In episode 307, Megan talks with Melissa Erdelac, recipe developer and cookbook author at MamaGourmand, about the benefits of prioritizing getting to a blogger retreat with other food bloggers.
We cover information about the difference between conferences v retreats, why you don’t need to get hung up on the experience of the attendees and why your mindset is the #1 thing to get prepared before anything for a retreat.
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Bio Melissa is a recipe developer, photographer and cookbook author who lives in northern Indiana, outside of Chicago, with her husband and four children. She began her food blog, MamaGourmand to share her passion for cooking, writing, and photography. Besides authoring her first cookbook, Frugal Gluten-Free Cooking, her work has been published in Better Homes and Gardens, MSN, Taste of Home, Parade, and Prevention. When Melissa is not dreaming up new recipes, she loves to go on challenging hikes, and break a daily sweat to offset her incorrigible sweet tooth.
- Conferences are good for meeting your food blogging community and having a sense of belonging.
- Attending a conference is helpful for big picture ideas and great speakers to learn from.
- Conferences are set in stone. You go knowing exactly what you’re going to hear about.
- Retreats, you have to go with the flow and then one thing might come up, which leads to another thing. Since it’s a small group, you can adapt.
- Don’t be attached to vanity numbers when comparing the bloggers that will be attending a retreat. Less experienced bloggers tend to bring a lot to the table vs experienced bloggers.
- It doesn’t matter what level you’re at. You have so much to share in a retreat setting.
- Retreats provide a confidence boost to you and your business.
- The atmosphere at retreats are more intimate. There’s a few scheduled parts but a lot of it is go with the flow. You can be more relaxed in your attire and since it’s more informal, you can be more comfy and open up.
- Your mindset is more important about going into a retreat than bringing anything along to share or learn.
- Retreats can be big picture or have a theme (i.e. photography, video, etc) but either way, you’ll really gain friends and food bloggers to work with in the future as you need interaction and blog issues come up.
In episode 002, Melissa joined Megan to chat about the importance of balancing family and business as a blogger.
Click for the full transcript.
Melissa Erdelac: Hi, this is Melissa Erdelac from Mama Gourmand, and you are listening to the Eat Blog Talk podcast.
Sponsor: Hey awesome food bloggers. Before we dig into this episode, I have a really quick favor to ask you. Go to your favorite podcast player. Go to Eat Blog Talk. Scroll down to the bottom where you see the ratings and review section. Leave Eat Blog Talk a five star rating if you love this. And leave a great review. This will only benefit this podcast. It adds value. I so very much appreciate your efforts with this. Thank you so much for doing this. Okay. Now onto the episode.
Megan Porta: Hello, food bloggers. Welcome to Eat Blog Talk, the podcast for food bloggers looking for the value and confidence that will move the needle forward in your business. This episode is sponsored by RankIQ. I am your host, Megan Porta and you’re listening to episode number 307. Today, Melissa is here to talk to us about the value of blogger retreats, and we’re going to have a super fun chat. Melissa is a recipe developer, photographer and cookbook author who lives in Northern Indiana, outside of Chicago with her husband and four children.
She began her food blog, Mama Gourmand to share her passion for cooking, writing, and photography. Besides authoring her first cookbook, Frugal Gluten-Free Cooking, her work has been published in Better Homes and Gardens, MSN, Taste of Home, Parade and Prevention. When Melissa is not dreaming up new recipes, she loves to go on challenging hikes and break a daily sweat to offset her incorrigible sweet tooth. I didn’t know that you had a sweet tooth like I did, Melissa, but I have one as well. It’s so bad.
Melissa Erdelac: It’s like after breakfast, I have to eat something.
Megan Porta: I’m so terrible. If I have a bag of, fill in the blank, jelly beans, M&M’s, I will sit there and eat the entire bag unless somebody takes it away from me. I am assuming you have an additional fun fact on top of that. Do you have something else to share with us?
