Tips from Bjork and Lindsay
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Welcome to episode 121 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork talks with Emma Chapman from A Beautiful Mess about starting new ventures, solidifying your brand, and finding your path.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork interviewed Dorie Clark about her new book, Entrepreneurial You. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Blogging and business ownership wasn’t always one of Emma’s goals. In fact, right after college, she decided to move to Hollywood to start an acting career. When that career path didn’t work out, she didn’t give up; instead she changed her focus and worked to build a job she loves.
Now as Founder & CEO of A Beautiful Mess, Emma focuses on building brands, creating apps, writing books, and producing content. Learn how she shaped her career after starting in a place of uncertainty.
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Bjork Ostrom: In this episode, we talk to Emma Chapman from A Beautiful Mess about what it was like to be an actor in LA, the approach that they take for starting new ventures and, this is really interesting, I think you’ll like that one, and how they really lock in their branding for A Beautiful Mess and all of the other businesses that they have.
Hey there everybody, Bjork Ostrom, and you listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast and today we are talking to Emma Chapman. You might know Emma from A Beautiful Mess at ABeautifulMess.com. They’ve been blogging for a long time and they’ve been doing a really good job of it, which you can see when you go to ABeautifulMess.com. I was excited to jump on a call with her and talk a little bit about what it’s been like to build that business along with her sister, and she’s going to be talking about a few different important takeaways. Number one, we’re really going to talk a lot about what it was like for her to transition out of one dream into another dream, and her first dream was to be an actor and she went to LA to pursue that, and that dream changed, and she’s going to be talking about what it was like to go through that process.
I would like that conversation to inform you on some of the decisions that you have. Is there a dream that you have right now or maybe that you had in the past that needs to evolve or change a little bit? Might not be, but there might be something that you take away from that conversation that you could apply to your life. Then we’re going to talk about A Beautiful Mess a little bit, the overarching brand, how they launch new products and, with each of those, how they really lock in the branding. It’s gonna be a great conversation and I think you’ll really enjoy it. Let’s jump in. Emma, welcome to the podcast.
Emma Chapman: Hi, thanks for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s really fun to finally connect here. Before we were chatting, we said, “It’s kind of nice to have an excuse just to talk for an hour,” to connect with people and share stories, and you’re somebody that I’m really excited to talk to, so this is especially exciting for me.
Emma Chapman: Oh yeah, I’m a huge fan, so I was stoked when I got the invite.
Bjork Ostrom: Well cool, thank you. It was really fun for me to spend some time researching. That’s one of my favorite things to do as I lead up to the podcast. Leading up to the podcast a lot of times it’s people I’m familiar with but I haven’t been able to dive deep into their story, so it was fun for a beautiful mess because it’s the brand itself, but it’s also, you know, each one of you has your stamp on it and it’s your individual personalities as well, so obviously your sister is a part of that, but I want to dig into your story a little bit because I think people will really resonate with the decisions that you made and the path that you have and how you found yourself along that way, so can you take me back to making the decision to move to Hollywood? Where was that and where are you at in that point in your life?
Emma Chapman: Yes, so, when I was around 17 or 18 years old, I had kind of got it in my mind that maybe I would be an actress for a living because I think 18 you’re about to graduate high school here in the states and I don’t know, I felt a lot of pressure to be like, “Oh, I better figure out what I’m gonna do with my life,” and up until then, I had been doing lots of small projects with my older sister, Elsie. We sold handmade stuff at festivals. This was before Etsy, so we had to go to festivals to sell our things, our jewelry, and we also had a small wedding photography business. Really, it was her business and she would just have me be like a second shooter here and there, and I started doing that when I was 18 and I did it in college.
I guess I just started to feel like I really wanted to have my own thing. Sometimes being a little sister, you feel like you’re in this shadow, which I think is my own perception, not one that my sister put on me or my parents ever put on me, but that’s kind of how I felt at the time. I felt very, “Oh, I want to have my own thing. I want there to be something special about me,” so I wanted to do something creative that my sister was not into, so she likes craft, she likes photography, she likes a lot of the same things I do, but I was kind of into acting. Some of my friends had asked me to be in some plays in local theater in my town, Springfield, Missouri, and I had done that and I thought it was really fun and my sister was not into it, so I thought, “Okay …”
Bjork Ostrom: Perfect.
Emma Chapman: “Maybe I’ll explore that.” Yeah, great, and the second kind of appeal to it was being 18 and growing up in Springfield, Missouri, which is a town that I love but it’s kind of smaller. I was really excited by the idea of moving to a bigger city and I know pursuing acting, especially for TV and film, there’s really three big cities in the US where you could go. Of course now there’s YouTube and there’s so many more options, but this was a long time ago so it was 2007 I guess. Anyways, I told my parents, “I want to be an actress, I’m gonna move to LA, gonna move to Hollywood,” which I did. I had an apartment in Hollywood. It was like my address if you wrote me a letter.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so cool.
Emma Chapman: Which I thought was pretty cool.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, absolutely.
Emma Chapman: I lived there for about three years. This was right after college and I really love the city. It’s beautiful, people are super friendly, the weather’s amazing. The cost of living is a lot higher than here in Missouri.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, probably in St. Paul, Minnesota as well.
Emma Chapman: That was kind of a shock, but I think over the course of those three years, realized a couple things. One, I didn’t really make a lot of progress on my goal to becoming an actress. Probably even worse than that is I realized I didn’t really want to be an actress. It didn’t totally suit the things that make me happy and the things that work with my personality, like I’m a really hardcore introvert so I really like working from home and being alone the majority of my time, which is probably very strange to some people but it’s what feels right to me, and that’s very different than being on a set, which I had worked as an extra a lot while I was in LA so I kind of got to see TV and film sets and I was like, “Oh, these are really interesting but very chaotic,” very you’re around people all day long, and I found it very, very draining, so, not that I necessarily could’ve made it had I kept going, but I quickly realized it wasn’t for me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s-
Emma Chapman: Go ahead.
