I made a huge networking mistake at the biggest industry conference for financial bloggers. Learn from me so you don't repeat it and waste your money.

Don’t Make the Same Networking Mistake I Did

I made a huge networking mistake at the biggest industry conference for financial bloggers. Learn from me so you don't repeat it and waste your money.It’s confession time.

As many of you in the personal finance blogging world know, FinCon was around two weeks ago.

I had made the decision to attend during last year’s FinCon because, well, that’s usually what people do.

Almost everyone I know has dubbed attending as a “no-brainer” after attending once.

And while that was the case for me the first two times I attended, I can’t say I came away feeling the same this year.

Let me explain why.

My Big Networking Mistake

Well, I made a few mistakes going into this year’s FinCon.

First, I didn’t have a goal.

What’s the one thing people usually say to have going into a conference?

Yep, a goal.

You should have some purpose in mind – something you want to accomplish – because conferences can be a whirlwind experience, and the once-a-year chances you might have expire quickly.

Oops.

I mean, I sort of had a goal, but it was a very general one: to see my friends and reconnect after a year of not blogging.

I accomplished that somewhat, but most of my friends were busy with other events and networking.

Some of my other goals included connecting with my clients, and getting to see San Diego, since it was my first time on the west coast.

So…where does networking play into this?

Well, to put it short, I made some changes to my business earlier this year.

Those changes involved transitioning into full-time work for two of my clients. It’s been an interesting transition, and since my position is relatively stable, I didn’t really have a need to network. My plate is full.

And as you can guess, that’s mostly what FinCon is all about.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t want to meet new people without an “agenda,” but without that goal – without a “Hi, I’m Erin, and this is why I’m here!” kind-of-elevator-pitch, I fell flat.

I Had a Clear Identity Crisis Going On

If it hasn’t been clear from my lack of blogging, I honestly felt like I had a bit of an identity crisis happening all year.

I didn’t feel like a freelance writer anymore because I had dropped all but one of my writing clients.

I didn’t feel like a solopreneur or business owner because I’m technically devoting most of my time to other people’s businesses.

I didn’t feel like a blogger because I obviously wasn’t blogging.

So what the hell was I doing there?

It became even clearer to me as the days of the conference went on. Every time I saw “community” I found myself asking, Is this my community anymore?

And the answer I arrived at made me uncomfortable.

Thankfully, I didn’t feel as alone once I got to chat with Tonya over dinner.

Tonya has been one of the few people I’ve felt like I could go to with my “I am overworked and I’m sick of it” feelings. She’s a huge proponent of seeking balance and she guards her time well, and I love that about her because it’s so refreshing.

Is This My Community?

I’m going to come out and say that I feel like our community has a lot of pros (super friendly and encouraging are at the top), but some cons as well.

One of those cons, to me, is that we’re all about the hustle. We’re all about getting out there, working our asses off, and making more money.

That’s great in and of itself, but I feel like it’s been magnified tenfold by income reports, side hustle and entrepreneur profiles, and this general mentality that we need to be productive every single second of our lives.

I know I’m not alone in feeling like I can’t disconnect because I’ll miss something important from a client, miss an opportunity, or miss something.

We’re connected at all times and because we have good work ethics, we feel like we need to respond at all times, too.

Grant Baldwin gave a great closing keynote at FinCon last year on being careful about filling our cup to the point where it’s overflowing. So many heads were nodding there, but have our stories changed?

No.

Now, some of that in moderation is good. I’m all about making your own way and being successful, but it seems like our definition of success has been warped a little, based on the success our peers have been experiencing.

FinCon seems to be a reflection of that. As some other people have noted, many of the sessions are based around “profit” and how to earn more money from your blog, or how to build a business/product.

What about blogging because you enjoy it? If your mission is simply to earn money, I don’t think that makes for a very fulfilling journey.

I read a post by J.D. on how blogging has changed over the last decade, and even though I haven’t been blogging for nearly that long, I share a lot of the same thoughts.

Upon further reflection, it seems like most of the personal finance blogs I first started following years ago have changed angles. I see more posts about business and earning more than I do about finance sometimes.

So, is this my community? I think I need to find it again, and hanging out with some lovely people like Mrs. Our Next Life, Gwen from Fiery Millennials, Tonya, and the general low-key vibe around the FIRE crowd was nice.

I want to give blogging more time before I call it quits on FinCon, but expect to see a follow-up post on this “earn more!!” idea from me soon, because it doesn’t fit with my values anymore.

I shouldn’t feel bad because earning a six-figure income within the next year or two isn’t at the top of my priority list. I shouldn’t feel bad about my income. I shouldn’t feel bad that I want to focus on living more than working.

