A few months ago in June, I re-started writing about money online here at Minafi. It’s a topic I’ve enjoyed reading about year after year, and I thought it was one that I could sink my teeth into for years and still be interested (hopefully – we’ll see on that). What I wasn’t expecting was an amazing community of finance bloggers, writers, podcasters and other media! This was clear in the way the community itself interacts, but it was put over the top this week at FinCon 2017 in Dallas, Texas.
While things are still fresh in my mind, here are a few thoughts on the experience from a new attendee. There’s no way I could mention everyone I chatted with, but if we chatted, I remember it!
Why Go To FinCon?
I originally wasn’t going to attend. What value would it bring me to go to a financial conference? I had just started blogging – shouldn’t I be a bit farther along before spending the cash and going all the way to Dallas? After hearing every other person talk about it, I became more and more intrigued. I’ve been to a ton of developer conferences (well, technically around ~30 from my best guess) and I was expecting the same but with a “make money blogging” as a theme. That didn’t sound all too interesting, so I put the idea at the back of my mind.
The more I read about peoples take on past FinCons, the more interested I became. Hearing stories about staying with other people on houseboats, sharing stories over beers and randomly connecting with otherwise anonymous people in person, I was curious. Then when almost everyone I chat with on the Rockstar Finance Forums turned out to be attending, I realized “ok, I need to meet this awesome community”.
Getting Familiar with the Community
It helped that in creating The Interactive Guide to Early Retirement and Financial Independence, I interviewed a bunch of people that were attending – Gwen from Fiery Millennials, J from Millennial Boss, J. Money from Budgets are Sexy / Rockstar Finance, Mrs. Adventure Rich from Adventure Rich, Amy from Live Zemplified, Darrow from Can I Retire Yet, Jim from Route to Retire, Jon from MoneySmartGuides and of course P.T. Money, the nicest guy and FinCon organizer (whew that’s a lot).
Many others were attending as well who’s writings I read. It would be a great opportunity to finally meet and gush about how awesome they & their writings are. I bought my ticket in August second hand from the ticket exchange – a list of people who weren’t able to make it and wanted to transfer their ticket to someone else. Their loss was my gain!
Preparation – Tickets, Hotels, Communication
Even before the conference started, community building was in full speed. With an active invitee-only Facebook group, a Slack group and even an app for scheduling (and a bunch more I’d learn), it was super-easy to touch base with people.
I knew I wanted to stay at the conference hotel, so I booked a room and looked for some roommates on the FinCon room share doc. I lucked into being contacted by Russell from Risdom FI and Derek, a veteran (of 2 years) compared to most I met – myself included. Outside of sleep, I probably only spent about an hour in the hotel room during the week. We jokingly wondered if our room even had a TV because we hadn’t even been by to turn it on.
Find Your Niche
Even before I arrived, there were a bunch of Slack rooms created for different niches people are interested in – FIRE, Investing, Real Estate, and many more. Somehow in a group of 1,700 people (that’s the total attendee count), by splitting into these niches ahead of time it created one easy way to talk to people with a shared interest in mind.
Even before getting to the hotel, I was running into people. I snagged a Super Shuttle from the airport, settle in and see this message from Mr. 1500 Days himself.
Are you on the Super Shuttle?
I think my laugh gave away the answer. If that was the kind of random experiences the week ahead held (spoiler: it did), then this was going to be a lot of fun.
The first night, there were meetups for these niches, which ended up with an organized way to kick off getting to know a bunch of people extremely fast. Depending on the size of your niche (in my case I was at the FIRE Meetup) there may be waaaay too many people for you to meet everyone. Be OK with that – there’s a lot of time down the line. Amongst other people, I was sitting next to Erik from The Mastermind Within, who I listened to on the flight over talking on the FIRE Drill Podcast.
