Top 10 lessons from BlogJam’s Preserve Retreat 2019

I got home yesterday from BlogJam 2019’s Preserve Retreat at Oak Island just BURSTING with so many new ideas and so much inspiration — not just for my blog, but for my writing career and my life in general.

I’ve been attending this conference since it started five years ago, and it’s always a highlight of the fall for me.

Me at the very first BlogJam back in 2015

I spent the weekend tweeting away all of the great advice I heard, so I thought I’d put the highlights together in a post so you can all read about what some of the biggest and best bloggers in the region have to say about everything from making money to live video.

Let’s dive in …


Michelle Doucette from East Coast Food Stories did a great presentation on flat-lay photography and I came away with tips that I can’t wait to implement.


Use laminate floor tiles, wallpaper, small pieces of beadboard, etc. to get different backdrops for flat-lays and any up-close photography. WHAT A GENIUS IDEA! Start the car because I’m off to Kent to buy flooring samples!


The amazing Kayla Short of Short Presents dropped so many gems about how to get on her Insta-story level.

She talked about how you should think about what kind of video YOU like to see online (and what you don’t like), mixing up shots and angles, and making your viewers either feel like they’re there with you or WANT TO BE.

(For the record, everyone wants to be with Kayla because she’s sweetness personified and really is a Disney Princess, with her blonde ringlets and a melodic voice that sounds like forest animals are going to gently perch on her shoulders.)


If you’re nervous about getting on camera, write a list of all of the reasons it freaks you out. (My list was basically just that I feel fat/fug on video because I can’t get the same angle/filter help I can with a good ol’ selfie.) Once you have your list, write a big fat “SO WHAT???” next to every item. Woah. Good point, Kayla.


Our Saturday morning keynote was from the hilarious and brilliant Natalie Davison from New Brunswick marketing agency Marrow. She had all of us laughing from the very first minute, as she pointed out that she’d accidentally dressed in a pirate-style blazer to talk at our pirate-themed resort (Oak Island).

Natalie inspired us to prioritize relationships with our followers over transactions, to deliver more to our readers without asking too much of them (“Give four times for every ask”) and not to wait around for businesses to take bloggers seriously (“If they won’t give you a seat at the table, build your own damn table!”).


Don’t stress about not having a fancy camera or studio set-up. Natalie pointed out that maven Amy Porterfield’s best-performing videos are the ones where it looks like she’s just talking into a phone camera because she feels relatable to her audience since that’s the kind of video they can easily do.


Back to Kayla from Short Presents for this one, because she’s the queen of doing live video — especially sponsored live video and TV appearances — and we all wrote down every tidbit she passed along.

Live video is having a total moment because the platforms priotizie it, meaning they show it to more people since it’s keeping them ON THAT PLATFORM. (And we all know what a dick the algorithms can be. Sorry, Zuck.)

Kayla talked to us about watching what other people are doing in live video — whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, IGTV, etc. — promoting our “lives” in advance so people can tune in, and making sure we have a good internet connection so the quality isn’t crap.

She also said to make sure we say hi to people and respond to comments live, recap what we’re talking about when a bunch of new people join in, and have a catchy sign-off so people know when we’re done.


Plan, plan, plan! Kayla makes her live videos and TV appearances seem effortless, but she says she spends HOURS planning them out. Girlfriend used to be a teacher so she’s alllll about the planning. She plans out what her message is, what the goal for the live is, and — if she’s going live with another person — who’s in charge of running the show. I’m a planner, so this makes me feel a bit better about trying live video. I can plan the shit out of it!


We had an awesome panel discussion blogging as a business and making money through sponsorships. Nicole from Smart Cat Marketing reminded us to own our value and show potential clients what we’ve done in the past and what we’ve been able to achieve.

Sara from Dashboard Living said it’s important to have set base rates for the majority of your social posts and blog posts so it’s easier to generate a price for clients. She also pointed out that “free campaigns RARELY turn into paid ones,” and there was a collective “Ohhhhh” throughout the room.

(Her husband, Brent, also piped up from the audience with the excellent point that some people likely won’t take blogging seriously until there’s a degree you need for it, etc. because that’s what makes people think a vocation is “professional,” i.e. doctor, lawyer, nurse, dentist. We all agreed)

Ruth Ann Swansburg from Everything Unscripted said there’s certainly a place for comps (working in exchange for a product or service), but it depends on what the value is to YOU. Sure, you can’t pay your mortgage with free shampoo, but if it’s something you’re going to need to buy anyway (like paying vet bills for your dog), there’s room for bartering.

In a panel on partnering with businesses, Kerra AuCoin Mansfield of KA Social Media and EatDrinkAndBeYou reminded us that sometimes having smaller numbers but a genuine influence is more important to a brand because it can result in more people wanting that they’re selling.
Becky (see below), me, and Kerra were the Three Musketeers this weekend and got along like we’d been besties for years!