But I do, and as a result, I feel like an outsider more often than not.

One last note on FinCon – I wish there was more discussion around money and how to connect with readers on the topic. How to teach it. What to talk about. Because that’s why I started this blog, and that’s a huge part of why I continue writing here.

What I Did Enjoy

One of the highlights of FinCon this year was volunteering. When the call went out for various positions, I signed up immediately.

What can I say? After working two huge conventions in Austin, TX, I’ve become accustomed to being “behind-the-scenes,” and I find it interesting to see how the event is run.

Plus, I figured with no clear goal, I should put my time to good use by giving back to the community and FinCon staff.

I really enjoyed working at registration, where I got to see some familiar faces and some new. I also became acquainted with Jessica and her amazing team. (And of course, PT, who we all know is awesome.)

In my opinion, volunteering is one of the best experiences you can have at a conference because you’re usually around friendly people, and you usually have something in common with them. It’s a great way to kickstart your networking for the event.

The Takeaway

I made a few blunders in not planning appropriately for FinCon. I assumed most people would be around to hang out with, but attendance jumped from 800 last year to 1,200 this year. I didn’t even catch a glimpse of some people I wish I had seen, and most of the evening events were crazy loud. Being an introvert and quiet made it hard to connect with people.

I had no clear goal in mind – and for a conference focused predominantly on networking – that was a definite mistake.

I also didn’t know what I was attending as. A blogger? Freelancer? Business owner? Kind-of-sort-of employee? Just myself?

Unfortunately, due to these mistakes and feeling like I just didn’t belong anymore, I felt myself wishing I had put my money and time elsewhere for the week.

So case in point – for anyone thinking of going to FinCon or a different industry conference, know exactly why you’re going, and have a plan beforehand!

Have at least three things you want to get out of the conference written down so you can check in and make progress throughout the three to four days you’re there.

Know how you’re going to present yourself, the connections and meetings you want to have, and what you want to walk away with.

Don’t wing it like I did, as that doesn’t produce great results.

What’s the biggest networking mistake you’ve made, whether at a conference or in general? Do you have any regrets about FinCon or anything you learned that you’re going to do differently next year?

Erin M.

Erin is a personal finance writer and virtual assistant who loves talking about money and how to use it as a tool to get what you want out of life. When she's not obsessing over numbers or working (which is rare), she can be found messing around in Photoshop, laughing at her cat, watching YouTube videos, playing video games, chair dancing, or any random combination of the above.

22 thoughts on “Don’t Make the Same Networking Mistake I Did

  1. You know I feel the same way lady! I like what you said here: “That’s great in and of itself, but I feel like it’s been magnified tenfold by income reports, side hustle and entrepreneur profiles, and this general mentality that we need to be productive every single second of our lives.” For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and there is going to be a lot of millennial burnout in future years. I can just see it. There has to be a shift in being able to find some sort of balance and, you know, living! Otherwise you will see a group of people who get sicker and sicker and are more stressed out than ever. You can hide that crap in your 20s and maybe even 30s, but wait until you hit the 40s…all that catches up to you!
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted: Wherever You Go, There You AreMy Profile

    1. The sad thing is I’m pretty sure most of us are familiar with burnout already, in one way or another. I know I certainly can’t pull all-nighters like I used to in college anymore (I sound so old, haha!). I’m sure it will only get worse. Learning how to take control of that now and figure out some sort of balance would be beneficial for what’s to come. I think a lot of us make the mistake of thinking about the short-term instead of what the next 10 or 20 years of this might look like.

  2. It was so nice getting to spend time with you at FinCon and I agree that you shouldn’t feel bad about about where you’re at right now in comparison to other people because we all have times where we need to find our way. I didn’t really come in with a solid goal either other than to find more clients and that was kind of a flop since I got overwhelmed by how many people were there and didn’t plan ahead. I kind of get what the sessions were about and I don’t have too many other FinCons to compare this year to but it was kind of business overload. However, I know that bloggers who care more about the business aspect over everything won’t be around for too long and bloggers who care more about blogging do want to be successful so the business stuff can seem appealing. On the other hand, I’d personally like to focus more on where the hustle mentality stems from and I feel like it’s due to debt. Millennials are in so much debt and they feel like they have to hustle, earn more, and rock their businesses in order to keep their head above water. I’d like to talk more about debt and money mindset on my blog this year (since it a supposed to be a debt blog after all) and even though I’ve had that idea to repurpose for a while, FinCon this year definitely solidified it.
    Chonce recently posted: Have Debt But Want to Invest? Here’s What You Need to KnowMy Profile

    1. It was definitely worth going just to hang out with you and Kayla! I’m glad I had you girls there. =) Great thoughts, and I 100% agree – side hustling is definitely due to a combination of being in student loan debt, the employment landscape changing (unstable, lower pay, “experience needed” for entry-level jobs), and the desire for more flexibility to live life. We should totally discuss this on the podcast. =P

  3. I feel the same way. I’m NOT all about the hustle. The focus on the community has shifted from helping people to making money from helping people. Many people have started their sites with the idea of making money first and foremost. Many times this is due to the success of earlier bloggers who started without a business plan — because blogging wasn’t much of a business back then. And then all the income reports just perpetuate it and attract “entrepreneurs” to blogging.

