Just as designers dream of having a project featured in their favorite shelter magazine, and actresses hope to land the cover of national women’s publications, brides around the globe have one goal: get on Style Me Pretty. It’s easy to see why given that the popular wedding blog boasts over 1.5 million visitors every month and 16.5 million monthly pageviews. But considering the editorial team receives over 600 real wedding submissions a week, this is no small feat and only the best of the best are chosen.
The success of the site can largely be attributed to one person: founder Abby Larson. The 33-year-old Texas native and mother of two has spent the past five years honing her editorial eye, seeking out quality content, and recruiting an expert team, the latter of which includes her hubby, business partner, and right-hand-web-savvy-man, Tait. All of this, plus Abby’s genuine passion for her work have helped place Style Me Pretty as a leading online resource for wedding inspiration. Her staff has grown to more than ten employees, many of whom work alongside Abby and Tait in their New England offices.
We were so fortunate not only to be invited to stop by while we were in Boston a few weeks ago, but we are excited to say The Everygirl is the first to debut a tour of the bright offices where everyone’s favorite wedding blog comes to life. Not only that, but Abby (and two Style Me Pretty editors!) gives us the details on how she started out and offers valuable and insightful advice to prospective entrepreneurs and bloggers.
Full name: Abby Larson
Current title/company: founder and editor of Style Me Pretty
Year that you started Style Me Pretty: 2007
Educational background: Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Vanderbilt University
What was your first job out of college and how did you land that position?
Fresh out of college. And I followed a boy. To San Francisco. We broke up a month later, and I found myself working in Public Relations for a firm that represented restaurants, a job that I found on Craigslist. I made $7 and hour and could barely afford my bus ticket. Thankfully, I have amazing parents who helped me find my way and eventually, that meant a job in Investor Relations for a Hedge Fund. Basically as a glorified secretary who spent hours filing and being entirely unfulfilled. But able to pay my bills which in and of itself was a huge accomplishment.
Where were you working before starting Style Me Pretty?
After a couple of years in the corporate world, finding myself in tears every Sunday night before the week began again, I found the courage to quit. With no plan and no strong idea as to what my passion was. Possibly culinary school. Perhaps event planning. Something creative for sure. But I had no idea what that might be. I moved back to Texas and in with my parents as I tried to explore all areas of my creative brain to find the special something that made my magic. As it turns out, it was invitations. Wedding invitations. I had always had my hand in design in one way or another and the invitation adventure happened very organically when I designed a piece for my girlfriend’s bachelorette party. She had it in her hand when meeting with her well known wedding planner and as luck would have it, that planner began asking me to craft pieces for her clients. After much thought and planning, I launched my line of bespoke wedding papers in 2004 and dove headfirst into the world of entrepreneurship. I now refer to that phase as my Hard Knocks School of Business. And I was lucky enough to come out on the happy side…selling my brand to an incredible company that I knew could take the brand on to bigger and better things.
Can you tell us about the process of starting Style Me Pretty?
Starting SMP was something that also happened very organically. I have to preface by saying that I married a man who got his Masters in Computer Science from Stanford so he’s all nerd and all genius. Although now he is one of the most critical parts of our business, back in the beginning he was the person that gave me the guts to keep plugging along with my blog despite the fact that the brainiest of brains told me that I’d never make a dime. Anyway, after selling Abby Jean, my invitation business, I was desperate to avoid getting a job and desperate to stay in the industry that I loved so much. And although the art of blogging certainly wasn’t new, wedding blogs were scarce. There were only two that I can remember. So I set out to fill a void. To create a space online that was as beautiful as those you saw in print, where brides didn’t have to wait months to devour every last bit of wedding eye candy. I bought a domain, launched my blog using a basic template, and I was off to the races.
What do you think made Style Me Pretty stand out amongst other wedding blogs and grow into the huge success that it is today?
There have always been three magic ingredients to SMP’s success: a good idea, great content, and a TON of hard work. As a wedding industry alum living in a sea of online prettiness, I really felt like the world of weddings needed to find a home online. So that brides could consume that same gorgeous, edited content that they saw in magazines, though throughout their busy work day. Thus the vision. Once I had that in my pocket, I made it my world to curate each post so that I would be proud of it if the most renowned designer spotted it or the most beloved florist wanted to be part of it. Content so good that brides would be swooning until the cows came home. And I’ve never deviated from that mantra. The content on SMP is everything. It’s the shining star of our brand and it always sits at the top of the priority list. Lastly, I’ve always believe that there is nothing a little elbow grease couldn’t solve. The people at SMP work hard. Every day. They work on vacations, they work until they go into labor, they work late at night and early in the morning. But because we really, authentically believe in what we’re doing, it doesn’t ever feel like work.
What advice would you give to other wedding/event bloggers hoping to grow their own blogs?
