Victoria McGinley of vmac+cheese
Her first love was food.
After graduating from college, Victoria McGinley followed her heart all the way to culinary school. It was there that she sharpened her cooking skills and began to pursue a career in the industry of wining and dining. Somewhere along the San Francisco-based foodie’s path, Victoria took a leap into the blogosphere with vmac+cheese. Her blog originated as a place for recipes and stories about post-grad life.
Just a few years later, vmac+cheese is now all grown up. Victoria writes about design, style, culture and so much more. And of course, she’s still blogging about her first love: food.
Then, this past February, Victoria took a giant leap of faith: She kissed the corporate world goodbye and launched her very own business. Vivaleur is a unique company, offering a whole menu of services: graphic design, recipe planning, event styling, cooking lessons, social media consulting, and anything else a girl could need for a life worth living.
Today, Victoria shares how she went from amateur blogger to Internet connoisseur, the importance of planning, and what it takes to run her new business from the city by the bay.
Full name: Victoria McGinley
Current title/company: Blogger at vmac+cheese; Owner of Vivaleur
Educational background: B.S. in Business Administration, University of Southern California; A.O.S. in Culinary Arts, California Culinary Academy
What was your first job out of college and how did you land that position? How has your career path changed since then?
This question makes me smile just because when I think back on these times in my life, I can't believe how much has changed. So, let's see. Immediately out of USC, I moved up to SF with my now-fiance and started culinary school a few months later. It was about the same as having a summer break. I found a job working at a local Sur La Table store, and I worked there in the afternoons and evenings after school. My days were extremely long, and it was totally just a job to help pay for bills 'n such while I was still in school. After culinary school, my first job was at a food taste tasting company. To say it was a complete disaster is an understatement. I won't get into specifics, but the gist is that the job I interviewed for was not the job I was given, and I left after only two months of working there. Needless to say, that company is no longer in business. What I did take away from the experience though was that I probably wasn't suited to a typical 9 to 5 type of job, with politics, inefficiencies, and all the other things you get with most offices in the world. It was an observation I made but didn't heed for years to come.
After that, I worked in food media while also working part time jobs around the city, then at a winery, then for a PR agency, and most recently in higher education. My background is pretty varied! I used to think that each of the jobs had been a waste of time when it didn't lead to career nirvana, but now I realize that every single one of them armed me with a new set of skills or experiences that helps me today. So even if you find yourself in a less than ideal job situation, just know that you are learning things that will help you down the road.
You went to business school and then on to culinary school. Was going back to school a difficult decision? What inspired you to go back to school and pursue your passion?
Deciding to go back to school was not a difficult decision for me. I decided before I had even graduated from USC that I would enroll in culinary school. I'd done an internship at a major market research and advertising agency the summer before my senior year of college. There I experienced much of the same ennui and frustrations as I did at most of the other "normal" day jobs I'd end up at in the future (note to everygirls everywhere: when you notice similarities between all your jobs, take note! For me, it was a sign that the regular corporate ladder system would never do it for me). Cooking was something I had always loved, even as a little girl; I love to entertain and to make people happy, so giving it a shot and seeing where it took me seemed like the obvious thing to do at the time. I was very lucky to have my family's support in doing something different. Looking back, I think I could've gone into it with clearer goals, but as is my tendency, I went into the experience ready to see where it led.
Your blog vmac+cheese originated in 2008, years before you launched Vivaleur. Did it take you time to find your niche with blogging? What do you feel has attributed the most to the growth of your blog since you started?
Absolutely, yes. Most people don't realize I started my blog 4 years ago. The first two to two and a half years of its existence, my blog was merely a side hobby, a place where I'd sometimes write essays about my life and my experiences with food, along with original recipe content. It wasn't until mid-2010, when I had a little talk with myself and decided to make a serious commitment to the site that it began to grow and I began to learn more about the craft of blogging. As for what's attributed most to the growth, it's not any one thing, it's definitely a combination of factors: networking like a mad woman, taking time to learn how to create good content, and viewing the entire thing as a business. Because honestly, if you have plans to grow your blog, monetize it, and leverage it into another career or as a marketing tool, that's what it is: a business.
What gave you the courage to leave your steady job in the workforce and become an entrepreneur?
The realization that there would never be a good time to do it, and that since I had been thinking about it for years and years, I might as well take the plunge. I also realized that if I kept spinning my wheels at a job that was ultimately not leading anywhere, that that was a huge opportunity cost. However, a few things were in place before I took the leap: I saved money for months (ideally, if I had had more patience and could've stuck it out longer, I would've tried to save for at least a year), I had a solid working business plan in place, I'd sought legal and financial advice from professionals, and most importantly, I had the support of my significant other, who absolutely needed to be on board and prepared for my meltdowns and freak outs once I was working on my own!
Where did the idea of Vivaleur originate from?
I spent several years thinking about my marketable skills and how I could monetize them. Everything from Etsy shops and upward, really! I've talked about it a little bit on the blog, but basically, one of my closest friends, my fiance and I were all hanging out the day after Thanksgiving last year, drinking lots of wine, catching up, and talking about what we always inevitably talk about -- work. In my slightly tipsy state, I started brainstorming with them about what I could do, and eventually, landed on the idea of combining lots of different things that (I like to think) I'm good at under one umbrella company. Funnily enough, just like cooking has been something I've loved since childhood, design and teaching other people has been as well. You really can look back and see where your path to now begins.
