Behind the Scenes: How Your Conference Comes to Life

It’s a changeable afternoon in Upstate New York; the kind of fall day in this area that makes everyone look a bit foolish. It’s mild, but there’s a cold breeze; the sun shines in the morning, but by early afternoon it’s pouring rain. This isn’t exactly the kind of weather that makes you think of a warm, desert atmosphere, surrounded by hundreds of your passionate, handcrafting buddies-but that’s exactly what Leigh O’Donnell, Executive Director and conference planner extraordinaire, and I are talking about on this particular day.

Leigh has a confident way about her, and when I sat down to talk to her for this interview, I knew exactly the type of answers I’d get; to the point, realistic and honest facts about the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild’s Annual Conference and the immense amount of planning that goes into it. I’ve worked with Leigh for a little over a year now, and I’ve seen her serious, jovial, busy, determined; but not shaken. Planning a conference for hundreds of people? She’s got this.

HSCG VP – Charlene Simon, Leigh O’Donnell, HSCG President – Feleciai Favroth

Leigh attended her first Annual Conference in 2004, was on the conference crew in 2005, and began planning the event in 2006; 2017 will be the 12th conference she’s planned, and you can tell; she knows the welds and rivets of this conference as if she was the captain of a very large, very exciting ship.

When I ask her what distinguishes the HSCG Annual Conference as the premier event in our industry, she says, “the level of professionalism is through the roof with this event.” She goes on to explain that “the participation of vendors, sponsors and speakers is unique because they stay through the entire event; they will interact with attendees at meals, sessions, and parties.” What she’s describing is one of the most amazing parts of this event-everyone is accessible. You may find yourself sitting next to a speaker or your favorite supplier at the Networking Lunch, a favorite for meeting new friends and making new connections. The Networking Lunch is a great example of the comprehensive experience that the HSCG is looking to offer; the point of the conference and the planning that goes into it is to create an immersive attendee experience that gives handcrafters not only the ability to be in the same room as their favorite educators and vendors, but the opportunity to reach out to them on a personal level.


The 2016 Annual Meeting

In fact, this intensive, focused planning is what Leigh says is her favorite part about planning the conference. When I ask her what her favorite part of the organizational process is, she says “I think trying to think three dimensionally. When an attendee walks in, what will they see? What will their experience be?” she pauses for a minute, “We want them to have a successful experience and all the moving parts of the conference are planned with that goal.” If the conference is a huge machine, the attendee’s experience can be thought of as the gears that make it move. Without taking each experience personally into consideration, the conference would be just another event; and this careful planning is exactly why it’s the best and biggest of it’s kind in the world.


A small-scale view of an enormous undertaking-volunteers will move and empty between hundreds of boxes before the event starts.

If you’ve attended one of our Annual Conferences, you know that one of the most amazing parts is the dedication and passion of the volunteers who help keep it running smoothly. I ask Leigh, what do you look for in a volunteer? “Someone who can take physical and mental abuse with a smile!” she says, laughing. “But seriously…a sense of humor, a strong work ethic, and a passion for the event. Someone who understands how rigorous the conference schedule is, and can keep smiling!”


Longtime Conference Volunteer Tom Koenig (Sheriff Tom) and Leigh O’Donnell


Now, I’ve only been to one Annual Conference myself, but I was taken aback by the friendliness and grace of the volunteers, even under pressure. Even through difficult times, the staff stayed cool and more importantly, kind. These are passionate, excited handcrafters who have given their time not only to the HSCG to help keep the conference moving, but to their peers to give them the best possible experience; that passion is at the core of what the Annual Conference is all about.


Many potential attendees ask the same question; How is the venue chosen? When I ask Leigh this, she says, “Cleanliness, but really, how do you feel when you walk in the door?” By putting herself in the shoes of the attendees when considering a venue, from the very beginning, the experience is faithfully planned not just around the educational and networking experiences an attendee will have, but how the environment and meeting space will make them feel. Leigh shared with me that its not all about location, although that’s important. It’s also important to the HSCG that the venue is comfortable, clean, well taken care of and lends its own positive experience to the overall event. Considerations like proximity of the meeting rooms to the exhibitor space, and the general conference area to the guest rooms are all taken into account when choosing a venue. Location does play a part in planning, however; the Annual Conference moves around the country to try to give the fairest chance to everyone that wants to attend. Because the Annual Conference has grown so much in the past 10 years (it has gone from less than 80 attendees to over 600 expected attendees in 2017), it is a challenge to find a venue that can house the event; but that hasn’t stopped the HSCG from finding amazing, engaging resorts and hotels each year! 2017’s venue is no different; the Tropicana Las Vegas is a beautiful property with an abundance of amenities, not to mention its prime location on the Vegas strip. Best of all, meeting, exhibitor and meal areas are all located in the same building and in close proximity to each other and the guest rooms, making the Tropicana Las Vegas a comprehensive experience from start to finish.