Bjork Ostrom: I was just going to say it’s interesting to go through those phases of life where you come up against what some people would call it a dream or a passion or something that you’re excited about and realize that there’s a tension with … You’re self aware enough to know that there’s a tension with who you are or what you get energy form or what you’re motivated by, what feels like inspiring to you, and maybe you were going there but can you talk about what that was like to have that realization and start to come to that realization, that this thing that you had held as your dream that you’re passionate about, people knew you were going to Hollywood where you pursue this, where you started to realize, “Oh, maybe this actually isn’t a good fit for me and there might be something else,” how do you reconcile those two things?
Emma Chapman: Yeah, so it was awful. I felt so terrible about this. I felt really foolish and really dumb, so it was kind of two things. It was, one, I felt like I was gonna look stupid, because I had told all my friends, all my family, that I was gonna be an actress and I had moved and I had spent lots of money to move and to live in this big city and I had told everyone, like everyone I knew in my life, every single person knew that I wanted to be an actress, so I felt like, “Oh, I’m gonna look like such a fool if I go back and tell people I’ve changed my mind,” so that and then the other thing was, on a personal level, I just felt directionless.
I had been working towards this goal for, at that point, like six years because I had gone through college in three years and had been saving up and taking acting classes and then I had moved and been there for about three years, so this was six years of my life that I felt like, “Wow, did I just waste six years and what am I gonna do now? I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” so I felt very stupid, very much like a failure and I was like, “This is like a sad movie where the girl fails at acting and moves home into her parents’ basement and all our friends have jobs and are married and have kids and she’s just this loser spinster,” you know? I was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s me,” and it was just very disheartening. It was a bad year.
Bjork Ostrom: When you look back at some of those feelings that you had, obviously very real and raw feelings, and I think people can probably relate in some way, shape or form when they look back at their life in different times when something they’re pursuing, whether it be a career or a project or a promotion, whatever it would be, they come up short or it didn’t pan out the way that they did, so, what do you feel like you learned about yourself or about others when you look back and you have some time in between that now where you can analyze those feelings an those thoughts? What has that been like distilled down into for you to now understand?
Emma Chapman: Yes, so, the first year I felt like I didn’t learn anything and I was just a failure.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Emma Chapman: So, if anyone out there is listening and they’re in that first year, just keep going and don’t even worry about learning anything right now. Just keep going. Just keep getting out of bed and living, because that is hard some years, and it’s okay to feel that way, but then after that, I think you start to gain more perspective, like you said. For me, I felt like the thing I learned the most that I come back to over and over again is that failure is really just a label. It doesn’t mean anything. Almost everyone successful has had some amount or even huge amounts of failure in their story, and you always can learn something from it and grow from it, and again, that’s not the thing you want to hear the first year that you’re going through it, but it’s true, and it is kind of something that can help you as you move through that time, so for me, I learned a lot about who I am and what makes me happy.
I also learned a lot about my talents and the ways that I can be useful within a small team, which is what I work on now, and I never would’ve thought if I could go back in time and talk to 18 year old Emma again, I don’t think she would believe me, but I’d be like, “Years from now, you will be a blogger working from home with your dogs and you will be so happy.” I think I would be like, “No, that’s not … And I’ll be working with your sister, too,” and I’d be like, “No, no, no, I don’t want to do that.” It’s really what it is and it’s where my strengths lie and it makes me happy and having the humility to kind of be like, “Okay, I never saw this but this is the right path,” I think took me a …
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so as you were coming out of that year, so you had a year, maybe kind of a transitional year where you’re processing, you’re thinking through this. It sounds like it was a deep, difficult year for you. You’ve moved back home. At that point, were you searching and saying, “What is next for me?” Trying things out? I think a lot of people are at that place where, and I think for the most part, people that listen to this maybe have, this podcast, have some sense of where they want to be going, but maybe some of them get there and realize it’s not actually where they want to be, so when you look back, how are you able to navigate that time where part of it is just getting up and continuing to move, but part of it is saying, “How do I figure out what’s next?” Is it kind of opening doors and see … Or seeing which doors are open and trying to walk through those or what does that look like?
Emma Chapman: Right, I think when I was on the path to wanting to be an actress, I very much was like, “I have come up with this idea and I’m going to pursue it.” There is no … Someone has come to me with this opportunity. No one approached me and was like, “Hey, do you want to be in my movie?” That was not my story. It was just, “I’m gonna go pursue this thing,” and I think that’s one way to go about a goal, and not a bad way. I still do that all the time with things we want to do in our business, but this year, because I think I felt so down, I decided to change my focus partly out of necessity but I think this is also a great way to approach things from time to time if you haven’t tried it, and instead of thinking, “What do I want and how do I work towards it?”
