Inspire Speakers: Rob & Kathleen Trenske

trenske landscape

In this series of blog posts we are introducing people who are speaking at and attending Inspire 2014. Today we’d like to introduce you to Rob and Kathleen Trenske of Robert and Kathleen Photographers who will be leading a workshop on How We Saved Our Business


There’s this story I heard a few years back about a guy who was desperate to break into a highly competitive field. He decides, last-minute, to attend one of that industry’s conventions, hopping to make a bigger name for himself while he’s there. He hops on a plane from Illinois to Los Angeles with little time to spare before the convention starts. But, when he gets to the car rental counter, his credit card gets declined. He never even ends up making it inside the convention, and instead listens to the speeches on a jumbotron outside. He heads back home, slightly defeated but still determined. Four years later, he goes back to that same convention but that time he is the keynote speaker, his face projected on the jumbotron (and national television) for all to see. Overnight, he becomes a household name. Four years after that, he’s elected President of the United States.

I first heard that story in 2008, when Barack Obama was newly elected and we had just really started pouring ourselves into our business. We were getting ready to attend a conference of own. Our dreams were big, money was tight, but we were driven. We’ll be Obama, I thought. Sure, we might be scraping money together to get to this thing, but in eight years, we’ll be the co-presidents of photographers, or whatever that may be.

With that goal in mind, I made a few miscalculations about what to expect from a conference, what I should be doing while I’m there and what to do with all the information when I get home. So I’d like to share with you now four things that I wish someone had told me before we hopped on a plane and headed to Vegas ready to take WPPI by storm.

1) Come in with a Plan

At that first conference, there was something like 10,000+ photographers in attendance, a ton of classes to go to, parties galore, and a ridiculously huge trade show.  It was sensory overload. But we were determined to take in as much information as humanly possible.  So we attended a ton of classes on a huge variety of topics, pretty much anything that sounded like it might be something that we could be interested in.  It seemed like a great plan at the time, but, I realized later, we would have been much better off if we had a razor sharp focus of exactly what we wanted to learn.

Especially at a large conference (not intimate ones like Inspire), it's so easy to get sidetracked and drawn in to whatever might look new and shiny or sound like a miracle fix.  So, do some research before you go about the classes you want to attend, find out more about the speakers you're interested in seeing. Make a schedule before you even get into your car to head to the conference, because it can be so overwhelming to try to keep track of the day-to-day class schedule when you arrive.  For every conference we have attended since that very first one, we have walked in with a goal of exactly what we wanted to learn (i.e. to create a marketing plan, get an efficient pricing structure, etc.), and it has totally transformed how effective each conference has been for our business.

2) Organize the Information

You’re going to learn a ton of stuff; so much, in fact, that you probably won’t use all of the information right away. You’re going to want to be able to look back at what you learned later on, when you’re ready to implement it into your business, so it’s important to take notes of some kind.  What I learned the hard way is to make sure those notes are all about quality and not quantity.  Back at that first conference, desperate to take in as much information as possible, I took a ton of notes.  Like almost an entire notebook worth of notes. They came in handy sometimes, but when I would go back to reference them weeks and months later it was too much to sort through. I had written down things that I already knew or that weren’t relevant to our business.  Since then, I have made a point to take in the information I hear in a class before frantically writing it down.  And then, when I get home, I organize the notes into categories so they are easy to reference later.

3) Create a Task List

As Rob knows all too well, I can be a bit scatterbrained sometimes.  Mostly when I'm learning something new and excited about it.  My head starts spinning with all the things I want to do, all the ways I can implement what I just heard.  Because of that, I have the notes section of my iPhone filled with reminders, notes and random thoughts that I don't want to lose (because in my brain, those thoughts try to make a break for it faster than my two year old streaking around the house after a bath).  So if you're anything like me, I highly recommend taking a few minutes after a class (or a series of classes), before you head off to the "party" section of the night, to just "empty your brain" of all the extra stuff you don't want to forget.  Make a list of all the things you want to do after the conference, a list that you add onto every day while you're there. It doesn’t have to be formal or have deadlines, just write it down.  You’re much more likely to hold yourself accountable to accomplishing something when you see it on paper.

4) Step Outside Your Shell

My closest friends would think I was kidding if I said I can be a bit shy, but when it comes to large gatherings like a conference my instinct is to become a total wallflower at first.  It can be intimidating, jumping into the mix with photographers with a wide range of experience and knowledge. When I was just starting out, I was always terrified that the conversation would veer into technical talk and I would get nervous, say the wrong thing and seem like a total fraud.  But I have learned to be confident in my skill and talent and to remember that we’re all just people.   And, I remind myself that since people are generally pretty nice, I don’t have to hug the wall.  You can learn just as much outside the conference classes as you do in them, so jump in there - talk to people, be crazy, be silly - just be yourself.  You'll have more fun that way and you'll make way more friends.

Let me end with what I think is the biggest lesson I have learned from attending conferences: what I don’t want for our business.  I no longer want us to be the co-presidents of photographers.  I don’t need fame.  I just want to make a good living doing what we love, help fellow photographers along the way and actually have free time to spend with friends and family. Oh, and I would love to never have to worry about a credit card getting denied.  Ever.  That would be living the dream.

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