Melissa Erdelac: So to go with the sweet tooth, where I said, I have to offset it all. A few years ago, every year I went on a girls’ trip with a couple of great friends of mine. A few years ago, we went to the Grand Canyon and in one hike, we hiked to the bottom of the canyon and back up. So it was about a 10 hour hike. It was about, I think, like 18 to 19 miles. When we started off the day, we had to start early. It was like 30 degrees. Then when we got to the bottom of the canyon it was 110 degrees. And then you turn around and you, it’s a weird height because you hike straight down. Then on the second half of the hike, you have to hike straight up.
Megan Porta: Oh my gosh. So were you just absolutely wiped after that?
Melissa Erdelac: Yes, we were basically crawling at the end, but it was such a great sense of accomplishment.
Megan Porta: Oh yeah, for sure. I would totally do something like that. I feel like I have it in me to do things like that because I have such a love for food and for sweets. So I have extra motivation to do those really challenging hikes and walks and whatever, fill in the blank. Yeah. We’ll have to do it together sometime. That would be amazing. Thank you so much for being here. I am excited to talk about this topic. You and I have planned and experienced a retreat together, and it was so fun. Not just fun, but super valuable. We constantly talk about the value that came from that like a single retreat, which I never expected.
Melissa Erdelac: It exceeded every single fun expectation and value expectation. It was crazy.
Megan Porta: Absolutely. By far. So let’s talk about this and I guess to start, it would be valuable I think, to maybe distinguish between retreats and conferences. Because I believe that both are super valuable and have just unique characteristics that we can dive into a little bit here. But yeah, just talk to us about the difference. What are the differences between a conference and a retreat?
Melissa Erdelac: So I, yes, I agree with you. I think conferences are super valuable. It’s a great way to dip your toe into meeting your blogging community. One of the things I find the biggest value of it is just meeting other bloggers. Conferences are more big picture ideas, I guess you would say. The speakers are very inspirational. It’s not so much hands on as it is finding what is working for other bloggers and then coming home and seeing how that fits with your business model and then leaning into those techniques and doing them if you feel like that’s something that would work for you. Retreats are very hands-on and very actionable. The community that you get from it is very finite and tight-knit after. It’s a small group of bloggers. So you come away with a small, very strong group of blogging friends and people to lean on.
Megan Porta: I feel like the things that you talk about at retreats can just vary. You go in thinking you’re going to talk about something, but it goes a completely different direction. Conferences are set in stone. You go knowing exactly what you’re going to hear about. But retreats, you have to go with the flow and then one thing might come up, which leads to another thing. Since it’s a small group, you can adapt.
Melissa Erdelac: Yeah. I’ve always felt, when I’ve walked away from conferences, my biggest moments that made the money worth it with getting the hotels and the flights and everything, were those in-between conversations that you would have with bloggers between sessions and meeting those people and just those little like sideline conversations where you learn these little tidbits. Those where I felt like that paid for the conference in itself. So the retreat is an entire weekend of that. Of just non-stop. Oh my gosh. That’s great. I can’t wait to use that.
Megan Porta: Yeah. Conferences you can find that, but it’s not guaranteed because that’s not the structure. So I’ve gone to conferences where I walked away and really didn’t have those in-between discussions that you’re talking about, but retreats they’re guaranteed. You’re going to have those.
Melissa Erdelac: Yeah. In those conferences that you do walk away and you don’t have their conversations, you feel like it was a waste because they have to present in such a way that they are appealing to all levels, but then it washes out the content per se, because you’re not really getting specific steps. That’s one thing I really love about the retreats.
Megan Porta: Not to diminish conferences, because you mentioned in the beginning, they are super valuable. So what would you say are the top handful of reasons why you love conferences and then we’ll move into just digging into retreats more.
Melissa Erdelac: I would say the overall community from it. It’s just such a great vibe, I guess. It’s great to be in such a large space with so many people that get what you’re doing as a business and have the same struggles. I don’t know. Blogging is such a unique career that it’s just great to be in such a large space with everyone that knows where you’re coming from. The conferences I always walk away with very valuable contacts, either if it’s from businesses or people that I could reach out to. Hey, I’d really like to sign up for this course. I really want to dig into this more. I think conferences are really great for that.
Megan Porta: I like that you said just feeling understood because when you look around at a conference, you actually physically see so many people with you that are doing the same thing as you. We don’t often see that. We know they’re there. We know we’re all out there in the internet world, but to actually physically see all of these humans who are doing this really strange job, like we are, is so comforting somehow.