I just looked around and said, “What’s going on that I can help with?” For me that year it was a few things. It was my brother. He had just had a baby and so I thought about maybe me working towards buying a house and he could become my roommate and that’s one thing I worked towards and then the other thing was my sister, Elsie, had a growing business with her blog in a local vintage shop and so I thought, “Can I help her with that?” It turns out I was able to do both of those things much better than being an actress and I enjoyed them so much more, so I got really, in some ways, lucky, but I also think just looking around at what opportunities are presenting themselves to you, that’s maybe a better way to go about things sometimes.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, there’s this great quote and I’m trying to frantically, if you can maybe hear me frantically typing in the background as I’m trying to find it. Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need, and Frederick Buechner, this is me putting myself on the spot to pronounce a last name I don’t know how to pronounce, but what I really appreciate about what you’re saying was not necessarily looking around you and saying, “What are the things that I want to do?” Or “What are the things that I’m super passionate about?” That might’ve been part of it and it was where you say, “I realize this was something I actually really enjoyed,” but saying, “What are the things that I can help with?” I think the things that you are most capable to help with are also the things that you are most capable of doing, and …
Emma Chapman: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Probably therefore get a lot of joy out of that. I think people are, when you are capable at something and you’re good at it, then you get joy from it often and it’s a win-win-win if that also meets up with somewhere there being a need for that, and it sounds like in some ways that that happened as you were kind of processing through that year, that there’s some things that you really enjoyed and then also there’s a need for those, and a followup question that would be, did you know that you would enjoy these things that you started to do?
Emma Chapman: No. I never, ever thought of myself as like a quote-unquote business person. I didn’t study business in college, I studied philosophy. My family has a lot of small business owners but no one super business-y necessarily, like we’re more about creativity and that type of stuff, so I never imagined that that would be my primary role within me and my sister’s business is I’m kind of the money, keep track of stuff, person. I don’t know … Whatever you want to call it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure, for sure.
Emma Chapman: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: I was talking to somebody the other day and they’re like, “So what is your role?” I was like, I said like five different things, and she’s like, “So what should I put down here?” So yeah.
Emma Chapman: Exactly, yeah. I’m like, “Well we have a tiny company so can we just call me the CEO?”
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, right.
Emma Chapman: I don’t know.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s like small enough where I feel like, “Am I … Would I say CEO? Well, it’s no …” Then I’m like, “Co-founder,” because it’s with Lindsay, so I eventually said “co-founder,” which I feel like is such a nondescript thing to put for a job title.
Emma Chapman: Yeah, it’s like saying, “I’m part of the team,” and it’s like “well yeah, but …”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, exactly. You start to get into this and focusing on the blog side of that, so you’re focusing in and you’re starting to help with your sister’s shop as well as the website. What was it that you started to take on right away and when did you realize, “Hey, this is something that I’m actually kind of interested in” and I’ll hold off on my followup question. I’m trying to ask less questions, so how about that first?
Emma Chapman: Yeah, I think one of the very first things I took over that I remember from the blog was her advertising program. She had, like, we’re very OG bloggers. This was like 10 years ago, so just literally had little clickable widgets in the sidebar that we would put in ourselves via code on a certain night at midnight every month. Literally I did that and people would buy them and it was a form of banner ads in a way but very DIY banner ads, I guess you could say, and I took over that program for her and my goal was to just grow it. That was kind of like supplemental income that we used within the whole business, just like it is now, really, so growing it, I knew would be extremely hopeful. It would allow us more cushion whenever we want to launch new products or whenever someone needs to take off some time, we wouldn’t have to feel like we needed to work 24/7, if I could just have more cushion in our bank account. I was like, “Alright, I’ll figure out how to do that,” and I did for years, and it was really fun and I learned a lot. I wouldn’t say I’m the best person in that role but at the time, given there only two of us, I was the best person for that role.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, for sure, yeah.
Emma Chapman: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and so you started to get into it, you get a feel for it, and I would guess at some point you start to double down on the things that you’re doing. Can you talk about when that started to happen and when you started to realize, “Hey, this might not just be something that I’m helping my sister out with but this could actually develop into something that could be sustainable for both of us for a career”?
Emma Chapman: Yeah, so, back when we were blogging, so one, we had two separate blogs at the time, A Beautiful Mess, which was her blog, and I had a food blog called Food Coma, and it was just for fun. I think I made a little, tiny bit of money but it really was just something I did because I felt like I didn’t want to lose myself while I worked for my sister, which is a silly thing to think, looking back. At any rate, so, we had two blogs and then our main business, though, to us, in our minds, was this local vintage shop that we ran and it had mostly vintage and then it also had my sister’s paintings and other things she would do, like she had an independent dress line at one point. Just all of her interests, which is now kind of what our blog is.
We realized after a certain amount of time, I don’t know, maybe it was a year, that if we combined our forces, we made just one blog that focused on all these things and we mostly did blogging, we could make a lot more money, and it’s not all about money, of course, but we sincerely loved writing the blog, and then we kind of felt like, well, we should focus in on something even though I still think we have very little focus, and we decided, like, “Okay, well, we’re going to become bloggers,” and at the time, that wasn’t like a thing. There wasn’t any other … Like, I’m talking to you and I know you and Lindsay are bloggers. Obviously you do a number of things, but there wasn’t whole lot of people doing that. It was like BuzzFeed. You had to be that before you were anything.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and about what year was this, just for context?
Emma Chapman: Probably would’ve been 2010 or 2011.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep.
Emma Chapman: We were like, “Well, this isn’t a real job but we seem to be good at it and we can make money at it. Let’s do it. Let’s just make it our real job anyway, even though I don’t know.” Like I don’t know how the IRS is going to classify us. I’ve been on so many holds trying to explain what we are over the years, but we leaned into it, and I think it was the right decision. We’re at least really happy with our choice.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so can you, at that point, was it still, the business, was it still at a point where you were saying, “We’re going to lean into this because we think it could potentially build into something?” Or was it at the point where you knew that even if it was, even if it stayed where it was, that it would be sustainable enough for you to move forward? How much of the decision was you looking out and saying, “I think this might be possible” versus, “We know this is possible right now because from ads,” and maybe you were working with companies in sponsorships or something like that. “We know we can continue doing this versus this might be possible,” does that make sense?
