Pin It  

Screen-shot-2013-07-02-at-7.51.07-PM

I’m sitting in traffic on 95 after a red-eye flight from Portland to Atlanta and then Atlanta to Philly. Thankfully my stepfather offered to pick us up at the airport because if I was driving, I’d be seriously cursing right now. Instead, I have about 30 minutes of battery life to share a few thoughts about the conference.

Right before I got off the plane, I read Erica D. House’s post about the conference. She shared her honest thoughts and offered some constructive criticism, which, of course, immediately made me feel a little defensive.  I can’t help it. It’s in my nature. As I read through the comments and caught the phrase, “the organizers” I realized there are probably a lot of people who don’t know I’m pretty much the primary organizer and decision maker of the conference, which is why I take everything so personally.

Her experience is still her experience, regardless of who organized the event. It doesn’t matter if it was me or a team of professional event planners.

I value her (and all) feedback, as I know there are many others who may have similar feelings and suggestions but fear sharing it or simply won’t take the time to do so.

I agree with many of her observations, but I also feel the need to let everyone in my head a bit because I like being completely transparent and, honestly, it makes me feel better.

First, a Little History

An abbreviated history is in order for those who don’t know how FitBloggin’ got started or why it even exists.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know one of the things I credit my 70-pound weight loss and new love of fitness to is blogging. I started in 2005 and this blog has been and is a journal of my personal journey.

In 2009 I started attending blogging conferences, such as BlogHer and Blissdom. I found them fun and energizing. It was inspiring to be around fellow women who understood blogging and social media regardless of whether they were carving out their own careers or using them as creative places of self expression.

But as I sat in session after session, I realized I didn’t have much in common with most of these women besides our love of social media. I was approaching my blog from a very specific angle — weight loss and fitness — and I had a specific goal of bettering myself and inspiring others.

That’s when it hit me: Why not bring together a group of bloggers who share a similar goal of using blogs and social media to spread a culture of health and wellness?

I floated the idea by Carla, Lisa and Charlie and this is the actual introduction to the email I sent them on February 17, 2009:

After attending Blissdom I got motivated. REAL motivated to have a conference.  I really see a need for a tighter niche conference around weight loss, health, food and fit blogs. There’s the big dawgs like worldblog expo, right? Then there’s the women interests conferences like BlogHer and Blissdom but how powerful would it be to do a conference around our niche? We could not only inspire but educate in the realm of blogging AND fitness.

The rest of the year I spent planning FitBloggin’10 (yes, I somewhat regret the name now but it didn’t seem as cheesy back then)  At that time time I was working full time and I had a 3-year-old. To say I knew nothing of event planning is an understatement. The only event I ever planned was my wedding 8 years earlier.

To my surprise we sold out and I hosted 150 people in Baltimore for the weekend event.

fbgroup

I was in a state of shock when folks asked if they could preregister for next year’s event. It wasn’t a flawless conference by any means, but I worked hard at offering a variety of topics and approached planning the agenda from an attendee point of view.

This was an interesting time for me professionally. I didn’t make any money from the conference. I was toying with blogging full time but I quit my job teaching at the community college only to accept another position at a university because I was just too darn scared to take the leap of total self employment. I was also considering another child.

That next year I started planning the conference, quit my job — for real this time — and got pregnant.  Before I knew it I was hosting FitBloggin’11 with a 2-month-old baby by my side.

PhotoGroup

It wasn’t perfect and there were a lot of things I wanted to do differently but again (most) people seemed happy.

Finding a venue for FitBloggin’12 was an absolute disaster, and after 2 years of not making much money I decided I needed help in the sponsorship department. So I hired a sponsorship coordinator and aligned with another company to help deal with the hotel negotiations.

FitBloggin’12 happened and again it wasn’t perfect, but folks had a good time.

FB_Group

I never wanted a fall conference but due to circumstances beyond my control, we were hosting FitBloggin’12 in September. So I worked my butt off to pick a new date and venue for 2013. Now that I was charging sponsors appropriately, I actually made some money and gained confidence to hop coasts.

