How I Created An Annual Conference That Generates $1.6M/Year

Published: February 12th, 2023
Philip Taylor
Founder, FinCon
from Frisco, TX, USA
started February 2011
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi, I’m Philip Taylor, CPA, blogger, and personal finance nerd living in Texas. I created FinCon, an annual conference and trade show for content creators and brands in the personal finance niche.

I offer passes to attend the event as well as exhibits and sponsorships. My customers are primarily personal finance creators and brands.

I grew the event from nothing to 3,000 attendees and $1.6 million in revenue in less than ten years.


Avoid a VIP mentality with your event. Keep the equity spread out and the hierarchy flat. You have to lead by example here. Don’t make yourself the star of the event. Don’t make speakers the stars. Make your attendees the stars.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I was born in a small-town Louisiana and went to university there. After school (’00), I moved to Texas and started working in public accounting and pursuing my CPA designation.

It wasn’t long before I realized I wasn’t going to be satisfied with my chosen career path. I wanted to start my own business. I wanted more creativity, more independence, and more freedom. Each accounting project I worked on reinforced the idea that I’d rather be one of the entrepreneurs I was helping.

I just didn’t have an idea or the courage yet. I also felt captive by over $50k in student loans, a car loan, and credit card debt.

Around ’03 I started listening to Dave Ramsey and learning about managing my money and getting out of debt. Believe it or not, the accounting degree and CPA designation hadn’t taught me these things.

Then I stumbled upon a few personal finance bloggers online. Their stories of becoming debt free and maxing out their retirement accounts got me excited to fix my financial situation (I told you I was nerdy). I slowly started working my way toward freedom using automatic investing and a plan to pay off my debts.

Fast-forward four years, I got married, and my passion for finance took on a whole new meaning: freedom for my family. I started a blog to share my journey and connect with this tribe of other personal finance bloggers. Writing about money daily, along with my wife having a similar desire for financial freedom, skyrocketed my finance success. I was bringing in side hustle income from the blog too, which fast-tracked everything.

Three years later the blog had replaced half of our income, and we were debt free! With my wife’s blessing, I made the jump to full-time entrepreneurship. It was exciting and scary. What would we do about health insurance? What would happen if traffic to the blog dropped?

March 2011 - Hanging out with Gary Vaynerchuk, an early inspiration for leaping full-time entrepreneur

I spent the next year working harder than I ever had in my life. My blog traffic took off and it felt like we were going to make it. Still, I decided I needed another side hustle to create some additional income and reduce my risk. My new side hustle a conference for personal finance bloggers like me!

This idea came to me in early ’11 after several things fell into place. First, I was already going to general marketing conferences and thinking “we need this, but just for us money bloggers”.

Second, I read an article that said something like “this next year will be the year of the niche marketing events”. It was as if that article permitted me to start my event.

Third, even though I had no event planning experience, I loved these other blogging buddies and simply wanted to be around them. They had already given me so much freedom and success. How could it not be amazing to all be together in one spot?

I started talking about it with my wife and after a few weeks of pestering her with it she told me to “just do it already!” I was in bed at the time and so I got up and went to my computer to begin the next business journey in the midnight hours.

My first step to validate the ideas was to register the domain, put up a basic website, email signup form, and Facebook page (along with one of those Facebook like boxes on the website - you know the one that shows the profile pic).

February 2011 - The announcement of the inaugural event

At the time I had a map of all the personal finance bloggers on my site. To pick a location, I plotted the center point on the map where most of the bloggers could at least drive into the event. The marker landed in Chicago. Fall in Chicago sounded like a great time to be there. So, without an actual venue or specific date set, I put “Fall 2011 | Chicago” on the website.

I told myself if by the end of the week, I had more than 50 people interested, I would move forward with the actual event planning.

The next day, I shared the link to the website in a popular personal finance blogger forum and within a day had over a hundred people on the email list. The like box ended up being a smart move as bloggers would see their peers’ Facebook profile on the site and feel confident about signing up for emails even if they didn’t know me well (i.e. social proof).

With over 100 bloggers now on the list I knew it was time to move forward with planning the actual event.

Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.

