Our guest today is Gabrielle Blair, creator of the lifestyle blog Design Mom which focuses on the intersection of motherhood and design. Named a Time magazine blog of the year in 2010, Design Mom inspired the New York Times bestselling book Design Mom: How to Live with Kids. Gabrielle is also the co-creator of Alt Summit, the premiere summit for creative entrepreneurs and social media content creators that has been going strong for over ten years, with the next Summit set to begin on March 1st.

Gabrielle didn’t set out to change the world of blogging, but she did it anyway. It started out as a way to stave off post-partum depression after the birth of her fifth child; it was 2004, and blogging was just beginning to culturally take off. Using Tracksee (an early predecessor to Google Analytics), Gabrielle could tell that over 100 people were regularly visiting her blog, but she couldn’t get them to comment or engage with her.

“So I came up with this idea and I reached out to a high school friend of my husband’s who had a little online shop called, Darlybird and I said, “Hey…what if I promote your shop and I do a giveaway?” Like I, the- the term giveaway didn’t, wasn’t really a thing yet. But I said, “If I give this prize and they comment and that’s how they enter to win.” And so, she agreed and we did it. And I believe I got 70 comments.”

Anyone who has followed a blog will recognize that this “giveaway” technique is now a common practice among bloggers. For Gabrielle, it was simply a way to connect with her audience. But within 24hrs, Gabrielle had other blog owners begging to use the giveaway on their own site, and before she knew it, Gabrielle had disrupted the status quo.

Similarly, when Gabrielle and her sister decided to create the Alt Summit (originally titled “Altitude Summit”), she was just looking to meet a need. Most online community events were geared towards “mommy bloggers” or writers of content, but Gabrielle, her sister, and her sister-in-law all had blogs that focused around design. It seemed natural to them that there should be a place for creatives to gather. That gathering is now in its eleventh year, and Gabrielle is finding new ways to keep the content—and scenery—fresh.

One of Gabrielle’s strengths that I really admire is that she is unafraid to play where no one is playing. She was an early adopter of blogging, and the topic she picked—everyday tips for designing your life—was untapped when she began.  It was just Gabrielle and Martha Stewart. Who would be paying attention?

“[I]f you’re doing anything on the internet…start. Like, stake your claim. Because no one’s watching at first. So just get out there and start and have the website that’s not quite perfect, or the Instagram feed that’s not exactly what you wanted, but just start, because it’s the internet. And you can go back and edit it, constantly.”

Gabrielle has such an interesting journey, and I’m excited to share it with you!

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Takeaways from this episode:

  • Gabrielle originally intended to become an interior designer. From a young age she enjoyed designing her room and looking through wallpaper books, but when she got to college, she discovered the interior design program was not at all what she was hoping for. During her sophomore year she was introduced to the graphic design program and realized that not only did it meet her aesthetic needs, but it was a job that would fit in better with her desire to have a large family and work primarily from home.
  • After her 5th child was born, Gabrielle remembered her initial desire to find a way to work from home and began exploring options during her maternity leave. Blogs were relatively new, but Gabrielle had found that focusing on creative projects helped her avoid postpartum depression and dove right in.
  • The topic of her blog felt easy for her to select, but she also attributes “luck” to why it gained popularity. Only a handful of design blogs existed at the time, and they quickly gained popularity.
  • Gabrielle liked to monitor the activity on her blog and noticed that although she had over 100 people reading it, since only 3 people would make comments no one but her knew what the readership was like. Wanting to increase participation, Gabrielle developed a giveaway based on readers simply making a comment on the blog. Over 70 people participated, and this quickly became a standard method for bloggers to encourage participation on their sites.
  • After Gabrielle transitioned to working from home, her husband likewise became employed in a situation where he worked from home. Realizing this gave them a lot of freedom in choosing where to live, they carefully plotted out options for where they could relocate and still easily drive to see family. They selected Denver, CO, but within a short time realized they wanted to try for a different adventure. They decided to move their family to France for a year and ended up staying for several years in what she calls a “magical time.”
  • The time in France had a large impact on her business. Coinciding with the first few years of Instagram, Gabrielle and her family were able to tell their story in an incredibly visual way, especially since they were living in such a picturesque location. She credits the experience with being life transforming, not only for her career and her husband’s career, but for everyone in their family.
  • The Altitude Summit (or Alt Summit) began as an idea to help creatives and those in the visual arts have a similar conference experience as writers. Gabrielle, her sister and her sister-in-law all had blogs based around visual content, and they wanted to fulfill a need. They have now held 15 conferences over 10 years, and last year Joanna Gaines was a keynote speaker. The conference is not only educational, but also seeks to amplify women’s voices.
  • “Just start. Just get out there and start. Don’t hesitate. That’s my advice.”

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