Really Long Review of the 2011 Financial Blogger Conference

There aren’t many conferences where looking at other attendees nametags and spotting bloggers you’ve read for years makes you secretly giddy like a little girl who just met Minnie Mouse. That’s why the highlight of the Financial Blogger Conference had nothing to do with the content — it was sheerly magical to achieve the difficult feet of getting 25% of the personal finance blogging community together in one location. PT Money did a fabulous job marketing this event, and convincing some of the frugalist bloggers to splurge on a trip to Schamburg, Illinois, to spend 48 hours with each other for the first time.

On my flight out to O’Hare Airport, I thought about all of the names of bloggers who might be at the conference, and the excitement mounted, smothering the oxygen out of my exhaustion. However, exhaustion, still crackling on my delayed four-hour flight on Thursday evening, kept larger nerves at bay. The nerves only showed up on Friday afternoon when the conference officially started, and I began seeing bloglebrities, many of whom I couldn’t get up the guts to talk to over the course of the weekend.

The biggest surprise of the weekend was how many people at the conference treat their PF blogging as a business. That was one of the main trends of the conference, which both inspired me to monetize my blog and also made me feel like I was at the wrong kind of conference for an anonymous PF blogger who is really just in this to laugh at my finance mistakes and share my stories, so no one — not myself or my readers — makes those mistakes again. In any case, here is a summary of the best and worst of the Financial Blogger Conference:

Conference Highlights, in Order of Occurance

– Meeting Give Me Back My Five Bucks (one of my favorite PF Bloggers) and having a lovely dinner with her, Blonde and Balanced, Finance Fox, and Glenn from Prosper. I had no idea what other PF bloggers would be like, but everyone in that group was kind, funny, and made me feel welcome. Had I arrived without a roomshare situation and easy intro to GMBMFB, my social anxiety would have probably hurt my enjoyment of the first half of the conference, so thanks to GMBMFB for inviting me to that first dinner!

– Speed Networking on Friday night. It was a little insane (one minute to talk to another conference attendee than move down and talk to another) but it was a great way to be forced to meet a lot of people in a short amount of time. Apparently everyone brought business cards for their blogs — I hadn’t even thought of it, and wish I made some before the event. Luckily, 90% of the other attendees had them, so I can still track them down once I have time to add them to my public blog reader at PersonalFinanceReader.com.

– J.D. Roth’s opening keynote. While I don’t read Get Rich Slowly on a consistant basis, I’ve always enjoyed that blog’s content, and understand why it’s one of the most successful PF blogs out there. He’s Gotten Rich Slowly off of it — and his keynote about how to make your blog better (so you can make money off of it) set the tone for the entire event. While some great writers make horrible speakers (see some things that need to be improved on below), J.D. Roth was excellent in keeping the attention of the audience, making us laugh, and reminding us that ultimately we need to be telling stories with our writing in order to have a quality blog and gain readership. To prove his point, he had a blogger friend dress up as a Clingon and make a surprise, somewhat terrifying and unexpected “attack” to the stage from the audience. It also made many of us feel at ease in the room because many of us are self-defined nerds, and we could all share in a laugh at our own expense.

– Wise Bread’s Eric, who reminded me how I need to make more effort in being part of the Wise Bread community. He mentioned a fairly new feature on the site — The Wise Bread 1000 — which sends out an email daily to show not the top 100 bloggers, but those who are becoming more popular on the list. His tips were basically that in order to build readership for your blog, it’s great to get link love from people on the top 100 of the list, but it’s just as important to focus on bloggers who are just above you and just below you on the list. During his speech i went to WiseBread.com to check out exactly where I am on the list. I recalled signing up a while ago, but didn’t remember seeing my name make it on the list itself. When I checked, it wasn’t there, so then I went into my account settings and realized my profile was private. I made it public, hooked up my Facebook and Twitter accounts, and found out that I’m #283 on the list. Not so shabby. Knowing many of the folks in the top 200, who I met over the course of the event, makes me want to break that 200 spot and get on the first page in the next year.

– Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich gave one of the most powerful talks of the event. I’ve read his blog off and on, but I’m not really his target audience. He’s looking for people who are willing to spend $1,000+ on his products that teach you how to always ask for what you want, use behavioral psychology to get what you want, and make lots of money in the process. I’ve purchased his book (which is much more affordable) and even gave it to my boyfriend (who needs Ramit’s advice more than me in a lot of cases), but haven’t had an inkling of desire to spend 25% of my monthly income on helping Ramit build his wealth. He has plenty of other followers who do that. But I was most excited to see his talk. While most of the PF world comes from the bible belt and the south, Ramit is my Silicon Valley neighbor. His advice is also geared towards people who are not in debt (check) and who are motivated to make significant side income in realistic ways (check.) But his writing can be pompous, in line with his “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” brand that he started in college when he wasn’t rich yet himself, and he’s a proud member of the Stanford elite (many of who I encounter on a daily basis in my professional life and don’t quite click with.) I wanted to see the person behind this brand in real life as, more than anything, he fascinates the heck out of me. I could write a whole post on my observations of Ramit over the weekend, but he reminds me of the dating coach Mystery who teaches men about behavioral tricks to get women to fawn over them, even if they aren’t that good looking or wealthy. It turns out that another blogger heard his favorite sites to read are dating sites, go figure — watching him work the women who came up to him at the party he through on Saturday night was a metaphor for his power and success, ending up with his arm around the waist of one of the most beautiful women in the room. Back to Ramit’s presentation — one thing that surprised me about his talk was his sense of humor. He kicked off the talk with a parody video about money, and it was clear that he’s not some big finance honcho, but instead a yuppie who has found a calling for himself teaching other yuppies to maintain and grow their yuppiedom. I think many of us, before seeing him talk, assumed he was going to be a pretenious douche, but instead I thought he was — ok, a little into himself like a typical Stanford grad — but also a guy who had his own set of insecurities and was able to laugh at himself. Being a Stanford grad, it’s also easy to assume he had life handed to him on a silver platter, but he informed us in the Q&A of his speech that he actually paid his own way through undergrad and graduate school. He also detailed his journey from starting I Will Teach You to Be Rich in college, when he couldn’t get his fellow students to show up for a class he put together on obtaining and building wealth, and how now he wishes that his blog had a name more focused on his readers and not himself. He discussed how to make money — and good money — selling products on your site, something I hadn’t even considered before. This was an ongoing theme of the conference outside of his speech as well.

… in any case, while I have mixed feelings about Ramit (mix of jealousy and admiration and a little eye rolling at his ridiculous confidence (or pseudo confidence act) that makes him actually rich), he clearly made one of the most significant impacts on me at the event, because I just wrote one massive rambling paragraph about him. I think a lot of the other bloggers had the same (significant) impressions by his prescence. We can’t all be Ramit, but maybe we can all be just a little bit like him so we can reach our goals faster and in more meaningful increments.

– Throughout the event, I met many of the other well-known and lesser known bloggers who I had read over the past few years, and many I haven’t read yet, but will start reading. It was so much fun to see if their personalities matched what I imagined when reading their blogs. I’ve determined Punch Debt in the Face and Budgets are Sexy, two of the top personal finance bloggers, are twins, despite BAS’s awesome mohawk and PDITF’s shaved head. I’d like to name everyone I met at the conference, but I’m sure even if I try I’ll forget a few. In any case, here are a few of the folks I ran into at the event… in addition to the ones I mentioned above… Money Under 30, Faith Based Finance, Smart Finance Chick, The Centsible Life,

– Meeting Amanda Steinberg of Daily Worth. It’s rare to have the chance to meet a strong, independent and successful female entrepreneur, let alone one in the tech and personal finance space. It was by chance that she sat down at my lunch table on Saturday, and Smart Money Chick, who was sitting next to me, pointed out who she was (so I didn’t have to make a fool of myself asking during introductions). She also gave a talk that afternoon which discussed her story of how she has built one of the most successful e-mail media businesses — which inspired me a lot, not just in my PF blogging life, but in “legit professional life” where I want to one day become an entrepreneur. We also had a fascinating conversation at lunch with the other women at our table about how women and men tend to blog about personal finance very differently. This conversation continued that afternoon in a birds of a feather breakout session…

– The Birds of a Feather sessions, where event attendees could create their own session on any topic and invite others to attend, were a bit disorganized. Luckily, I went to grab a new schedule from the main conference sign-in desk at 2:30pm, and it just so happened the sign up sheet for the Birds of a Feather session was sitting next to the pile of schedules. I saw one session that looked interesting — women of personal finance blogging — and realized that session was happening at that very moment. I wandered over to the room where it was supposed to be happening and found a small group of women, sitting in a circle, introducing themselves. The conversation in this session was very different than what the main panels were about. It became clear that women who blog about personal finance do it for a different reason then the guys. This is a generalization, of course, but I saw it throughout the conference — the female personal finance bloggers write more lifestyle blogs with finance content.

– Meeting bloggers who live near me… realizing The Digerati Life lives literally around the corner from my house, and Lazy Man and Money lives just a few towns over. Small world.

