I got to spend the first three days of May at the Creator Economy Expo (CEX), and it was transformational.
I went to the event last year in Phoenix and thought it was one of the best conference experiences I’ve ever had, just from a knowledge-sharing, and networking standpoint. Of course, the weather in Phoenix was beautiful. The location was at a resort with a water park so it was very festive and almost felt like a mini-vacation. I was too busy to actually make it to the water park, but I saw lots of smiling, wet children.
I knew this year was going to be great, but couldn’t have imagined coming away with the amount of inspiration, motivation, and new connections as I did.
The event was in Cleveland this year, and the weather didn’t cooperate, but it also didn’t interfere. The venue wasn’t a resort, but I spent most of my time with other attendees, and was just in my room for the few hours of sleep I got.
VIP CEX Content Entrepreneurs
I’m part of a group of around 70 people who bought lifetime event passes last year, so I got to start off by going to a special networking cocktail event with that group and then went to a meeting Monday morning where we discussed our collaborative book project that more than 30 members of our group are working on together.
Jay Clouse on Community
I spent most of Monday in a workshop that Jay Clouse gave on how to build and grow a community. Jay is the founder of Creator Science, the newsletter, podcast, YouTube channel, and community. So many incredible insights compressed into 3-hours of stories, slides, and practical takeaways including:
Focus on new audience attention AND retained audience attention.
Think about how things work in communities offline and then think of how those can be done online.
Provide a good onboarding experience by continually asking “Now what?”
Find your spiky point of view. What do you believe that others may not?
Tequila Jay Baer
The main event kick-off party was Monday night, and I started by going to Jay Baer’s tequila tasting. Jay is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and brilliant content marketer. I was entertained and educated all while drinking some really good tequila. A pretty epic way to start an event.
Joe Pulizzi Kicks Off CEX
The first day of the main event started on Tuesday with Joe Pulizzi presenting original research from The Tilt about the creator economy with some enlightening statistics about content entrepreneurs and their journies. Joe is an author, podcaster, marketing speaker, and the godfather of content marketing. He is also the founder of The Tilt and the co-author of our book, Epic Content Marketing.
Ann Handley Brings the Energy
And then, Ann Handley took the stage. Ann is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and brilliant marketer (seeing a theme here yet?) She danced, she inspired, and she rubbed butter on her belly. Okay, she just rubbed her belly, but the piece of toast in her slide was applying butter liberally.
Then she unleashed a rain of insights on the crowd about writing and storytelling, including things like:
“Carry an idea to its ridiculous conclusion.”
“Your word choice is your style.”
And finally, “Don’t let your writing feel like writing.”
Jay Clouse Lays Out the Roadmap to Success
Next to the stage was Jay Clouse. Jay has built a creator business with revenue upwards of $500,000 and he showed us what he would do differently if he were starting now. Here’s the blueprint Jay would use:
Launch a weekly newsletter
Study study study. Learn as much as you can about your niche and audience
Go hard on Twitter (he apologized to the non-Twitter fans)
Re-purpose content to other channels
Redirect all calls-to-action (CTAs) to the newsletter
Offer one-to-one consulting
Cross-promote with other newsletters
Create a digital product
Increase ad inventory
Stay the course
Nora Dunn Takes Us on a Journey
And then came Nora Dunn, the professional hobo, who provided insights on ways to not burn out as a creator, and showed us how she has invested in her business so that she can continue doing what she loves, traveling the world, while making a living.
Some of her insights included:
Build your invisible bubble. While you’re working, make sure other people know that they shouldn’t disturb you…and enforce that.
Pay attention to ergonomics, they matter. Stop working on your laptop in bed in your hotel room.
Just do it…later. Don’t let “work when you want” turn into work all the time.
Jay Baer is TequilaJay
Jay Baer shared his story of how he started a completely new channel and built an entirely new audience while drinking tequila, @TequilaJayBaer. He made it sound easy but, after he broke down his strategy, his knowledge of the audience, and his understanding of successful content marketing it was obvious that the amount and speed of his success were largely driven by thoughtful, consistent, and focused work.
Alexis Grant Tells Us How to Sell a Business
Alexis Grant, the founder of They Got Acquired, showed us how she is building another successful business to the point where someone else will love it so much they will buy it from you.
“You have to align your expectations with your resources.”
Mike and Tim Talked About Authenticity
Then two comedians and content geniuses took the stage and taught us all how to make people laugh, to find your authentic self, and how to hug. Mike Paramore, comedian, and Tim Washer, comedian and corporate humorist, showed us the importance of and guided us through the process of creating honest content. And, as Mike said it best “You’re not trying to make people laugh, you’re trying to find people who think you are funny.”
Chris Ducker Focuses on the Cheese
Chris Ducker, founder & CEO of Youpreneur, author, keynote speaker, and entrepreneur, blew us away with his story about not putting cheese on pasta if it doesn’t need it. And then connected that to the importance of keeping your content authentic to build trust.
“Every single time you create a piece of content on the Internet you are creating a business asset.”
Jay Acunzo, the Third Jay of the Day
Jay Acunzo, author, keynote speaker, host of the Unthinkable podcast, and co-founder of the Creator Kitchen community, showed us that it’s not about making people like stuff it’s about making stuff that people like. He had some amazing takeaways, including:
“When we create with greater power, we don’t need as much volume.”
“The job isn’t to create content, the job is to create connection.”
And my favorite, “If you know how to matter more, you can beg for attention less.”
Daphne Gomez Helps Teachers
Daphne Gomez, founder of Teacher Career Coach, showed us how she took the journey from teacher to content entrepreneur and used that roadmap to help guide thousands of other teachers to more rewarding careers.