Wedding and style blogs are a dime a dozen now. There is no shortage of super talented women with creative genius running in their veins. Your blog either needs to be different or better than what’s already out there. Find what makes you unique, find what makes you special and grow it. Cultivate it. Ultimately, that special sauce is what will give you the legs to really run with things.
When you first started out, how did you go about finding original content?
In the very early days of SMP, I created my own content. I made inspiration boards, I talked about unique vessels for flowers, I explored color palettes and wedding styles. Eventually, I started approaching photographers about featuring real weddings. Then brides saw that we were posting weddings and they sent me their own big days. Pretty soon word got out and content began finding me a bit more. Now we get around 600 submissions a week from brides and vendors alike! What a difference a few years makes!
Did traffic on the site grow steadily over time or was there a specific turning point that you saw exponential growth?
Generally speaking, it has been a steady growth. Our traffic patterns spike up now and then when we make tweaks on the way the site is run but generally speaking, it’s been a gradual climb over the course of five years.
When did you feel that you were ready to take on sponsors? How did you go about doing so?
About four months in, Martha Stewart Omnimedia approached me about joining their brand new ad network. SMP was one of a handful of blogs that they approached to test their potential to sell ads across a group of smaller sites. Aside from the idea that I would be making money from the blog, it was the first time that I stepped back and really saw value in what I was doing. From that point on I put my nose down and started conceptualizing ways that I could develop SMP into a profitable business. We began selling our own ads a few months later and eventually made the move to doing all sales in-house.
Walk us through a day in the life of Abby Larson. What are you daily duties and responsibilities for Style Me Pretty? Do you try to keep a traditional 9-5 schedule or do you work nights and weekends?
A day in the life of Abby Larson is a legitimate zoo. I have a 15-month-old and a three-year-old that wake my husband and I up at the crack of dawn. So our day begins around 5:45 each morning, full force ahead, guns blazing. We are lucky enough to have a full-time nanny who keeps the kids during the day, though we’re even luckier to be able to take our daughter to ballet in the middle of the afternoon, pick her up from school and take a midday pause and go on a walk with William. As for tasks, from 8-10, it’s e-mails. I get an ABSURD amount of e-mails every day so it takes time navigating through each one. I write a bit, work on any interviews or development projects we’re working on, the book that we are in the final stages of writing, answer questions and needs from our staff, meet with our designer, etc. Lunch, more emails, more writing, wrapping up outstanding projects and before I look up, it’s 5PM and I’m a mommy again. With chicken nuggets and green beans and baths and more stories than you could ever imagine. The day is a total hodge podge of craziness and at a moments notice, I drop everything I’m doing to spend five minutes getting hugs and kisses from the little ones. It’s up and down and in and out and in general makes no sense at all. But it seems to make perfect sense to me.
What has been the most rewarding experience since launching Style Me Pretty?
I have had a few career highs that still give me the giddies. We were a feature story on CBS Sunday morning and have been written up in publications that have always been my gold star. But honestly, the most rewarding experience comes every evening. When I kick back with my husband and soak in the fact that I can pay my mortgage because of this amazing business we’ve built. That I can raise my children close by. That I can do something entirely creative and exciting while paying my bills at the same time. It’s enormously fulfilling and humbling that this is my life and grateful doesn’t even begin to cut it.
What advice would you offer budding entrepreneurs?
Two pieces of advice. First, know what you do and do it well. In the words of Haile McCollum, the lovely lady who bought my invitation business. I have lived by those words and they have proven time and time again to be true. It’s so tempting to jump on the nearest style train, to do what’s working for someone else. But ultimately, that isn’t necessarily what will work for you. Know what YOU do and do it really, really well. Don’t try to be everyone. Don’t try to be everything. Simply know what you do and kick ass doing it.
And second, as Oprah said, always sign your own checks. Always be incredibly intimate with every part of the process…from the writing to the coding and development, from the marketing and social media elements to the dollars spent on supplies. This is YOUR business. Know it. Every last part of it.
If you could do it all over again, would you change anything about your own wedding?
Oh God yes!!! I stare at the most beautiful, most thoughtful ideas you could ever imagine and I get wedding envy on average 3 times a day. I got married when I was young—25-years-old—in a big ballroom affair, and all I wanted in the world was a big pouffy dress and sparkles everywhere. Not terribly far from what I’d want now (ha!) but after seeing so many smaller, more intimate affairs, I would definitely add in a layer of warmth and coziness that I didn’t infuse into my own big day.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Breathe, my friend. You are not old, you are young. You are not a mess, you are normal. Extraordinary, perhaps. In the blink of an eye your life will change. And it will continue to change for decades to come. Enjoy it, embrace it…be grateful for the ride. You are not old, you are young. And faith will get you everywhere. Just you wait.
Click to page 2 to read about Style Me Pretty’s managing editor and editor!