Melissa Erdelac: Yeah. The first conference you go to is scary because it’s hard to go to something by yourself and walk into a room that big. The thing I was most struck about was just how welcoming everyone is. We’re all there alone. Some of us might know some other people. Once you sit down at a table, everyone is just so engaging and so welcoming. It was just a great way to get a sense of our food blogging community and how great it is.
Megan Porta: Yeah. It’s a really easy way to make fast friends. It did not take long for me or anyone that went to any conference, that was a good conference to make friends. So I love that point too. Okay. So let’s move into retreats. So we’re here to talk about the nitty gritty of retreats. Why are they good? Maybe hang ups. Let’s start there. Because I hear this a lot. People say they either are worried about having too much experience. Like they’re going to go in and know way more than everyone else and just feel like it’s not worth their money or time or the opposite, where they aren’t experienced enough. So talk to us about that.
Melissa Erdelac: Yeah. I get that. Especially in the field that we are in, we’re met with a lot of seemingly measurable things, like vanity numbers where you can be like, oh, this person’s going to be there. I’ll look at their Instagram count. Oh, they don’t have a lot of followers or, oh my gosh, they have so many followers. I am not in the same league as them.
So it’s natural to compare yourself to other people. I’ll say either if you’re on either end of the spectrum and this really came to light with the blog retreat that we did, is that everyone at every level has value to add. I would even go as far to say as, the more up and coming you are, you have more value to add.
I’m like six or seven years into this. So you get into a groove and you’re past that stage of actively learning. These up and coming bloggers are in that stage.
Megan Porta: They’re so smart.
Melissa Erdelac: 100%. Yes. They are so on top of all the trends. They are actively trying to grow their blogs or getting onto an ad network so they are doing everything possible to learn how to gain more traffic. They are always actively learning. Where we’re more experienced bloggers might be more working in their business, they’re more working on their business, to get it to that next level. So they had so much to share. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at. You have so much to share. We emailed the group before and said, Hey, come to the table with something that you’d like to share. When you’ve put into that position of what value you have to add, it’s hard. It’s hard to look outside yourself and think, what do I do that’s so great that’s better than anyone else. I would say as you’re there, even if you don’t come up with something concrete, as you’re there, you realize how much value you have to add because other people will present problems or struggles they’re having and it will spur something in you. Oh, I totally know how to do this. I can add something to this conversation. So you realize how much value you have and especially how much value other bloggers have as well.
Megan Porta: That was so well said. I loved it, yeah. I loved hearing you talk through that because there were some people who came to our retreat that came in and I know they had the attitude, I don’t know if I have anything really to share. But we saw them share so much value. We were like, what are you talking about? This was incredible. Then afterward I’ve seen a transformation in these people where it was almost like a confidence booster.
Melissa Erdelac: 100%.
Megan Porta: Wasn’t that cool just to see them share and then seeing our reactions to the value that they shared. Then afterward these people are killing it in certain areas, that has been cool.
Melissa Erdelac: They kind of owned that expertise. There were a couple girls on a retreat that really, I feel like we were the impetus.
Megan Porta: Nice job.
Melissa Erdelac: Then they moved on after that, and really leaned into those things. It’s a business tactic for them now. They are selling that expertise. As they rightly should, but if they hadn’t gone to that retreat, I don’t know if they would have realized that about themselves.
Megan Porta: I know it’s been really cool. I think that’s probably my favorite thing that has come out of the retreat, is just seeing them, not just a little bit of a confidence boost, but a huge confidence boost. It has transformed their businesses. That was the coolest thing ever. Just to touch on what you said about the experience. As someone who plans blogger events, I always get people saying that they feel like they are too experienced. I get this a couple times a week. Who’s in the group, whatever group I’m putting together. Because I need to know that I’m not going to be the most experienced person there. I always say, you should be grateful that there are less experienced people there because of what you said. Because those new bloggers are, oh my gosh, they are so driven. They are so smart. They are on top of everything. So to be able to learn from this new up and coming type of blogger is an honor, honestly. I just want to put that out there because there’s so much value in the newer blogger.
