Let’s get right to it, friend…being a creative business owner is not for the faint of heart. Not only am I the literal creator of anything that is produced out of Lettered Grace, I basically wear every hat imaginable when it comes to my little business baby. I’m the visionary, the designer, the outsourcing researcher, handle all client communications, social media manager, event coordinator, content creator, and seasonal planner. Did I mention financial manager, printer, purchase order extraordinaire, or collaboration coordinator? And I can’t forget to mention that I wear all those hats in addition to the ones I wear for family, friends, etc! Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely LOVE it. But – like a lot of the creative business owners that I know – I work from home, which also means I spend a lot of time alone in my office plugging away at making sure my business baby can thrive.
If you’re a creative like me, you know that when things are rollin’ along, you’re feeling good about the time you’re investing in your craft. On the other hand, there are days, weeks, and sometimes seasons when you start to wonder if it’s worth the time and money and heart that you’re endlessly pouring in. Times like that can be game changers for small business owners in any industry. Unless you have a community you can count on and lean into.
I’ve followed the Society for Creative Founders (SCF) for quite a while. They offer incredible encouragement and opportunities for learning the ins and outs of owning and running a creative business through their social media platforms. (Plus, their feed is always pretty and bright and I love seeing those images pop up during my scroll!) In the fall of 2017, I decided to join the SCF Community as a member and was blown away by the content provided and the support of the members within the group! I love it! Joining the community gave me a little bit of a sense of “I’m not the only one growing a business baby!”
It was in January that I first read about the spring Conference. Obviously, I wanted to go, but I just wasn’t sure I could make it work. I read the reviews from the Alumni on the SCF Conference site, I found alumni on social media and checked out their businesses. There was literally something in my gut that was telling me this was my year…quit second guessing and do it! After talking it over with the hubs, making sure the kids were taken care of for the dates I would be gone (still wearing those wife & mama hats!), and a couple conversations with Kristin, the owner of SCF…I did it. I registered for conference, I bought a plane ticket, and the excitement grew and grew and GREW until it was time to head to Pensacola, Florida.
“Pre-Game” | Saturday
Y’all want some transparency? This country gal here was SO NERVOUS about flying! Haha!It had literally been about 6 years since I’ve been on a plane and thank the good Lord I was so excited about this Conference because I would’ve been a hot mess on that flight! It was a blessing that another attendee, Amanda, was literally on the same row as me on our flight down to Pensacola and we got to make funny faces at each other each time we bumped and bopped on our quick, 1-hour trip! We arrived at PNS where we met another attendee, Laura, hopped in our Uber with the most unfriendly driver (I get that it’s an Uber “rule”, but I’m from the south, y’all…you always make conversation!), and headed to the beach for the night. Our fourth roomie, Honey – isn’t that the best name ever!? – was waiting in the lobby for us when we arrived and we all became fast friends over a supper at McGuire’s Irish Pub and late night laughs! Honest to goodness – it was like trying to sleep on Christmas Eve! We were all excited about the days ahead!
Day One – Sunday
Today is the day! The four of us were so excited to kick-off our Conference experience! Nervous excitement, I believe, would’ve been the emotion of choice for us all as we ate a delicious brunch at Jaco’s Bayfront Bar & Grille on the pier. Bellies full and excitement bursting at the seams, we headed to The Lee House in Pensacola – a beautiful historic boutique hotel. As everyone started to arrive, the lobby was bustling with excited creatives ready to dive in to all that was in store – even though we weren’t quite sure what all was ahead, we knew it was going to be amazing!
We walked in to our conference room for the next few days and holy cow, y’all! As we walked in, we got to hug each speaker (see my last post – I’m totally a hugger!) as they greeted us. They were lined on either side as we walked in – almost like a football team running onto the playing field with cheerleaders cheering them on! (So funny that, as I type this, I’m realizing that is EXACTLY what this experience was like…the ENTIRE time!) Check out this space, would you?! This became our home for the next few days – the space where our speakers would pour immeasurable information and encouragement into us each day.