Emma Chapman: Right, I think in our minds, we were like, “Oh, this is for sure gonna work,” but looking back, it was definitely more like, “Oh, this’ll possibly work.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Emma Chapman: We didn’t come from regular day jobs, like I didn’t have a regular day job. We were working at our vintage store, so to us there was no, like, “Well, I gotta put in my two weeks at this stable job that offers me benefits.” Like, we didn’t have that safety net anyway, so it was easier to jump because there was already no net.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes.
Emma Chapman: If that makes sense.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, for sure.
Emma Chapman: It was like, “Yeah.” Our focus was here. Now we’re gonna shift our focus here, but to us that’s all it was, whereas I think if we had, if I had had a stable job, I think it would’ve been a lot scarier for me because I am pretty risk adverse. Elsie probably, she’s just crazy. She’ll leap no matter what.
Bjork Ostrom: Which makes for a good partnership, that you balance each other out.
Emma Chapman: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and it’s interesting to think about a lot of times startups that are going into … I’m interested in startups from a distance and also just startups in general, but they talk about this idea of ramen profitability for startups and the idea is you are profitable really early on because your lifestyle is so low, like you’re eating ramen, so your meal expenses are three dollars a day because you have ramen for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it seems like there is some truth to that for you because you didn’t have this super inflated lifestyle, so it allowed you to be more flexible in the decisions you were making in saying, “Okay, let’s shift our focus and our energy over here. We can do this because we haven’t pinned ourselves down with a bunch of business debt or anything like that,” so you can shift your focus over there, give your attention to the blog, and that allowed you to kind of start building that snowball.
Emma Chapman: Yeah, exactly. You nailed it. We were the ramen girls already, so …
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, for sure.
Emma Chapman: Yeah, we had nothing to lose.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure. At what point in the growth and maybe if you could give a general point of maybe a season or a year, did you both, whether actually this happening or kind of virtually or whatever it was, sit down and look at each other and say, “This is a thing.” Was there a point or was it kind of the slow boiling and eventually the temperature got hot enough where you’re like, “Oh, this is a business”?
Emma Chapman: I think it was kind of both. I mean, it was a slow thing in that we started blogging more and more and we could see that that was working for us. We enjoyed it, we were making money from it. All of the things. We could see that our vintage store, we were spending less time on it and it was also making less money. Probably those were related, but, so that, I think though, the moment where we did kind of look at each other and kind of have to take a breath was when we made our first hire, because the first person we ever hired was my then boyfriend, now husband, Trey, which, that was a crazy move to hire a boyfriend, but he seemed like the right fit.
He had a job. He had a real job that had benefits and so we knew, “I can’t just hire him for fun and then change my mind in two weeks when we run out of money.” This is no joke. If we’re gonna do this, this is changing someone’s life. This is changing their career path, and obviously I cared about him. He was my boyfriend and my now husband, so we both kind of were like, “Alright, if we’re gonna do this, we gotta really do this. We can’t just be doing it for ourselves for fun. This has to be like, no, this is our path and we’re committing and we’re gonna see it through, no matter where it goes.”
That was an easy choice for us, but it was scary, I guess, because the possibility of failure was much higher with someone else there having to kind of shoulder that risk too.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and any time that you introduce legitimate payroll, it becomes this thing of, like, “If there’s a month that’s really bad, it doesn’t matter. Payroll still needs to go out. Somebody needs to get paid,” and it is moving into that point of, like, this is a legitimate business. We’re paying people. We have an employee that’s showing up, so it makes sense that that kind of transitions into the official business stage for A Beautiful Mess. Was there a time when you then shut down the shop, where you said, “Hey, we’re going all in on digital?”
Emma Chapman: Yes, we did.
Bjork Ostrom: Was that a hard decision?
Emma Chapman: It was. By the time we announced it, it was already made in our minds, and it was kind of already happening, but we were really nervous about what our readers were going to thing, because again, no one was really just a blogger back then, so we were scared people were going to view that as inauthentic or, I don’t know, something along those lines. Fill in the blanks. You guys know, you’re all bloggers listening.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Emma Chapman: You know.
Bjork Ostrom: You never know, the things that you say, you never know if those cross the airwaves, the internet, and arrive with the same intent that you’re hoping that they do, so it’s not only literally what’s happening but then how what’s happening is perceived as well, which is difficult.
Emma Chapman: Right, because you can’t really, literally open up your heart on the internet. You can try but, and we do, and I know you guys do too. It’s just, you don’t know how you’re gonna come off, you don’t know if you’re gonna do a good job communicating. I would say it’s 50/50 if I’m ever going to. I’m like, “Did I do a good job really explaining the feelings and the thought behind this or did I just say, ‘Oh, well this is something I decided six months ago and now I’m just filling you in,’” and it’s like, “Oh, well, that wasn’t very … You didn’t really explain that. You didn’t really bring them to where you are, Emma, so fail,” but …
Bjork Ostrom: It’s something that we get asked about a lot and Lindsay, specifically, people that are processing through and trying to decide how vulnerable and transparent should their voice be and their brand be and their blog or social media be. Can you talk through what that’s been like for you as you’ve decided to share openly, and any of the mental frameworks that you’ve had to develop in order to do that, and maybe why you’ve decided to do that?
Emma Chapman: Yeah, so for us, we definitely feel like A Beautiful Mess is very personal and it is something that we love and we’re doing long before we ever made money at it, so for us, not that much has changed other than now we don’t have to eat ramen every day, I guess, but someone who’s just showing up or they’ve just shown up a year ago, they don’t have all that story and also there’s another element to blogging or podcasting, I’m sure, where you want to talk to someone like I’m just talking to you, Bjork. I’m just talking to you right now, but the truth is, I’m not. I’m talking to a number of listeners.
