Highlights from Fincon 2016

Kim and I traveled to San Diego last week for the sixth-annual Fincon, the conference “where money and media meet”. I look forward to this event every year because it's a terrific way to connect with other financial bloggers, journalists, and entrepreneurs.

Like any conference, Fincon is packed with useful lectures and workshops about topics related to the field. (On Thursday, I participated in a workshop devoted to the past, present, and future of the early retirement movement.) It's also a great place to forge business partnerships with companies like Fidelity Investments and Ally Bank.

For me, however, the chief value of a conference like Fincon is the opportunity to hang out with my friends and colleagues.

Fincon Friends

A Meeting of Minds

Networking is a dirty word to a lot of people. It conjures images of slick guys in expensive suits who spam their business card to as many people as possible while pitching their product or service. There are absolutely some folks like that at Fincon, but they're rare. They're the exception, not the rule.

Because my peers have dubbed me “the grandfather of personal finance blogging”, and because I've been fortunate to build and sell a profitable website already, I view my role at Fincon as a resource. I know next to nothing about modern blogging (although I'm learning!), but I still have lots of experience to draw upon. More than that, my decade in this field has allowed me to build a wide personal network, so I'm able to connect people who ought to know each other.

I suspect most new Fincon attendees spend their time attending the info-packed sessions. Not me. I spend my time in the hallways and lobbies, chatting with whomever happens to pass along. I chat with old friends like Jim Wang and Harlan Landes. I chat with newbies like Gwen Merz and Marcus Garrett. I chat with people who have tiny podcasts and I chat with people who have created massive followings.

When I network, I practice what I preach.

I go into each conversation without motive. This probably goes against every piece of professional networking advice, but I don't have objectives when meeting people. I let the conversation go where the conversation wants to go. Preferably, we chat about our personal lives: about our dogs, about travel, about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Because we're at a business conference, we do often chat about business, but I try not to steer things in any particular direction. I do my best to keep the conversation focused on the other person, not on me.

True story: Last year, at a smaller conference that feeds into Fincon, I co-presented about “the right way to network”. I explicitly said that leading with your pitch is the wrong way to network. After the session, sure enough, a guy came up to pitch me on his product. I wanted to shoot myself.

Awesome People

This year, I enjoyed talking with dozens of people, many of whom I'd never met before. Highlights include chatting with:

  • Shannon McLay, who runs an award-winning podcast called Martinis and Your Money. (I've been on twice: here and here) She recently launched The Financial Gym in New York City. What an amazing idea! I've altered my travel plans so that I can attend the grand opening next week.
  • Will Sisk, the silent half of Afford Anything. While his partner Paula is the public face of the site (and podcast), Will works behind the scenes to build the brand. This is a very common model, by the way: Wife starts a successful blog, husband quits his day job to take care of kids or to manage the business or whatever. (It works in reverse, too: Husband starts a big blog, wife quits her day job.)
  • Roger Wohlner, a writer and financial planner in Chicago who works with wealthy families to plan for the future. Roger told me some funny anecdotes about how people relate to wealth. It's clear that he's passionate (and knowledgable!) about retirement planning and investing.
  • Saundra Davis, executive director of Sage Financial Solutions, a company that trains financial coaches in the Bay Area (and around the country). These folks work with clients at all levels of wealth, which is awesome. A lot of times, financial and investing advice is only available to high net worth clients. (See Roger Wohlner above. But note I'm not criticizing Roger.)
  • Jill (a.k.a. Mrs. Mad Fientist), who is at the start of a three-month trip around the world. Jill, Kim, and I have decided that the next time we visit Scotland, we're going to drag the Mad Fientist to a fancy, expensive spa for the day.
  • Marcus Garrett, who is one half of the Paychecks and Balances podcast and the author of Debt Free or Die Trying. Marcus met with me during the Fincon mentoring session, and did a great job of coming armed with questions. He has a keen, analytical mind, and I think there's no question that he has a bright future in this field.
  • Gwen, the fiery millennial who runs a site called Fiery Millennials. Unlike the stereotypical young person who whines about his lot in life, Gwen has a ten-year plan to retire by the age of 35. I believe she'll do it. She'll be at Camp Mustache SE in January, where she's sure to be the life of the party.
  • Olivia West, president of West Advisory Group, an organization that teaches folks about financial literacy. Olivia is a beautiful person with a beautiful heart, and I love her mission. She's also mother to a couple of enterprising boys who have written a book about money for other kids, Champions of Change: Live to Give.

It wasn't all fun and games, of course. I did have several business-related conversations, but they weren't the norm.

I might have found an assistant, for instance, somebody who can help handle the tasks at Money Boss for which I am ill-suited (SEO and social media, dealing with advertisers). I made a partnership for a project I want to pursue in 2017 (build a blog as a “side business” and provide monthly updates). And I got an invitation to visit New York City next week for the Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference. Because I'll already be in town for another conference, I've altered my schedule to try to be in two places at once!

In a nice addition, this year Fincon also set aside time to connect with fans. On the first evening, there was a happy hour during which readers and listeners could meet their favorite bloggers and podcasters. This was a lot of fun. Plus, a couple of enterprising folks found time to attend lunch-time gatherings or to seek us out at dinner.

For the first time — or at least the first time I've noticed — it seemed like smaller niches began to self-segregate at Fincon. For instance, the Financial Independence folks gravitated toward each other, sitting by the fire pits or gathering on the houseboat where Go Curry Cracker was staying. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It's good because now that the conference is bigger than before (1200 people this year!), it's helpful to connect with smaller groups of like-minded folks. It's bad, though, because that means we spend less time chatting with people outside of our niche. I believe strongly that blogs and podcasts are strengthened by diversity of voice and opinion.

Making the World a Better Place

I've been to a lot of blogging conferences in the past. Some are better than others. At a lot of these gatherings, folks tend to be close-lipped. They're reluctant to share how they've achieved their success because they don't want others copying them. It's like they're guarding trade secrets.

That's not how people operate at Fincon, and I'm glad. We all seem to be open, supportive, and approachable. We're willing to talk to anyone, no matter how big or small. We're willing to share how to get more traffic, how to make more money, how to better connect with readers. We, as a group, have an abundance mindset rather than a scarcity mindset, and this leads to growth and success for everyone instead of a select few. That's a good thing.

More importantly, this abundance mentality leads to growth and success for our readers and listeners. That's even better.

Fincon 2017 Announcement

As a final note, I want to thank Philip Taylor of PT Money for creating Fincon in the first place. Back in the olden days, when the world was young, we money bloggers rarely (if ever) met. We connected in online forums or by Skype, but it was unusual to have a gathering of more than a few of us. PT started Fincon in 2011 so that we could all get together and share our experience with each other. The conference has grown and improved every year. I'm already eager to see everyone again next October in Dallas.

Postscript: I'm pleased to announce that on Fincon's final night, Money Boss picked up the Plutus Award for Best New Personal Finance Blog. The field was strong — Centsai, Financially Fit and Fabulous, Hope and Cents, Wallet Hacks — and I'm honored that this blog was selected.

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