It’s a Florida morning-sunrise at the beautiful Saddlebrook Resort (2016)

Planning an event of this size isn’t an overnight task, and when I ask Leigh when planning officially begins, she laughs. “I have a two week rule: no one is allowed to say the word ‘conference’ in front of me for two weeks after the conference. Of course, I always break that rule.” In reality, she says that the conference planning begins nearly 2 ½ years before the actual event. Venue selection is a time consuming process, and it is important to make sure that the desired dates and conference space are available; this is why Leigh chooses the venue locations so far in advance. As for the meat and potatoes of the planning, this typically starts a month or two after the previous conference ends, and the speaker selection process begins.


Planning takes place at every level, beginning with the well-choreographed Registration process.

“If someone has a passion and a fire, it projects onto the attendees.” Leigh tells me when I ask how the speakers are chosen. She says that a few things are taken into consideration: what topics we have had in the past (so that there aren’t many if any repeats), and what credentials a speaker has. By credentials, she explains, she does not mean a degree or certifications (although this helps, too). If someone has passion and knowledge when it comes to the subject they are interested in speaking about, that will translate into a successful speaker session, and those are the speakers she loves to work with. Speakers are also considered based on referrals from fellow attendees, members and vendors; there are many factors to consider when choosing the perfect speaker, and no detail is overlooked.


Infused water from the 2016 Conference, one of the many small meal details that was planned with an experience in mind.

Choosing pieces of the conference like the speakers and venue are obviously very important, but another important consideration when planning the conference is the cost. “The conference eats and feeds itself,” Leigh says, “As a not-for-profit, our goal is to make enough to cover the cost of the conference; we would rather come out ahead by a small margin rather than fall short.” As a trade association, it is the HSCG’s duty to keep the cost of the conference low while presenting a well-planned, innovative event to the industry. Making this event available at an attainable cost level is important to Leigh and the HSCG; it goes hand in hand with the location. Accessibility means traveling around the country and intense negotiations with venues to keep room rates low, while maintaining the type of quality that the Guild has taken pride in over the past years. The registration cost is determined by a few things; expenses for speakers and staff/volunteers, cost of printed materials and graphics, cost of the venue itself and food for the attendees. Relative to other events, the HSCG has managed to keep the cost of the annual 3  ½ day event low compared to many other large-scale gatherings; a goal that the HSCG keeps in mind when planning each event.


Leigh’s least favorite part? “When it’s over, and there’s a whole year until another conference.”

By the time we start to wrap up our interview, it’s been 45 minutes; I get the feeling that Leigh could talk about the conference and her vision for it for hours. When I ask her what she believes the future of the conference is, she is optimistic. The HSCG Annual Conference has grown by hundreds of attendees since it first began, and the trend of additional attendees is a definite goal. The conference has been sold out each year since 2010, and is expected to sell out for 2017 once again. Leigh is realistic about this, though. “I would like to keep growth under control; if we went from say, 600 attendees right to 1000 attendees, there’s a chance of a drop in quality and we want to avoid that.” Maintaining the integrity of the conference is important, which is why the attendee limit is raised incrementally from year to year instead of exponentially. What will a large attendance mean for the locations of the conference? “I could see us settling on 3 or 4 major cities due to our size and the space needed for the event.” Leigh says. Don’t worry though, folks; she also reiterated to me that, even if the event was limited to a few standard choices, the quality of the venue would in no way suffer; the HSCG has high standards to meet.


The 80’s Party, Tampa 2016

This year, as with past years, there are many new faces attending the conference. Attending the conference means something different to everyone, but what everyone seems to share at the conference is a sense of camaraderie. My last question to Leigh was, what is the best advice you can give to a first time attendee? “Lose your fear right away,” she says immediately. “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there-you’re not going to be disappointed.” The Annual Conference is about elevating your industry education and meeting your favorite suppliers face-to-face, sure. But it’s also about meeting and making connections with hundreds of like-minded individuals with the same passion and love for handcrafted soap and cosmetics that you have; a rare sight all in one place. Many attendees, including Leigh herself, have told us that they have made lifelong friendships that started as simply as saying “hi” to someone at their Networking Lunch table, or complimenting another attendee’s outfit at one of the incredible nighttime events at the conference. What you take from the conference personally, if you take the time to get to know your fellow attendees, will be far more valuable than any education you could receive (although that’s pretty great, too).


Preparing for the last event of the conference-the Award’s Dinner.