These past few months of planning FitBloggin’13 have been a whirlwind. I’m not going to lie, I was really on the fence about continuing with the conference. I was bouncing a few ideas around like making it smaller or even stopping it all together. Then this happened …

Screen shot 2013-07-02 at 7.43.00 PM

I’m still having a hard time comprehending the success of FitBloggin’13. I’m speechless to the response and gratitude so many have expressed, and I feel like the luckiest person in the world to be able to make so many people happy.

I know there’s room for improvement. There will ALWAYS be room for improvement. Every year I learn from the year before. The conference has evolved based on a variety of factors including but not limited to: The response from attendees, sponsor interest and options, the venue and space available to us, our budget and my sanity. I thought I’d focus a little time on each.

Attendee Response

Every year I’ve done an attendee survey — I hope to get this year’s out next week — and every year I take everything in the survey to heart. Most of the changes you see year to year are in direct response to what was mentioned by a majority of folks the year before. For example this year we made the discussion sessions longer and added workshops based on feedback after last year. The year before I added as many water stations as possible after getting called out on not having enough at FitBloggin’11.

I, of course, can’t put every suggestion into practice, but I try to keep all of them in mind as I plan the next year.

Sponsors

I feel very blessed to have the amount of sponsor interest we do. Many brands see the value in targeting such a tight niche group of bloggers even if they may not have the budget to participate. When I first started, I accepted a ton of in-kind donations and let sponsors pay pennies many times not even covering the basic costs of their event involvement.

Now we charge much more appropriately, and I have a heck of a lot more overhead costs, especially now that we host in other cities.

Signing sponsors to an event like this is quite a balancing act. There are a lot of opinions in the health/wellness/fitness realm and signing certain sponsors always comes with a lot of flack from one group or another.

I’ve turned down some brands that I thought were not a good fit and I’ve signed some I later regretted for one reason or another, but I always try every year to sign a variety of brands that have something to offer to most attendees.

Venue

One thing I don’t think folks understand is how much the venue affects a conference. I try VERY hard to find hotels that will host us in a tight area. Have you ever been to an event that was scattered on different floors? It’s annoying and you lose some of the social aspect by not having everyone mingle in close proximity.

Every year I have to react to the event space to design the overall flow and agenda. I can’t always do what I want to do or even what the attendees/sponsors want to do. There are only so many hours in the day and so many rooms to utilize.

Venue also affects food options. I try hard to offer a variety of healthy options, but depending on the hotel this may not be possible or it could be double or triple the cost of their typical menu options.

The first two years we had fresh fruit available at every break because it was an affordable option on the banquet menu, but I haven’t been able to offer that again because other hotels literally charge obscene amounts per dozen of fruit. One year I was just going to bring my own but most hotels don’t allow outside food. This year for example, I had to have an exception written into the contract so we could allow sponsored breaks with product samples. It was a huge deal and we had to pay fees even though the products were donated.

Bottom line: Sometimes event planner hands are tied based on the hotel’s space and rules.

Budget

This is truly a confession. I’m HORRIBLE at official budgeting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually really good with money; I just do it all in my head. Every year I have to commit to spending so much money at the hotel to secure the space. So that’s pretty much my revenue goal.

Once I hit that amount with ticket sales and sponsorships I breathe a sigh of relief and just focus on designing the optimal conference with foods choices, breaks, AV needs, etc. Then a few weeks before the event I get my estimate bill from the hotel and I compare it to how much revenue I generated. If everything is covered, great! If not, I have to start pruning. Last year I almost had a heart attack when I had to cut my costs with the hotel in half two weeks before the conference. So it’s not that I don’t want to offer the most amazing meals and have coffee available 24/7, it’s just that I can’t afford it.

My Sanity

There have been so many things I’ve wanted to do, this year especially, that I just couldn’t because I didn’t have the time to plan or wrap my head around it.Every year I  literally hit a point of saturation. Thankfully, I’m learning to delegate. Hosting a successful event depends on it, and I’m building a team of folks that I can really depend on.

I didn’t expect this post to get this long, but it feels good to share a bit of of my perspective and a look behind the scenes. I only wrote half of this in the car and finished the rest after the kids went to bed. Since I’m in “confession” mode, let me just say my house is a disaster (totally my fault when I got home), I’ve stuffed my face with pizza and really can’t wait to get back to my routine.