Melissa Erdelac: To be honest the more traffic your blog has, the easier it is to rest on your laurels and not be as aggressive about your business. So that was, yeah. I completely agree.
Megan Porta: That’s a good point. Yep. Let’s talk about the logistics of the retreat. You mentioned that it’s typically a couple of days that we spend together. How do you prepare leading up to it and then what to expect during?
Melissa Erdelac: I would say, if you’re anything like me, you’re going to prepare by a lot of overthinking. Then once you’re there you’ll realize that you had nothing to worry about. So like I said earlier, we approached the group of women and said come with something. It was very, very relaxed. It was not like coming up with a PowerPoint presentation. It was just having something in mind that you can talk about. Honestly, once the retreat got going, you very much went with the flow of the group. So some of those girls did share those things. Some of the girls, we found that there was something else of value that they had that they didn’t even realize. We ended up talking about that. Also, this is the other thing about conferences, where it’s a very public space. So you feel like you have to look put together and have makeup on. It was so relaxing. Bring your sweatpants. Don’t worry about makeup. If you want to. It’s just a lot of relaxing. I wouldn’t even say, it’s not so much work as it is brainstorming sessions. It’s not a time to oh, I really need to knock this out. Because it’s a lot of just conversations and learning from each other.
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Megan Porta: I like how you put that with – brainstorming. It’s relaxing brainstorming. There’s no pressure. You don’t have to have your hair done. You don’t have to look nice. It’s just, you can be yourself and just kick your feet up for a little bit. Get involved in these really cool, like mastermind style brainstorming sessions that are unplanned, they’re unscripted, unplanned. There’s magic that comes out of them. But it’s not something that you predetermine. It’s like the magic unfolds once you get there.
Melissa Erdelac: Yeah. I would say, so it’s not so much being prepared physically or mentally, and as more of being prepared with a mindset. So come ready to be collaborative. Ready to engage. Ready to share things that are working for you. If you are more head down and this is what I do, and eyes in your own lane all the time, a blog retreat is pretty much the opposite.
Megan Porta: Yeah. Like you said too, don’t overthink it. I feel like if you went into a retreat just way over analyzing what to expect and how you’re going to act and how things are going to play out, it’s going to be hard. But if you just go in with an open mind and knowing that it’s free flowing and that the relationships are going to evolve naturally, you’re going to be much better off. Then like logistically about the week, typically the one we planned lasted two full days with a few travel days on each end. But can you talk through how our days can have typically unfolded?
Melissa Erdelac: The meals were always a great relaxation point of the day. So at breakfast, lunch and dinner was just fun and talking. Then after the day was over, there was a lot of talking and laughing.
Megan Porta: Dancing.
Melissa Erdelac: Possibly a dance routine. So we broke up the weekend as we would have breakfast. Then we would do maybe a couple hour work session. By work session, it’s just from what I alluded to before, it’s a lot of brainstorming or Hey, I have this issue. Oh here. Let me show you how I do this and walk you through it. Then I think we went on a hike at one point. Went out to dinner one night. I cannot believe how much we laughed and talked. In between all the work talk. Which was, I could talk about my blog 24/7. It was so great to be around a group of women that can equally talk about and are so inspired by their businesses and discuss it all the time. So there was a lot of work talk, but it was always fun and hysterical.
Megan Porta: It was so fun. It’s like looking back and thinking back, don’t you just wonder if that was like a unicorn experience? Can we ever recreate that, Melissa?
Melissa Erdelac: I don’t know. But it was great. So we just did a conference. We just did Tastemakers together in Chicago. We had a house and it was another kind of conglomeration of women. We still had just as much fun. I just feel like, any time you get a group of us together in a small group and a small space, we’re all going to learn from each other and have fun together. We all must be somewhat like-minded to be into this very crazy business. So we all are going to have something to find that we like about each other and that we have in common.