Pacing – Knowing Yourself and Your Limits
Most conferences I’ve attended have been 1 or 2 days long. FinCon is 4 days or more. For an introvert like myself, 4 days of being “on” around other people sounded like an eternity. That didn’t end up being the case. I think the reason why is that conversation and chat with other people never felt like I was needing to prove myself or validate my reason for being there. It was just about enjoying the time, and seeing what others were passionate about. As a newish person to the personal finance online community, this was a breath of fresh air and was the reason 4 days flew by.
The occasional large dinner is fun for me, but I tend to love eating with smaller groups (4-5 people max). The first night though, a ton of us headed out and followed Jim to a fun English Pub. At one point in the night, someone in our group was telling a story about blogging anonymously, but coming under some fire when a co-worker learned about his blog and a recent raise. This sounded familiar and I was awestruck to make the connection that this was ESI Money! Chris from KeepThrifty and I also ended up bonding over how much more delicious our dinners were than Jims.
Make Yourself Available
Sadly, I missed both of the first-timer orientations. Those I talked to loved the introduction though. The first I missed because my plane was late, and the second because I didn’t want to miss Cait Flanders talk on Creating Rockstar Content. Throughout the week, her tweet resonated with me and helped focus on why I’m there:
I didn’t disconnect to this extent, but putting my phone away at times I’d usually retreat to it helped open it up for new connections. On the first day, I randomly sat next to and started chatting with Physician on FIRE about spreadsheets and calculators – something we’re both super-passionate about for communicating ideas to readers.
Plan Unplanned Time
Some of my fondest memories at conferences and off sites with Code School have been evenings hanging out with friends (which somehow usually end up with all of us in a hot tub). Time after time when I made myself available – either sitting in a hallway not on my phone, at a spot at the bar or anywhere else, I met great and memorable people.
I loved these spontaneous chats with Chris from HKTravelBlog about travel, Kathryn from Making Your Money Matter about living in Asia, Shin from Money is not Taboo about family or Financial Panther about hustling. I even met a teacher at the bar for the college journalism conference who had my favorite quote from the conference:
Fortunately, there were very few sharks this year. Next years FinCon is in Orlando, Florida though, so we’ll see.
Travel is my Go to Conversation
This site isn’t about travel, but it’s a huge passion of Mrs. Minafi and I – making up 20% of our yearly budget. As a map nerd, talking about travel with people energizes and me (about as much as talking about investing).
Hearing about Traveling Wallet and their plans to travel to South/Central America for a 4-month adventure sounds amazing. After hearing about MadFientists trip, I want to travel to Thailand even more. I hope to hear more about Russells time working as a diving instructor and his adventures in Southeast Asia from his videos too.
Finding others who are passionate about what you’re most passionate about just amps up energy for all of those involved. Time after time I’d see eyes light up when sharing these personal experiences.
On the travel front, I put up an open invite in the FinCon Slack for people to join me at the JFK Museum on Friday morning. Cadell, Derek and I were game and we went on a (very cold) adventure to the JFK 6th floor museum a mile away from the hotel.
It’s a somber and well-told story of the 60s and the day Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK. It’s told through an audio guide, walls of exhibits, videos and interactive terminals looking down on Dealey Plaza. As someone who has approached this part of history more from a facts standpoint (or fiction in the case of reading 11/23/63) by the end, I was tearing up for what could have been. If you’re in Dallas, it’s worth visiting.
Find Your Tribe
Tribe has a lot of meanings. Hearing Pete from Do You Even Blog use the term, I wondered what tribes I would consider myself a part of? As someone who listens to mostly audiobooks and only a few podcasts, I realized the hosts of 5 of the 11 podcasts I’m currently listening to were here in attendance! Pete from DYEB, Cait and Carrie from Budgets and Cents, Gwen and J from FIRE Drill Podcast, the Mad Fientist from the Financial Independence Podcast and of course Darren from ProBlogger. Without planning, and even at a conference of 1,700 people, I ended up having great conversations with 4 of them (I’ll find you next time Cait & Carrie!).
