Gatherings Podcast

Jessica and Chrystina from Gatherings Podcast

Photo by Julia Dent Photography

Hi everyone! It’s about time that I officially announce to y’all that I just started a really cool new project with my friend Jessica from Sweet Love & Ginger.

WE STARTED A PODCAST.

It’s called Gatherings Podcast. Jessica and I talk about – and interview people about – hosting parties and entertaining in everyday life. We like to keep it simple. We like to focus the conversation on the people and the logistics, and leave the sometimes over-the-top Pinterest decorations to the pros.

If you’d like to listen, but don’t know how to find a podcast. Leave a comment and I’ll help you figure it out. We have three episodes right now. You can listen to them all on our website.

What are we trying to accomplish?

We’re trying to make parties more approachable for people who haven’t hosted them and provide a space for people who love hosting parties to talk about it, all of its nuances, and things we’ve learned along the way.

Who is this podcast for?

Admittedly, Jessica and I still need to sit down and really have this discussion, but I can give you a good start. If you (a) like parties and are looking for inspiration to host more, (b) like parties and are looking for somebody to talk about all of the logistics and details with, (c) want to start hosting parties, but don’t know where to begin.

What can you expect from the episodes?

In each episode we will pick a topic to either talk among ourselves about or to interview somebody about. The topic will need to do with hosting events and parties. We will be answering questions that have to do with logistics, dealing with awkward situations, and tips and tricks learned along the way. At the end of each episode all parties involved will answer a series of 4 questions:

  • What are you planning right now?
  • What’s going on in your kitchen?
  • How are you staying in touch this week?
  • What are you into right now?

Right now, we will be releasing episodes monthly. Each episode is about 50 minutes. If anything changes, I’ll let you know. And we would love some feedback in the meantime, so don’t be afraid to reach out. Here’s the rundown of our first three episodes:

  1. Episode 01: Our Party Hosting Styles – Jessica and I talk about our who we are and how we met, our party hosting styles, and why we started this podcast.
  2. Episode 02: Our Ideal Dinner Parties – Jessica and I talk about our ideal dinner party setups, rules that we live by (please note: we don’t have many), and how to keep the conversation going.
  3. Episode 03: Networking Events with Lauren Caselli – Jessica and I chat with Lauren Caselli from Lauren Caselli Events about life stories, event planning, benefits of facilitation, and all the things.
Gatherings Podcast - Episode 01 - Party Hosting Styles
Gatherings Podcast - Episode 02 - Our Ideal Dinner Parties
Gatherings Podcast - Episode 03 - Hosting Networking Events

What makes this podcast unique?

I looked for a podcast about real life party planning for a long time. I came close to finding it with Awesome Etiquette, the podcast put out each week by the Emily Post Institute, but they talk more situationally rather than logistically. (Still HIGHLY recommend that podcast.) Victoria from A Subtle Revelry had a podcast about parties (called The Party Podcast) for a little bit, but it didn’t last more than a few episodes. If anybody knows of any others, let me know, but for now, we’re one of the few party planning podcasts out there.

This is all about party hosting from the point of view of two late 20-something female engineers. That means we’re living on a budget, we worry about logistics before decorating, and we’re at that point in our lives where things are starting to change – people are getting married and having kids – and it changes the way that you stay in touch with people in your lives. That said, even between just the two of us, we bring some variety. What do I mean?

  • I live in the city. Jessica lives in the country (suburbs?).
  • I live in 850 square feet with minimal outdoor space. Jessica lives in a much larger house with a large back yard.
  • I am a type A planner, Jessica is far more spontaneous.
  • I love talking about relationships and how to stay in touch with people. Jessica loves talking about sustainability, permaculture, gardening, and hunting.
  • I have a boyfriend. Jessica has a husband, chickens, and a baby on the way.

So needless to say, there are definitely times that we will bring different perspectives to the conversation.

We would love for you to check out the podcast and follow along. We would love for you to leave us a review on iTunes. We would love for you to recommend some of your favorite party planners to be interviewed. Let us know what you’re thinking.

Planning the 2017 Blog Connect Conference

Planning the 2017 Blog Connect Conference

Photos by Tim Becker Photo

Well, I think it’s pretty much confirmed at this point. If you want to plan a conference you must be at least a little bit crazy and a heck of a lot of stubborn. Lucky for me, I’m both of those things.