Our Sunday was full of surprises – from little gifts on the table full of goodies from the amazing sponsors (including some SCF Alumni!) to our big roommate reveal and a gorgeous supper on the terrace in the back. One of my biggest hesitations about registering for conference was that I wouldn’t really know anyone. I LOVE meeting new people, but if I don’t know anyone, I can be a little reserved until I feel more comfortable. This environment was totally different. Even though I only “knew” the other attendees and speakers through our private Facebook group leading up to the Conference, it almost immediately felt like family from the moment we all started gathering in the lobby of The Lee House that afternoon. I think it’s safe to say that most of the other attendees felt the same way as well. We wound up our evening that night with chats on the sofas and late night snacks. It was easily one of the best conferences I’d been to…and it was only day one!
Day Two | Monday
You literally wake up on day two of Conference wondering how in THE WORLD anything could possibly top day one. But it’s okay…’cause you still have no idea what the creative geniuses runnin’ this thing have up their sleeves! After a yummy breakfast and coffee in my new Creative Founders mug (first gift of the day!), we dove right in to our sessions – learning about everything from having a cohesive brand to maximizing our time to managing our money and finances well. The catered lunch was delicious – I’m pretty sure I could’ve eaten that salad every day I was there and never get tired of it! We enjoyed some free time during the afternoon, just chatting and mingling around The Lee House.
After a busy day of soaking up all the incredible info the speakers were sharing with us, the excitement picked back up when we found out we’d be riding a trolley to our dinner at Hemingway’s! Our ride pulled up outside, we loaded up, and headed over the bridge to our dinner destination. Our table was in a quiet corner, cozied up to the windows so we could see the water while we ate together. Of course, there we beautiful menus ready for us along with personalized sand dollar place cards…this IS a conference for designers, you know?! (All the details make me swoon. You?)
I certainly can’t forget one of the best surprises of the day – gift bags waiting on our beds when we returned! It was like the gift fairies stayed hard at work while we were eating or learning or just not even thinking about it – and there were little traces of love left everywhere you turned. There’s no way you can come to the Creative Founder’s Conference and NOT know that YOU were thought of every step of the way! Even thinking back on how many times I felt genuinely loved on while I was there gets me a little emotional. This was also the night that, while talking to my husband on the phone, I told him “This was hands down THE best investment I’ve ever made in myself, first, or my business.” Day two was amazing and we were only halfway through.
Day Three | Tuesday
Want to see some grown women go crazy? Provide a buffet of Chic-fil-a for breakfast. Don’t worry, no one lost any fingers in the mad dash to the kitchen on Tuesday morning, but I certainly loved see Chantel get her first taste ever of the delicious chicken that this southern gal eats quite often! The joy on her face was basically the joy on all of our faces…so we’ll just say that Chic-fil-a was our first surprise of the day…and now I’m craving it all over again. Haha!
Today would be our last day of sessions and we wasted no time jumping in! Of course, we had gifts awaiting us at our seats in the conference room…it’s amazing to think that so many businesses along with creative business owners and alumni contributed to the showering of fun and beautiful things we received over the three days we were there! We learned about marketing on day three, as well as our presence on social media and communicating with clients and potential clients. Each day had breakout sessions that you could choose to participate in and on this day, I had fun learning more about styling items for social media! (I have my serious face on in the picture…but I really did have a blast! Haha!)
Our last session of the Conference was one of the most thoughtful and impactful sessions I’ve ever participated in. It was all about our plan for our business, which surprisingly for me, had much less to do with what I do, and so much more about the life I’m creating and the legacy I’ll leave. I’m pretty sure everyone in that room either wiped away some tears, sniffled, or is a master at holding it all back! Kristin ended our session and adjourned the conference with the words “You are a Creative Founder” and even now, my screen is getting blurry typing it. I know it sounds so cheeseball, but it was such a powerful experience being at the Creative Founders Conference – and we still had a Graduation Dinner that evening!