I’m talking to a big group of people and many of them have gone through lots of different things, so if I share my personal experience about failing at acting, it’s gonna send off these triggers in other people’s minds about their own quote-unquote failures, something they’ve gone through. I don’t want to be insensitive in the way that I talk about myself or about things that happen, because it could trigger someone else, so it’s like you’re constantly being like, “I want to be honest about how I feel and what I’ve been through, but I also have to recognize that I’m talking to a big group and I have no idea what they’ve all gone through, and I want to be as aware of that as I can be,” which is a medium amount.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes.
Emma Chapman: I think we try to walk that line and I think, like everyone, we do it with some degree of success and some degree of failure, and we try to learn from that and get better at it over the years, and I think we do, and we still have plenty to learn.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep, and I think one of the things that I think about as I continually process through decisions that we make about what we’re sharing, how we share it, where we share things, is trying to always think back to, “What is my …” this is gonna sound, maybe it’s, I don’t know what it is, fluffy? Maybe it will appeal to you because it can be philosophical. We can tie back to your philosophy major, but I feel like what is your heart behind sharing that information or sending that email or writing that blog post? Some of it might be strictly business related.
There’s content that we produce and things that we do that are transactional in nature and require that for a business, but I think also the heart of those can be positive and encouraging, but that’s one of the things that I think about as we think about how we’re sharing information, because like you said, there will always be some type of content that will land in a way that you wouldn’t want it to land for whatever reason because of somebody else’s story or their past or their history or how they’re viewing it, but I think if you can come back to that of what’s your heart, that’s one of the things that I think about, so …
Emma Chapman: Yeah. I agree.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. To come back down from the clouds a little bit, would love to hear you talk about, as kind of a transition, do you feel like your experience coming up from having those six years in Hollywood or the three years in Hollywood, three years in college, kind of pursuing this acting career, do you think that motivated you to more than normal in terms of applying that to the success of A Beautiful Mess? Like, did that kind of fuel your fire to say, “Hey, this is something I’m gonna really invest myself into and really dive into”?
Emma Chapman: I think that it made me fireproof. Let me explain. I was never afraid after that point to pivot. I still will pivot very quickly in our business now. Sometimes too quickly, maybe, but I’m never afraid to try something and fail. It doesn’t scare me anymore because I have done it. I have done one of the biggest failures you can do and you are still standing, so it kind of gave me that in business, where I’m like, “Alright, what’s the worst case scenario? Oh, we look like fools? No problem, let’s try it. Worst case scenario, we go bankrupt? Let’s not do it. We’re not doing that one.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Emma Chapman: You know?
Bjork Ostrom: Yep.
Emma Chapman: It kind of gave you that, where you’re not afraid of losing your ego or whatever, so it gave me that, but it didn’t make me feel like, “Oh, I have to be a success because I’m proving myself.” I didn’t feel that. I still don’t feel that. I don’t know how to explain it. I think I just, because I went through this big, to me, failure, I think I just realized how much it doesn’t matter. Success is something you see from the outside but the person on the inside might feel completely different about it. Someone who is a famous actress in Hollywood right now, she might feel really sad because X Y Z, whatever, and I don’t know that. I just look at her life and think, “Oh, how cool.” It’s like someone can look at me and be like, “Oh, you just sit by yourself in your house all day, how sad,” and I’m like, “Well I’m so happy.”
Bjork Ostrom: Actually it’s awesome.
Emma Chapman: Yeah, you’re welcome to think whatever you want, of course, but I love it and so I think it taught me a lot about perception and it’s just about what works for you, not what looks good.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep, and self awareness, I think, is a huge piece of that. You becoming self aware and saying, “This is where I thrive.” One of the things that you mentioned was pivoting and going in different areas, and we talked about the shop closing down, focusing in on digital, but one of the things I wanted to talk to you about is the other brands that you’ve developed, and there’s multiple different angles I would love to take on this but the first that I would love to hear you talk about is how do you maintain the focus and dedication on the multiple different brands and building those when you have these different projects that you’re doing?
Cookbook, you have courses, obviously social media’s a huge part of it, you have a shop that you’ve developed, you have beautiful apps that are really successful, you have your product line, and the interesting thing to me is they’re all done really well. It’s not like it’s these things that are kind of crummy and you’re like, “Oh, you’re juggling a lot of stuff.” It’s like, “Oh, you’re juggling a lot of stuff.” It’s like, “Oh, you’re juggling a lot of stuff” and all the balls are still in the air, so can you talk about what that looks like and how you approach that?
Emma Chapman: That’s incredibly nice of you, believe me. I think some of them are well done and some of them are not, to me.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Emma Chapman: Yeah, for us, we try to take on a number of new projects every year. That’s kind of how I view it, and my sister and I view things differently but we still kind of end up in the same place, which I think is kind of fun. It’s probably like that in marriage too, but at anyway, we try to take on a few new projects every year because we love new stuff and we have a lot of different interests, and we used to think, “Oh, we should just become the masters in one area,” because I hear that kind of advice a lot and I think it’s awesome for some people and I think for us we’ve realized that’s just not who we are. We like too many things and we’re interested in too many things and we’ll probably be starting a new brand when we’re 62. That’s just who we are, so we’re like, “Okay, so this is who we are,” so every year we’re going to start at least a couple new things and we’re gonna see how they do, so we’re gonna invest sort of a minimal amount of time and resources and money into them. Not too much.
Not so much that we put our payroll at risk and the people who are counting on us, but enough that we truly do test it, and the things that work well, whether that be they make just enough money and we enjoyed it a ton or they make a lot of money and we enjoyed it enough. Whatever the case may be, then the ones that do well, we grow those and the ones that don’t do well, we stop doing them. We pivot away, and we learn a lot every year when we do these new ones and some of the ones that have taken off are exactly the ones that you mentioned, like our apps. We started with just one app and now we have an app company that has three apps and it’s about to launch a fourth, and we’re hoping to take on some different projects within the apps field soon, so we have that and we have refresh and we have obviously our online courses and things of that nature and we still blog all the time. We’ll always blog because it’s fun.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Can you talk about maybe a specific story of something where you had the idea, you decided to do it and then you realize, “Hey, this is something that is working well. We’re gonna double down on this and put more time and energy into it,” and how you made those decisions along the way?