What a conference.

In case you’re a little bit behind, last month was the second (annual?) Blog Connect Conference. We went from 52 tickets purchased year one to 81 tickets purchased year two. We added a kick-off party the night before. We flew in our keynote speaker from San Diego. We made even more great connections in and around the city. And we were able to bring together a kick butt group of people from around the United States. Well, that last part wasn’t different from last year, it was just really cool to see all over again.

With a new year of conference planning came a new year of challenges. We made it through them all. And as a blogger, it is (clearly) my responsibility to document these challenges, lessons learned, and how we handled them. Maybe they’ll help you plan your own conference, and maybe it’ll help me figure out how to go forward from here.

What it looks like to be really sleep deprived and really adrenalined at the same time.
Photo by Tim Becker Photo

Sometimes it’s best to stick with what you know.

At the very beginning of our planning process this year we spent 2 months looking for a conference venue. We felt like since we were doubling our number of attendees, knew that we would need to purchase chairs, and just for variety’s sake we should probably mix it up for the second year. After looking at many other venues, I realized that we weren’t going to find a better location than the one we used the first year, the Saxbys headquarters. They were, and are, absolutely wonderful. The team is amazing to work with. And there’s free coffee all day.

On top of that, we knew how it worked. We knew the space. We knew all the breakout rooms. We knew what we were and weren’t allowed to do in it. We knew how to get in and out of it. We had built enough trust over the past year that we were able to collaborate the entire way. This was invaluable.

Start planning early.

Before we knew we were going to choose the Saxbys headquarters as our location for the second year of the conference, we were looking for a venue for 100 people for a full day conference in April. What does that mean? We were competing with wedding season. Which meant we were competing with wedding prices. How the heck did that happen?

We also lost a few key sponsorships from the previous year because we didn’t reach out to them with enough notice and they already had their schedules filled out for the year. Lesson learned. Start early.

Planning for 100 is way different than planning for 50.

The first year we started our sponsorship planning by reaching out to some of the larger brands to see if they wanted to sponsor our conference. It was year one of the conference. Nobody knew anything about us. It wasn’t always an easy task.

This year, after some discussions among the team, we decided that we wanted to try to keep the sponsorships local – so we made a list of our favorite places and adorable boutiques in the city. Unfortunately, when you’re planning for 100, sometimes it’s not always possible for local shops to give you enough product to sponsor the conference. And we worked around that, and found some different ways to work with sponsors, but we found ourselves at the end of the process reaching out to some of those larger brands that we did in the first year. This time with a little more success. It’s all a learning experience, right?

Photos by Tim Becker Photo

You’re going to need a flexible schedule to make it happen.

Dear Lord. I can’t tell you how much time I spent on this conference in the two months leading up to it. Middle of the day phone calls, late night phone calls, morning meetings, early morning pick-ups, late night drop offs, weekdays, weekends, holidays – the list goes on. I’m so lucky to have a job that can be flexible. If I need to be somewhere in the morning, I can pick up a few more hours in the evening so long as I’m making deadlines. I was also able to take the Friday before the conference off to run around like a crazy lady. Never in a million years would it have been possible otherwise for me.

(That said, if you don’t have a day job, this probably isn’t a problem.)

It’s not possible to do without a team.

The Blog Connect Conference Team Photo

The team.
Photo by Tim Becker Photo

On that same note. I never could have done it without a team. Our amazing creative director, Sarah from smoorelovin (in gray) killed it with the branding, website, and entire creative vision. Melissa from Skinny Affair (blue dress) and Sarah from Shades of Sarah (blue dress with denim jacket) killed it on the sponsorships. They were doing all of the reaching out for our team, keeping track of our promises to the companies, and all of the contracts and logos. And Priyanka from Paint the Town Chic (black dress with gingham shirt) did a great job coordinating the party at ellelauri the night before (those ladies were also absolutely incredible to us).

That said, managing the team was more complicated this year. More people meant more people to keep in the loop, more people to make decisions, and more complicated to make sure that we were all on the same page. This is something I’m still learning. We were able to simplify our email chains, got better at using Google drive, and had much more of a process in place around everything, but as somebody who’s always trying to gain team consensus before making a decision (for better, for worse?), it made it a little tricky. That’s a personal problem though. Yay for growth opportunities?