Suzi Fevens from Confessions of a Fitness Instructor pointed out that not all analytics are online, anyway. As a fitness instructor, Suzi influences many of her clients to make purchases but those people aren’t clicking away on Facebook or to her blog — they’re telling her that in person. She says it’s important to share those stories with a business since those stats aren’t going to appear on any report.

Suzi also led the most amazing HARRY POTTER YOGA event on Saturday night. It was the coolest thing ever for this new HP fan.

In her video presentation, Kayla from Short Presents shared the best way to open up a dialogue about getting paid. If a business asks about working together and you’re not sure if they’re talking about product or cash, ask “What’s your budget?” (Everybody in the room wrote that down and underlined it!)

In her keynote, Natalie from Marrow reminded us that our audience trusts us with certain topics, and our content needs to honour that. If you go around promoting random things that aren’t true to you, you’re going to look and feel like a big phony.


The lovable Mike Tanner from OneRedCat Media pointed out that it’s not ALL about the numbers. It’s about KNOWING our followers — who they are, what they like, what they do, why they follow us, etc. It made me realize that I don’t often stop and think about who my followers are — I’m just happy they’re here! Getting a more accurate picture of who’s here will be helpful because I’ll be able to create content that works for all of us.


We talked a lot about video and social media over the weekend, but our honourary Maritimer for the weekend, Ottawa’s Rebecca from A Bit of Momsense, had SO many great tips for blog posts themselves — specifically, repurposing them.

Becky and me = new novel-writing accountability buddies! xo

Just because a blog post isn’t brand-new doesn’t mean it’s dead. It can be reused, reshared, repurposed, etc. for years to bring you more blog traffic. This is especially important for us dinosaur bloggers. (I just checked and I have 2,118 blog posts here on Heathers’s Handmade Life. TWO THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTEEN. Holy.)

Rebecca also shared that IGTV (something I’ve never tried) allows you to drop links to blog posts — something you can’t do in a regular Instagram post or in Stories, unless you have 10K+ followers — anddddd then she dropped an even more amazing tip …


When people are happily swiping through Insta Stories, we can go on and on about how they should really go visit a particular blog post, but that requires them going over to your bio, finding the #linkinbio, and LEAVING THE INSTAGRAM APP in search of the blog post. Rebecca’s tip is to suggest the person send you a DM and you can send them the link directly (which works in DMs). Then they can go to the post at their convenience, and the direct link is waiting there for them. MIND BLOWN!


Bloggers tend to be busy, always rushing around and trying to do too much at once — well, that’s probably ALL of us in this age, not just bloggers. Tara Jaskowiak from Groundwork did a great presentation on “slowing down to speed up.” I definitely needed this lesson.


Tara suggested that every month or every 90 days, we write a “KEEP/TOSS/CREATE” list reminding of us what we want to do differently in the next 30/90 days. Such a good idea, and I definitely need to think more about the items I wrote on my list.


Sunday morning began with an awesome fresh-air meditation activity with writer/author/couch doula Jessie Harrold, and then she led the most inspiring session on moving from blogs to books. There were SO many of us in the room who either want to write a book or are already working on a book.

Jessie received so many questions, I think she could have stayed up front and talked for hours before we finally got through them all. (Sadly, she couldn’t.) In the short time we had with her, she told us all about how writing a book requires a “nurturing a writing practice” — a.k.a. having the same tea, the same time of day, the same place, etc. to put yourself in the space to write.

This is something I’ve done well at times — getting up early to write, having a set amount of words to write each day — but failed at more often than not, especially now that I write “for a living” 7-8 hours every day. I know all about the importance of a writing practice, but MAINTAINING it is what I find hard.

I never prioritize my own writing — just paid writing work. I’m so tired of typing and staring at a screen that sometimes I just don’t waaaaaanna do more writing, even though I love writing my book(s) as soon as I get started. So what Jessie said next blew my mind …


Ready for this? You don’t have to actually write your book during your book-writing time. You just have to MAKE the time and SHOW UP FOR YOURSELF. Sit there and think about your book, even. Just SHOW UP. The book won’t ever happen unless you make that time for it.


We have an amazing blogging community here in Atlantic Canada, and we’re already really good about liking/commenting/supporting each other’s posts on social and on our blogs. But we can always do more! Thanks to Kerra from KA Social Media for reminding us of this.


Liking a post, leaving a comment, or sharing a post is totally free but it can make all the difference for another blogger. If a blogging friend gets a campaign or sponsorship opportunity you would have loved to get, support them — what’s good for one of us is good for ALL of us. It’s only going to help our community grow.


It was a fabulous weekend and I left with a happy heart. There’s so much I’ve taken away from this year’s conference, and I’ll be hopefully implementing more of it soon.

I’ve already started being more active on Insta Stories and I’m having fun with it! 😉 I’m @HFXHeather if you’re not already following me there.

Thanks to the amazing blogging community for a memorable weekend. I feel so lucky to be a part of this group.


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