Emma Chapman: Yes, so probably the easiest example to explain, I’d say, would be apps. Our first app, it was called A Beautiful Mess and it came out sometime in 2011. I’m trying to remember when, but it was basically like you could add little texts, handwritten texts and doodles and things to your photos and then upload them to Instagram, and we came up with the idea, Elsie came up with the idea, because people kept asking her on her Instagram how she did this with her own pictures, and the truth was she would put the picture in Photoshop, use her tablet to write on it, save it out, send it to her phone and then upload it to Instagram, so it was a lot of steps. Very annoying. You’d have to be crazy to do this all the time, which Elsie is, so she would explain this to people. She told them exactly how to do it, but people were always like, “Oh, is it an app that you’re using?” One day she was like, “Emma, we should build an app that does this,” and I was like, “Well, I’ve only downloaded two apps in my whole life. I mean I guess let’s look into it? How much does it cost to build an app?”
We started researching and learning about apps and how you build them and how that works and where you have to put them on two different main stores and all that, and about two years after that, after she said, “Let’s build an app,” our app came out, and we had no idea how it would do. Like I said, we don’t really even consider ourselves tech people at all, so we were like, “Our readers might like this, our readers might hate it. Maybe it took us too long to build it and it’s gonna be old feeling by the time it comes out,” and we had spent … We had gotten a book deal and we had spent basically all of our advance from the book deal on building this app because to us it’s kind of like extra money that we weren’t planning on for that year, so we were like, “We could afford to do that,” so that’s what we did and in our minds we were like, “Well, we could’ve just lost that money, which was bonus money anyway, or,” I mean, we still had to write the books, but you know …
Bjork Ostrom: Right, it could turn into something.
Emma Chapman: Yeah, it could be something, and it turned out it was something. It went to number one in the iTunes store the day it came out and it stayed there for weeks and weeks after. I don’t know if it was number one but it was in the top five, and we won a few iTunes press awards for it and some different things like that, and it had problems. We had to rebuild parts of it because, again, Elsie and I are not super techie, but we realized, “Oh, this is kind of like a different sort of digital product,” because we’d been selling e-courses for years and what’s fun about them as you do all of the work and then you launch it and it’s just kind of passive income, and this is the same thing, just a very different … It’s like a mini piece of software, which took me a long time to wrap my mind around. Some people are probably listening and they’re like, “Obviously that’s what an app is.” Like, “Okay, well, you guys are smarter than me. It took me a while to get it. I just didn’t get it.”
Bjork Ostrom: But it makes sense. It’s not something that you would think about as software you download onto your computer or it seems like it’s an entirely different ecosystem and in a lot of ways, it is.
Emma Chapman: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. You go through this process, you have the app, it’s successful, and what does that look like then in terms of your attention, because now you have a cookbook, you have a successful app, you have the blog. How do you manage these multiple projects and keep those balls in the air? Or is it kind of like you chunk it out and say, “We’re gonna focus really hard on this for three to six months and then go into maintenance mode for that as we focus on the next thing?”
Emma Chapman: Right, so usually when we launch a new thing like an app or a new brand or whatever it is, we don’t tend to hire someone right away for it most of the time. We just kind of test it out, so that just means if we really want to do an idea, Elsie and I have to do extra work for months or a year or whatever it is, and then if it does well, then it usually gets its own team member, so for apps, my husband Trey, he used to do our add program and he transitioned over to being basically the head of our app company, so he runs it all the way and he does such a great job with it and it’s in such a better place than when we didn’t have anyone running it but also he’s really the right fit for the job too. Yeah, all of our main areas that do well, they get a team member assigned to them.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it, and then this is a business question just out of curiosity. Do you create different businesses or are all of those like DBA, doing business as underneath the A Beautiful Mess large business umbrella?
Emma Chapman: Yeah, so we have two companies. One is actually called Red Velvet Art, LLC, which is what A Beautiful Mess is, and Oui Fresh, and then the other company is called A Color Story and it has all of our apps, so it has A Color Story, Party Party and A Beautiful and it’s about to add another app.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it, okay, and that’s one of the things that we’ve thought about. Have you ever thought about merging those or do you think that you’ll maintain those as two separate companies?
Emma Chapman: We very intentionally …
Bjork Ostrom: Separated them?
Emma Chapman: Made them separate because in our minds we thought, one, we let other people run A Color Story. Elsie and I are very involved in it but it’s very much its own thing now. It’s kind of like getting a manager for your rental property. It’s like you’ve gotta check in and you’ve still gotta be involved, but overall it kind of just does its thing and you’re just around for when it needs something, so that’s how this separate business, A Color Story, is for us, and then another piece was we really don’t know that much about apps still. Like, we’re always learning more, and in our minds, we were like, “It could be that one day we might sell that part of our company,” and for Elsie and I, we don’t really have a big interest in selling A Beautiful Mess.
I mean, you never know the future, but we love it. Like, it’s our thing, but in apps, we love. We love it, but also, we could see it becoming a valuable property to someone else who maybe has more of that and they’re better at it and it might be very valuable. Who knows? We were like, “Well, we better separate them because we would never want A Beautiful Mess to be put in any kind of jeopardy because it was so tied together.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that it was intertwined to the point where people who couldn’t understand where profit was coming from or expenses, and this way it’s just really clean, so if there ever was somebody that came across, Google says, “You know what? This looks like a good business for us to buy,” and they can see really clearly where expenses are coming from and profit, and it’s not intertwined, if that makes sense.
