Tips and Takeaways: The TPT Conference
As promised, I'm following up my Viva Las Vegas post with some specific tips for planning and takeaways from the conference. Here we go...
10 Tips before you leave:
1. Choosing sessions. Honestly, I struggled when making choices as to which sessions I would attend during the conference. There were a few that were givens, such as the Motivational Panel with Jen Jones and Expand Your Impact with Angela Watson. But others were a little more difficult. There were several times when I was interested in two topics during one session and had to make the tough choice of which not to attend. My advice is to determine your purpose for attending the conference in the first place and setting goals for what you want your business to become. Don't just look at where you are now and choose sessions that fit your current situation. Instead, decide where you want to be in the next year and select topics that will help get you there.
2. Create a schedule of your sessions and any meet-ups you plan to attend. Then have your calendar bound together with session handouts and extra pages for notes. This way all of your important information will be in one place and you won't be flipping through a bunch of stapled handouts while trying to take notes during sessions. Many people bring their papers in three ring notebooks, but I don't recommend this. During most sessions, you are packed in tight and don't really have space to negotiate a big binder on your lap. A spiral bound notebook is much easier to manage.
3. Purchase materials that will promote and advertise your brand. Last year, it seemed that everyone was passing out pens. I came home with enough pens to last me a year. This year, I wanted to do something different that was both useful and memorable. My husband came up with the brilliant idea of giving away portable battery chargers. It was a genius idea because everyone needs one during the conference (get one if you don't have one!). Constant selfies and updating your Instagram feed drains your phone battery faster than you realize! So the chargers were a great gift to help keep attendees charged while spreading awareness of my brand.
At the very least, plan to bring a stack of business cards. While I gave away almost none the first year, I passed out dozens this year. Plan to have a hefty stack for each networking event or session you attend. Next, be sure to have something with your logo that you can wear each day, such a button or t-shirt. TPT will provide you with a name tag, but unless you're a well known seller, attendees will probably know you by your store name and logo rather than your face. Wearing the logo will help others connect you to your store.
A perfect, albeit embarrassing, example is when I sat directly next to a well known seller during a meet-up and never realized it. And not just some random seller, but someone with whom I had been emailing back and forth with for weeks before the conference. A seller I should have known. In my defense, I knew her by her store name and logo and before that day had never seen her face. However, when I finally made the connection, I was humiliated.
If you're like me and your store name isn't your actual name, help people make that connection by having your logo prominently displayed.
A custom t-shirt is the perfect way to do that. If you're looking for a company, I highly recommend A+ Images. Before the conference, the amazing people over at A+ offered a free custom t-shirt to any teacher blogger in exchange for writing about their services in a blog post. And not just a black and white, one size fits all shirt, but a full color print on both the front and back sides in whatever size you need. Of course, as soon as I heard about their offer, I signed up to design my own!
When the shirt arrived, I was honestly pleased with the quality. Sometimes you wonder about products you receive for free. But this was a well made shirt that fit perfectly and kept the integrity of my logo color. It was exactly what I asked for.
While attending several meet-ups, I found that in addition to numerous free t-shirts, A+ also donated hundreds of dollars of other merchandise. Some of which included backpacks, teacher goodies, and gift certificates good for sets of classroom student shirts. I truly was impressed with A+ Images' generosity towards educators and their support of the TPT conference as a whole. I would highly recommend their company and am happy to support such a business - free t-shirt or not.
4. Plan to arrive well before the conference begins. Not only will this give you time to settle and rest, but you'll also be around to participate in meet-ups and networking sessions before the conference starts. This year, there were at least three large events scheduled the day before the conference. Those who flew in late Wednesday night or Thursday morning missed out on great opportunities to meet other sellers and network before the welcome session Thursday afternoon.
5. Be sure to bring an extra bag or leave plenty of space in your suitcase. Team TPT gives great swag you'll want to bring home with you plus all of the great prizes you might win during your meet-ups. This year, each seller left with a reusable tote, coffee mug, and hand sanitizer and others took home bulletin board kits, Erin Condren planners, an Erin Cobb planner, portable battery chargers, Scentos crayons, t-shirts, Vera Bradley bags, and more. You're gonna need something to take all of that loot home with you!