Megan Porta: That’s true. I feel like food bloggers or all kinds of the same. Yeah. Like we all think the same. We have that common bond of just having this unique space where we show up every day. I’ve yet to find a food blogger who’s difficult or, everyone I meet, I feel like in this community is so fun and inspiring and creative and easy to get to know and easy to get along with. Even if it’s not a retreat, even if we’re showing up at a conference and renting a house together, it’s still so much fun. Okay. So anything else logistically? You talked about kind of work times. Our work times were really unstructured. We just let it flow naturally. Then we did break up the days with lunches, dinners and excursions. We went for a little hike. Am I missing anything?
Melissa Erdelac: I would say if you’re considering planning a blog retreat, we also threw in a photography session. Because we started planning this before the pandemic. So it had some evolutions of what it was going to be. So you could focus on photography and do more of a hands-on. Find a space that has good lighting for videography. For part of it, one of the days we had a professional photographer come and take headshots of us just for social media. That was not only great, but it was also a lot of fun doing that. But if you want to, you could do that with each other too. Just take headshots of each other. We’re all photographers. So having something like that, something that you’re still doing interactively, but just not in front of your computer is always a good idea too.
Megan Porta: Yeah. I’m glad you mentioned that. I didn’t even think of that. We did more of a really broad kind of retreat. So we didn’t have a particular focus. The initial retreat we were planning, had a video focus where we were going to bring in a videographer and she was going to teach us and put together a video per retreat member. But in the evolution, we dropped that focus and did more of a broad scale. But yeah, like you could focus on really any aspect of food blogging. Photography, videography or natural kind of components to look at, but whatever, fill in the blank with whatever is prominent right now, relevant. Web stories. You could do a web story focus or a social media focus. There’s so many different routes you can go. I lean toward doing the broader, but I can see maybe in the future figuring out something that is more specific.
Melissa Erdelac: Another thing that would be great is if you, I know a lot of bloggers work with their husbands, so doing a retreat where… Isn’t that a movie, Couples Retreat?
Megan Porta: But not like that yet, yeah.
Melissa Erdelac: Blogging couples retreat.
Megan Porta: Yeah, that would be very fun. I know a blogger who does that. She arranges blogger retreats that are couple focused. And I know that they’re very successful and they have a lot of fun. Any tips for people who are planning retreats, because I think definitely keep it on your radar to find retreats to go to. But it’s an option to plan your own. It’s actually not that difficult. So what tips do you have for anyone who has that?
Melissa Erdelac: I would say, so if you’re doing it near you, make sure that’s in a place that people can get to easily. Some people aren’t close to airports or things. So it really limits who can come. A big comfortable house, the kitchen was key cause we did a lot of cooking together. Great hangout space. We had a great deck that we hung out at. When it comes down to logistics of planning it, I would say ear on the side of over-planning, but then be prepared for nothing you planned for is going to happen. Have a plan. If you have people that are harder to draw out, it’s nice to have those plans to back up on. Maybe just thinking about, okay, from 10 to 12, we’re going to talk about web stories. Everyone will have something to add or if they don’t have something to add, they’ll have something to learn from. Now we’re going to talk about it. Pinterest or lack thereof in the next session. You don’t have to come with a lot of material, but maybe more ideas of what you can discuss.
Megan Porta: One thing I liked about having some things that were set in stone, like the photographer. She was coming at 12:00 PM or whatever. We had. We had some things that we had to stick to, but within that, we had just a loose schedule. We did draw out like from one to two, we’ll talk about this, but we didn’t always follow it. That was fine because that part of the value is just going where the information is flowing. If it leads to an entirely different discussion that’s valuable, we just let it go there.
Melissa Erdelac: That’s my point of being very flexible too.
Megan Porta: Yeah. So having some guideposts to keep you on track somewhat. So you’re not like, oh, it’s midnight. I don’t think we would’ve done that, but then being flexible between. And allowing time for just downtime. So not scheduling and so much work. Having that time to be flexible and just drink tequila and dance, or do what you want to do outside of work. You’ll probably still talk about work, but that’s okay. So we talked a little bit about opportunities and growth that have come from this, those few women that attended. That has just crushed it in their little unique areas. But talk a little more about that. How the community has unfolded for us.
