Friday, March 16, 2012

How to attend a blog conference on a budget

How to attend a blog conference on a budget

In a guest post earlier this year, I outlined things you can do to make your blog better this year. Included on the list was attending a conference. It's hard to understate how much a blogger can gain from a conference. It's not just about the lectures and the educational panels. It's about making connections with other bloggers. Those connections can last a lifetime, and they can help you grow to your ultimate potential.

Still, there are issues in attending conferences. For starters, they can be very expensive. Even if the fees are reasonable, they're still a couple hundred dollars per person. Then there's travel arrangements, which can easily blow up a budget. Even after that, there's entertainment and food costs at the conference. These hidden budget items can run you way over costs.

In order to attend a conference and gain all the benefits, you need a plan. Let's start from the beginning.

Picking the right conference

As I mentioned before, the site Blog Conference Guide provides a good list of blogging conferences. Each has a different theme, meaning you'll meet different types of bloggers at different conferences. There are two considerations you should make before choosing which conference to attend.

1. Conference theme. There are blogs for so many niches. Bloggers who cover parenting, food, pets, travel, and fitness have a number of options to choose from. There are also general conferences, such as SOBCon and BlogWorld Expo, which cover general blogging and social media issues. Pick the one that you think will help you the most -- where you'll meet the people you can learn the most from. At least, that's the first step.

2. Conference location. If you want to attend a conference on a budget, you might want to avoid the more expensive destinations. BlogWorld Expo has a lineup that contains dozens of successful bloggers and social media types. The problem is that it's in New York City -- and there is no such thing as a cheap trip to the city. If there are conferences at more cost-friendly locations, you might want to consider them. It will be easier to stay within a budget that way.

Planning for expenses

Before you even book your travel accommodations, you'll want to research how much you can expect to spend while at your destination. This aspect is often overlooked by novices, and it ends up destroying budgets. By knowing how much things cost at the destination, you can be more prepared when setting aside money. Here's what to look for:

Restaurants. Eating out is part of the travel experience. It's essentially impossible to attend a conference and avoid eating out. That's because 1) there aren't really any home-cooking options on the road, and 2) many productive meetings happen over meals. Take a look at restaurants in the vicinity of the conference location and price them out. Make sure to budget enough for one meal at one of the more expensive ones, too; you never know who's going to want to dine with you there.

Transportation. Is there public transportation available? Is it reliable? How much do taxis charge? Do you need to rent a car? All of these factors will play heavily into your budget. Make sure you know how much it will cost you to get around your destination.

Entertainment. If you meet some interesting people at the conference, you might end up doing some interesting things. See what kind of attractions are available in the city, noting how much they cost. You don't need to plan on attending them, but you need to make sure you have enough money in the budget to do so. (This is just another reason it's impossible to do New York on a budget.)

Travel accommodations

In one way, travel expenses can be a budget's biggest killer. It's simply expensive to fly and stay at hotels. In other way, though, it's one of the more up-front expenses. That is, you can search around and find the best rates possible. Those prices are also fixed -- that is, it's not like dining and entertainment, which will vary place to place. When you're traveling you know your costs right up front, and they don't change.

The best way -- really, the only way -- to do this is to go online to the many travel agent sites. Search around for the cheapest airfare and cheap hotels in the area. It might mean taking a red eye flight -- it might mean taking two red-eye flights. It might mean staying in a relatively dingy hotel a few miles from the conference site. But with all the options available, you can find something to fit into nearly every budget.

The most important thing to remember when attending a conference: It is an investment, not an expense. It's tough to repeat this often enough. The money you spend on the conference should not be considered a sunk cost. Instead, it should be considered an investment. When you return home from the conference you should be able to take everything you learned and everyone you met and turn it into a new plan for your blog. That new plan should, if you played your cards right, translate into greater revenue. Soon enough you'll earn back that money you paid to attend. And it's all gravy from there.

Joe Pawlikowski edits several blogs across the web, including his new project, A New Level, which covers issues for at-home workers.

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