Emma Chapman: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: From a business perspective, you have a really solid business. I read a couple of the year in review business updates that you have done. Did you do one of those in 2016?
Emma Chapman: I don’t think we did.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay.
Emma Chapman: We are very haphazard.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Emma Chapman: We are not as good as you guys were with your financial reports.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, in 2015, saw that you did kind of an overview of the year, talked about the things that worked and the things that didn’t work, in that you mentioned, “We’ve crossed the border” or maybe it was a year where you had a seven figure income from the blog which I think is important to say, not because money’s the most important thing but it shows, “Okay, this is an established business. You have employees and there’s success in this business.” I’m guessing that’s been something where you continue to grow and build. What have you noticed in this past two to three years? The industry as it always does has changed very quickly. What have you been able to do in your business in order to continue to grown and what has been most helpful as you’ve continued to leverage A Beautiful Mess into not just a blog with you and your sister but a business?
Emma Chapman: Yes, one thing I recommend to anyone, because it’s something we do at A Beautiful Mess that really helps us, so anyone with any business, but especially blogging, is, I think it’s really helpful to have multiple revenue streams. Obviously we have a couple different businesses and as I’ve clearly said throughout this, we have way too many interests, so for us, this is maybe easier than it might seem to others, but I think it’s really important because our industry does change so often and I like it. It’s exciting, but it can also be very financially stressful if something about it just changed that really affected how you made the majority of your money.
When you have multiple revenue streams, it allows you to better insulate yourself from those changes, so if something dries up, all the sudden, banner ads turn off. Google’s like, “Nope, see you later.” I don’t know, that would never happen, but something like that, then it’s like, “Okay, well we’re going to lean in to our other revenue streams.” It’s not just like, “Oh, well, we’re bankrupt because that’s the only thing that we have.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah. What are some of those, the most important ones for your businesses? You talked about the apps. Obviously A Beautiful Mess and the blog, advertising income. What are some of the other ones that you’ve implemented that have been helpful for your business?
Emma Chapman: Yes, so we love our online digital e-course program and that’s just our courses at ABeautifulMess.com, so that’s really fun for us. We get to interact with people a lot more in that arena, so that’s really fun. The other thing is a brand that we call Refresh, which is a part of A Beautiful Mess, and it is basically an online retail company that does women’s clothing and accessories as well as wellness products, so it has natural lipsticks and lip glosses, it has essential oils and then we’re about to launch a beauty box.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Can you talk about … This is kind of tech specific stuff, but for the courses program, do you run that off of WordPress or is that another, like a teaching platform that you use for that?
Emma Chapman: No, we’re using WordPress. It’s the WooCommerce stiff, yep.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, yep, great, and then for the shop, was that something that you built on Shopify or an e-commerce platform?
Emma Chapman: Yep, it’s also a WordPress WooCommerce.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh it is? Okay, cool.
Emma Chapman: They’re really very similar. The big difference is obviously how inventory’s tracked, but also we’re trying out some new plugins that can facilitate subscription boxes because we’re about to launch one and we’re finding that that’s way harder than I thought. I’m kind of shocked by how I just thought there would be a plugin that would just totally do a monthly subscription box. It seems like a model that a lot of people are doing with different types of products.
Bjork Ostrom: That can be your next business, is a plugin that solves that problem.
Emma Chapman: I am that person on the team who’s like, “Guys, I can’t believe this doesn’t exist. We need to build it,” and everyone on the team’s like, “Emma, that will take a year. We’re not … Not right now.”
Bjork Ostrom: Right, right, so WooCommerce, familiar with that. WooCommerce I think now is officially owned by Automatic, which is the parent company of WordPress, and you say that you’re not techie but it’s like you’re obviously very deep into these things, and for the courses, are those ones that you’re producing internally on your own or are you working with other teachers that then teach those or what does that look like in terms of the production of those courses?
Emma Chapman: It’s really similar to how we work on our blog. A lot of our content is written by Elsie and I but we love to partner with people who basically know more than us and the same thing is true in our courses, so any time that we can teach something that we care about and we love and we have noticed that our readers ask us about a lot, we love to do that, but we really prefer to bring on at least one other teacher who can offer their expertise and also their perspective because I think if you learn, let’s just say blogging, just for kicks, if you learn blogging from one blogger, you’re only gonna know their tricks, but if you learn it from five bloggers, you’re gonna know all the tricks, so we’re trying to facilitate people knowing all of the tricks, so we bring in a number of different teachers.
Bjork Ostrom: My point with jumping into some of the technical things is that I know that people are interested in that, but also to come back from that a little bit, talking about branding and the work that you guys have done with branding have done a really, really good job and maybe that would be a good thing as we kind of come to the end that we’d be good to touch base on would be the intentionality that you have with the long term-ness of your blog and your business in the significance that you place on branding. Can you talk about how bloggers can integrate and amplify a strong brand into their web presence?
Emma Chapman: Yes, so one thing that I’ve encountered a lot and I don’t know if any of your listeners are going through this or maybe know someone who’s going through this but I think sometimes bloggers feel silly calling it a brand or saying, like, “Oh, I need to do better branding on my blog or on my Instagram or whatever,” they feel like very just silly about that, because they’re like, “It’s just me. It’s just me sharing recipes. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m this all important whatever, so I don’t want to be branded, quote-unquote, or whatever,” and I totally get that feeling. I do sometimes feel silly about our brand. I really do. It’s sometimes kind of, you feel like, “Oh, is this coming off sales-y or is this coming off inauthentic when I don’t mean it to? I don’t know,” so I understand that fear, but to me, I view a strong brand as simply you trying to communicate very quickly, sometimes literally just through a color or a font choice or whatever, who you are and what you’re about, so kind of like the heart, like you were saying, behind your communications.
