The inaugural Craft+Work event took place on Friday, June 30th 2023, at the Tower Hill citizenM in London. 50 people attended, including agency and app founders, experts, and consultants. It was slightly different from your traditional conference — here's what happened.
One of my goals for 2023 is to "make more connections". I don't mean a "click the big blue Linkedin button" type of connection — rather, make a concerted effort to meet new and interesting people. It used to be much simpler, but as we know, 2020 changed all that.
During the COVID years, I realised I had relied on a regular cadence of meetups, conferences, and networking events to see friends and meet new and interesting people. Online events can be great, but there's nothing like being in a room with like-minded people.
As 2022 drew to a close, I knew that I needed to return to my old way of operating — a return to attending and potentially hosting more events. After throwing many ideas around with friends and colleagues, I launched Craft+Work in March 2023.
I billed it as an intimate one-day event designed to bring together founders, leaders, and experts from the digital and creative industries for a day of discussion, sharing, and peer learning focused on building better businesses. I capped numbers at 40 and hoped for the best. It's never easy selling tickets, but after many emails, friends sharing privately and online, and even a few old-school phone call "convincers", we reached capacity. Now all that mattered was following through on the promise!
Thanks to six great presenters, a truly engaged group, a stunning venue, great food and almost ice-cold beverages, the day was a resounding success.
Goals for The Day
Whilst many of the folks in the room run Shopify-focused businesses, I was keen for the day to focus on the business side of things rather than the platform itself. This was partly selfish (I find this side of things really interesting) and somewhat strategic (I'd like to market future iterations to those working in the wider creative and digital industries as well as the Shopify ecosystem).
I asked the presenters to give us their personal take on a topic of their choosing. To share ideas, thoughts, and experiences that they have learnt from and are guiding them forward. I was keen to hear personal stories and insights, not just another take on the perceived wisdom of how we "should" do business. Each presenter had 20 slide-free minutes to speak to the group. As a result of these constraints (time and zero slides), the talks were intimate, highly focused, and extremely engaging.
In addition to the presentations, I wanted to allow the group to shine. Questions and discussion were mandatory, and whilst we didn't get time to activate the small group "Roundtable" sessions, the "Hot Seat" segment worked even better than I had hoped.
Overall, the goal was to allow people to feel open to sharing their experiences, their struggles and fears, and their successes in a relaxed and safe environment. From the feedback I received on the day and after, it worked.
With my business hat on, it would be remiss of me to spill all the details of what we discussed (you'll have to come to the next one). That said, several recurring themes came up throughout the day:
What worked before 2023 no longer works. The air of economic uncertainty is forcing us to think of new ways of selling, pricing, and delivering what we do.
There's never been a better time to question how and why we do things. Whether it's the event you run but aren't sure why or how you measure your team's effectiveness and performance.
The modern work environment is challenging. Building an inclusive and welcoming team culture in a remote world requires hard work, effort, and often pain (e.g. getting up early now and again to accommodate time zones). There are no quick fixes, but the reward outstrips the pain.
We all have marketing problems and need to find new ways to understand the value we offer to the customers who will benefit most. As our days are increasingly filled with newsletters, AI-written blog posts, and more social networks than anybody needs, how can we build connections that cut through the 24/7 noise cycle?
AI isn't going anywhere, and we will all need a view on how best to leverage it at some point soon. Is it a threat to our livelihoods or a tool that can push us all to even greater levels of impact?
The day consisted of six presentations which were graphically captured by illustrator and animator Chris Day on large "party bags". Having Chris there on the day (no pun intended) live sketching was a real talking point, and after six intense sessions, you could see the heat rising from his Posca pen!
In addition to the wonderful sketches, I also include the key takeaways from each talk as shared by the presenters.
Ask your team to come to you with considered solutions
Instead of giving your opinion, ask your team to "make that a yes or no question."
Create space for "teachable moments"
Invest in mistakes — a lesson has to be lived to be learned
Give examples, not opinions. People collect data points. People reconcile opinions
Incentives are everything. If you want to see more X, reward it with cash regularly and enthusiastically.
It had always been my aim to think of Craft+Work as a very inclusive group experience. So many events create an unintentional divide between "speakers" and "attendees", and I wanted this to be the complete opposite. Everyone in the room had something to share — the challenge would be coaxing it out of them.
In our pre-event survey, we asked:
What is one thing you hope to have learned or be better at this time next year?
If you could ask one question to the group, what would it be?
Would you be open to discussing some of your responses in front of the group at Craft+Work?
The answers gave us great insight into how people felt about their businesses, personal growth, and professional development.
Over an hour or more, those willing to get up joined me on a stool for a conversation. The insights ranged from discussing sales and marketing to performance management and mentoring. This section was a high point of the day and kept the afternoon buzzing.
The day went really well — as well as I could have hoped. Yes, there are things that I'd do differently next time out, but that's to be expected with a new event. It's time to take the learnings and make it even better.
So what's next? I'm toying with the idea of two UK events in 2024. One to kickstart the year and one at the halfway point/end of summer. This opens up many programming possibilities and allows those who would like to attend both to share the journey as they go. I'd also like to host a version in the US, most likely in New York (budget permitting).
If you are interested in attending a future Craft+Work event, becoming a 2024 Patron, or have a question about the event, please feel free to contact me and let's chat.
Massive thanks to our three Craft+Work Patrons, whose generous support enabled us to host a wonderful day.
Shop Circle — Powers remarkable, high-converting experiences that customers love by delivering cutting-edge solutions to Shopify's most innovative brands
Grapevine Surveys — Used by thousands of Shopify merchants to deliver post-purchase surveys, providing valuable zero-party attribution data and sentiments about their products and services.
The Support Heroes — Specialized and round-the-clock customer support for your Shopify Apps
In the run‐up to the event, I created a playlist that would work well on the day. Ultimately I didn't get to use it, but I include it here in case you fancy an hour of chilled good vibes!
If you got this far, thank you for reading. If you would like to join me and other like-minded people at a Craft+Work event in 2024, please sign up for my newsletter, and I'll let you know all the plans as they come together.