The amazing swag bags coordinated by Melissa and Sarah.
Photo by Tim Becker Photo

If it feels wrong, it’s probably wrong.

There were a few things about planning the conference that just didn’t feel right. Some of them we caught at the beginning. The location we were originally going to hold the kick-off party at was taking weeks to get back to us with information. We finally figured out that they were not the right collaboration for us at the time and we were so happy working with the amazing ladies from ellelauri. HIGHLY recommend checking out their shop if you’re ever in the Rittenhouse area.

That said, a few people we tried to collaborate with that didn’t understand our group. A few people we emailed that didn’t appreciate how we operate. Every one of those situations that left a crappy feeling in my gut eventually evolved into something that I wasn’t happy with. Things fell through, it created hours of extra work, and I felt like I had lost control of my own conference for some time there. Lesson learned for next year?

ellelauri was the perfect backdrop – and excellents hosts – for our party.
Photo by Tim Becker Photo

Keep pushing through. Good things will come.

There were definitely moments during the conference planning that were so draining, but every so often something incredible will happen to blow your mind. One of the biggest days of planning was the day we got a text message that said Erin Condren wanted to provide planners for each of our attendees. What a win. The planners were absolutely gorgeous, with tabs built in, and sections for everything – and the team was able to personalize them with our conference logo. Other big days included solidifying our amazing monetary sponsors. A huge thanks to Creative Business Accounting & Tax Services for sponsoring us two years in a row – go visit Tamara, she can help you with any of your accounting needs and she’s wonderful. And thank you to Verna Law – Anthony (Verna) was in the same church choir as me in college, and it turns out he specializes in advertising law, trademarking law, and copyright law – and he’s super nice. Other key highlights included finding out ellelauri boutiques wanted to provide a 20% discount for our party attendees, and reading the email from Sarah Morgan saying she would love to be our keynote speaker.

The lesson learned here? Keep on going. Keep sending emails. Sooner or later you’ll find your people.

The amazing planners courtesy of Erin Condren.
Photo by Tim Becker Photo

Friends are actually the best.

The week leading up to the conference the messages started. People from all walks of life wishing me well. Emails telling me “Just wanted to say hi and wish you luck on the next couple days of rush that I’m sure ae happening to pull everything together for the conference!! I know how much work can be involved. It will be wonderful 🙂 Thanks for all you do!” Text messages telling me “Good luck today but remember to enjoy yourself. You worked so hard don’t let the experience pass you by.” I had friends who when I posted on Facebook saying I needed coolers and room dividers they came through within 24 hours. There was even some snail mail that wished me well with the conference. Friends are the best.

Sometimes, it is about the money.

This seems worth mentioning somewhere. At the very end of the conference somebody came up to me to ask how I made a profit on the conference. For all the information they got, all the food they got (there’s that food thing again), and all the activities they got to be a part of, how could I have possibly made a profit? I can tell you that I wasn’t actually sure we made a profit until somebody bought a ticket the morning of the conference. There was a grand total of about $200 profit. Which I will probably use to treat my team to dinner. So there definitely wasn’t profit built into this.

That was something that was extra stressful about this year, and seems like not a great way to run a business. I don’t know exactly what this means for next year yet, but it’s something I’m going to have to start thinking about if (a) PHLbloggers is going to continue to grow, (b) my team is going to keep putting in as much hard work as they did for free, and (c) I want to stay sane.

It’s also extra complicated because Eventbrite doesn’t actually pay out for the ticket revenue until 5 days after the conference, which means I was fronting the money for any of the vendors that needed to be paid before the conference. I’m super lucky to be able to afford to do something like that, but the cash flow situation definitely made things really tricky.

It’s important to talk through the plan.

It’s so, so important to have a plan. It’s important to talk through all the options, talk through everything that could go wrong, talk through who’s going where and when, talk about how things are getting from point A to B, talk about how things are getting paid for. This way, when everything goes wrong, you at least have some logic to fall back on. Things you learn when talking through the plan include:

  • When you use raffle tickets, both halves of the ticket go to the attendees.
  • You may have ordered the pizza for an hour too late.
  • One of the speakers can’t actually eat the pizza you ordered for dinner.
  • You were actually supposed to get a hotel room for your keynote speaker.