I remember finding the Problogger website back in 2004 when I was blogging elsewhere and thought his focus was all about making money. I didn’t dive deep enough into his content to understand that wasn’t his core message. Lately, his podcast has been a great inspiration to me – helping provide some added motivation for a new site where my path forward isn’t always clear. I might’ve gushed a little when I met (and hugged) Darren.
I didn’t plan enough for joining many meetupgs, but making yourself available can seriously pay off. Miss Thrifty was nice enough to share an uber to meet up with Pete for some donuts, coffee, and surprisingly useful strategic talk. She’s super-smart and very humble. I feel like in a short hour of chat with these two I learned more about video strategy (amongst other things) than I had ever known.
It was great to put some names to faces whose writing I just love reading. Tanja from Our Next Life and Mrs. Adventure Rich were two I was looking forward to meeting (and letting them know how awesome writers they both are). If you love someone’s content, let them know! There’s nothing but good that comes out of letting people know when it comes from the heart.
Mentoring and Growth from Experts
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting too much from the mentoring session. It wasn’t that I wasn’t up for it, or enthusiastic about who I was paired with (more on that), but how much can you really do in an hour?
Luckily, I was completely wrong. I had to privilege of being matched up with Deacon Hayes from Well Kept Wallet. You might’ve heard his name before once or twice, like say as the Plutus Award Winner for Blog of the Year 2017! Congrats Deacon! And thanks so much for the pairing/mentoring session. From when we sat down, we were covering everything a mile a minute – diving into questions I had, following up with examples using tools, recommendations, demos and strategy going forward.
As someone who’s never done much with SEO (other than writing and crossing my fingers), I felt like it was an entire course in the subject in an hour. In that time, Deacon was a symbol of being present – not on his phone or socializing – he was all in for helping me. Even after time ran out (and later on throughout the night), he was making sure every question I had was asked and answered. I’m excited to put some of what I learned into practice. Deacon is a class act.
I had a short session during the roundtables earlier in the day with Emily Yost from SuperScriptMarketing which was super helpful too. I think I think I learned a ton from that short session, and because of that was able to dive deeper later in the evening in the longer mentoring session.
Was FinCon Worth it?
My review is yes! Finding out what to focus on to achieve what you want is tough. Reading books and articles is great once you know what to focus on, but for me finding that next thing to focus on requires a ton of input about what I could be working on. Without a doubt, I have more energy and direction on what to focus on.
I have a bunch of takeaways to focus on, but a few of them that stand out:
Share More About Myself
Time after time, the best stories that connected the most with me were the ones that had personal stories and human emotion. Coming from a tech teaching background, sharing stories would distract from the end goal in our teaching style, which meant it wasn’t in the cards to try. I’m working on stretching myself to try more there.
Experiment with SEO
I have a bunch of takeaways here – too many to list. Some things are soo simple too, they just need a little extra work and research to make them happen. I don’t see this as being something that negatively affects the blog either – I see it as helping to find new topics to write about that have already been validated by search traffic. Sometimes just changing a few words on something I always want to write about could make the difference.
There were a bunch of people who I want to collaborate with to create awesome stuff. Felicity from Fetching Financial Freedom, Steve from Think Save Retire, Pete from DYEB, J. Money, Hannah from Unplanned Finance and The Mad Fientist – and a bunch more came up. Basically, anyone who wants to work together to do cool stuff that solves peoples problems or helps teach something. Trying to grow these relationships for collaboration takes a lot more time when relationships are online-only than when you can meet face to face and have something to build on.
Focus More On Minimalism
Whenever I talked with people and got the question “what’s Minafi”, I started answering with the tagline from the blog. That didn’t connect well with people. Being able to try new messages with new people over and over again helped get some feedback on what resonated most. Almost without fail, whenever I talked about “minimalism and financial independence” then told my story of why it felt like deeper friendships were made.
If you didn’t make it this year, there’s always FinCon 2018 in Orlando, FL. While it’s hard to plan a year out, I wouldn’t be surprised to be traveling out with I Dream of Fire and enjoying a week here in Florida.
If you went to FinCon, what were your favorite memories? What was a time when something unexpected happened?