6. Find a wingman. If you're a beginning seller without many connections, start working on making new connections now. The conference as a whole is an entirely different experience when you have others to share it with. Don't try to negotiate the week alone - find your tribe (or partner) - and experience it together. Trust me on this!
7. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the meet-ups and scheduled events outside of the conference, especially if you're an introvert like myself. I have two pieces of advice here. First, plan to attend only those that support your purpose. Before you go, decide what you want to get out of the week. Do you really want to meet your teacherlebrities? Then be sure to attend the Blogger Meet-up. Do you want to network with other like-minded sellers? Then, for me, that meant attending the Full-time Seller Meet-up. Decide your focus and use it to weed out events that don't quite fit. Second, have a wingman. (See number six above.)
8. What to wear. For the most part, sellers come dressed to impress. Women come in their cutest maxi or summer dresses and men are business casual in khakis and polos. Of course, this isn't true for everyone, there are some in jeans and shorts. But, that's definitely the minority.
No matter your attire, be sure to wear comfortable shoes because you'll be walking a lot. If you've never been to Vegas, each resort is like a small city in and of itself. Just getting from the conference center to your room is a hike. Add walking to lunch, walking to other hotels, or exploring the strip and you'll be tired in no time.
Also, bring layers. Yes, it is the desert and it's 110 degrees outside, but the A/C is on full blast inside and you might get chilly. For someone like me, it's paradise, but my thin-skinned friends were miserably wishing they had brought a sweater.
9. Where to stay. I'll admit I'm spoiled. My husband and I stayed at the Palazzo for the first time last year and were so enamored with our suite that we won't stay anywhere else. Their staff is excellent and try to make your stay as comfortable as possible. I recommend staying in either the Palazzo or Venetian not just for the beautiful accommodations, but for their proximity to the conference center and all they have to offer. You could easily stay in the Palazzo for days and never venture elsewhere. It really has all you need - gorgeous pools, some of the best restaurants on the strip, a Walgreens just outside in case you forgot something, and more.
However, you definitely pay for all that comfort and it can get expensive, even with the conference discount. If you don't mind sharing, find a buddy (or three) to be your roommates for the week and help split the cost. The space is definitely big enough to share and you won't feel as if you're on top of each other. Or, there are several other resorts close by that are less expensive, such as Treasure Island.
10. Rental car? My husband and I always rent a car when we travel to Vegas. I have a few physical conditions that make extended walking unbearable and a car makes venturing outside the hotel possible. Plus, we always make trips to places that aren't walkable such as In-N-Out burger, the outlet mall, and Red Rocks. However, if you don't plan to venture off the strip and you don't have issues with walking, you really don't need a rental. You easily can catch a cab to and from the airport or even grab a burger from In-N-Out should you so choose (and you definitely should).
10 takeaways and tips from the conference:
1. My memory is awful. It has always been and I'm finding that as I get older, it's just getting worse. I'm great at remembering faces, but terrible with names. Give me a hundred names in two days and I have no chance of remembering any of them.
At the end of the first day, I emptied my bag to find a pile of scrambled business cards. As I was leafing through each one, I honestly couldn't recall meeting more than half of the sellers represented in the pile. I tried working backwards attaching names to events or sessions I attended in order to place a name with a face. I found that associating where I met someone helped me remember each individual seller even when I returned home several days later.
So on the second day, whenever I received a business card, I wrote the event in which I received it on the back. For example, on the backs of all the cards I received during the Real Housewives of TPT luncheon, I wrote, "RHTPT." Had I planned in advance, I would have bundled those cards with a band or clip in order to keep them together throughout the trip. I definitely want to remember this trick for next year!