We were banished (very nicely, of course) from the conference room until dinner, so several of us walked down to Dharma Blue, a cozy little restaurant a couple blocks away, where we sat outside and enjoyed some drinks, appetizers, and soaked up as much time together as possible. It was hard to believe we only had one more meal together and in less than 24 hours, we’d all be heading our separate ways! We returned to The Lee House in just enough time to get freshened up for our dinner. When the doors opened to the conference room, it had been completely transformed! A huge dining area was all set up and was absolutely stunning! The meal was to. die. for. SO, so good! After our meal was done, we each took a turn going around the table and sharing one thing that we would take away from our experience there. (Let it just be known that everyone cried…it wasn’t just me.) Some shared about a renewed passion, some shared about how they finally had clarity and direction, some about how they were ready to make changes. I can’t remember everyone’s “thing”, but that’s their story to tell.
My one thing was that I finally had the confidence I had been lacking. In myself. In my ability. In my title as a business owner. I usually answer the question of “What do you do?” with a “I’m just a mom.” or “I do lettering.” Creative Founders Conference gave me the confidence to change my answer to “My name is Kelli Cross and I’m a business owner. I have a business called Lettered Grace and I create custom stationery so that my clients can share their story, beautifully. I’m also a mom of three and I’m married to my hot farmer hubby, so I’m rockin’ those jobs, too!” BOOM! That’s me, y’all. (That last part was extra…you’re welcome.) *wink, wink*
See Ya Later, Pensacola | Wednesday
Wednesday morning was kind of like a dreary day with the sun shining and birds chirping. This group of women that I had spent my last four days with quickly became a new little creative family and goodbyes are tough, y’all. I’m in the heart of the Peach State and some of my new friends are in Illinois or Kentucky or Texas – even Canada! Little by little, the number of people in The Lee House trickled down. Some stayed longer to squeeze in mini sessions with Anna Filly, our photographer for the conference, or one of our amazing speakers. Eventually, we all took our luggage (loaded down with all those surprises!) and started our journeys back home…with new knowledge, new confidence, new direction, and a whole new community ready to cheer us on.
So, What’s the Verdict?
The verdict is now and forever will be: GO. No matter where you are or what your creative industry is, find a way to make it happen. Just like I told my husband on day 2, the decision to go to Creative Founders Conference is by far, hands-down, no-doubt-about-it THE BEST INVESTMENT I have ever made in #1- myself and #2 my business. It’s so cliche to say, but it truly has been a game changer for me. Your investment reaches far, far beyond those 4 days you’re at Conference. We have a private Facebook group for our Conference as well as a private group for Alumni. On top of that, there’s a Creative Founder’s Community that’s available to you as well – so if maybe you’re not in a place where you can financially afford to attend conference, join the community! It’s so hard to put into words exactly what this experience has given me – even though I put a lot of words in this post, it’s such a small portion of all we participated in and the deep friendships that formed in those days. Don’t get me wrong – I have a phenomenal family and supportive friends, but having this Creative Founders family in addition to that…that alone is worth it’s weight in gold, my friend.
Just like I mentioned wayyyyy back at the beginning of this post: being a creative business owner is tough. Having a community you can lean into in the hard, dry seasons can determine whether or not you find the resolve to push on. Investing in that creative family by encouraging, supporting, and helping others not only fuels your fire, but it can help their sparks burn more brightly, too. I’m so thankful that I have that community and I would love – LOVE – to be the one to encourage you open that door and welcome you in to this incredible family of creatives, too! All the links are posted below…check them out. Comment or email me any questions you have – I’m happy to answer them! Who knows, maybe I’ll get to be there when you hear those words…
“You are a Creative Founder.”
See you soon, friend!
XO – Kelli
All photos (with the exception of a few of my personal ones) were taken by the amazing and talented Anna Filly Photography