Tomorrow I have a LOT of work to do, but I’m tackling everything with enthusiasm. I feel so blessed to be able to do what I do and FitBloggin’ has inspired me to keep doing what I’m doing.

Yikes!  I just realized I didn’t get my mile in. I’ve got to go!

Update: Alan just sent me this and now I’m a blubbering idiot.

I consider each and everyone of those people in that video (and many not shown) true friends. I love you guys too.

 
  • MsSafire

    I think this was a really insightful and truthful post about the behind-the-scenes happenings to planning something as big as this. I have been inspired by just reading yours and other people’s recaps to want to participate next year.

    I think it’s great that there’s a conference that fits THIS niche because you are right, there are other conferences with a much broader focus group.

    No event goes without issues. That’s just not possible but from what I’ve read, it seems that Fitbloggin’ 13 was a huge success!

  • carla birnberg

    LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS Roni.
    I really do think most of us have no idea.
    HAD no idea.

    xo

  • http://www.steveisgettingfit.com/ Steve

    I am really REALLY glad you put this out there. Yeah, we knew you worked your ass off, but I don’t think any of us really had any idea what goes into putting this all together.

    I’ll admit I was a little whiny at first about you moving it out of Baltimore, but at the end of the day, you could host Fitbloggin 14 in Siberia and I would find a way to be there. This is one of the highlights of my year and it gets better and better every year. :)

  • Jenn Colgan

    I was at the very first Fitbloggin’, and it changed my life (for the better). You do an AMAZING job, and I think you definitely need to share what goes into running something of this magnitude.
    I was floored when I saw how many people came to this year’s conference!!! I am hoping beyond hope that I can come next year! :)

  • http://www.EricaDHouse.com/ Erica House

    I appreciate you taking the time to write this and addressing some of the things i brought up in my post. I hope you know I still had a great time, and would love to see you at FB 2014! I just thought it was important to give all my opinions on the weekend and hope that it may let other’s be better prepared for what the conference is like. All of the academic conferences I had been to in the past skewed my expectations, but I know better now and can’t even imagine how much work and energy you put into this conference over the last year. Clearly the majority of people absolutely LOVED it and I’m grateful you’ve provided people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and genders a place to connect with others and have a blast!

    • RoniNoone

      Erica I hope you know I didn’t mean to point any fingers at you. I love your post, it was just the inspiration that gave me the guts to write this one.

  • Mo

    Roni,
    I just watched the video and it had me in tears. I wish I was a blogger because I would be putting next year’s conference on my bucket list.
    What an amazing community!
    Thanks for everything that you do!
    Mo

  • Lola

    Roni, thank you. I have never been (but may if it really is in ATX next year!), but every year I can “feel” it in your blog posts as it gets closer that you start stressing and yet you keep doing it. You keep posting here and running and spending time with your kids and doing Tough Mudders and WHEW — I’m exhausted. Thank you. Because you give a lot of your own time for us. And I appreciate it. A lot. :)

  • Andi

    I don’t blog and I’ve never been to a conference. I’m just a Roni fan (err stalker). I just have to say that I have so much respect for you! After reading this post, I think you just might secretly be Superwoman! You seem so accomplished in every aspect of life…family, career, etc. I’m proud just to be a loyal and inspired reader! You can’t please everyone and I think sometimes you are so hard on yourself. It sounds like you are, for the most part, responsible for a lot of people having a really great weekend. That’s really an amazing feat! So anyways, I just wanted to give you a little pat on the back! Good job Roni!!

  • Alan

    Love this and love you! I could write all day on this post but in an effort to get some work done today I will summarize my thoughts with this, The Fitbloggin Conference has been perfect for ME every year! Yeah things might not always go as planned or there might be issues here and there but that’s life! I read a quote last night that said, “If you can find a path with no obstacles it probably doesn’t lead anywhere”

    :-)

  • MrsFatass

    Every time I say THANK YOU to you and the team, I MEAN IT. And every time I say “is there anything I can do?” I mean it. I am in awe of the job you all do putting this thing together. Best part of the whole year. I’ve been to every single one and will continue to be each and every time. Thank you!