2. There were several takeaways related to creating resources for your store. The first is find your niche - and I'm sure you've heard this before. This can seem difficult to do with the thousand of resources already posted to TPT. Sometimes it feels as if there are no original ideas left, so creating products for one specific niche seems nearly impossible. However, decide what you want to be known for and reflect on the areas in which you already excel. Combine the two and surely you will find a list of products to fit your niche.
3. Part of finding your niche is being original. It's easy to watch the top seller's list and want to replicate what they're doing. However, that will never bring you success. Angela Watson had a great quote here, which I won't get perfectly right, but basically an imitation can only hope to be a second rate version of the original. Don't be a second rate version - be yourself and be original.
4. If used correctly, freebies can be an integral part of your store. Many sellers worry that the plethora of freebies on TPT will water down the value of the site as a whole. However, during the data session, we learned that buyers who infrequently purchase items from TPT download, on average, 8.5 free items per month. Whereas buyers who frequently make actual purchases download 11 free items per month. Freebies may be what brings traffic to your site, but you can leverage that resource into making sales. When posting free items, make sure that they reflect the quality and standard of your work and are small samples of larger paid resources.
5. Buyers' habits are changing. For years, more sales were made on Sunday than any other day of the week. However, recently that has changed to Mondays. Also, Team TPT has noticed what they call a "snacking" trend. Rather than coming and making large purchases, buyers are making smaller purchases, but doing so more frequently. This is especially important to know now that the $3.00 minimum has been removed. Buyers are now able to purchase smaller items independently without meeting a minimum sale amount.
6. If you're a TPT seller serious about turning your hobby into a business, be sure to establish it as a priority. Carve dedicated time for product development wherever you can, setting dedicated timelines for product completion and stick to them (where I need help!), and getting rid of non-important tasks to create more time for TPT. Hire a babysitter, a housecleaner, or lawn service once a week to gain a little time for your business.
7. Collaboration is King. One of the best ways to build your business and expand your impact is to collaborate. This can be difficult, I know, but it's oh so important. And be choosey with whom you collaborate. When you're first starting out, you're thrilled to link up with anyone throwing a linky or pinning party. I know - I've been there. But keep in mind that those you collaborate with are a reflection of your own brand. Spend time researching brands you admire and people you respect. Take a leap and reach out to those on your list and brainstorm ways of connecting together. You might fail, but what if you succeed?
I did this recently when I decided to start my own Mastermind group. I made a list of women I admire and knew I could learn from, and reached out in hopes of collaborating together. On its own, it was a funny mix of experienced sellers and newbies. While I knew that some of the more experienced sellers were probably already involved in their own groups and may not be interested, it never hurts to ask. Some responded, and some didn't, which I completely expected. Rather than be discouraged about those who didn't, I'm thrilled that some of the sellers I most admire are interested in working together. Sometimes you just have to be bold and put yourself out there!
8. Be relatable. Buyers want to know who you are. While it's good to have an eye-catching logo, be sure that your face is out there too. People buy from those they know and trust - so let them get to know you, the person, and not just your products.
9. Unlike my photo above, success isn't a one way road. Don't get caught up in studying Deanna Jump's path and trying to make it your own. Sellers have followed multiple paths to success on TPT, just as in any other type of business. Rather than spending time trying to figure out what worked for someone else, determine what works for you and then go at it with all you've got.
10. Of all the sessions I attended, I most looked forward to Angela's and she didn't disappoint. I've come to respect her a great deal and value her opinions about our roles on TPT. My note sheets from her presentation are overflowing with advice and tips I'm excited to incorporate into my own business.
One of her best points was a reminder of the responsibility we have as TPT sellers. Our stores shouldn't exist simply to bring in some extra income each month. We should be ever aware that each resource we post has the potential to impact hundreds, if not thousands, of students. Teachers come to our sites looking for guidance and examples of quality teaching materials. We have a responsibility to deliver both. Take a critical look at the products both listed in your store and on your to do list. Are they worthy of that responsibility?
I could easily fill another post with all that I learned from the conference. Hopefully I've enticed you enough to begin making plans to attend next year's event! If you participated in this year's conference, what were your top takeaways?