When Anh Sundstrom landed her first job as a marketing assistant for a small medical textbook publisher by way of a Craigslist ad, she couldn’t have anticipated the career she’d have ahead of her. In 2009, Ahn launched the incredibly popular style blog 9to5chic, inspired by her love of shopping, maximizing her wardrobe options, and sprucing up the day to night uniform. The success of her blog is not only a rewarding creative outlet for Anh, but also became the platform for her current job: marketing director of Destination: Tiburon.
Working as marketing director means that no day is ever the same for Anh. Some days you might find her crafting blog posts, coordinating photo shoots, or ending the night with a media dinner. But regardless of how much changes in her day-to-day professional life, the one constant in her personal life is spending time with her sweet daughter, Lucia. While Anh makes no bones about the fact that navigating motherhood and working full-time isn’t easy, what inspires us is how she handles it all with grace. Today Anh shares her path from marketing assistant to director, the challenges of balancing work, blogging, and baby, and her tips for new bloggers.
Name: Anh Sundstrom
Current title/company: Marketing Director, Destination: Tiburon and blogger behind 9to5chic
Educational background: B.S. in BioPsychology at UC San Diego
Year you started 9to5Chic: End of 2009
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land it?
I was a marketing assistant for a small medical textbook publisher. I knew I wanted to work in the medical field in some capacity—it felt like the perfect match! I found the opportunity (surprisingly) on Craigslist, and responded to the listing with a cover letter and a resume.
When you first began blogging what were your goals for 9to5Chic? At what point did you begin to view your blog as more than just a hobby?
Blogging started as a creative outlet for me both personally and professionally. As a marketer in my 9 to 5 job, I loved that I could “brand” my blog however I wanted and use a voice that was truly my own (rather than writing in a voice that was expected for my industry). Fashion was a natural choice for content: I’ve always loved shopping and maximizing what’s in my closet. It was only very recently when I began to view the blog as more than just a hobby—I knew this was the case when I finally felt comfortable including it on my resume as experience. This ultimately led to my current job, which takes advantage of my traditional marketing experience in the medical device industry as well as my social media and blogging experience with 9to5Chic.
How has your blog content evolved? Is it difficult to keep up with the evolving blog world while balancing your day job?
It has definitely been a struggle at times to keep up with everything. I’m very much a person who does better when I’m busy with many different things, so what has been challenging for me is to make sure I take enough time away from work and enjoy living in the moment. Lucia’s arrival has been wonderful for that—she’s helped me find a better work/life balance.
One challenge new bloggers face is finding their unique voice and blog niche. How long did it take you to feel as though you had built an identity with your blog?
I think it took me a year to feel really comfortable with my voice. But it’s a never-ending process because everything evolves and changes over time.
Did traffic on 9to5Chic grow steadily over time or was there a specific turning point when you saw exponential growth?
I feel like the site grew steadily over time, but I did see a turning point once I became more active in social media.
With the blog industry rapidly changing all the time, what is your advice for someone just starting?
Most importantly, be yourself. And be consistent: post regularly!
Let’s talk a little more about your professional day job. Tell us details!
I’m working to establish Destination: Tiburon. Our mission is to promote the town of Tiburon (where I now reside) as a world-class destination. And it truly is an amazing town, just across the Golden Gate bridge from San Francisco. I have twice-monthly board meetings where we discuss direction for ongoing projects (right now it’s launching our website!) and on any given day, I might be coordinating a photo shoot, working with the town for a 50th Anniversary celebration, or traveling to a media dinner.
You began your professional career in the medical device field. What was the catalyst for your career switch and what was the transition like?
I loved working in the medical device field, and ultimately hope to find myself there again. I traveled a lot, visited hospitals all over the country, and helped train sales reps and surgeons how to use our product. Having Lucia was the catalyst for the switch and making the decision to change was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made—with all of my experience in the industry and knowing that I might eventually want to go back, I worried that I was stalling my career growth. Looking back, I stressed over it way more than I needed to. I love what I’m doing now and it affords me a luxury I didn’t have before: much more quality time at home with Lucia.
How do you want your career to evolve? And what are your ultimate goals for 9to5Chic?
I am excited to see where my current role takes me because it’s such a change from my previous industry—I’m enjoying all of the learning that comes with it. It’s also inspired a more casual work style on the blog. My ultimate goals for 9to5Chic? I’m blown away by the experiences and opportunities that have come my way through the blog and feel so incredibly lucky!
Don’t be afraid—create the work/life balance that you need. Even if that means taking the more difficult road and finding another way.
Your daughter Lucia is adorable! Tell us about your transition as a working mom. What advice do you have for other working moms?
The transition was difficult to say the least. I struggled returning to work after my maternity leave—I felt guilty at work (being away from Lucia for 10+ hours a day), and I felt guilty rushing home to Lucia (I could no longer afford to stay late at the office like I did before when I never pumped enough milk to cover my absence). I didn’t feel whole with either part of my life (work/baby) and it was very emotionally draining. My advice for other working moms? Don’t be afraid—create the work/life balance that you need. Even if that means taking the more difficult road and finding another way.
Take us through a typical workday.
The first thing I do every morning is check my email on my iPhone. If there’s nothing urgent, I spend a little more time playing with Lucia before getting ready for the day. I work from home, so I typically don’t expect to be too productive until our amazing nanny arrives. From then I’ll get to emails, take a few meetings in town and head back to get some work done. I typically get most of my blog work done at night after Lucia is asleep, but will often check in to email throughout the day. Because my work with Destination: Tiburon is flexible, I’ll take advantage of a beautiful afternoon by taking Lucia to the park.
Best moment of your career so far?
Giving a company overview and product presentation in front of a huge ballroom of industry VCs and CEOs in my boss’ absence—and knowing that I nailed it. I had spent years learning the product forwards and backwards. It was an empowering moment.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Anh Sundstrom is The Everygirl…
Favorite way to treat yourself?
A new tube of lipstick. Lipstick completes any look.
Best splurge you’ve ever made?
A classic Burberry trench. My husband technically made the splurge as it was an anniversary present, but it was and still is one of my favorite items in my closet.
Perfect San Francisco date night?
A warm night, glass of bubbly, and al fresco dining.
Baby registry must have for working moms?
Sleep is everything (for baby and parents!), so facilitating sleep has been our number one priority. A white-noise sound machine was an essential for us.