Melissa Erdelac: You walk away from this just absolutely hitting the ground running because it’s not so much that I need to go home and learn these things. I need to go home and start implementing these things right away. Because I already know how to do them. So I made an annotation on my Google analytics of when I went to the blog retreat and I think it was October and you could definitely see an uptick in traffic from there. You come away so inspired and have so many little tricks and hacks and things that just, I don’t know, like aha moments that you can immediately put into your business. Then the best part of it is just that built in community that you get right away. We created a slack channel after our retreat, which is still active. The great thing about it is just that vibe that we had at the retreat of helping each other still continues to this day. So if we come across something now, something that we just learned or a new tool, or, Hey, this is really working for me. We will still pop into that slack channel and share that with our group. So it continues months after supporting each other or going in and saying, I have this problem. Does anyone come across it? Oh, this is what you do, or contact this person. So it continues to pay for itself.
Megan Porta: Lifelong friendships. I feel like we formed some friendships within that group that will not go away. Some of those ladies will be my forever friends.
Melissa Erdelac: Yeah. Yes. Yes, not just blogging friends, but my legit, best friends. I remember when I was first starting to blog and I would hear from other bloggers. They would talk about their community and how they’re blogging friends. I remember thinking like how in the hell are these people making friends?
Megan Porta: Where are these people?
Melissa Erdelac: We’re all at home. We’re all in front of our computers and no one’s seeing each other. So how are they like establishing these friendships? This is how it happens. You have to get out from your computer and get into these conferences and retreats and you will meet people. I cannot believe my community has expanded in waves since starting to go to conferences and retreats. You start to realize what a small group we are and how we all are, it’s like, what does that, the Kevin bacon thing…
Megan Porta: six degrees of…
Melissa Erdelac: but blogging. We all know each other through people. It’s a great way to meet people and just come up with a very tight friend group.
Megan Porta: Just to acknowledge quickly that it is not always easy. You mentioned in the very beginning of our chat that going into your first conference, it was really scary. It’s so intimidating and daunting and at least I’ll speak for myself. I tend to overthink. I get self-conscious and what are they going to think? Am I going to say something wrong? What am I going to talk about? Do I know enough? Do I, whatever. There’s so much that is intimidating going into a real life person. In-person situation, but everyone is in the same boat. The cool thing is that you’re not special. We’re all in that stage where we feel a little bit scared to go into group settings. Especially after COVID it’s not natural anymore. So I just wanted to acknowledge that it is scary, but it’s so worth it. Is there anything else we’ve missed that you want to mention about retreats on any scale?
Melissa Erdelac: I’ll just say some of us have gotten into this business because we are introverts and we can be very calculated behind it. So if that’s one of your fears, is putting yourself out there, I would say, get out of your own way and just try it. You will not regret it, even if it’s a conference or a retreat. You will walk away with something. It’s guaranteed.
Megan Porta: Probably not just something, but so many things that you will be forever grateful for. It’s really powerful. It’s hard to put into words. I love our conversation because I think we’ve painted a really good picture of how powerful it is, but really it’s even more powerful than what we’re describing when you experience it. You’ll know what we’re talking about, but there’s just so much that we can’t put into words. The experience of it. So I say, go find a good one or create your own. Find a few friends that you know or are getting to know online and create your own group. It’s really not as hard as it seems. You need a house and you need some people. You need a loose plan, maybe a place to eat. But aside from that’s really all you need.
Melissa Erdelac: Yeah. Don’t overthink who’s coming either. Don’t get into that trap of, oh, they’re really big or they’re very small. It does not matter at all.
Megan Porta: Yeah. Oh my gosh. So true. Thank you, Melissa. This was so awesome. I love it. Now I am all pumped for another retreat. This sounds fun. Let’s do it. I will put together a show notes page for you. If anyone wants to go look at those, you can go to eatblogtalk.com/mamaGourmand. Why don’t you tell everyone where they can find you? Tell us about your cookbook and social media and all that.
Melissa Erdelac: So I’m at Mama Gourmand on Instagram. I’m very active there. You could DM me. You can email me. It’s [email protected] I swear. I don’t just say that metaphorically. I respond to every comment and email. Then my cookbook is on Amazon. Frugal, gluten-free cooking.
Megan Porta: Awesome. Thank you again for being here, Melissa. Thank you for listening today, food bloggers. I will see you in the next episode.
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