In November 2014, I attended my first “work conference”.  This specific conference was WooConf in San Francisco.  Over the four years I’ve been a WordPress developer, I’ve been focusing more and more on building sites with WooCommerce, and part of my job is to know tips and tricks that my clients wouldn’t think to ask for.  The more I know, the better their businesses will run, based on the knowledge I inject into their website creation.

Personally, I wanted to attend WooConf to get some fresh ideas on marketing within and outside of WooCommerce as a platform.  It might have made more sense to go to a marketing-specific conference, but I was comfortable with WooCommerce, and that gave me the confidence I needed to attend this conference.  Now that I’ve attended one, it’s likely that the next conference I attend will be more marketing focused.

It Costs Too Much

I’ll give you this – some conferences are insanely expensive.  I wanted to go to one in Dallas in 2013 that was $500/day, for two days.  It would be REALLY hard for me to justify spending $1,000 on a conference, when my business was not able to cover an expense like that just yet.  I’ve also seen conferences for $3,000-$5,000.  I’m still not in a position to spend that kind of money on a conference, but I would guess that if I got my revenue up to a minimum of $100k/year, I would attend a conference at that price point.

My ticket for WooConf in San Francisco was much cheaper.  The tickets were $350, and there was an early bird discount of $100, so I attended for $250.  There were lots of snacks, coffee, and swag, and I definitely value the information I gleaned at at least $250.  In other words, I don’t feel like my money was wasted at this conference.

Granted, I don’t live in San Francisco, so I did have to pay for travel and accommodations.  Fortunately for me and my wife, I’m a travel hacker, so I always have plenty of Southwest RR points and a Companion Pass.  Our airfare cost about $17 total in fees.  The hotel cost $324.69 for three nights.  The hotel was in the Tenderloin District, which some people seem to be afraid of, but my wife and I didn’t have any trouble walking from the hotel to Market street, and even further around San Francisco.  Food probably cost an extra $150, since we ate out for all meals.

My total cost to attend this conference was around $724, including meals and travel.

Even though I really hated San Francisco, I’ll still consider this conference a “work trip” with a “built-in vacation”, so I really think that $724 was a fair price.  Whether or not you’re in a position to pay that kind of money for a work conference is up to you.

Will I Even Learn Anything?

A common concern about attending conferences like these is that you won’t learn anything.  I was worried that since this was the first WooCommerce conference ever, it might not be formatted in a way that seasoned WordPress gurus could actually learn something from it.  Fortunately for me, I was wrong.

I would say that I thoroughly enjoyed about 60% of the conference.  The other 40% consisted of things that I already knew, and that didn’t further my education as a WordPress developer.  That 60%, though, was incredibly useful for me.

Probably my favorite topic of all covered at this conference was drip email marketing and on-site recommendation marketing.  I heard from some really smart people about how to set up a drip marketing campaign (the basics), and how to conversions on your site to convert even more, all with an automated system setup.  That’s exactly the type of stuff I wanted to learn.

Before you sign up for a conference, you should think long and hard about what areas of your business you want to improve.  Then, look at the schedule for upcoming conferences, and book the one that most closely reflects the topics that you want to improve on.

As long as you do your research and make sure you’re attending a conference that’s a good match for your skill-set, you’ll absolutely learn something.

When Should I Go?

If you’re deciding when to go to a conference, you need to think about two things first:

  1. Are my skills developed enough to benefit from a conference?
  2. Can I make the most of the time and get in a mini-vacation too?

If you’re just starting out in web development, it’s probably a bit too soon for you to be going to a paid conference.  You’ll learn more watching videos on YouTube, reading up on the WordPress Codex, and just doing more work.  However, if you’ve been working for a couple years with at least ten sites in your portfolio, you might benefit from a conference.

The second consideration (assuming the conference is not in your city) is whether or not you can make a vacation out of it.  It’s always nice to take a vacation from work.  As someone who has been working my ass off for what seems like four years straight now, vacations are FANTASTIC.  Fortunately, there are ways to mix vacation with work, like Chris Lema’s CaboPress.

Chris Lema is one of the leading voices in WordPress today, and watching just a handful of the talks he’s given will show you just how valuable attending his conference could be.  The price is $1,000 for an individual, and $1,500 for a couple, and that’s all-inclusive.  Honestly, that’s the part that shocked me.  A great WordPress conference, all the food you can eat, all the drinks you can drink, hotel – and only $1,500 for a couple (you’ll still have to cover airfare).  That’s a great deal for a 4-night stay in Cabo!

Ready, Set, Go!

If you’re ready to attend a conference, start searching for that magical one, and go for it!  The only person who can improve your skills is you, and you get to decide how!

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