    I still love the community … But I ignore the things that don’t connect with me.

    1. I’m glad I’m not alone! I enjoy hearing the perspectives of those who have been around longer, so thank you for that. It makes sense – blogging wasn’t a business back then, and now it can be. That simple shift has changed the landscape, and now there’s a divide of sorts.

      There are definitely still great aspects about our community, but it’s interesting to see how quickly it has shifted considering I’ve only been in this space for the last three years!

  4. Wow this is a really great post Erin! I’m so happy that I met you. I’m glad you can be really transparent about this.

    I understand where you’re coming from. These concerns were part of the hesitation I had in the last three years when I didn’t make it to the conference. I’m not entirely sure I want to be a strictly “money” blogger anymore and I didn’t really have a clear goal going into the conference. It was more about just meeting people I’ve talked to online and haven’t seen for years.

    For the last year, I stopped seeking clients and relied on referrals because I want to start establishing my own presence (not sure what that looks like and it may not even be PF) and didn’t know if my scatter brain would find the conference valuable.

    I also experienced some good and bad. If someone asked me what I did I was honest about it, shared my dilemma, and angst. Some people looked at me like I had a second head bc I didn’t have a clear mission. At times I felt a little like crap bc they seemed so polished. However, the good that overshadowed the bad for me was the people I ran into who happened to have the uber successful businesses that related to me and gave me insanely great advice about just doing me.

    I have thought about going to other conferences specifically for writers etc.

    Again, great post!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Taylor! I’m glad we met as well. =)

      I’m also glad to hear you got something out of it. I find that most people go through some sort of brand identity crisis while blogging because we all evolve, and it also seems like quite a few of us are thinking of moving away from strict personal finance into more of a lifestyle blog.

      I have such a mixed career role right now that I wouldn’t know where to start with conferences. But I hope you gain more clarity on the direction you want to take your brand in! Sometimes we have to stumble through it. I’m sure whatever you choose to do will be awesome.

  5. I totally didn’t have a goal going into FinCon either. I was feeling very confused about my business and lacking a lot of clarity. I feel like I need time to ponder it but I almost can’t even take time to do that because of having such a large workload – again the hamster wheel analogy from the podcast the other day. The wheel just keeps turning and I’m running as fast as I can and I can barely stay caught up with it.

    1. That’s something I was thinking about last year. Quite a few things were uninspiring to work on, but I couldn’t take a break to reflect on what to do because I barely had time for myself. However, reflection is almost a necessity in business, especially if you want to grow and create a plan. =/ The hamster wheel is definitely an accurate analogy!

  6. I have not had the opportunity to attend FinCon but would love an opportunity in the future. Personally I like to blog because I want to become a better writer and I enjoy sharing fniancial insight that I have gained over the years. If the money follows that would be incredible but at this point I write because it’s fun :)
    Mustard Seed Money recently posted: The Dream: House with a PoolMy Profile

    1. I like that reason a lot, MSM! That’s exactly why I started blogging. I’m sure FinCon would have been a bit more fun if I had actually been more involved in the community this past year. I wouldn’t ever tell anyone not to go, so I hope you can make it to the next one!

  7. The good thing about mistakes is that you can learn from them and use them to grow as a person! The key thing to get out from this is that you realized your mistakes and can now take them into consideration for next year! Thanks for sharing this with us and everyone! We hope that you use your own advice in this article and that you will have a more successful FinCon (or any networking event) next time!
    Centsai recently posted: Estate Planning for Same-Sex CouplesMy Profile

  8. I always go back and forth on whether to attend FinCon and this year even bought a ticket! Which was a first. I didn’t end up going, as you know, simply because I had too many other things I could use the time for. I don’t really need more “information” about how to do this or that. I need more time (or resources) to do this or that.

    I almost feel terrible reading this “I see more posts about business and earning more than I do about finance sometimes.” because I know my blog has shifted this direction as well. For me and the site it’s just a matter of “this gets the most traffic, and traffic is what advertisers want to see.” But you are making me second-guess it a bit and consider some of those more core finance posts…I need to give your recent post pitches a good look-through again ; )
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted: 10 Signs You’re Not Meant to FreelanceMy Profile

  9. Hi Erin!

    Glad to see you posting here. I’ve never been to FinCon (and it was in my old city this past year!) but maybe someday.

