In the infinite realm of online chatter, these five Chicago bloggers have turned their hobbies into bona-fide businesses.
Some of our favorite homes in Chicago share a particular verve. It’s a certain way artwork is enthusiastically tossed up on walls salon-style. High art — modernism, imagist works — gracefully mixes with the low: hand-painted barbershop signs, Popsicle-stick lamps, fantastical outsider-art scenes. We asked three art experts how to duplicate this easy-to-spot, hard-to-replicate collecting style. If all else fails, our curated selection of picks gives you a peek at each expert’s offerings.
When Liz Schneider started Sequins & Stripes in July 2011, it was not her first adventure in the blogosphere. She had written a lifestyle blog, followed by a photography-based blog, then created Sequins & Stripes to coincide with her freelance personal styling business. She soon decided to leave her day job and give the fashion-focused site her full attention, and after three months and a drained savings account, things really took off.
Now, more than two years later, Sequins & Stripes has grown to average 350,000 page views and 50,000 unique visitors per month. What began as a style and fashion guide — her first post was on emulating trendsetters Olivia Palermo and Miroslava Duma — has also become the catalyst for Schneider to host in-store events, act as an ambassador for brands like Loft and Nordstrom and collaborate on a national scale with Kate Spade New York, T.J. Maxx and Refinery29.
“My blog is a representation of my personal style and how to have approachable, realistic style as a 20-something living in Chicago, with a budget and four distinct seasons,” she says.
Because she is the face and voice of her brand, she mixes in a few personal reflection essays alongside regular posts on fashion and beauty trends. “I always want people to know I don’t take myself as seriously as it may appear,” she says. “I’m a normal girl trying to figure it all out, and I still have victory moments when I get an email from a brand I admire or from a reader. We’re all trying to navigate our own way, and those are reminders that I’m going in the right direction.”
Jocelyn Delk Adams, “Grandbaby Cakes,” Grandbaby-cakes.com
When Jocelyn Delk Adams first posted a mango sorbet recipe on Facebook in 2012, she had no knowledge of recipe writing, and the accompanying photo was a simple iPhone pic. But the response was so strong that she decided to create Grandbaby Cakes, a blog dedicated to baked goods and desserts. It wasn’t long before she was sweetly rewarded: She won a contest on Yahoo Shine for her red velvet Mississippi mud pie recipe, and shortly thereafter, Pillsbury anointed her one of its featured bloggers, and Delk Adams works on recipe development, acts as a brand ambassador and has her recipes shared by the baking brand. Not bad for a media and events producer with no traditional training in the kitchen.
“I never really had a clear vision for what this [venture] was supposed to be,” she says. “I just knew that I wanted to bake and share what I knew about baking, share that love that was passed down to me [through family recipes].” A tribute to the women who taught Delks Adams life lessons while cooking, Grandbaby Cakes features a modern take on generations-old recipes, and Delk Adams hopes it will inspire a generation living in a “microwave society” to give baking a try. Next up, she will publish her first cookbook in 2015, and she’s looking into professional courses, now that her hobby has become a career.
“From an early age, we have memories where food is central to celebrations, whether it’s the birthday cake your mom made or the cutting of the cake at your wedding,” she says. “My grandmother always made biscuits in the morning. It wasn’t just something she did because she needed to get up and make breakfast. It meant more to her — it meant spending time with her family. That tie to family and tradition … part of that has been lost. Everyone will say, ‘My grandmother made the best this or that,’ because we associate it with the love we felt from their baking.”
Nicole Balch and her husband bought their first home in 2007, and launched Making It Lovely, a design and lifestyle blog, to share renovation and design plans with their friends and family. But the audience was larger than she initially planned, and the site became more than just a blog about their house. The stationery and Web designer quickly realized she could use the site to promote her businesses. “I never thought that it would become my full-time job, though,” Balch says. “Nobody was blogging full time back then.” Now, Balch has become her family’s primary breadwinner. “It was a scary change at first,” she says of the decision for her husband to stay home with their two children while she focused on growing the site. “But it has been two years now, and we’re both really happy with how things have worked out.”
Making It Lovely’s success is due, in part, to Balch’s know-how in diversifying her source of income, which includes advertisements, sponsored posts and affiliate links, as well as freelance writing outside of the site. “Sponsored posts are the most lucrative way to monetize a blog and can be great as long as they’re approached in a transparent, authentic way,” she says. “I turn down more potential partnerships than I accept, because I aim to promote companies and products that are a natural fit.”
With a book proposal in the works that has piqued the interest of several publishing houses, it’s safe to say Balch is onto something. “You have to have a passion for what you blog about, or it will fizzle and fade, or feel like a chore,” she says. “My blog is an outlet for my creativity, and I’m so glad I get to call it my job.”
Co-founders Alaina Kaczmarski and Danielle Moss want to get one thing straight: The Everygirl is not “just a blog.” “The Everygirl runs like a magazine, but online, and we act as editors, bringing on writers, contributors and photographers,” Kaczmarski says. “The goal of the site is to inspire career-driven women and give them advice. We really want to shape well-rounded women, so we cover everything from making smart financial decisions to simple tips to entertaining and dressing well.” Plus, they feature interviews with successful women at the top of their careers everywhere from London to LA to Boise, Idaho.
With its two-year anniversary on the horizon next month, The Everygirl is expanding, hiring fashion, beauty and food experts and producing a line of everyday items like iPhone cases and wall prints of inspirational quotes sourced from their interviews. “One question we ask all the women we feature is, ‘What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?’ ” Moss says. “That’s the age when you’ve just graduated college and are like, ‘OK, what next?’” A favorite? “Success is not easy and it is certainly not for the lazy.”
They both agree the positive response from readers has been the most rewarding part. “When we started the site, there was this void out there for material you could connect with and real women’s stories you could relate to,” Kaczmarski says. “That was the goal. So no matter what happens in the future — mission accomplished.”