Planning to attend conferences is a great way to expand your knowledge and network in your industry, but it's easier said than done. What's even harder than finding the time and money to attend events? Hosting your own. Tamera Darden is the creator and host of the Find Your Light conference, an event that'll teach women of color creatives how to create a visual strategy for their brands, amongst other skills. Darden is the brains behind Darden Creative, a visual strategy, and development agency. Darden has created visual content for brands like Macy's Inc., Harper's Bazaar and more. Tamera is taking the skills she's developed over the years to create an event that inspires creative women to design visual content and style photography they can get excited about.
Can you tell me a little about the Find you Light conference?
It’s a one-day conference that is jammed-packed with workshops and panel discussions that are focused around how women creatives can live their best life professionally and personally. The workshop and panels really focus on the full circle view on what it means to be a creative entrepreneur. It includes financial literacy, how to use your personal stories to monetize your brand, and also just how to take care of yourself. There is a panel that focuses on self-care and how to define self-care for you.
Where this came from was me posting pictures on Instagram and people asking me how I was taking the pictures. I would tell them I use my camera phone and a lot of people were [still] asking me how. I always loved to teach, even when I'd host webinars. I thought why not create this amazing, curated experience where individuals can learn how to create the content for their business and learn how to edit those images. I took it a step further and aside from taking pictures for your business, you need to learn how to manage your business and how to manage your finances when you are in business. So, it’s really a huge full circle introductory of how you can be a creative entrepreneur and live the best life that you deserve to have.
What was your main inspiration behind the conference?
I really wanted to teach and share information that I’ve been asked over the past decade. All of my experience has led me to this point of content creation and visual identity strategy, so I wanted to teach that in an intimate setting. The reason why it’s intimate is so people feel comfortable making mistakes and so they know the moderators on a first name basis. The content is definitely familiar content but it’s usually not packaged in a way that focuses on women of color creatives.
I would love to attend a Create and Cultivate conference and School of Styling but either they don’t have familiar faces or its not in my budget to attend. I wanted to create something that spoke to the women of color experience and have it be affordable and of value, so those two things were the inspiration behind the conference. Really just representation and saying we can put on high-quality events and you don’t have to drop $1k. You’re going to invest some coins but if you can buy a Beyoncé ticket, you can buy a conference ticket that will improve your life.
After you had the idea, what were your first steps?
Writing out the content was the first step. I knew in terms of the scope what I wanted the conference to focus on. The second thing I did was build a website. I knew what colors I wanted, I knew I wanted the aesthetic of the Find Your Light to be different than Darden Creative. I knew I wanted it to be bright, inclusive and happy. I wrote on a calendar to myself when I wanted to launch the website and I used this to hold me accountable and not be afraid to launch regardless of if it was 100% completed or not. I created the Instagram feed, pulled the content and kept the feed private for a few days before I actually made it public. I pulled all this content and did things on the back end that I knew I would need in the very beginning before announcing.
I created the website, and it only had the about, agenda and work with us page for sponsors but that was really all that I had when I announced the conference. Next, I made the Instagram public and started following people who followed Darden creative. Two of my friends who are huge social media influencers even texted me and said ‘I really love this.’ One of them went on to say ‘what is this, when is this, I need to attend this ‘– and she ended up being one of the speakers.
That’s what I did physically but mentally and spiritually, what I did was I didn’t talk to a lot of people about it. It was not because I was afraid someone was going to steal it or what people were going to say about it but to protect the idea from any negativity.
"It’s really important as a creative to know who your support system is. There can be people who say they’re supportive of you but they can have negative thoughts that can become buried in your thoughts subconsciously."
I just wanted to trust the work, and protect it in its entirety. Everything eventually happened the way I wanted it to because I protected the idea and the work was done. It was a testimony of following through and I didn’t need validation from 15 people to keep going, I needed that from within myself.
"For me validation is a check. If a check clears, that’s validation. But a double tap? That’s just not enough for me."