My first move after going public was to reach out to two bloggers and potential speakers that, if were to commit to the event, would almost ensure its success: Pat Flynn and J.D. Roth. They both gave an emphatic yes and agreed to work with me for the cost of this inaugural event.

That first edition of the financial blogger conference was almost entirely designed with input from the bloggers on my Aweber email list. I used surveys (Survey Monkey) to help decide the best date, breakout speakers, sponsors, networking events, and more.

As I ran into questions or concerns about the event I would let the list know, and they would help come up with solutions. There was also a thread created in the blogger forums where discussions would happen and ideas exchanged.

I had my own opinions about the event which created a vision of sorts. I had been to other events for bloggers, and I knew what I did and didn’t like. I wanted to have plenty of time for education (both main stage and breakouts) and networking with other bloggers and brands.

September 2011 - Stuffing swag bags with volunteers

I stumbled upon Adrian Segar’s Conferences that WORK book sometime that Summer. It was a critical part of understanding what makes a quality event, which is user-generated content and plenty of time for relevant connection. I implemented as much of that philosophy as I could into my event.

What about an actual location? Luckily I received a cold email shortly after going public from a venue-sourcing company, HelmsBriscoe. They help you find a location for free, taking a commission from the venue that you ultimately sign with.

After reviewing the requests for proposals (RFPs), we decided on a Sheraton hotel in the Chicago suburbs. The hotel was the perfect size for an event with just a few hundred people and they didn’t require much in terms of food and beverage minimum spend.

As for staff, I relied on friends and family to help pull it off.

The first Financial Blogger Conference happened that Fall. I loved it, but it took everything out of me. I thought for a long time about not doing it again.

The #1 rule of event creation/planning. Build an event for people who already want to be together. They are probably already hanging out together online or in the hallways at another event. A little niche of creators who need a fresh, new space to gather. That could be your event!

Describe the process of launching the business.

I launched ticket sales sometime in March. By then, the email list had helped me pick a specific date and my hotel selection consultant had helped me nail down a specific hotel, outside of Chicago.

I immediately saw 50% of my email list purchase a ticket to the conference. They were excited. With the help of my friend Pete from Bible Money Matters, I had a badge created for bloggers to show off on the sites that they were attending.

I continued building out the website - adding speakers - and also blogging all of the event updates.

Since I didn’t have any expenses yet, I was able to cash flow from the start. Ticket sales were coming in before I had any expenses. It wasn’t until closer to the event that I had to start putting a few deposits down. They broke down as:

  • WiFi ($2,000)
  • Food and Alcohol ($37,000)
  • Buses for Offsite ($1,200)
  • Community Service Event ($5,000)
  • Audio/Visual and Equipment ($12,000)
  • T-Shirts, Signs, Totes, and Badges ($5,500)
  • Insurance ($200)
  • Staff ($6,000)
  • PayPal and Eventbrite Fees ($2,000)
  • Travel, Hotel, Transport, and Shipping ($4,000)
  • Speaker Gifts, Printing, Etc ($3,000)

I did start using my virtual assistant (from my blogging business) to help with some of the event planning. Those hours just got charged to the blog business for that first year.

Big lessons learned: First, allow your customer to help build the event from the start. They will feel more ownership in the event and you will have something built that they want - they had a say in creating it.

Second, always create social proof. By getting the larger, A-list blogger onboard first, I was able to attract everyone who was following them.

Third, I should have planned to have my on-site staff do everything. I ended up running around the entire event checking on everything. I wish I had been able to just enjoy it more.

September 2011 - Attendees at the first event, the Financial Blogger Conference

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

What we did to grow:

Make the event better. When I wanted to make my event better, I looked for ways to improve it: a more pleasing venue, superior presenters, informative content, exciting activities and parties, more networking possibilities, and enhanced customer service along with clearer correspondence.

All of these additions helped attract more people, leading to increased success for the business.

Offer more things. To grow the business, we created multiple offerings, such as expanding our sponsorship deck, moving to an expo hall format, offering new education tracks, and creating a second-tier ticket.

Some of these didn't work out, but overall they helped increase the bottom line. We also renamed the event from Financial Blogger Conference to Fincon because more than just bloggers were attending.

