Affording the Convention

Question: When should one start to save for the NCRA Annual Convention?

Answer: Now!

If you’ve got an incredible income, sure, go ahead and pay for it at the last minute. Or if you like to keep credit card debt open, have a go. This article is not for you.

The bill for travel to the NCRA Annual Convention can get pretty steep, and the price can be daunting to come up with, even if you’ve had a pretty good year. This is my strategy.

I alluded to this a while back when I did a blog post on what my dad taught me about business. We were able to afford a good family vacation because Dad would put a small amount of money away every month. Every month, faithfully, all year round.

So I apply this principle to my budgeting as well. Every check I get from anybody, I take a percentage out for taxes (you’ll have to figure your percentage out on your own), a percentage out for charitable giving, and a percentage for the NCRA and Illinois annual conventions. Off the top. Every time, no matter what.

What am I saving for?

  • Travel expenses to and from the hotel. Last year, this particular expense wasn’t much at all — just two tanks of gas (to get me from Illinois to Nashville, Tenn). But next year, since it’s in San Francisco, I’ll need airfare (for two) plus transportation to and from the airport. I’ll also need cab fare if we decide to go a few days early and explore the city. If I need parking, I budget that under “Lodging.”
  • Lodging. I’ve always found it worthwhile to stay at the hotel in which the conference takes place, even though the nightly rate may be more than at another hotel. It’s great to be able to run up to your room to pick up something, or drop off the bag of swag you scavenged from the vendor hall, or simply sleep in a bit later than you would had you stayed across town. When you receive your estimated hotel bill as you make your reservation, be sure to add in a few hundred for resort fees, parking, or taxes not included. Yes, I said a few hundred. ($15 resort fee + $20 daily parking fee for 5 days = $175, and that’s not counting taxes.)
  • Convention registration fees. Include any contests you sign up for, any software classes, and some money to participate in fundraising activities like silent auctions or raffles. Include a guest ticket for the Saturday President’s Party and/or the awards lunch if you’re bringing a spouse.
  • FOOD. This. I get nerdy with this one and count up all the meals I will have to pay for: breakfast, lunch, and supper. Since I usually go all-inclusive with my registration, Saturday I don’t have to count lunch or supper (Awards Lunch and President’s Party), so I don’t need to budget for that. I count all meals on departure day and return-home day, since I ain’t cooking as soon as I get home. Count every meal, add up the estimated cost, and multiply that by two. Meals are always expensive in resort areas.
  • Fun money! If you decide to tour the city or go to a Carrie Underwood concert with friends at the last minute, have some cash for that. If your spouse is coming with you, he/she will need something to do while you’re in sessions. Include this too.
  • Equipment/professional enrichment money. Convention is the best time to get merchandise, since a lot of vendors run convention specials. Now is the best time to try out that new writer and meet the author of that book you’ve been wanting. And have him or her sign it! NCRA usually has neat reporting tchotchkes and T-shirts for sale at their booth too.
  • Expenses related to your home. Like pet boarding and whatnot.

That’s a lot! But it is doable. I’m not rolling in the dough, but I can say that going to both state and national conventions has definitely helped to advance my career and, therefore, my income. The connections, the knowledge, and the fellowship I’ve gained are worth every penny.

Start now!


Kathryn “Stenoray” Thomas, RDR, CRR, CCP, is a CART provider in Caseyville, Ill. This article was originally posted on her website,, and is reprinted here with permission.

Social Media: Seven ways to look professional online

If social media is a vital part of your marketing strategy, you must remember to behave online in a professional manner. How you behave in the digital world is every bit as important as how you behave in the analog world. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Pretend your client is reading everything you post. I almost said, “Pretend your mother is reading everything you post,” but my mother does read almost everything I post. Look through your last ten online interactions — Facebook updates, Tweets, etc. Are they all complaints? Are they all funny pictures? Or nothing but political links? Are they all pictures of you after Friday night’s soiree where you had a few adult beverages? What are you presenting to your client or others? Posts full of profanity and complaining? Or encouraging, helpful posts?

2. When in Rome, act as the Romans do — or the Tweeters or the Facebookers. Each social media platform has its own distinct culture and customs that have evolved as the platform grows. How you interact on Twitter will probably differ from how you act on LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Facebook. Posting funny pictures of cats is acceptable on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter, but not on LinkedIn — unless you are in the pet industry, which few of us readers are. It’s best to lurk first and get a feel for the atmosphere, especially with online forums. Which brings me to the third tip:

3. Look. Lurk. Wait before reposting. When in doubt, Google it or check Don’t click on links all willynilly, even if someone you trust posted it. Don’t repost anything without doublechecking its accuracy. Facebook is not going to start charging for accounts, and more than likely, that missing child alert you’re about to send out is far out of date. The website is a wonderful resource for looking up whether something is true or not. For example, Pepsi is not using the cells of aborted fetuses in their beverages, no matter what your motherin- law says.

4. This is a social network, not a broadcasting network. Like offline life, if everything you say online is all about you, you’re boring and extremely annoying. Participate in the conversations. Ask people questions. Comment — nicely — on other people’s blogs. Publicly post kudos to fellow online friends.

5. Do not be anonymous, but remember: Everything you say, post, repost, reTweet, share, and comment on can and may be used against you. The Library of Congress is archiving all the tweets on Twitter. Neither respond to trolls nor be a troll. What is a troll? Someone who is “trolling” for arguments, in the fishing sense. They’re just looking to stir the pot. They want attention. Don’t give it to them, and certainly don’t be them.

6. Use “block” and “hide” and “unfriend” as much as you want. If someone is acting in an abusive manner towards you, report it to the appropriate administrators of the network platform. If someone is constantly trying to pick a fight with you (and you neither want to fight nor to subject your followers to said conversation), unfriend, unfollow, block, or hide them. If someone constantly posts stuff you don’t wish to see, unfriend, unfollow, block, or hide them. If your friends list has gotten unwieldy and full of people you don’t engage with online, feel free to prune away. It’s your account. Make it as you wish.

6a. And do not be offended if someone unfollows you. Some people like their Facebook to be filled with only their non-court-reporting friends, and some people like a mix. Some people use Twitter to network, and some use Twitter to keep up with current events and blog updates. Some people use Facebook to tout their political or philosophical viewpoints, while others use it to keep in touch with friends — or both, or neither. If someone unfollows you, don’t worry about it. 7. Cross your online friendships into offline friendships. Going to conventions and seminars is more enjoyable when you’re meeting good friends you’ve met online. If you’re going out of town, see who’s in the area who may want to meet up for lunch — in a public place, of course. Just as you act professional on the telephone, in writing, and on the job, remember to act professional when you use social media.