What are some advantages to hosting your own event?
The number one advantage is curating the event the way you want to. If you don’t want to talk about certain topics or don’t feel it’s relevant to your audience you have the freedom to do that. Another advantage is the opportunity to develop skill sets that you wouldn’t have exposure to if you weren’t putting on an event. Time management, learning how to negotiate with sponsors and venues, learning how to present your value to big brands, proper communication skills and how you approach speakers [are all things you learn hosting an event].
I never reached out to someone to speak at my events with the notion that it's going to be exposure for them or increase their following. They’re definitely doing me the favor and I’m putting on this event to inspire people who attend. Having the humility to say that goes a long way. Also it’s an extension of your brand. What do you want the event to say about you? You're creating an extension of who you are and what your personal brand is.
People fail when they put together events when their dreams get too big. When they pitch it they say there’s going to be 100 people there and tickets are going to cost this much and its going to be the talk about the town. Unless you have a big following the first time putting on a conference, and I don’t, you’re essentially paying for the cost of the event upfront with the expectation that you’ll make that money back.
"We have these high goals and God tells us to dream big so he can dream bigger."
When I did the first Find Your Light conference, I was talking to my event planner and she was like ‘I think we can fill the ten slots.’ I did too but people were not buying the tickets. I said I don’t care if one person registers or if all ten slots are filled but this is an event I intend to have once or twice a year. With that being said we need to make sure the event is executed properly so we give people a reason to attend next year. If the execution is faulty, then you’re already shooting yourself in the foot. When the conference came around only two people registered and the rest of the room was staff and planners and my family, but everyone walked away having a great experience.
People probably aren’t going to register until the third time around when it’s more money but at least you can say that it was done the way you wanted.
When Tony Robbins started doing his conferences only three people showed up. Fast forward years later and he’s selling out big conference rooms. If that’s your goal you have to understand it’s going to be a big investment. Understand what you need and what you can go without, and what you can DIY.
How did you go about securing location, speakers, and sponsors?
I wanted to have sponsors that coincided with the topics. I reached out to people who make journals, or other tangible items that would be beneficial to attendees. I drafted emails and tried to keep them short and to the point. I started with a quick anecdote about the brand, letting them know I knew who they were. I introduced myself and linked to my portfolio, using my past experience as leverage. The intention was to show I can work with a brand of said scale and create something of value.
Then I shared information about the conference, mentioning I am looking for monetary and in-kind donations.
I wrapped up the email mentioning the brand’s inclusion would truly elevate the attendees’ conference experience. A lot of brands said no, but a few said yes and I was able to secure 13 sponsors.
When it came to the venue, I wrote down what I wanted but it was just not in budget. About a month before the first conference I was actually going to cancel it because I didn't have the money. I was like 'I’m a freelancer, I’m not getting monetary sponsorship, registrations aren’t coming in, I’m not going to be able to pay for this and pay my rent.'
A friend of mine suggested I try to work with a coworking space and so there was a space that just opened up in my neighborhood in Harlem. I spoke to the owner and he was willing to provide the space for free.
I recommend looking at schools, institutions and coworking spaces and negotiate with them. It was so great that I was able to pull that off. This year I wanted to do it somewhere else so I went through a co-working app and got it for $400. It’s a lot of DIY and thinking outside the box to keep costs as low as possible.
What were some unexpected challenges you ran into?
The location was the most unexpected challenge for me. The venue is always going to be the most expensive item, so that was the biggest hurdle. There are all kinds of apps like Breather, Peerspace and coworking spaces that can house your event and keep costs pretty low.
What’s the number one thing you’ve taken away from hosting a curated event?
You just have to keep going. I think that there are so many opportunities to say I’m not going to do this anymore. No one’s registered or only two people registered, but that’s still more than you had a week ago.
Whenever those negative thoughts come into your head you have to change your mindset and look at the glass half full. This whole experience of putting this event together has pushed me to do that every single time.