Your Own Way Conference Recap + Giving Back as an Entrepreneur
Before I start the conference recap, I want to give a HUGE thank you to all of our sponsors and speakers (featured later in this post) who made this event possible! Also, a special thank you to Kristen Dyer, our event photographer, who captured the essence of our day perfectly!
Hosting a full-blown conference was never a part of my plan.
As a copywriter and ghostwriter by trade, planning events is way outside of my zone of genius. You can imagine my surprise when six months ago when I woke up on a normal Saturday morning with the idea that inspired Your Own Way Conference. I quickly grabbed my journal and a few minutes later, I had five pages full of notes.
The idea: to host a 100% charitable business conference for entrepreneurs in Minneapolis to inspire them to build a business their own way while giving back all the ticket proceeds to sex trafficking survivors in our city.
The idea came to be with such clarity and power that I knew it was meant for me. Even though I felt spiritually called to explore this idea, I also had a ton of doubt rushing through me.
I wasn’t an event planner so wouldn’t it be a better fit for one of my friends who is? Would anyone even want to come if they knew I was a novice at this? Did other people care about this taboo cause like I did? The more I wrestled with doubt, the more I clarified my purpose with the event.
I discovered that maybe I wasn’t the perfect person to plan this event, but maybe I was the *right* person.
This mentality shift changed everything for me. I set boundaries around what the conference would (and wouldn’t) be and set bigger goals to propel me forward. I made a commitment then and there to pursue the idea to the end. I had no idea that the next six months of event planning would challenge and change me in monumental ways inside and outside of business.
To my surprise and delight, other people understood and bought into my vision for this charitable conference when I launched tickets months later. As I made all the preparations for the event, it was time to host it at 514 Studios, our venue in North Loop Minneapolis.
The whole day, I had multiple conference attendees and speakers sincerely ask me, “How are you feeling?” My response every time was, “I’ll feel chill after I finish my welcome speech.” As a writer who spends most of the day behind the computer, sharing my story (my real one) on stage in front of 70+ people isn’t just outside of my comfort zone. It shatters it.
With the warm support of so many incredible entrepreneurs in the room, I was able to deliver my speech with ease and a little bit of my quirk.
I remember talking to my friend and day-of volunteer, Akua, afterward and telling her with a toothy grin, “Didn’t I just beast that speech?!” We both laughed as I said I could just kick back in my panel moderator chair on stage for the rest of the day.
After my welcome speech, it was time to introduce the upcoming panels. I decided to break the message of building a business your own way into three key parts: Find Your Own Way, Transition Your Own Way, Expand Your Own Way.
The first panel was focused on finding your differentiator, combatting comparison, and working from a place of abundance while connecting with like-minded professionals. I loved having Jo from Branding Babes, Melanie from My Billie Designs, and Allison from Allie Marie Design on the panel to share their knowledge. Since all three panelists work in the same industry, they had a fantastic perspective about owning what makes you unique and prioritizing community over competition.
The second panel was our most vulnerable panel since we talked all about what happens when business projects don’t go as expected. Wynne of Creative’s Counsel, Chaitra of Pink Pot Studio and Creative Convex, and Laine of Laine Palm Designs gave us a rare inside look into some of their biggest transitions and how they pick themselves up after a “flop”. Hey, we all go through it!
The last panel was geared toward business owners who had already reached sustainability and are looking for ways to expand their business. There’s no one-size-fits-all business model so it was great to have a diversity of income streams represented through Ashley of Simply Elegant Group, Josey of Sixpence Events MN, and Chaitra (who had a chance to speak on both panels!).
If you want to browse through the biggest takeaways from each panel, I highly suggest taking a peek at this panelist tips blog post from one of our panelists, Josey.
In between each panel, there was ample time for networking between our attendees, speakers, and sponsors alike! We had a totally full house with 70+ people in the space but was intimate enough for people to make real connections with others around them.
Throughout the day, we had a chance to highlight the great work our non-profit partner, Mission 21, is doing with helping sex trafficking survivors find the support and guidance they need in their next chapter of freedom.
Having the founder of Mission 21, Stephanie Holt, present at the event to further educate us about the prevalence of sex trafficking made a huge impact. She also came up to me after the event and told me how excited she was to have some of the attendees mentor survivors on business and career opportunities at a later date. Seeing the long term impact of a one-day event like this was so rewarding for me as the day came to a close.
The conference wouldn’t have been possible without some of our incredible sponsors! They generously donated their time, gifts, and talents to the cause. I’m so thankful for their fierce support of all we were doing.
Here’s a full list of the event sponsors and a little love note about each one:
The Caterers MN - This incredible family run business was an absolute joy to work with! Not only were they accommodating for over a dozen attendees who had different dietary restrictions, but they also provided boxed lunches everyone was buzzing about. Highly recommend them for any Twin Cities events, conferences, weddings, retreats, and beyond!
