Magic is the only way I can think to describe what the First Annual MilSpouse Collective Conference felt like to me. And honestly, can you tell me that 75 MilSpouses, fab workshops, awe-inspiring talks, and an unbelievable (but totally believable ha!) amount of bubbly is not the definition of magic?! It is. I looked it up.
With this past Monday being Canada Day, I’m reflecting on how incredibly lucky we are to be a part of this beautiful community of Canadian Military Spouses and how far we’ve come since we first dreamed of bringing the community together through the MilSpouse Collective.
Two and a half years ago when Katie and I first started our business, Paperback Events, we knew that we needed to spread the word so of course, we immediately jumped into marketing mode. How do we let people know we’re here?! How do we let people know what we’re doing?!
So we put on our marketing pants. You have some right!? Cute marketing pants? No?
Well we put on our marketing pants and went straight to social media and networking! We joined a few networking groups in our area for small businesses and women in business and they were of course SO helpful. But we felt that while totally beneficial, not everyone quite understood what it was like to balance a business and the realities of MilSpouse life. So we thought, why don’t we bring together some local MilSpouses so we can navigate this wild entrepreneurial ride together?! Fast forward a month and 20+ MilSpouses were crammed into my lovely but little living room, sipping sangria, and building a kick ass network of local women. After that night we knew we wanted to create more experiences and opportunities for military spouses to learn about the benefits of entrepreneurship, to build their personal and professional skills, to socialize (read: rosé all day), and most of all to build a strong community of support. Our dream turned into a tangible plan called the MilSpouse Collective: an annual conference to unite military spouses across the country and help them build their entrepreneurial, personal, and professional skills. So we pitched this idea at a StartUp Canada Pitch night, and throw the confetti, we freaking won!
Ok. So we’re planning this thing.
May 25, 2019. The First Annual MilSpouse Collective Conference.
We had 75+ military spouses from across the country join us at Crazy Beautiful Dresses to experience workshops facilitated by incredibly talented MilSpouses, a kick-ass keynote address from PMQ for Two, and a real-talk panel from MilSpouse entrepreneurs. We had drool-worthy eats and treats, a cotton candy bubbly bar, a beauty bar run by Beautiful Mess Salon and Sugar Society, a headshot station with Amanda Urbanski, and some pretty wicked Instagram ops #doitforthegram. My fave part though? Watching a group of women come together and build an unstoppable social network of support and empowerment!
The overarching theme of the day was clear to me. Ariel put it as: “FELL IN LOVE WITH A SOLDIER. MOVED TO A BASE. MARRIED YOUNG FOR LOVE. NO CHANCE TO WORK IN MY FIELD. BECAME A CLICHE. #NOREGRETS”
And honestly, same girl. But I think what we can read through this hilarious and relatable subtitle, is that we all made a choice that we don’t regret, but that it’s ok to recognize that sometimes it just kind of sucks. And what’s more important than that, is that you need pals to help you through it. So whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, collaboration and community are key! And that’s what we built that day. And that’s what we’re continuing to build as we make this collective bigger and better!
Ok, so it’s actually really hard for me to highlight some of our top moments from that day, because I honestly loved every minute of it. Minus the rain, that’s not in my highlight real, but ladies you ROCKED those rain ponchos! Anyways, here are our TOP MOMENTS of the 2019 MilSpouse Collective Conference!
1. “OH SH*T! DOES THIS MEAN I’VE MADE IT?”- Virtual round of applause for Ariel Garneau, PMQ for TWO. That keynote made me laugh, cry, and nod my head so emphatically in agreeance I totally had neck pain the next day. I think that regardless of the nature of employment of attendees in the audience, Ariel’s message really resonated with all of us. That, and she was really f-ing hilarious!
