(I published this without a SINGLE plug to my instagram account, which after you read this, will make you laugh. So here is my plug: follow me at @womanwalkingaway – trees, bees, and mes!)My Wednesday didn’t start with an early morning, exactly. It just feels earlier when you don’t sleep well the preceding night. I was excited and nervous because I would be heading to Nancy Osborne’s that morning, and we’d be driving together from Muskoka to Niagara for The Atelier Collective’s amazing women’s business conference. Nancy would be one of the speakers and we work together for I Got This – Unlocking Your Instincts, all-women workshops using Nancy’s experience and expertise to increase women’s skills in uncomfortable or dangerous situations. For the last while, I’ve been attending Nancy’s talks as her support team, doing anything from table and banner set-up, to womanning the booth while she’s working the room, promoting her work, and getting us both much needed coffee.
The conference was on Thursday but the drive is about 3.5 hours, so we went the day before. The conference covered her hotel stay, and I was in the contract as being able to attend at no cost. Although these are a lot of work – promoting somebody else is a hard job, and being so available all day is tiring – it’s always such an amazing opportunity to make connections, learn new things, and see Nancy in action. And if I want speaking to be a consistent source of income, I’m lucky to be mentored by her.
The drive down was lovely. There wasn’t much traffic and Nancy’s husband had prepared coffees for us both so we were in good shape. Nancy had printed some point form answers for her talk – she would be part of a two-person panel with Ashlee Froese, very different women but both on the far end of the spectrum of extreme experiences, so a good match. We went over the questions and she narrowed down some of her choices. She had certain points she wanted to be sure to make (highlighting the difference between tactic and strategy, for example), but mostly she shares in the form of storytelling, so it was choosing which ones would have the biggest impact on that particular audience.
Speaking of the audience, I have never experienced anything like that before – but I’ll get to that.
We drove straight through and made it to Niagara around 1pm. We had a few errands to do and then we checked into the White Oaks Resort and Spa.
It was an absolutely gorgeous hotel with beautiful décor and very helpful staff – which didn’t quite make up for the mix-ups regarding our accommodations. It all got sorted out in the end and we made our way up to the room. It was lovely, two double beds with a garden view.
Not long after, someone knocked on the door – it was hotel staff, giving us a gift. We thought it was from Atelier at first, but it had the hotel’s branding so we realized it was likely a gift for all the trouble. That was a great gesture – in my experience, when companies fuck up, they aren’t eager to fix it. But this is a different way of being than I’m used to, that’s for sure. The gift was a glass tea mug with a diffuser, and a small jar of honey with a wooden dipper. I’d been on the search for a honey dipper, so I got that part of the gift.
We went down to the restaurant for some lunch. Nancy got battered cauliflower bites, which were massive and delicious, and I got fried tortellini. I don’t normally want anything to do with tomato sauce, but this was tolerable.
After eating we headed to the Ravine Vineyard to see the set-up. The conference was to be held in a huge white outdoor tent. Set-up was well underway and everyone was completely run off their feet. We decided not to do a lot of our own set-up, because our tables would be outside and the wind was really howling. It was good to get a lay of the space beforehand. Our table wasn’t in the large tent, but it was right by where women would be lining up for all the snacks and treats of the day, so we were hoping to get a lot of exposure and get conversations going.
Because one of the organizers of the event is Nancy’s niece, we stayed to stuff all 300 of the nametags, alphabetizing them, putting lanyards on them, and securing them. It took much longer than we expected at first glance but it was repetitive work and we chatted and just powered through. We didn’t realize how late it was getting because it was so sunny and hot, and the days had become longer almost without anyone noticing. It was about 7pm when we left.
On our way back to the hotel, we were really torn between going to the meet & greet and getting some food, or just going to the mall to eat. Nancy sort of drove past the mall and parked, which made our decision for us. We had both thought we were done, but it ended up being a positive thing that we went to the get-together. We ordered a charcuterie board and I got some Chardonnay from Chateau des Charmes, one of the vineyards Kai and I had wanted to go to on our amazing cycling wine tour. We met some interesting women who had really cool stories and businesses. Nancy also got to connect with Ashlee, the other speaker on her panel. When we finished eating, we headed back to the room.