Willows Coffee - Patty had two events on our conference day and still supplied us with the best Costa Rican coffee we’ve ever had! She had enough coffee for over 20 more people but our attendees drank it all before our second panel, it was that good. She was an absolute rockstar and if we host Your Own Way Conference again, we’ll definitely have her and her brews back.
Minny Spoons - Ashley launched her cashew butter and protein bites business earlier this year and we adore her. Attendees were eating her spreads long after breakfast and our panelist, Chaitra, even contemplated trying to smuggle cashew butter with her back on the plane to Seattle! We love how Ashley is building a business her own way, too.
The Arise Box - Cassidy traveled from Missouri to be with us - talk about dedication! She curates quarterly subscription boxes of sustainable, ethical goods from artisans around the world. Every purchase provides a care package for a sex trafficking survivor in need. Can someone say perfect fit?
Fair Anita - Their handcrafted, fair wage, fair trade jewelry was a huge hit with our attendees! Many entrepreneurs walked out sporting a new necklace, ring, or pair of earrings. Fair Anita employs sex trafficking survivors to empower the women to find financial independence. Even better, our panelist Allison designed their visual branding - so cool!
Champagne Press - Instead of printing bulky programs, Julie helped us create one-of-a-kind bookmarks with social media tips (from our volunteer, Akua) along with a full list of our sponsors and speakers for easy tagging on social media. I'm still swooning over the design. So thankful for her!
My Billie Designs - Not only is Melanie one of my business besties in Minnesota, but she also created all of the gorgeous visual branding for the conference! Every design element at the conference was based around her work so we couldn’t have been more pleased.
Kristen Dyer Photography - All of the conference photos you’ve seen today were captured by Kristen! She hosts the evening meetup of Tuesdays Together and is so generous with her time and gifts. It doesn’t hurt that her visual aesthetic is to die for, so much so that I did a brand photoshoot with her last week to celebrate 2 full years in business!
Pretty Prints and Paper - Everyone at the conference was *loving* their handlettered name tags, which was such a special touch to heighten the experience of our attendees. This was all thanks to Jessica who also created the gorgeous program boards we had around the venue.
Ahava Creative Co. - I recently met Kaytee through Jessica since they both have a heart for lettering, art, and using their craft to stand behind social justice issues. She worked her magic while creating all of the table tents and sponsor signage. We adore her heart for the cause!
A Spoonful of Faith - Jena is an incredible artist who generously provided ten (yes, TEN!!) prints for our first ten attendees who checked in that morning. One attendee said she was going to hang the print in her office and another attendee said hers is going in her kid’s nursery room. Love!
Beth with Thirty One Bags - Beth is the beloved sister of one of my closest friends, Douglas. When she heard about the event, she wanted to donate a few custom embroidered Thirty One bags for our conference giveaway even though she’s located in Texas. We were feeling the love all the way up in Minnesota because her generosity!
There are so many more stories I could share about the conference but I’ll try to wrap it up. I learned some big lessons throughout the planning process and executing my vision. Here are some of my favorites:
Take time off after you host a big event. I say this as someone who only had two days of rest afterward which was NOT enough. If I was to do it all over again, I would have given myself a week off to decompress and slowly get back into work.
If it’s not easy, you must be doing something right. This passion project was by far my most challenging one yet, even more than the poetry collection I self-published years ago. Sharing my story on stage and being solely responsible for everyone’s experience produced a fair amount of stress, but each time I reminded myself it was worth fighting through. Sometimes the best seasons of your life are the toughest, but that's how you grow.
Don’t get caught up in the centerpieces. Or the name cards. Or the stage design. Since I wasn’t planning a for-profit event, I had to base my top priorities around what mattered most. I felt guilty a few times about not having the perfect event design, but luckily I had friends around me that reminded me people were coming for the cause and the panels, not a photo backdrop.
It’s okay if you change your outfit five minutes before going out the door the morning of your event. You’ll feel and look better if you wear something more comfortable that feels like you.
Learn how to delegate early. 95% of the event planning was done solo (which I realize now is totally insane) but accepting help when it is offered is huge. In order to build something bigger than yourself, sometimes you have to let go of “your baby” and allow others to come along for the ride.
Savor the affirmations you receive before, during, and after the event. I took screenshots of everyone’s social media photos at the event and wrote down some of the sweetest comments I heard throughout the day in my journal. It’s too easy to forget just how impactful your event was if you don’t document it.
Phew. I think that’s it for now. I'm cheering you on as you uncover how you want to give back with your own business. Let me know in the comment section below so I can support you along the way!