2. Work(shop) it Girl!- We can’t acknowledge the success of the day without thanking and recognizing our amazing workshop facilitators! Steph Schultz (aka XOGingy) for helping us up our social game, Caitlin Ritchie for some branding tips, Jane Wood (Nourish the Moment/ Lavallee Health Centre) for teaching us the importance of mindfulness, and Heather Salovaara (Economic Development Officer with The City of Pembroke) for some business planning advice! We loved hearing your feedback about your sessions and how inspired you were to apply what you learned.
3. Let’s Get FIZZical- (Sorry, bubbly puns are my fave). Ok ladies, let me walk you through this, we had to do an emergency bubbly run because You. Were. Feeling. it! And honestly, that makes me so happy. We managed to fit a lot of professional development, gritty talks, and networking into a day that also personified celebration, friendships, and support, and a big champagne cheers to that! Thanks to Sugar Society for helping us pop bottles as the official bubbly bar sponsor.
4. Do it for the Gram- Most of you know that Katie and I are big on experience -based events. But lately we’re also loving creating spaces that are a blend of all our Pinterest and Instagram dreams combined. We had you posing, cheers-ing, and flamingling and we LOVED IT! We saw so many posts on the ‘Gram and we love you guys for sharing all the fun.
5. A Panel that got super real with some super cool MilSpouses.
I’m just going to say it. I’m pretty obsessed with all of the amazing women we had on our MiLSpouse panel. Like reasonably obsessed. Like checked out all their Instagram accounts post-event obsessed. It was so refreshing to hear some no filter, straight up, real talk about balancing military life, mom life, and business life (or as Callee from Ottawa Valley Apparel put it, “Balance is a glass of wine and under eye concealer”). The women on this panel reminded us that no matter our job, parenting, or general life situation, it’s important to take time for self-care and “me-time” whatever that looks like to you. To me that used to be trips to the spa and bottles of rosé. Now, as a new mom, it totally means a shower and a nap! Define your own me-time and make time for it! And when the topic of postings came up, making the best of your situation was echoed panel-wide. It’s tough to move to new communities, where you know no one, meaningful employment is hard to come by, and the amenities you’re used to are no longer there. Explore. Put yourself out there. Find the pieces and people in your new area that are going to make this experience brighter. Cheers to that. Thank you Sarah (Sarah Nixon- Miller Mortgage Agent), Dana (National Director with Epicure), Claire (Still Moments Photography), Callee (Ottawa Valley Apparel), and Stacey (Sugar Society) for being so refreshingly honest. And seriously, Carrie Ann (Pure Country Pembroke) was such a fabulous moderator, we were so lucky to have her!
6. A Community of Support
It’s pretty clear that we all, collectively, created a pretty special community that day. The most important part of the conference for me was knowing that we started a collective, a space both virtual and in-person, where MilSpouses can cheer each other on, provide help and support, or just grab a glass of wine together and chill. MilSpouse life can be lonely, and confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. It is so much better when you have your people, your gang, your squad, whatever you call them. Seriously starting or growing a business can be so lonely. Moving to a new location can feel scary. It’s way better with a cheer squad and some friends to lean on. We have that now MilSpouses and we can’t wait to grow this incredible community with you.
I also want to take the time again to recognize our amazing, supportive event sponsors and partners. You guys, EGM Insurance is one of the biggest supporters of military spouses and the military community and we’re so honoured to have had them as our event sponsor this year. Thank you Caitlin Ritchie, Sugar Society, Crazy Beautiful Dresses, Valley Tents, Discount Truck and Car Rental, Bartenders to Go, The Town of Petawawa, Hyska’s Your Independent Grocer, Algonquin College, Amanda Urbanski, 42 Fringe, and White Pine Yoga for being incredible supporters of this event and this community. And how cool is this Graphic Recording Laura from Swoop Media did for us? You guys, MilSpouses are SO talented.
We’re already in planning mode for how to grow our collective and we have some exciting projects we can’t wait to get started on. We’d love to have you join us on this wild ride of growth, community, and life we call being a MilSpouse.