Getting Started: Turning Your Blog into a Business

Hays tells how she went from blogger to businesswoman

From entertainment to politics to fashion, fascinating tales of a single web site or blog being the catalyst to entrepreneurship and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are increasing. Jeanine Hays, 32, a lawyer who has had a love for interior design since she was given her first decorating job—her bedroom at the age of six—is  now one of the newest innovators to join that list of those who’ve found success via a passion they simply wanted to blog about. Hays is the founder of AphroChic: Modern.Soulful.Style [2], a blog she launched in 2007 that highlights designers and design products from around the world. The blog became so popular that in 2009, Hays launched AphroChic pillows and apparel, and most recently she launched her second collection, Brooklyn Renaissance, which includes wallpaper, shower curtains, tabletop and other home décor items depicting Brooklyn life. Lucky magazine and the folks at HGTV are among her biggest fans.

BlackEnterprise.com recently caught up with Jeanine to talk about the beginning of blogging her way into a business [3].

BlackEnterprise.com: Your blog, AphroChic [2], has led to some great ventures in the design world, including a successful side hustle designing home decor. How did AphroChic begin?

Jeanine: AphroChic started as a blog in 2007. I was fresh out of law school working at my first job, and design became a refuge from the daily grind. I’d spend hours on the computer reading about interior design and looking up new work. My husband was the one who encouraged me to start my own blog and share my passion with others. Two years later we opened the AphroChic shop [4] online.

What role did your blog play specifically in bringing the brand AphroChic to where it is today?

Jeanine: It was through the blog that I came to realize I had a voice, and that there was something new I could offer in the world of interiors. Writing regularly on home décor and meeting and interviewing designers allowed me to stay ahead of the trends as well as see the gaps in the design world. After two years of blogging, I gained the confidence to start developing products of my own that spoke to my personal aesthetic. I also already had an audience of thousands of readers to share the work with immediately.

You’ve had some amazing opportunities as a direct result of your blogging and designing, like guest judging for HGTV’s Design Star, as well as a featured blogging spot for HGTV’s Design Happens blog.

Jeanine: I was honored that HGTV reached out to me. I think it was a combination of being an interior design blogger, having an active following for the blog, and a number of followers via Twitter [5] as well.  The guest judge opportunity was a Twitter party that engaged AphroChic followers. It was fun, and wonderful to be recognized as a top design blogger in the field.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in bringing AphroChic this far?

Jeanine: Balance [6] is probably the biggest challenge. Working in a full-time career that offers stability is something that is important to me. But I also have a desire to follow my dream full-time [7]. It’s hard to know when the right time is to step out of your comfort zone and completely leave the stable life behind.

Jeanine Hays with some of her AphroChic pillows

It looks less complicated to operate an online shop versus a brick and mortar one?

Jeanine: It looks easier, but unfortunately it’s not. A lot of effort goes into the online shop. You still have to work with vendors, check on orders, keep up communication with customers, look at inventory, and do accounting. In some ways I think that online offers a distinct challenge in that your customers can be in constant contact with you.  If I go to a boutique and purchase an item, that’s likely it. I may or may not return, and they are not likely to get an email from me. However, you really have to keep communication going with your customers online. They expect it.

What business advice has worked really well for you?

Jeanine: It’s ok to make mistakes, it won’t all be perfect, but the important thing is to keep moving forward. We don’t allow ourselves to be stopped by anything. It is so important to nurture and grow your business daily, to continue learning, and to work on new things. It’s all about baby steps, never looking back, and moving forward despite any obstacles that might arise.

What role does your husband play in the business?

Jeanine: My husband, Bryan Mason, is the Operations Manager for AphroChic. He manages all of our logistics–shipping, picking up items, ensuring delivery to customers, and it is a little known secret that he is the world’s best pillow stuffer.  He’s also a fantastic editor, who writes all of the content for the website. But more than his title, he is my partner. We work on AphroChic daily together developing new designs, coming up with ways to engage our customers, and strategizing on our business plan. It’s a joint effort, and working together really does make this business a labor of love.

What are some important things people should know when pursuing a design life?

Jeanine: Take it seriously and be patient; it takes time to grow your business. Some people may be creative but not business-minded. If you’re one of those people, hire a business manager. You need to be able to figure out how you can do the creative side and also fulfill orders, keep track of payments and do your taxes. Also invest in yourself. Your brand is a reflection of you, so make sure it’s cohesive, accessible and that is speaks to who you are as a designer.

What can we expect next from AphroChic?

Jeanine: We are working on some new projects in the next year to make AphroChic bigger and better.  Expect to see designer collaborations, fresh, new designs and even an AphroChic TV channel! We’re always looking for new ways to engage those who are as passionate about design as we are.

By Arlice Nichole (Black Enterprise)

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