You’re kind of trying to show your heart, but visually or through whatever branding materials you’re doing, depending on where you are, if you’re on the internet or you’re on social media or whatever, and for us, also, we’re a very small team but we’re still a team of people and we have different ideas about our brand, and so one thing that helps us is my sister Elsie, she is the brains behind everything visual at A Beautiful Mess, so she puts together every season kind of a, I don’t know what to call it, it’s basically a mood board that helps us all kind of know, “Oh, this is what our photography should look like. These are the colors we should emphasize when we’re working on something for social media,” and so on and so forth.
I know to some people that might sound kind of silly to put together a mood board that is your brand, but I think it’s incredibly helpful, because when I’m being creative, when I’m photographing some pancakes, let’s just say, and I have a thousand napkins to choose from, all these colors, I sometimes get a little overwhelmed. I like working within parameters and being like, “Okay, I can be creative but I have to use pink.” Alright, how can I use pink? How can I be interesting? I don’t want to do the same thing I did last time, you know? I actually like that. I think it’s an interesting creative challenge to work within these kind of boarders that you define, and that’s what branding kind of is, is like, “These are the fonts I use, these are the colors I use, this is the type of voice I use. Now how can I really push the limits with those boundaries and communicate who I am through that?”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that was one of the biggest takeaways that we had, or one of the biggest wins that we had a couple years ago, and super easy as well, was to say, “Okay, let’s put down …” We didn’t have to develop it because we kind of in a way already had it, a style guide. I like the idea of a mood board because it kind of communicates what is the mood that you want to communicate for your brand? But we said, “Okay, what are the colors that we use” and we put those down. “What are the fonts that we use?” We put those down. It’s like, “Oh, this really helps inform the decisions that we’re making when it comes to other things, or when we’re working with another company. We can say, ”Hey, here’s our style guide," or if we’re working with a freelance designer, we can send that to them.
Emma Chapman: Yep.
Bjork Ostrom: It makes it a lot easier to understand your brand and if you already have some of those things picked out, it can be a relatively quick thing to put together, and if it’s not, you can take that time, and Lindsay talks about that with photograph. She’ll go through Pinterest to kind of develop her desire for photography, like what do I want to communicate and see in my photographs? Put together a private board for that and then from that, develop her photography mood for it. I think that’s a great takeaway for people.
Emma Chapman: Yep, exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: Last thing I like to ask people on the podcast is if you were speaking to the people that are in the early stages, if they’re just getting started, they’re in year one, two or three and they’re interested in building a strong, successful brand like A Beautiful Mess and the other things that you guys have, what would be your advice to those people?
Emma Chapman: Other than going through and reading all your guys’s past financial reports …
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, thank you.
Emma Chapman: … And listening to this podcast to get all the tips.
Bjork Ostrom: Thanks, yeah.
Emma Chapman: All the free tips, I would honestly do that. We do that all the time at A Beautiful Mess still, so I really would tell anybody starting, do that.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, thank you, yeah.
Emma Chapman: Then after that, I would tell them, “Pick two revenue streams you’re gonna focus on in the first year. Just two, and try to build them to the biggest that you can for the year and see how it does and if one fails, don’t get discouraged, but also be aware, it might not mean that you can quit your other job or like just be aware that it takes time to grow something, but be intentional about growing it.”
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great, and I think a good note to end on but before we do, I want you to plug two things. You were nice enough to offer a discount to your store that you had talked a little bit, so I would love for you to talk about that, and then we talked about different places that people can follow along with you, but if you can share maybe your personal social media accounts and then some of the best places for people to find A Beautiful Mess?
Emma Chapman: Yes, so my personal Instagram is @emmaredvelvet and my sister is @elsielarson. I had to think about it because she’s had a few. She is sneaky, but yeah, mine is Emma Red Velvet. Now you know why, because our business is called Red Velvet.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, okay, it makes sense.
Emma Chapman: Yeah, so that’s us, and then you can find our blog online just at ABeautifulMess.com and we are A Beautiful Mess on Instagram and Facebook and all that, and then one of the brands I was talking about earlier, OuiFresh.com, where we sell women’s clothing and accessories as well as wellness, I wanted to offer your listeners 30 percent off their first order, so that means you could order a bunch of things or just one thing, and also you can order nothing. No pressure, guys, but if you want to order something, a 30 percent off code you can use is FBP for Food Blogger Pro, 30, so that’s FBP30.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome, and that’s spelled O-U-I.
Emma Chapman: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. Can you explain where that comes from?
Emma Chapman: Honestly it was my sister’s idea and I was kind of like “People aren’t gonna know how to pronounce it.”
Bjork Ostrom: Sure, but it’s one of those …
Emma Chapman: There you have it.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s one of those sister conversations. I can imagine that happening, but it’s one of those brand names where it’s a strong visual name, like when you see it. O-U-I Fresh, so it makes sense. Does the word “O-U-I,” does that come from something?
Emma Chapman: I believe it’s French for yes. I think. I should know that. Now I’m gonna look it up.
Bjork Ostrom: I put you on the spot.
Emma Chapman: I’m gonna be like, “No, it’s French for love.”
Bjork Ostrom: It’s French for “no.”
Emma Chapman: I’ll be like, “Oh man.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Emma Chapman: Dang it.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s funny. Well we’ll be sure to link to that in the show notes as well so people can go and visit that shop, check it out, and then if they’re interested in something, use that code, FBP30. Really appreciate you sharing that with the audience. Emma, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. I really appreciate it.
Emma Chapman: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. It was fun.
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