How Abby Larson built her Style Me Pretty empire from a $9.99 blog
All it took was an offhand comment made by a dismissive university lecturer to inspire Abby Larson to launch Style Me Pretty, which began as a blog for style-obsessed brides back in February 2007.
Since then, Style Me Pretty has become a mainstay in the wedding industry, attracting 18 million monthly page views and approximately 1.5 million monthly visitors.
Style Me Pretty, which employs 12 full-time staff, is based in Boston in the US, but has an international focus, with distinct offerings for the Australian and Canadian markets.
In addition to earning a name for herself as a pioneer of the online bridal industry, as founder and editor of Style Me Pretty, Larson is also a full-time mum.
She spoke to StartupSmart about the lessons she’d pass on to Australian entrepreneurs:
Prove the naysayers wrong
After I began Style Me Pretty (SMP) back in 2007, as a way to stay connected and on pace with the wedding industry that I was a part of, I attended a blogging workshop at Stanford University.
My husband was getting his Masters in computer science there and I was able to take some of the continuing education courses as well.
The teacher of the course said something that would change the course of my life, and of my career. He said – and I paraphrase – that people don’t make money off blogging.
And in that statement, he challenged me to transform something that I considered fun into something that I did for business.
Start up on the cheap
SMP cost a whopping $9.99 to start. An account with Typepad was all it took to get SMP off the ground.
Having been an entrepreneur before, I knew just how valuable every last penny would be to my business so I didn’t spend. At all.
My first employee, who is still with me today and is considered SMP family, was hired on straight commission.
I worked out of my home on an old computer and I did all of the very scrappy coding by myself, self-taught.
Blog little and often
There weren’t any major wedding blogs in the space at the time so I was offering something unique. That made it much easier for me to get online coverage, links and press mentions.
I blogged continuously and consistently, every day, often up to 10 times per day. Readers knew that if they clicked on SMP, they would find something new and something beautiful to read.
That meant they not only came back for more, they told their friends, who told their friends.
Outsource from the beginning
I intentionally built a business that allows me to place extreme value on my time and my family. The most important part of this process is outsourcing.
I have a full-time nanny who helps me with either the kids or the house so that my focus can always be on work or on my two babies.
From a work perspective, we have an admin who preps every article that goes up on SMP and one who tags every image.
We automate whatever we possibly can, from our submissions process to our billing and record keeping, and we are always looking for ways to streamline and automate.
Show, don’t tell
Advertisers want to see results. They want to see something new; a new way of doing things. They get excited about innovation and interesting ways to promote their product.
So when SMP evolved and we essentially had no rules, they were thrilled. Vendors were excited to be a part of something that was different and unique.
Lifestyle brands were happy that we could tailor ad packages exclusively to their needs. And when we found resistance, we just showed them our product.
We showed them the beauty behind what we were doing. And they wanted to be a part of that.
Hire jack-of-all-trade types
With growth comes the need for more employees, more help, more outsourcing, more money, more everything. And with each of those things comes management.
For every new idea that we want to launch, we need more staff and someone to manage it. And yet we like to keep things as small and streamlined as possible behind the scenes.
Everyone tends to wear a million different hats at SMP. They are writers and support staff and client services all in one. They are technical geniuses and project managers simultaneously.
Finding the kind of people that thrive in this environment is always a bit of a challenge but by keeping things small like this, we are able to stay agile and launch new things quickly.
Be realistic about the mumpreneur tag
There is a constant debate as to whether mums can have it all. I believe wholeheartedly that they can, but that they have to adjust their expectation level of what having it all really means.
Of course I sacrifice time with my children to build my business. But I’m also teaching them to have goals, to work hard, to dream big.
When I’m with the kids and not at work, I try to really be present. To enjoy and savour that time so that I can etch these memories into my life.
It’s a dance and one that is a bit messy and unchoreographed, but if you allow yourself a bit of imperfection, you will enjoy it so much more.
Don’t get distracted by the competition
[The wedding industry] gets more competitive each year and, quite frankly, if I allowed myself to indulge in that competition, I’d go crazy.
There is so much beauty and creativity and genius out there that it’s hard to not get sucked in and feel defeated. Instead, I try to keep my nose down and really work.
When I waste time worrying about what everyone else is doing, then I don’t work as hard, I don’t work as authentically.
We have seen our business model used in so many different ways since we launched and while it’s hard to watch, it’s also motivation to always make SMP the best.
Photo Credit: Eric Laurits.