Ann and Wendy Talk Serial Killers and Podcasts
Wendy Williams, co-founder of the Fruit Loops podcast, and Ann Gynn, managing editor at The Tilt, walked through the evolution of the Fruit Loops, Serial Killers of Color podcast and it became a full-time revenue stream.
Brian Fanzo Talks AI…with AI
Brian Fanzo, digital futurist, podcaster, and keynote speaker, took the stage with his AI companion and shared with us how to, as creators, leverage AI in a way that maintains your authenticity, personal brand, and humanity. Some of Brian’s recommendations included:
Challenge the answers from AI
Use “please” and “thank you” with AI
Re-roll (try repeating a prompt for another answer)
ChatGPTstorm, and then brainstorm
Jesse Cole Brings It Home
And then came Jesse Cole, the owner of the Savannah bananas. His stories were as attention, grabbing and engaging as his bright yellow tux. He literally had people dancing on stage while blindfolded and inspired the entire room of attendees with his messages and energy. I’ve seen some motivational public speakers in my time, but Jessie’s message made everyone feel like they could go out and have the same kind of impact he did just by really focusing on the people you serve. His keys to success included:
Eliminate friction for your customers.
Entertain always. Make it fun.
Engage deeply. Learn from your customers every chance you get.
Empower action. Give your employees opportunities to make the experience better.
Next Level Networking
That was the first day. And the conversations and discussions with other attendees and new friends didn’t stop until I opened the door to my hotel room after midnight and collapsed in bed with a head full of ideas.
Day 2 of CEX
The next day was filled with breakout sessions, and I wanted to go to all of them, but I had to make some hard decisions. I’m so glad that all of the sessions were recorded and available on demand so I can go back and see the ones I missed and re-watch some of the ones that were so filled with insight. I couldn’t take notes fast enough.
Karen Hopper, data strategist, and growth marketer, showed us how to use testing to improve our contact performance and conversion. Despite some AV problems, Karen’s presentation was filled with insights, great takeaways, and cringe-worthy images of her desktop, covered with unorganized, screenshot icons.
A. Lee Judge, founder of Content Monsta, broke down the difference between business and entertainment podcasts and talked about what is needed for each type of show to be successful and relevant.
Jay Acunzo unleashed more insights in his podcast session. I don’t even have a podcast, but I went to that session because I know Jay would talk about how to create content that resonates, how to use storytelling, and that the Goofy movie is the best Disney movie ever. Some of my favorite quotes from this session:
“You don’t need to be the best, you need to be the favorite.”
“Be less transactional and more transformational.”
Then it was time for me to present. Andrew Davis, brilliant keynote speaker, author, and marketer, once told me that he doesn’t go to watch other presentations on a day when he is presenting, which makes sense to me. It keeps you focused, avoids distraction, and gives you extra time to rehearse.
I thought, since I was doing a breakout session, I would be all right, watching other sessions before mine. If you are presenting, even a breakout session, I would advise you to not watch a session from a very experienced, highly effective, and inspirational speaker like Jay Acunzo before you present.
While watching Jay’s session, I would find myself thinking things like “My session isn’t nearly as good as this,” or “I definitely need some better stories in my presentation,” and “I wonder if it’s too late to just duck out and head home.” (of course, I would never…).
But I knew that I was prepared, and really believed in the model I had created, and I am motivated to show others how to use data to optimize their content. I felt the presentation went well, I got good feedback from attendees, and some good questions at the end of the session.
I went down to Katie’s session right after mine, and a gentleman sitting next to me, Craig Chavis, Jr., Cre8ive Craig, leaned over and said I blew his mind with all the ideas in my presentation. And that made it all worth it. So, thanks, Craig! And thanks to Karen Hopper for the pic!
Katie Brinkley unleashed her knowledge of social media and how to make the most of the posts that you put your time into. She talked about the importance of showing up in a variety of ways because people consume content differently.
“Know who you are talking to you on each platform so you can create contact specifically for them.“
And then Robert Rose, author, keynote speaker, and Chief Troublemaker at The Content Advisory, captivated a completely full room by walking us through his process for packaging a story in the most effective way. There were too many great quotes from his presentation to list them all, so here are my favorites:
“How do we manage and create our contact? That’s what differentiates us in the contact world. “
“Your audience will only take a journey with you after they trust you. “
“Brand is the destination. The stories that you tell, the content, you create, is your journey.”
Tamara Grominsky, VP of product marketing at Kajabi, brought Roberto Blake, author, keynote speaker, and creator extraordinaire, up on stage during her AI presentation and he revealed some of the incredible ways. He is using AI to supercharge his YouTube channel and allow him to spend more time being creative and less time doing repetitive work.
“I’m all in on AI because I really don’t have the time to not be.”
And then I finished it all off with Chris Ducker again. It was the last session of the last day, and I was exhausted. I almost skipped this session to head home early. And it turned out to be one of the most motivational sessions of the event . Chris has so much energy and so many practical tips on how to grow your business and develop your audience and community that I’m already waiting for the recording to come out so I can watch this one again. My favorite take away from his session, “Hustle is a season. It’s not a lifestyle. “
I had downloaded several podcast episodes that I was going to listen to on the way home, but I ended up spending the entire drive, talking into my phone with new ideas, new priorities, and new tasks that I need to focus on. Once I got home, I started prioritizing those and I will be leaning heavily into that list over the next year until CEX comes back again, and I get to connect, once again, with all his amazing creators, content entrepreneurs, and role models.