  • http://www.dubyawife.com DubyaWife

    Reading her post and then reading yours I can understand how you get defensive, but honestly she had some great points and it’s good constructive criticism. Everyone has their specific needs, it’s hard to support each of those for 300+ people.

    You (and the team) did an AMAZING JOB of Fitbloggin in a new location. From the attendee perspective it went off without a hitch. We love you!

  • Julie

    Roni, you work so hard and do such a good job! It’s obvious that so many love what you’re doing every year. Feedback can be a good thing, but don’t let one opinion bring you down, you do a great job! Btw, I was surprised that she’s never heard of Amana!

  • http://www.myweightingplace.blogspot.com/ Kari

    Roni,
    Thank you for all that you (and your team!) did to put together Fitbloggin. I watched and read last year all of the Fitbloggin recaps and knew that I had to attend this event. It totally exceeded my high expectations. You were always smiling during the event. I was in awe of your relaxed attitude. Be sure to thank your family for giving you up for the conference!!!

  • Danielle Warren

    Roni, this conference has changed my life and I am so thankful for all of your hard work and sacrifice.

  • Sheetal

    Hi Roni! I have never attended any of these Fitblogging conference and I dream of being able to attend one, sometime! You’re writing is so genuine! I have been following you for sometime now and love your honesty!

  • Alicia Hansen

    I give Erica credit for sharing her thoughts so candidly, but I’m struggling with the proper comment for either of your posts. Since I know what type of energy creating/organizing/executing events like this take, I think I might be feeling defensive for you. I do agree with her point about more midway check-ins with presenters before the conference. Some things however you don’t know if they work or not until you try them (i.e. the two hour workshops). That said, as a third year participant, I truly feel that 2013 was the most successful yet from our end of things. I know you will take the lessons learned from everyone’s feedback to make 2014 even better… & let me know when you’re ready to host 2015 in Cleveland :)

  • GrowSoulBeauty

    You are totally the best! thank you for sharing so much about how hard you’ve worked to make this happen. Just sit and think for a minute about all the love, healing, friendships, laughter, smiles, stretches, and joy you organized this year and all the years past. I know you are only human, but you are one heck of a human and I feel so honored to be a part of this community and contributing to making fitbloggin such a successful event. Mad love to you for all your work & I applaud you for sharing this confession so we can all get a feel for the tough choices you make. =)

  • Jessica

    I am SO glad someone took the time to make you that video. I follow a few other bloggers who had several posts on recapping FitBloggin. And most of them thanked someone (Reebok for sending them for free or other various groups/people) and Fitnessista is the only one I read who actually called you out as the organizer and said what an awesome job you did. I am such a loyal follower of yours but not a blogger, I guess I just assumed people knew you were the one who made this event happen. Anyway, I am glad someone thanked you appropriately!!!

  • http://www.skinnyemmie.com/ Emily Sandford

    I can’t ever thank you enough, Roni, for this conference. You impact so many peoples lives with blogging, but when you provide us a space to connect, interact, and enjoy one another, you’re giving us SOUL food. Immensely thankful and will never be able to say it enough.

  • Emily Hoener

    Roni, the weekend was absolutely perfect to ME. I echo other’s comments that sure, there is always room for improvement, but that’s life. Human nature propells us to keep moving forward. But to me, the weekend was perfect. And it was executed with so much poise and graciousness from you and your team. I cannot thank you enough.

  • Adam White

    Fitness training is very essential to lead a better life. Professional personal trainers are very rare in our country. We should motivate our young generation to build their career as personal trainer.

  • ItsMeVsMe

    Every time I think “If only…”, I stop myself and remind myself that there is absolutely no way you can make everyone happy, nor do I envy your position of organizing such an event.. Every single one of you Green Shirts are amazing, and I thank you for all of the impossibly hard work you put into Fitbloggin.

  • 262milejourney

    FitBloggin’ is your third baby, and it makes sense to get defensive about it. It is impossible to please everyone in a group this large, especially with the overwhelming number of different dietary restrictions (self-imposed or not). I think this was a fantastic post to give people a behind the scenes idea of the work you put in, if they didn’t already know. I love the balance of it being 50/50 of fitness/blogging because that way there is something for everyone. Kudos to you and your support team for putting together such an amazing weekend.