I decided to go down for a swim in the pool, and Nancy got some things done in preparation for the next day. The swim was lovely and just the thing I needed for some alone time. I did laps of the pool and alternated between the pool and hot tub before making my way back to the room. Nancy was just heading to bed so we said our goodnights. I stayed up for a bit on my phone before trying to sleep and finding I really couldn’t. My mind was jumping the rails every few minutes, and there were sound and comfort differences that I didn’t adjust to. I took the time to script, in aching detail, a hilarious keynote speech in my brain, which seemed like a good use of time. My actual keynote is a sharing of some of my personal journey with childhood sexual abuse and trauma and is geared toward service providers in the VAW field. I am working on something that can cast a wider net, and something that plays a lot more with my sense of humour. So if nothing else, the sleepless night was inspiring in that sense.
The next morning was an early one – we wanted to be at the vineyard by 8am. Nancy made us both coffee and we got our things together. She had a bit more prep to do than I did, so I took photos and texted my girlfriend.
When we were ready, we checked out and I drove us over to Ravine Vineyard.
We nabbed a great parking sport for being there early and began to unload. I’ve done the setup enough times that it goes smoothly. There are already tonnes of people around doing setup or waiting for the event to begin. On the table we lay out our promotional materials including flyers for our upcoming workshop in Rosseau, and my own business card as a coordinator/facilitator of I Got This. We had to pin everything down with rocks because the wind was pretty intense!
The women attendees begin to filter in, and as I mentioned, it’s a crowd unlike any other I’ve experienced. I’ve been in plenty of women-only space, so it wasn’t the women, and lots of larger crowds of women, so it wasn’t the size. It was the age-range and style. It had to be 90% millennial women, almost all were very fashion-forward, almost all were entrepreneurs. It was truthfully this very different type of sisterhood than I’m used to, but it was a sisterhood nonetheless. I loved meeting women as they came to Nancy’s booth to take photos with our banner. I quickly learned the best way to get engagement was to offer to tag them on Instagram in the photos (previously, we’d been emailing people the photos).
In the morning, there wasn’t a lot of engagement with the booth because people didn’t know exactly who she was. After she spoke, that changed dramatically.
The first panel of the day was focused on physical wellness. I got a lot out of that one and began taking notes in my new Atelier notebook (read to the end for my takeaway!)
Nancy went up in the late morning. The emcee for the day was Josie Dye, and I remember her from my younger days, but she’s a really inspiring woman and did a great job with all the panels. I thought Nancy was fabulous. Everyone is so rapt when she speaks because her story is so wild but she tells it like it’s normal. Which, of course, it is to her – she lived it. But to most of the people in that room, her careers in the military and the United Nations and ventures into war-torn areas in the height of humanitarian crises are just a little outside the ordinary. She shared a lot of great insights and I knew people would be excited to talk to her.
Because the buzz of the day was around building your Instagram audience and business, I did a couple live feeds of her answers on her Instagram. Throughout her talk and after, women were posting to IG about her. It was this really interesting live feedback, a melding of presence and commemoration. And it created a powerful whirlwind sensation – everything moved fast, everything was available for sharing, connections were made across the room via social media between people who may never have spoken to each other during the actual day together.
There was a plated lunch during which another panel spoke. It featured a woman who’d been an entrepreneur for 44 years, as well as information on business loans for entrepreneurs. After eating I was back at the booth, and the attention on Nancy kept me on my toes. I was taking photos, collecting info, posting to IG, promoting the workshops and Nancy’s other endeavours, and meeting so many amazing women.
After lunch was the panel I was most excited about. Before this event, I was pretty sure only a very select few made an actual income from marketing themselves as a brand, especially as a writer. Which is my goal: to make a living as a writer and speaker. After the conference, not only do I think it’s possible, but I think I have or am learning the skills needed to make that happen. This panel was on how to ‘leverage media into money’ and basically got into the nitty-gritty of how to make IG work for you, tips and tricks on how to monetize your efforts, how to pull your passions and skills together into a theme, and how to use brand partnerships to increase your reach. It’s obviously a huge amount of work with a certain degree of luck involved, but I keep getting this rushing feeling of ‘now’s the time’ and ‘I can make this happen’, which, according to the panelists, we should be listening to.
