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Fellow campers, pre Wes Anderson-themed dance party. (Claire Madill/heyday design)
Fellow campers, pre Wes Anderson-themed dance party. (Claire Madill/heyday design)

Guest column

I'm 39 and I just went to sleep-away CAMP for the first time Add to ...

I’m 39 years old and I just went to sleep-away camp for the very first time.

But this was no regular camp; it was CAMP a 4-day business conference for creative entrepreneurs in Big Bear Lake, California. I had been interested Unique LA, a design show that focuses on 'Made In America' products, so I receive their regular newsletters and CAMP was its newest spin-off.

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CAMP promised big things: hands-on workshops for creative entrepreneurs, a chance to invest in yourself and collaborate with others and even a Wes Anderson-themed dance party. It took me under five minutes to decide to sign up.

Make no mistake: it was a real-deal YMCA camp with bunk beds, a cafeteria-style dining hall and a high-ropes challenge course. But CAMP brought the details that type-A creatives crave: hand-addressed schedules featured polar-bear swims, evening cocktails and night hikes, for example, and bunks decked out in luxury sheets and branded red and black plaid Pendleton blankets. Workshops included choices such as how to get your book published, product photography on a budget and how to raise one million dollars in venture capital.

And why shouldn’t camp combine the joys of the outdoors with curated curriculum to help grow your business? Why must the learning and challenges and fun of going to camp end when we become adults? This was precisely the thinking of Sonja Rasula, entrepreneur and founder of CAMP, which she launched in 2013. So she made it happen.

At CAMP, I met an unbelievable group of entrepreneurs, ranging from those with the spark of an idea to people with established brands, from designers and art directors to people describing their positions as rebel #1 and rebel #2.

As a Canadian, it became clear that Americans are simply better at self-promoting, especially when it comes to their businesses. Frankly it was refreshing to be told point blank: always be talking about your brand. Not so long ago, it was almost impossible for me to utter the words “I’m an artist.” Now I’m diving right in, and going to CAMP was a giant boost to this confidence.

CAMP curriculum came in the form of focused, 90-minute bites: two workshops in the morning and one in the afternoon. I chose workshops on social media, trade shows, product photography and brand aliveness and community consciousness. And in the afternoon, I rode a horse!

Some nuggets from these sessions include:

  • Make ripples, not waves.
  • Take a powerful, life-affirming stand and integrate it into your brand.
  • Share both your brand and your quirks.
  • Use your personal name on social media sites, not your business name, but link and pin your brand, making it easy for followers to take action.
  • On trade shows, I came away with a better grasp on budgeting, as well as the timing and follow-through for making press kits.
  • And product photography doesn’t need to be super-complicated to look great and be effective; foam core and existing light are your best friends.

I was eager for CAMP and now I’m ready to act on the lessons I learned. Three weeks after returning from this business conference adventure, I’m still giddy from its influence and excited for the tremendous work ahead. Some of the legwork has started: I opened Twitter and Pinterest accounts. I’m setting up product and lifestyle photo shoot locations.

And when I hit new roadblocks, I’ve got a solid gold contact list of all my fellow CAMPERS to connect and collaborate with and continue the adventure.

Claire Madill is a ceramics artist, designer and maker at heyday design and, at 39, is grateful to be considered a young entrepreneur. She lives and works in Vancouver, B.C.

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