Vivaleur offers an array of different lifestyle services including graphic design, branding consultation and event/menu services. When it came to narrowing down the details of your business, how did you determine which services you would offer? Did your idea change from the time you first decided to open your business to the time that it launched?
I looked at offering things that would allow me to engage with clients, use several different skill sets, and would stay interesting long term. For example, though I offer graphic design, no two clients have the exact same vision for their project. Same with blog consulting -- though most people's goals are decently similar, their background and skill sets aren't, so it's interesting to talk to a diverse group of individuals and tailor a strategic plan to each of them. Ironically enough, though I have formal training in cooking, that might be one aspect of the business that I eventually pare down. I'm also looking at ways to ensure the business is scalable, so that it doesn't stagnate in a few years. That means thinking about what other products or services I can offer, and how to integrate what I'm doing now into the development of those things, to make it easier on myself in the future.
What advice do you have for others looking to grow their own lifestyle blogs?
Hire me to consult with you about it! Okay, seriously? If you want to have a blog that gets continual month over month growth, gets approached by brands to partner, can sell ad space, and becomes a viable business option for you, be prepared to work on it for 20 hours a week minimum outside of your normal day job for the foreseeable future. I spent at least a year working 2-3 nights per week on the site, and one weekend day. I didn't have a full weekend off for almost a year. If you can make the time commitment, then the rest of the things that are required to grow your blog -- commenting, networking, leveraging social media, developing consistent content through voice, graphics, etc -- can become doable. Yes, there are a few blogs out there that skyrocket to success overnight, but understand that these are the exception, not the rule.
What is your advice to young women looking to start their own company? How did you learn what to do in terms of forming LLCs, building a website and brand, and all the other technical work that goes into starting a company?
On the one hand, I think it's fabulous that so many of us want to embrace our inner-entrepreneur and go for it. The flip side is that many women don't take the time to learn about the ins and outs of running a business beforehand. Flying by the seat of your pants doesn't necessarily mean you'll fail, but it will mean you'll make more mistakes (and often times, expensive ones) along the way. To better prepare yourself, you have to ask lots of questions. Inevitably, you're going to find a great resource, like a really good lawyer, and once you speak with them, you'll find you have even more questions and more items added to your to do list. That's a good thing! The important part here is this: don't let not knowing where to start get in your way. Send lots of emails, ask to meet with people, set up phone calls. Talk to other small business owners who might be able to help you out. Eventually, as you gather information, you'll get a much better understanding of all the gory details you need to learn when starting a business, and before you know it, it'll feel easy.
Other advice: Don't skip out on writing a business plan! I have referenced my own business plan countless times since launching (and note: I have one both for Vivaleur and for vmac+cheese!). Also, be professional and take your work seriously. Understand that a business dealing is just that -- business. It can be hard to take emotion out of the equation when you're doing business and communicating with people (especially if they're your friends), but it's important that you try to do so. If you're still in school, take a communication class specifically geared towards business. It'll help you learn how to write and speak professionally with other people!
In what ways would you still like to see Vivaleur evolve?
The company is so, so young, and after four months of working on my own, I still am getting in the groove of what this is really going to be like. As the sole employee of a company, you're responsible for everything, including generating new business, doing your own accounting, running errands, filing taxes, and of course, actually working on client projects! It's fantastic to see all the sides of the business, but I do hope that in two or three years I will have grown enough to hire an employee to assist with that kind of thing. When you are busy with the smaller tasks, you often don't have time to strategize or execute certain items that can help you get to the next level.
What about entrepreneurship has been different than you expected? Has anything been harder or easier than you thought it would be?
Well, full disclosure here. Vivaleur is not the first time I've ever worked for myself! In 2008, I went for it and tried to make a living as a freelance food writer. It was amazing, but I struggled to make ends meet and eventually went back to a steady, full time job. So, if I'm honest, nothing about the experience this time has been that much of a surprise. The highs, the lows, the staying up late and worrying...all that has been expected. Which isn't to say that riding out those emotions is any easier, but at least they're familiar feelings and I understand that they're (hopefully!) only temporary.
Take us through your average work day. What does a day in the life of Victoria McGinley look like?
I wake up at about 6:30am, brush my teeth, change clothes (I won't lie -- it's often into yoga pants or another set of pajamas), and go to my home office. I park it in front of the computer and literally don't leave for 10-12 hours. A few days a week, I'll shut things down around 4pm to go to the gym, but otherwise, I'll work until 6 or so -- whenever my fiance finally comes knocking and tells me to step away from the computer. Some days I tear myself away long enough to shovel some food down around 2pm...some days not. Despite how awful that sounds, I completely love it! I've had office jobs where half an hour felt like four. Now, sometimes I look at the clock and though I think it's been half an hour, four have gone by!
How have you overcome the financial hurdles of becoming an entrepreneur?
Make no mistake -- it's tough. My savings have been depleted since leaving my job, and I can't see something at a store and just buy it on a whim. Disposable income is basically non-existent.
Congratulations on your recent engagement! Any tips for Everygirls in the process of planning their weddings?
Hire people who don't annoy you and who you could see yourself hanging out with after your wedding. Surrounding myself with team of great vendors who I genuinely like and actually want to be friends with has made a world of difference. Also, spring for the month of/day of coordinator. I'm not even to the big day yet and I know I would be insane if I didn't have her help!
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Just keep going. Don't give up. Have faith in yourself and in the future. Stop thinking you have it all figured out, because you woefully and hilariously don't. Save more money. Stop making excuses and just DO THINGS. And don't ever give anything away from J.Crew - you'll regret it!