    I am officially making myself available for being delegated to. ;)

  • Kim

    I can’t even imagine how hard you have to work to plan such an event!!!
    I’m hoping that you continue because i didn’t get to go this year but as soon as dates and venue are released I want to make plans for next year!!

  • Annabel

    Roni, I’ve been meaning to thank you. You did such an incredible job, I honestly don’t know how you did it! I have organized small events before and I know that there is no way in hell you can please everyone even at that small scale, so for such a large conference? Forget about it! This was my first time attending Fitbloggin’, and I truly couldn’t have even imagined I would have such a good time — it was literally life-changing. I am so deeply grateful to you for putting it together. I understand that some bloggers are really interested in monetizing their blogs, but we’re all coming from different levels. Perhaps having “tracks” would ameliorate that? I.e beginner’s, intermediate and advanced? There could also be a mentorship program where “bigger” bloggers have “office hours” with small groups of people to answer questions honestly. These are just some thoughts, but, again, I wouldn’t have changed a thing! I was honored to be able to present, to learn from others and to meet so many wonderful people. I would love to offer my help in planning the next Fitbloggin’ (pro bono ;), so please feel free to reach out. I think you are an outstanding woman — you’re definitely one of my role models :)

  • Dana

    Interesting to me that someone/anyone would be a speaker at your conference or any conference and not do their research (who is the organizer, what is the conference really about, etc.) Also found it interesting that someone hadn’t heard of Amana – they have been around for years! Or maybe I’m just old!

    Hope she didn’t spill the beans about the conference location for 2014! I was hoping for Chicago!

  • Tracy Griffin

    First timer here Roni, and I had a great time! Thanks for all your hard work!

  • itallchanges

    Thank you for sharing all that you do for planning Fitbloggin’. When I say “Thank You” I mean it but I honestly had no idea all that goes into planning.

    This was my 3rd year and I’ve seen the different changes over that time. I love that the changes are made in response to the attendees just as much as the limits placed on you by the venue and sponsors.

  • http://www.contest-corner.com Beeb

    This was my first-ever FitBloggin’ and I was SO glad I had a chance to attend! Initially, I wasn’t sure if I should go since I assumed it might be for bloggers who were personal trainers or things like that. One of the coolest things about the conference was seeing the warm and welcoming atmosphere for everyone, which included those whose workout routines might be impeded by recovering from an injury, like me – it wasn’t for “Certified fitness experts” only as I had assumed! I found the conference to be really well organized – everything I attended took place right on time and the schedule was PACKED. I got so much out of it and I definitely want to go to next year’s FitBloggin’, even though it won’t be local to me next time. :-)

  • http://www.doublechindiary.com/ Alyssa @ DoubleChinDiary.com

    I think you’re amazing and honestly I really can’t think of anything about the conference I’d change!!! It was one of the best weekends of my life. You are CHANGING my life because I know next year I’ll either be at my goal or damn close to it… largely in part because of this event <3

  • Mish @ Mishmarieg

    I’ve never been to a blogging conference, due to my location in Australia, but I’ve been following bloggers for over six years. Seen so many conference explode, come-go, and stay. What I see from people is that this one is unique. You draw people not because of anything other than good-ole-fashioned goodness. You bring together all walks of life, all places on people’s journeys, all genders, faiths, political beliefs, etc. That’s what I admire. It’s not a publicity stunt for you, it’s not about getting star struck by a huge blogger..it’s about providing a venue/place/experience for people to grow and enjoy, to get out of their comfort zones and make memories…and learn. I think that you’re doing a fantastic job. There’s always going to be things that people would change, do differently, etc. It’s always easy to point the finger and say ‘why didn’t you change that?’…I’m guilty of being over-critical. What I commend you on is doing something totally gutsy and doing it over and over again..and not getting lost in the celebrity of it all. You keep it real and it’s something I’ve admired about you since I’ve started following you ages ago!

BlogToLose

A Community of Weight Loss Bloggers. We are here to support, cheer on, pick up and reach our goals together! Join Us!
Check out Roni's Other Sites... Just Roni | GreenLiteBites | The Unworldly Travelers | FitBloggin' | BlogToLose | SkinnyMinnyMedia