Yeah… glad we caught all of those things ahead of time.

Our lovely keynote speaker who almost didn’t have a hotel room…
Photo by Tim Becker Photo

Treat yo’self.

By the end of conference weekend I had pretty much hit a brick wall. Lucky for future Chrystina, I knew this was going to happen in advance and took two weeks of PTO immediately following the conference. Sure, there’s still a pretty big to do list for conference closeout (sometimes you can tell I do construction when I talk, huh?), but I’m going to be taking that head on from the sunny shores of Ventura, California. The plan? To be a real person at the end of two weeks off, find some energy, and make a plan to keep PHLbloggers growing – and to make The Blog Connect even better next year.

I guess I got to answer there, huh? Next year. Yeah, you definitely have to be a little crazy, man. There’s just such a space in Philadelphia for a community like this though, and it would be a shame to stop now, just as it’s getting good. As for what it’s going to look like? I have no idea yet. Haven’t even spoken to the team. I’ll get back to you after this upcoming vacation.

But with all the lessons learned, what could possibly go wrong next year, right?

Top 6 Posts of 2016

Hi, friends! Happy New Year’s! No matter which part of the world you’re in I hope you were able to take some time to relax with friends and family, think about the previous year, and think about what your goals are going to be for the upcoming year. I’m still finishing up my 2017 goals, I think I need a little more time to think about them (as well as time to go through the Fizzle Show’s 5 steps to goal setting, which I just discovered this week).

As per usual, my top 6 posts for the year were: Ideas for Bridal Shower Question Game, How To Throw a 1920’s Party – Part 2, How To Throw a 1920’s Party – Part 1, Chocolate Fondue Dipper Ideas, It’s Official, I Need Help With Karaoke Songs, and 16 Party Ideas Inspired by Gilmore Girls. Of course, none of these posts were written in 2016. Today I want to share with you the Top 6 posts of 2016.

How To Make Your Family Tree

I had the chance to interview Diane Haddad from Family Tree Magazine to ask some questions about what to do when you’re starting your own family tree, what to do when you get stuck, and to find out any tips or tricks she’s learned along the way. Check it out here.

How to Make Your Family Tree via Chrystina Noel

A Wardrobe Overhaul

I’ve never considered myself a very stylish person. That’s why this year I had Sarah from smoorelovin’ and Sarah from Shades of Sarah go through my wardrobe and help me figure out what I should get rid of and what I should keep. Check it out here.

My Wardrobe Overhaul via Chrystina Noel

My Diva Cup Review

This was a post I debated writing because it felt a little too personal. That said, I clear went ahead and wrote it anyway. If you were ever considering using The Diva Cup here is my complete review of the product, all details included. Check it out here.

My Diva Cup Review via Chrystina Noel

Tips to be a Great Party Hostess featuring Nida

Every time I write a post about Nida it shoots to the top of the list. She’s really awesome, has a lot of friends and family, and hosts some really excellent parties. If you’re looking for some tips and tricks to make your next party great, I absolutely recommend checking this post out. Check it out here.

Tips to be a Great Party Hostess featuring Nida via Chrystina Noel

Closing Down Shoppe

This year I decided it was time to close down the greeting card shoppe. I realized it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be and I think it’s time to find my next adventure. While I haven’t figured out what that’s going to be yet, I still think I made the right decision. Check it out here.

Closing Down Shoppe via Chrystina Noel

The Best Chai in Philadelphia

I had a lot of fun writing this post. And I really want it to be a living post that I add to every few months. I love chai so I went on a mission around Philadelphia to try +20 of them and then plot them on a chart using spiced-ness, spiciness, and sweetness as the three variables. If you like chai and find yourself in Philadephia, this post is for you. Check it out here.

Find Your Favorite Chai Latte in Philadelphia via Chrystina Noel

Thank you so much for another great year of Chrystina Noel. I’ve loved getting to know all of my readers a little bit better and I’ve loved sharing the things I’ve learned about party hosting, greeting cards, and staying in touch with you on this journey. Here’s to an excellent 2017 full of lots of parties, snail mail, and friends you love.

VenturePOP was the coolest.