    I definitely have some of those same thoughts (is this my community?)…imposter syndrome abounds. And I’m just worried about being ‘outed’ at one of these events, and the missus and I just want to stay anonymous.

    Anyway, I’m sure I’d follow the same pattern if I attended one year: just going to hang out, without any specific goal. Maybe it’s not the best approach, of course, but as someone who is decidedly not about the hustle or monetizing the blog…maybe it’s not all bad, either.

    1. Hey DB40! Imposter syndrome!? Nonsense. =P The FIRE community is very friendly, I’m sure you’d fit right in. As far as being outed, I know Ms. ONL (Our Next Life) was very cautious there. People are pretty respectful if you’re upfront about wanting to stay anonymous, though.

      I just didn’t know where I belonged this year. Being completely out of the blogging loop didn’t help. That led to feeling like a bit of an outcast. If I go next year, I’m either going to make sure I’m more involved in the community beforehand, or actually have a purpose for attending (such as networking or learning). I’m glad you’re in the “not about the hustle” camp!

  10. I would love to go to fincon sometime, but besides being uncomfortable in large social situations, I really wouldn’t have a clear goal either other than wanting to meet fellow bloggers in person. As blogging went on for me, it kept changing from what I initially intended. It kept getting muddier and muddier. But I keep changing it up because I know at some point, I’ll find the direction that will make me feel just right ~ Goldilocks-style. So glad you’re back Erin. You were missed. :)

    1. You are totally not the only one uncomfortable in large social situations. A lot of us introverts seem to find a way to hang out away from the huge crowds, which is nice.

      Yes – definitely. The vision I initially had for my blog has changed many times, but freelance writing and other work keeps me away from finding enough headspace to figure out the direction I want to go in. But if I keep letting that excuse hold me back, I’ll never figure it out, so might as well fumble through it. =)

  11. Oh man, I wish I had had the opportunity to talk to you more at FinCon! I totally felt the same way and am starting to regret buying a ticket for next year… but I’ve never been to TX, so we’ll see anyway.

    I definitely feel the same as you – I started to do more “making money” posts, but I just feel… not necessarily “icky” about them, but I do feel ambivalent about them. They’re not that interesting to me, even though I know that’s what drives more traffic. That’s why I haven’t been blogging as much either!

    I skipped a ton of the social events at FinCon this year because noise + me being shy + not really having a clear direction for my blog do not mix. If you do end up going to FinCon next year, I’d sincerely like to catch up somewhere quieter! :)

    1. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one! I’ve never been to Dallas, but I’m sure it’ll be fun. The thing is, I have another convention I go to in Austin, so two trips to Texas when I’m on the fence about it didn’t seem too worth it to me.

      I know there are a few smaller gatherings that tend to crop up in the schedule a few weeks prior to FinCon – perhaps those might be worth checking out? I had wanted to go to the board game meetup, but ended up connecting with a friend that night. Either way, it could be worth creating a smaller, intimate meetup for introverts! As long as people aren’t *too* shy about talking.

  12. I guess for me if I’m making money for the sake of it, then I haven’t done my job correctly. Of course I need money, but my blog is also a place where I want to help people. And if as a result of that value I’m bringing people happen to pay me for it, that that’s cool.

    I think the clear line for me is to blog in line with my values AND figure out what people want. I’m glad I have readers that ask me questions and I make it a point to seek out questions from real people so that i can help them. The products I created this year happened to be resources I would have wanted to buy and seemed to answer people’s questions (the ones that come on my blog anyway).

    As for FinCon, I had no clear plan either, but I did go into it wanting to meet people IRL I’ve talked to online and just be open to opportunities. I had a great experience just because I did talk to people about my ideas moving forward and it really helped with my mindset.

    I’m sorry we didn’t get to talk more, but if you do go to next year’s FinCon let’s make a point to go to a quiet place for coffee :)

    1. Sarah, I agree wholeheartedly with your philosophy. I think it’s great that blogs can serve as a platform to help people, and it’s crazy (in a good way) that so many people have been able to transition to teachers or coaches through their blogs.

      I’m definitely glad there are people like you who are seeking to help their readers, and who aren’t in it just for (or mostly for) the money. If I ever had a plan for my blog, it would be similar to yours – but I would need to gain some more readers first. ;)

      Talking to people was what made my first two FinCons fun and worthwhile, but unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to connect with people this past year due to my interests shifting slightly. Who knows what next year will bring, but you had me at coffee!

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