Do content marketing. Of course, we’d do this one. I hired a freelance writer to produce how-to pieces and community roundups and repurposed talks from the conference into blog posts.

Our head of marketing and creative, Libby Gifford, also created a magazine as the conference agenda/guide and a podcast re-branded as The Money & Media Podcast. On Twitter, we ask new attendees for their handles, follow them, and participate in chats.

Create a sense of community. To foster a sense of community, I took surveys for feedback and tapped influential members to lead key aspects of the event. I also brought existing elements like the Plutus Awards and our mentoring program.

To further connect customers, I created a Facebook group and encouraged local meetups. When exhibiting at other conferences, we invite community members into the booth to make content and meet up with each other.

We charged more. We did this while still keeping loyal customers happy with loyalty pricing. For example, I have one of the most affordable marketing conferences around.

In my first year, I charged just $99 to attend. Since then, prices have increased gradually to keep up with inflation and account for an improved and longer event. However, I offer returning attendees who sign up during the event a discounted price of ~$200.

Prices for new customers are in line with other similar events and can reach as high as $1,000 depending on how close it is to the event date; however, there is a graduated discount for those who purchase tickets farther in advance.

Hire great people. Growth requires surrounding oneself with talented people who bring fresh ideas and have the skills to execute them.

Before my first event, I enlisted four contractors: an event coordinator (Jessica Bufkin, who is now our CEO), an audio-visual coordinator (Justin Bufkin, now of Vidzuno), a salesperson, and someone who could handle visual development.

I knew these people were trustworthy and loyal—most were friends of mine and three had worked with me at my other business—so I knew they would serve the community the way I wanted them to be served.

Partnerships. By leveraging partnerships, the event sawseveralf exciting benefits. For example, a group of young financial advisors developed a new track specifically for this event. They ended up having their pre-conference event too which led to many advisors coming to FinCon that wouldn’t normally.

Additionally, there was an adjacent personal finance bloggers community that introduced us to many up-and-coming bloggers likely interested in the event.

Finally, an online community and event company catered to female bloggers ended up taking over our pre-conference camp/mastermind experience which led to an influx of female attendees. While these partnerships are not easy to manage, the net effect has been positive for the results of the event — with more attendees and a better overall experience for guests.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

I spent ten years (from Feb 2011 to Feb 2020) running FinCon as founder and CEO. I loved being at the helm most of the time. But I decided ten years was enough.

In 2020 took a leave of absence from the business. I love my team, Jessica and Libby, and I’m so thankful they could run it without me. During my time off I became a golf creator and spent a lot of time with my family. It was great.

The pandemic was rough on events, but the team (and our community) weathered the storm and we made it through by getting lean and resourceful.

September 2017 - Team FinCon (from L to R): Justin Bufkin, Libby Gifford, Jessica Bufkin, and Philip Taylor

Now I’m back with the business and doing behind-the-scenes growth marketing and business development. The three main employees are:

CEO - Jessica Bufkin

Marketing/Creative - Libby Gifford

Partnerships/Growth/Finance - Me

Four key part-timers include:

  • Audio/Video Production Coordinator
  • Outside Salesperson
  • Assistant Event Planner
  • Community Liaison

We have always made a profit, yes. We strive for a 40% profit margin but have never achieved that.

Our highest year for revenue was 2019 when we did $1.6 Million in revenue. It costs us $700k to produce the event. Our overhead (non-event expenses) for the year was $590k. That left us with a profit of ~$300k, or ~20% profit margin.

Our best year for profit margin was 2021. We did 36% profit on $1 Million in sales. The uncertainty around events led us to trim our event expenses back significantly which helped the bottom line.

2022 Facebook and Instagram ads (we didn’t do ads in 2021 or 2020):

Facebook Ad Spend: $11,275.57

Purchases: 134

Clicks: 8,731

Impressions: 365,822

The average pass price is $350 in the Summer months when these sales happen. That’s over $40,000 in sales from $11k in ad spend. Shout out to Chenell at Conversion Owl for running these for us.

Website traffic averages around 10,000 unique page views per month in the off-season with the month pre-event experiencing 40,000 unique.

We have 13,000 folks on the email list (growing by 60 people a week). Open rate is 38% lifetime.