What I Learned at VenturePOP 2016

As you know, I just got back from a week of vacation in New Orleans. I showed up on Monday, drove to Lake Charles, hung out in Baton Rouge for 2 days, and then crashed in New Orleans until Saturday when VenturePOP began. I booked tickets on a whim after finding out that Emily Thompson and Kathleen Shannon from Being Boss, and Sarah Morgan from XO Sarah were speaking. The decision took me approximately 4.5 minutes to make, if that.

And y’all. It was 100% worth it. Sometimes you go through a little bit of a buyer’s remorse situation when you realize you’ve bought tickets to a conference out of state, you only really know one other person attending, and the conference price actually called for more consideration than the 4.5 minutes you gave it. But the people were so incredible, the conference team worked really hard to put together an incredible agenda with surprises all over the place (they even brought in a brass band for the after party!), and the speakers were ON POINT. I will absolutely be purchasing a ticket in 2017. (Assuming they keep this going… because it would be a darn shame not to.)

If you didn’t have the pleasure of attending the conference live, I’m going to give you some insight into my top 5 quotes from the event, but first, let me set the scene.

From the very beginning, our awesome emcee, Liz, was talking about us being the “slasher” generation. This means that almost all of us need to put slashes in when we explain what we do in life. For example, I’m a construction consultant / blogger / conference mastermind / photographer / singer. It takes far more than just one word to get all of the components of your life into the same sentence. And that’s really cool. It means everybody has a project that they’re really passionate about in their lives. It also means that we’re constantly trying to juggle these personalities.

My mind was buzzing with ideas when I left the conference. Everything from, I should really try out a welcome gate on my blog to I should really start that community Facebook group for hostesses I was thinking about to omg what if I need entirely new branding again. Not being a first time conference attender I realize that some of these ideas will happen, and some of them won’t, but the fact that my brain can’t stop thinking about all of them is exactly what I needed. That’s why people go to conferences, for that kick in the pants they don’t get while sitting in front of their computer. And of course, to meet cool people.

There are two things I’m super excited to work on though:

  • The first is to research the crap out of Instagram. Thanks to Jennifer Puno, founder of Made with Map (who now has 107k followers on Instagram) I’m hoping to turn my Instagram game around. She put her all into Instagram for 6 months and saw an incredible return on that investment in her following AND community. She commented on 30-50 new people’s photos a day; creates lists of competitors, partners, and influencers; and really tore through Instagram to understand the best hashtags, visual displays, and content. Of course, she had a team of people working with her for some of that, but I still think it’s really cool to see how the Instagram game is actually a lot more analytical than it initially appears for such a visual network. Also, just in general, Puno (as she goes by) was a genuinely awesome person. At lunch the first day she bounced up to a group I was standing with to introduce herself, no qualms at all, which was awesome.
  • The second is to really take a step towards building an online community for hostess friends thanks to an awesome talk by Sarah Morgan (@xosarahmorgan) from XO Sarah titled How to Build a Thriving Online Community. As she pointed out, building a community is a great way to get feedback, to learn something new, and to meet new people. I just need to figure out what the heck this is going to look like now. If it’s something you’re interested in, please let me know in the comments below!

Anyway, I got distracted. Where was I? Ah yes, top 5 quotes from the event.

“They just don’t know how cool you are yet.”

I’d like to thank Shenee Howard (@heyshenee) of Hey Shenee for this quote. Her talk was titled Branding You: Get Paid For Being Yourself. Her presentation started by comparing a beautifully decorated cake with an unfrosted cupcake. They could both be the exact same cake it’s just how you take the time to present it that makes the difference. So after you see that you’re sitting there a little bit nervous because you realize that at best you’re a cupcake with a pretty wrapper, a little bit of frosting, and sprinkles that didn’t all stick to the top (as opposed to the rainbow layer cake with the elaborate piped frosting). But then, she reminds you that “they just don’t know how cool you are yet.” So you’ve got to tell them.

We have to figure out who we help and how we help. We need to figure out our signature story and we need to find the vignettes and feelings in that signature story to determine our battle cry. (And don’t for once think that you can use the word happiness in your signature story, because that is frowned upon. Shenee says to “cross out the words that tell stories and share the stories instead.”)

“Your business starts when you sell something for the first time.”

