So it’s been over a week since we wrapped up #FBC2013 – Canada’s first ever dedicated food blogging conference. Brought to you by three friends who had a dinner back in May 2011 at Canteen in Toronto. Who, in between joking around with Chef Jason Bangerter, enjoying his fantastic food and showing him our awesome Chinatown blog props, thought it might be fun to create a Canadian food bloggers’ association.
The next day, Melissa had purchased the URL and I’d set up the Twitter account. With Ethan, we set about contacting as many Canadian bloggers as we could to ask them if they thought it was a good idea. Because we weren’t convinced that just setting up something on our own without seeing if there was a need or interest first was a great idea.
In the four months between that dinner and the launch of Food Bloggers of Canada, the three of us worked pretty darned hard. On the site itself (which we could never do without Melissa). On garnering interest and sponsorship. I still remember the day Mushrooms Canada and Canada Beef signed up to be site sponsors, before the site was even live. How the three of us did a little squeal of joy that “real brands believe in us”. We also spent a lot of time talking to bloggers, asking them what they would want/ expect out of such an association. The one consistent response was “A Canadian food blogging conference.” I remember discussing this with Ethan and Melissa and deciding we wouldn’t make it a priority because there were so many other things to do first. A site to populate with content. Three (sometimes more) times a week. Site sponsors to sign, brands to connect with. A community to build. And amongst all that, the great unknown. Sure we could launch a community but would people come to the party?
Well here we are 19 months later with nearly 1000 members of that community, with, unbelievably, a national conference under our belts. How did this happen?
Relationships, people, relationships. A lot of people might look at FBC and wonder where this little startup came from – seemingly out of nowhere. Well, we did kind of come out of nowhere. But we’d done our homework. We’d made connections with our peers who’d assured us that this was a wonderful idea and asked us why hadn’t anyone thought of it before (I can tell you the answer to that – they had, they’d just realized how much work it would be, unlike – ahem – some people!). The three of us reached out to brands we’d worked with on our own blogs to see if there might be interest in connecting with a community of Canadian bloggers. We banked on relationships we had formed before anyone had even thought about a Canadian food bloggers’ association. And ultimately, those relationships came through for us. People believed in the three of us enough to join FBC, to engage with us in our community (both bloggers and brands) and, ultimately, to spend $699+tax to join 80 or so of their peers at Canada’s first food blogging conference from April 12-14 2013. I still remember the day tickets went on sale, I was at the dentist having a crown fitted and my phone kept going off with notifications every time someone bought a ticket. My dentist thought I was “very popular” and all the time I was like “OMG, it’s really happening – people are coming to our conference!”
At the end of last weekend, Melissa, Ethan and I had a quiet moment when one of us uttered the words “We did it!” We did, indeed. With a lot of help from our team of volunteers comprised of folks from our regional admin and events teams, our fabulous speakers, amazing sponsors and gorgeous venue (and its top-notch events team) for sure. But at the end of the day FBC2013 was our baby. Rightly or wrongly, we took most of the work on ourselves. On top of full-time jobs and blogs of our own. It was a lot of work. An insane amount of work, actually. Anyone who has asked me in the past few months how things were going will have heard “OMG I’m so stressed out. This is so much work. I’m so tired” and variations on that. You see, I’m Australian and I don’t mince my words. Even on the first morning of FBC2013, I met Dave Zille in the lobby of Hockley Valley and he asked me how I was and I answered “I’m so tired” and he said “Thanks for being honest!” (actually one look at me over the weekend and you’ll have seen I was exhausted so there was kind of no point pretending otherwise). Melissa and Ethan were also tired and stressed out and as Melissa points out in her honest appraisal of putting on a conference, we definitely had our “moments”. Individually and with each other. But at the end of the day, three driven people working towards a common goal with a common passion can’t be a bad thing. Even if there are “bumps” along the way. Mistakes even. Yes there were mistakes. But just as we owned the success of the conference, we owned our mistakes. You can’t experience success 100% of the time. That would make life very predictable and boring.
Of course as the conference time approached, we started to get even more nervous. People were booking flights, making car pooling plans, saying things like “See you in a month” then “See you in 2 weeks” then “see you in a week” and then, scarily “See you later today!” It was real – it was happening. For me, it wasn’t just nerves about if the conference would go as planned – it was about finally meeting people who, for the most part, I only know online. And while that is an exciting thing, it can also be downright scary.
In the online world, it’s easy to sit and hide behind our computer screens and sometimes forget that there are real, live people on the other side of those blogs you read, those Twitter accounts you follow. For someone like me, though I might appear extroverted (and hey, I am “on stage” every single day as a teacher), I am actually somewhat of homebody who stresses out about social situations and large crowds of people. Especially where people might know me from my online and they are meeting me for the first time. What if I am not what they expected. Like, in a bad way?
All those (selfish) concerns went out the window the day the conference started because, of course, nothing goes as planned. We weathered an ice storm resulting in many attendees’ flight plans being changed at the last minute, others experiencing scary drives out to Hockley on icy roads and, the icing on the cake – power went out at the resort for four hours in the afternoon when registration was taking place. Fortunately for everyone, I was at work until later that day and didn’t find out until I arrived (at which point the power miraculously came back on – I’d like to think I had something to do with that but sadly, I can’t claim the glory) because I would have been a mess. Ethan and Melissa, when I arrived, were looking calm, all things considered and were just getting on with things.
For me, the whole weekend seemed to take on that weird feeling of watching a film, one starring you. It’s hard to explain but even now, a week later, looking back at the weekend it doesn’t seem real. But it really did happen. Look at all these bloggers who have already shared their experiences about the weekend. Reading those posts (and I’ll get to yours if I haven’t already) really helped me realise just what we had done. We’d brought Canadian food bloggers together to connect in real life. To network with Canadian brands and discuss Canadian blogging issues. Which was our ultimate goal. But if you read those posts, we did more than that. We created that sense of community that has been missing in the Canadian food blogging community. We helped turn online friendships into real-life friendships. We helped people connect and engage. And I am so proud of the three of us for that.
There are a lot of people who I should thank for so many things here. For listening to me, for being my sounding board, for giving me advice, for giving me suggestions… I won’t name them for fear of forgetting someone. But you know who you are. I AM going to thank Neil for all of the above though. I feel like FBC2013 is as much his baby as mine – goodness knows he’s heard enough about it. Every weekend when I am on my FBC conference call, he’ll message me asking if I want wine. Because, you know, sometimes those calls are LONG. Yes folks, he’s a keeper.
To Melissa and Ethan. We worked hard. We fought. We laughed. We cried. But in the end, we did it. Cheers, you guys.