder of another favorite of mine, The Everygirl. She talked a lot about her earlier struggles when her and her business partner were trying to get The Everygirl off of the ground. Although it takes massive work to get a blog up and running, things were better having a partner-in-crime who is right there alongside of you. Key takeaways: prioritize building yourself up, and finding your identity. Oftentimes we struggle with building a strong sense of self because we’re so entangled with what others are doing. Sometimes you need to take a step back and focus on finding YOU! Secondly, you are who you surround yourself with (cliché I know, but SO important). If you have sh*tty people around you who make you feel like sh*t, CUT THEM OFF. You’re not going to get to where you’re going if you have a bunch of dead weight that’s keeping you down.
Keynote Speaker #1, Shay Mitchell: I have been a die-hard Pretty Little Liars fan, so to say I DIED when I got to hear Shay Mitchell speak would be an understatement. Shay Mitchell has been doing a lot in the content space with her “Shaycation” series on YouTube. Her main message in this session was to do what feels right for you, and to stop worrying about what other people are doing. Focus on what makes you unique, and stop getting caught up in what the Jones’ are doing. Being an entrepreneur is not an easy thing in this day and age. When asked what you need to start a business in 2018, Shay said hustle, passion, and no fear. How true is this?!
Break: During the break, we had an opportunity to walk around to all of the different pop up shops, and pick up samples of products from all of the different vendors. There were pop up shops by McDonald’s, VANS, Nordstrom Beauty, Mary Kay, JCPenny, Microsoft and so many more. McDonald’s even had an opportunity for women to come and pitch their business ideas to them for a chance to win a $10,000 grant toward their business which was awesome! During this break, it also gave me an opportunity to snap a few pictures, and get refreshed before heading to the next panel discussion.
Digital Darlings: This segment was amazing for anyone who is in the content space or interested in starting their own business. This panel featured Ashley Tisdale, Whitney Eve Port and Chriselle Lim. Each of these women have been disrupting the digital space in new and interesting ways. Ashley Tisdale, as many people know, is a former star of the Disney classic, High School Musical. What many people may not know is that she is the CEO and Founder of Illuminate Cosmetics. Whitney Port is the former star of MTV’s The Hills (which is also coming back!) and her own spinoff show The City. This reality television star, turned fashion designer is now a wife and mom who runs a popular lifestyle website Whitney Port. Chriselle Lim is a famous fashion stylist and influencer from the blog The Chriselle Factor. She has a line coming out in Nordstrom in a few weeks, and I am SO HYPED for it! The key takeaway from this panel is that we shouldn’t be afraid of failure. Whether you’re starting a blog, starting a business or walking away from a job, don’t be afraid to mess up and try something new. Also, it’s important to find rhythm and not balance. I will be talking about this in a blog post coming up, but at times I think we search for balance when in reality we just need to embrace the seasons we’re in, and give our all to whatever requires the most time out of us.
Keynote #2, Alli Webb: For those who don’t know, Alli Webb is the Founder of the popular hair salon, Drybar. During this keynote session, she talked about her journey to building Drybar, as well as some of the bumps in the road she encountered getting there. She also talked about the struggles of being a female founder, and getting funding. Less than 2% of venture capitalist funds go to female businesses, and it is a HUGE problem in our society. She talked about how she got creative raising money to get Drybar off the ground, as well as the work (and personal funds) that she and her husband have put into the company. The biggest piece of advice that she gave was actually advice that she was given: feedback is a gift. Oftentimes we think of feedback as being a negative thing, but it’s so essential for building and a sustaining a profitable business.
Happy Hour: This next hour was sponsored by JCPenny, which contained three perfectly curated cocktails from Crown Royal and Chandon. This was the time to socialize, network, and check out any pop ups before they closed up for the night.
Keynote #3, Jennifer Hudson: People know her as the singer and actress, but many don’t know her as the philanthropist and motivational speaker. She talked about the importance of building a community of women around you who you can learn from. So many women have this incessant need to compete and one up each other, when all we need to do is realize how much we can lift one another up. Additionally, she talked a lot about doing what makes you feel passionate. Oftentimes we chase money, and that leaves us feeling miserable a lot of the time. If we work hard to chase what we truly love, we’ll never really work a day in our life. Success is what you define it as, and only the individual woman can say what that is. One of my favorite quotes from her session was, “If it’s not worth working hard for, it’s not worth it at all”. Amen J-Hud, amen.
Would You Recommend Going to A Create & Cultivate Conference?
YES! When I tell you that this is the best money I’ve EVER spent, I’m not exaggerating. Even if you’re not someone who works in a creative space, I have a hard time believing that you’d come here and not get something out of it. There’s something so powerful about women coming together from all difference races and career backgrounds to learn how to further their careers, and connect with other like-minded women. I was able to get connected with and network with so many different women, and I can’t wait to see how all of our relationships grow. If you’re going to Create & Cultivate by yourself, I guarantee that you will have no problem making friends and getting connected with other girl bosses! There were so many women who flew in from all over the country to be at this conference, so don’t feel like you’re going to be alone! Moral of the story: INVEST IN YOURSELF. This conference is so worth it, and I guarantee that you will see the return on this personal and professional investment.
When is the Next Create & Cultivate Conference?
Head over to the Create & Cultivate website for all updates on their next conference, as well as a bunch of helpful career resources! Create & Cultivate has a huge summit coming up in Miami in December, so if you plan on going make sure you grab tickets ASAP!
If you made it to the end of this post, congratulations! I hope this recap was helpful! Did you attend C & C Chicago or are you planning on going to a C & C Conference? Let me know in the comments below!