Right after lunch on the first day Amanda Aguillard (@aguillardacct) of Aguillard Accounting sat down with us to talk about accounting. (As they joked, what a great time to talk about accounting – right after lunch! The funny part was that we totally could have all been happy talking about accounting for the next three hours. Who would have thought for a room of creatives?) When you live in this creative world and walk this fine line of passion project meets side hustle, you are constantly asking yourself whether you have a hobby or a business. And Amanda broke it down really well. “Your business starts when you sell something for the first time.” So that’s when you need get your stuff together, right after (or possibly right before) you sell something for the first time.

Once you become a business you should create an LLC, get a tax ID number, and create a separate business checking account. (Some of which I have done, and some of which I have not done. I’m working on it.) This is similar to the same advice that I got from Elsie of A Beautiful Mess at Texas Style Council back in 2013. Get your stuff in order as soon as possible, it’ll save you a lot of hassle latter.

“I’d love to meet you and just think that you’re awesome.”

This quote is also thanks to the lovely Jennifer Puno (@punodostres). When she was building her Instagram account, she would meet up for coffee with the cool people she was interacting with on the internet. How did she make that happen? She said, “I’d love to meet you and just think that you’re awesome.” How simple! And sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t work, and either way it was a step towards progress.

What a cool way to meet new people.

“Design something bigger!”

I would like to thank Tara Gentile (@taragentile) for this simple, yet mind blowing idea. She started her talk by saying that your business is probably as big as it’s going to get right now because that’s what you designed it to be. So in order to get any bigger, instead of adding an hour to your day or increasing your prices 10% the answer is actually to “design something bigger.” Start thinking about licensing or building an app – and remember, “the profit is in your process.” So even if you’re thinking, but there are a million other people who do this in the world, they don’t have your process. And your process is what’s worth all the profit.

Just going to this conference alone was a great kick in the pants to design something bigger. As a blogger (who’s really not making all that much money, if any from her blog) attending a small business conference your mind is opened up to what could come next. Your brain starts overflowing with ways to take what you’re doing and turn it into a product or service that can really help somebody else. And that’s such a fun space to play in.

“Enjoy the process.”

To set the scene here, this wasn’t said during the conference. This was said at the after party while hanging around with drinks in hand chatting with Emily Thompson (@EmilyM_Thompson) from Being Boss and Indie Shopography. Sometimes when you’re this person with a day job and a side hustle you think that you’re supposed to be hustling towards the side as fast as possible. But sometimes you’ve got a pretty decent day job that allows you to do some cool things in your life and you’re just using your side hustle to add a little more right-brained to your life and you know what, that’s okay. “Enjoy the process.”

That was really great to hear. Because sometimes you start to worry that you’re not doing it right. So when somebody who’s been doing really well at building a business, setting goals, and building a community tells you to see how it plays out, it’s a huge weight off your shoulders (that you realize you’re not sure how it ever got there in the first place).

Other cool things that happened during this conference include:

  • Sarah Morgan talking a group of us into going shopping for crystals after night one, so now I am the proud owner of 5 crystals that I really need to look into a little bit more. That was a really fun night. And in general, hanging out with somebody that you’ve taken classes from before and have hung out with over the internet for 2.5+ years is just cool.
  • I spent a lot of time hanging out with Mallory Whitfield of Miss Malaprop. Goodness that girl is cool.
  • My new friend Kathy Rasmussen and I bonded over being first-time conference planners. (And she gave me the tip that when writing emails I should try using “as it turns out” instead of “unfortunately.” Flipping genius.)
  • I met a new coaching friend named Eryn Morgan Goldman who lives in Pittsburgh. We bonded over our love of community.
  • At one point I was standing in a small circle of people that included Emily Thompson, Kathleen Shannon, and Tara Gentile at the same time.
  • I’d like to thank Tara Gentile for putting the idea in my head to possibly do NaNoWriMo this year.
  • They brought in a dance krewe called Move Ya Brass to do a quick 10-minute work out for each of the days. No questions asked that would be my workout method of choice if they were anywhere near Philadelphia.
  • I was reminded as all of the people who were from New Orleans knew exactly what to do and how to dance along with a brass band that we were parading around the streets of New Orleans with that New Orleans culture is flipping awesome.

And that’s it. Those are all the things. It was really great meet everyone! And I can’t wait to stay in touch. Because that part’s my favorite.