– The party on Saturday night, thrown by Ramit at John Barleycorn, was a heck of a lot of fun, and not something I’d typically do on a Saturday night. At first I wasn’t looking forward to going to a loud bar where I was going to feel awkward and introverted and miserable. But I do like to dance, and my bf never ever goes dancing with me. So when I finally joined the group of bloggers dancing together in a friendly (mostly not skeezy way) I jumped around and had a blast. Probably made a mad fool of myself, but I didn’t care. Besides a few of the sponsors that were clearly too cool for school, the rest of us were kind of nerdy and just having fun. I woke up the next morning sore — dancing is the best exercise ever. I wish I got to go out more often with a group like that!

– Getting interviewed by national public radio under my pen name. Wish my voice was less (non anonymously) distinct, but will see if I get picked up in the spot this weekend…

– Being hungover and exhausted with everyone through Sunday’s sessions. Saying goodbye to everyone and feeling like I’m part of the community, even though few people know my blog…

-… & Being surprised by the number of people that have heard of my blog.

– Sofia being super awesome and giving me a ride to downtown Chicago after the conference!

Some Things That Could Be Improved On…

– The first day there was an optional charity event, where you could go help out for a few hours in exhange for dinner. While I’d typically be in favor of a charity event, I didn’t go because it was a faith-based organiziation. A few others shared this sentiment — I personally do not support faith-based charities. I love the idea, but hope next year the charity event is for a non faith-based charity. Granted, at the conference I realized that many of the bloggers that attended were Christian (there’s a giant Christian personal finance blogging community — Bible Money Matters, Faith Based Finance, etc) and they’re all great people. I just wish the charity event was for a secular not-for-profit.

– The poor sponsors on the sponsor panel… the audience really got angry at the fact there was a payday loan afilliate on the panel. Then when the one of the credit card sponsors said they really want to attract people who carry a balance and don’t pay off their bills, I thought all hell would break loose. It was quite amusing to watch the angsty posts on Twitter during this panel.

– Ally Bank semi-tricking attendees into doing a free add for Ally Bank. Being that I’m in marketing, I was frustrated about what I agreed to, but appreciated the sneaky tactics. If I was an actual member of Ally Bank I wouldn’t have minded, but, anyway, I’ll see how, or if they use my footage in their viral videos. Looking back I should have sat that one out.

– The whole conference felt geared towards “public” finance bloggers who blog to make money. I used to try to make money off my blog with adsense, but that got me no where, and I realized I don’t blog for the money, I blog for my readers. At least for now, that’s the way it is around here. And the whole conference really didn’t have a lot of content for people who weren’t looking to make a business out of their blogs.

– A lot of the content could have been found at any blogging conference. I was hoping for some really meaningful talk about the state of the economy, finance, and tons of blogging ideas as a takeaway of the event’s main panels. I ended up getting some ideas from my various conversations outside of the official conference hours, but wished there were more sessions on specific finance topics vs just on how to make money blogging

– And, overall I’m bummed that I got too nervous to say hi and have conversations with folks like JD Roth and Ramit. I hate how my social anxiety gets in the way of so many things in my life. But I think I did a good job at the event, forcing myself to talk to strangers, and bonding over all being strangers. I can see returning to this event next year could be even more fun now that I know more of the people, and will try to follow their blogs more closely (and add them to Personal Finance Reader so I can keep up and try to leave comments as often as possible.) I don’t really feel part of the PF blogging community because I write a lifestyle blog, but it turns out that a few other PF bloggers, esp the gals, have similar blogs. So I guess I am part of the community after all. Heck, I’m #263 on the Wisebread Top 1000 Personal Finance blogger list, so I must be in the community, right?

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4 thoughts on “Really Long Review of the 2011 Financial Blogger Conference”

  1. Funny your comments on the wisebread presentation and how you changed your profile settings to public and ranked on the top 1000 list — that's how I found you. That list is an easy way to read the up and comers instead of the usual suspects. You have interesting, real content from what I have seen so far. Best of luck on your climb up the list.

    1. They had a marketing firm interview conference attendees on video. The firm asked a few questions about money and banking that were fairly general, and then surprised you with the last question “if your bank does ____ you need an ally,” where you had to fill in the _____. I was pissed at BoA that day, so just went with it… if your bank makes you talk to a robot, you need an ally. Granted, they do focus on having you talk to real people, so it was something that popped into my head and seemed legit. Looking back I was like, damn, did I really just volunteer to do a free ad for Ally bank?

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