Whether this is your first conference or your 10th, each conference has its own personality and experiences; there is something different for each attendee, and no two attendees have the same experience. Speakers will be there to energize and encourage you, vendors will be there to give you the tools to implement what you’ve learned, and the passionate and dedicated volunteers will be there to give you a little nudge in the right direction, just in case you get lost-but who are we kidding, getting lost in a sea of handcrafted soap and cosmetic makers doesn’t sound too bad!


HSCG VP Charlene Simon, 2016 (and 2017!) Speaker Kevin Dunn, and volunteer Tina Roberts (in the background, being awesome)

The Premier Rate for the Annual Conference will expire on October 31st at 4pm EST; as always, you can visit to sign up online, or you can reach us in person at our Saratoga Springs, New York headquarters by calling (866)900-7627, Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm EST.

Creating a Facebook Page for Your Business


So you have decided to start your own business, you’ve spent long hours choosing the perfect name, you’ve decided on the coolest logo and your business cards just arrived in the mail yesterday. You’re ready to hit the local craft shows, peddle your products to all the trendiest local boutiques and have told everyone you know (even the last person who commented to you in line at the grocery store) about your products. All done right? Not so fast, your largest and cheapest marketing tool has yet to be established. That’s right, Facebook! You need to start your own business page to begin telling your followers why your product should be their next purchase. Now, we’ve all had that friend who is all to eager to fill up your feed with their latest foray into yet another pyramid scheme and we’ve all been torn on whether or not we can afford to subsequently block said friend. Here’s how to not become the next friend to get the ‘Block All Post from This User’ treatment.

Creating your own business page separate from your personal Facebook page is what you are going to do and here’s how.

You already have a Facebook account and if you don’t, you will need to change that first (everyone from high school won’t speculate on your whereabouts and possible death anymore, yay!) It’s easy:

  • Head on over to and fill out the form fields on the right of the page to create your account.
  • Now that you have your personal account set-up, login and click the deltoid at the top right of the page. (see photo)


Select “Create Page” and follow the next steps choose “Local Business or Place” and enter as much information about your business as you can. The more you let Facebook and subsequently your pages followers know the better off you are.

Once you’ve completed these few simple steps your work really begins.

  • Write a great description for your business, fill in all the fields you can.
  • Add a great cover photo and make your profile photo your shiny new logo and start filling up your wall.
  • Connect your web store, link your businesses Facebook page with all your businesses other forms of social media(sorry but it’s all free and it’s basically a must have these days).

Your products and business are important to you so really spend some time getting your page really well set and it will pay off big time when you formally petition all your friends to like your new page! There are some things to really pay attention to when filling in your businesses information on Facebook, because nothing is more frustrating than incorrect information on a business page, so ensure that it’s there and it’s correct:

  • Phone # & Email Address
  • Store link (your website)
  • Business hours (when you want calls)
  • Company Bio (make it unique and interesting)
  • Link All Personal Social Media Outlets (Seriously!! People like me check)

Now that you have this amazing new Facebook page for your business, send us a message and let us know we should now be following you!! Do the same thing when you join Instagram(@thesoapguild) and Twitter(@TheSoapGuild) too!!

Happy Facebooking handcrafters and if you haven’t done it yet, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and our blog

Be on the look out for the follow up posts on “Optimizing your Facebook Page” and subsequent social media themed tutorials.

Now Serving You: Meet Tanya

Tanya Rasley has been serving the Guild for over a year. Starting as a volunteer on the Social Media Committee in 2013, you may have seen her running around the Loews Ventana this May as a ground crew volunteer during the 2014 HSCG conference or up at the podium during the Annual Meeting as a Board of Directors candidate. When Board of Directors member Benjamin Aaron had to step down, Tanya was the natural choice to fill the remainder of his term.

Tanya headshot

Based in the southern Oregon coastal town of Coos Bay, Tanya runs Canard Labs, an artisan soap company offering retail, private label, and wholesale bath and body care products, which grew out of Baby Duck Soap Co (and no, no ducks were harmed in the manufacture of soap for Baby Duck Soap Co – and yes, that is a question that popped up from time to time).

Words we may have inserted in her mouth: take naps instead of watching television. As Tanya let us know, “You burn more calories sleeping than you do watching TV. So…naps are good!” We’ll happily take that little known fact as motivation to get through this crazy holiday season.

Tanya schooling Adam on the fine art of colorants at the 2014 conference

We’re excited to have Tanya apply her talents to the Board and continue her record of excellence in service to the association. You can get in touch with her, find out her plans for the Guild, and just send a friendly “hello” via Find other contact details for Guild staff and administration here. We are here to serve you!

Welcome to the Board, Tanya!