There were plenty of breaks during the conference and so much to do. I had a headshot taken which is kind of awesome. But most of the time, I was at the booth! When Nancy was there, there was literally a line-up to talk to her. We got lots of interest for the workshops, and my hope is that people in Niagara, Toronto, Ottawa, etc, will book us to run workshops without us opening them to the public and having to find caterers, venues, etc. My intention is that eventually we can show up to the space, invest all our energy into offering an amazing experience for women to learn, and call it a day.
The afternoon was just as compelling as the morning. We heard from women with amazing ‘brand stories’, as well as the desire to translate your personal brand into a social good, which is of course what I want. It isn’t that I think I’m so special people will want to know everything about me; it’s that I think I can express the way I experience the world in a unique enough way that gives voice to those who may not be able to access the words, or the audience, or the courage.
The keynote came from the women who created The June Motel in Price Edward County. I’d never even heard of PEC until a few months ago when my friend told me she was going there to elope, and now I hear about it all the time – I think I’ll need to visit!
Next up was happy hour – yes, this conference had a wine tasting! Nancy and I didn’t get wine but we shared a gin and rhubarb drink that was absolutely to die for. I could have had 11, but as I had to tell many well-meaning women trying to bring me drinks: “I’m working!” (Which is actually really great to say. Sidenote: I’ve decided that whenever I am writing or editing photos, I’m going to say, “I’m working”. For a few reasons: first, to validate that this is time well spent; second, to legitimize what I’m doing to other parties; and third, to speak my intention into the world for this to become my main source of income.)
The last speakers of the day were ‘Team Jilly’.
If you’re like Nancy or myself, you’ve never heard of Jillian Harris, but she is apparently a huge deal in the Instagram world. These were four women who work for Harris, managing her ‘lifestyle empire’. Honestly, it came across as controlled. Like they weren’t really allowed to pursue their own brands because the focus was to be on Harris. And they respond to people’s messages to Harris as if they are her. Collectively, they seemed a little robotic, although extremely passionate about having a positive impact on others. So, this panel was informative but not somewhere I would want to end up.
When the last panel finished, it was back to the booth for us! Another half an hour or so and we were able to begin packing up. Once that was finished, I took a few moments for myself in the car. I was so depleted from being ‘on’ all day, and my brain was tired from absorbing so much. We decided to have dinner there, though, because the alternative would have us stopping for fast food in desperation after we got on the road.
And I am SO GLAD we ate there! We both got asparagus soup with a little corn muffin, french fries, as well as olives and roasted almonds in little dishes. I had not checked in with how hungry I was. We didn’t get to have snacks the way everyone else did because we were so busy, so we hadn’t eaten since lunch and it was getting on 8pm. I was ravenous and the food was delicious.
At last it was time to head home. I think we learned that maybe for something that far, and that runs so late, we will try to make two nights of it. It was a wild day and having to face a 3.5 hour drive home at the end of it all was daunting.
But we made it through and honestly had a really wonderful talk. Nancy is someone I so admire, but I also know how real and how warm she is. We run a fine line between colleagues and friends, but at the end of the day – literally – we want amazing things for each other and we both want to help each other succeed. Once back at her house, Kai was there waiting, and we debriefed shortly but I was dropping fast. I asked Kai to take me home and off we went. I’d missed her so it was lovely to get a night together after what truly felt like a journey into another dimension.
I made some notes that I thought it would be fun to share with you all, so you can see where my head’s at! Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense, I don’t get it all either. ❤
⨁Don’t sleep with your phone next to you
⨁ move from to-do list to priority list
⨁ intentions – 5 yr plan
⨁ monthly meeting with yourself – previous months’ achievements, lessons, next month’s goals
⨁ pinterest vision board?
⨁ stay true to vision
⨁ do less but do it well
⨁ work to create both a business and a lifestyle
So that’s my takeaway! Did you know this world existed – are you a part of it? Do you want nothing to do with it? If you have a lifestyle and business you love, tell me about it!