We usually see 33% of our past sales coming when we announce the next location (usually at the current conference). Another 33% will come during the “off-season”, and then the final 33% will come in the last month. Post-covid we’ve seen more people waiting to buy passes at the last minute.

In terms of goals, we’re just trying to get back to 2019 (pre-pandemic levels). My vision for the event is expanding beyond just being a great marketing event for personal finance creators. There is a big need for an event aimed at helping people achieve financial freedom and independence. I think FinCon could be that event one day.

We’re always considering new event ideas for the off-season. But frankly, nothing has stuck. We’re also open to acquisition opportunities, as that’s how most tradeshow businesses grow (by buying up other events).

September 2019 - Dedicated FinCon attendees and staff since 2011

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I’ve learned that people instinctively know what to do at events. Just give them the right tools and context and get out of their way.

I’ve learned that with events there will always be something that goes wrong. It’s how ready you are and how you respond that matters. You have to contingency plan as much as possible. And you have to have a non-reactive mindset. Calm and collective is how my team and I respond.

I’ve learned that building a team is easier when you have a mission and values to express to them and the customer.

I’ve learned that there are some roles that you need to graduate from as a founder. I spent too long doing things like speaker negotiation and community group management. Both are touchy areas where feelings can get hurt and things misrepresented. Best for the founder to stay away from those sensitive areas.

I learned that you should always sell tickets to the next event at the current event. Don’t wait. Even if you don’t have a date or location picked out, sell people a ticket to the next one when they are juiced up at the current one. Entrepreneur and author Chris Ducker sat me down on the last day of the conference in 2014 and forced me to do it. I can’t believe it took me until my 4th event to do that.

I’ve learned that you should always buy event cancellation insurance. If you’re ever unable to have your event, you need insurance to step in and cover your ass.

I’ve learned that the community/customer has the answer to your product/service development questions. You don’t have to guess. Develop the tools and pathways to know and understand what they need. And when in doubt, ask them directly.


What platform/tools do you use for your business?

  • I use Ticketspice for ticket/pass sales (it’s much more affordable than Eventbrite), and it has all the options we need.
  • Helpscout is our email switchboard to handle all the customer support.
  • Facebook Groups have been invaluable for creating that community feel.
  • ConvertKit is excellent for delivering regular event updates and content to our community of attendees. We do a little coordinating with Right Message and Zapier to funnel leads from the website tothe email list.
  • Slack is great for team communication.
  • Live Oak Bank is my favorite new business bank. We hold a lot of cash all year long and it’s nice to find a business bank that pays a real interest rate.
  • We use Amex reward credit cards from Hilton and Marriott for all the hotel spending. I get a ton of points from this strategy.
  • Meeting Mojo is our long-time meeting booking (double opt-in) software.
  • We have a ton in Google Sheets but we’ve slowly started replacing it with Airtable.
  • For keyword research I love Ahrefs, Keywords Everywhere, and Answer the Public.
  • For podcast hostin,g we’ve used Libsyn.
  • Website hosting is through WP Engine. I love WordPress and all brands that coordinate well with it.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Conferences that Work by Adrian Segur - explains how “peer conferences” work and why they are more valuable for the attendee than an organizer-curated event.

Skift Meetings (formerly Event Manager Blog) has been a long-time resource.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Avoid a VIP mentality with your event. Keep the equity spread out and the hierarchy flat. You have to lead by example here. Don’t make yourself the star of the event. Don’t make speakers the stars. Make your attendees the stars.

Use a venue-sourcing company. They are free, and it gets you out of the contract negotiations.

Find a knowledgeable AV coordinator who knows what things cost and can call bullshit on the overpriced hotel AV industry.

Leave some things as a surprise. Don’t make everything public. Hold some things back and create an unexpected experience for your attendees.


September 2017 - Rapper Dee1 crowdsurfing at FinCon

Make it easy for your attendees to create content at your event. This will produce a lot of user-generated marketing for next year’s event.

Finally, the #1 rule of event creation/planning. Build an event for people who already want to be together. They are probably already hanging out together online or in the hallways at another event. Heck, they could be in the hallways at FinCon…a little niche of creators who need a fresh, new space to gather. That could be your event!

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!