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The SuccessLab Podcast: Where Entrepreneurs Collaborate for Success

Oct 9, 2014

Welcome to the SuccessLab Podcast episode #21. In this episode, I’m in the lab with Mignon Gould, the founder of We talk all about growing an online business and how Mignon is blazing a trail in the world of digital publishing.

  1. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what led to the launch of The Chic Spy?
    • I had a blog called Hollywood Digs and I would find things for people that they had seen in films or on television. So, if they saw a handbag and said, “I had to have it,” I would do a little research and see where that handbag came from. It was fun and exciting and I even got featured in a local magazine during their television sweeps but I decided I wanted to write something a little bit more in depth that had to do with style and fashion. At that time I didn’t know what I wanted to call it, I just knew I wanted to do more writing rather than the service of finding things for people, so that’s how it began.
  2. Have you always been interested in style and fashion?
    • I always say to people, when other kids were reading “Green Eggs and Ham,” I was flipping through my grandmother's Bergdorf Goodman catalogue, clipping out things and making montages of looks that I liked. So, I’ve always been intrigued by it and enjoyed it. To me, it is a form of art because you are able to create an aesthetic just by the way you match things and you put things together. I knew I wasn’t going to be a designer, but knew I wanted to work with it somehow, and that’s what led me to the journalistic side of the industry.
  3. How have you built up your following over the years?
    • I launched The Chic Spy in 2007 when I was working for a local newspaper and I was writing and styling for a print publication. I decided I really wanted to write more - I wanted to go up that next notch with fashion. I wanted to know behind-the-scenes [information] - why they choose certain fabrics, what inspires designers, etc? So, I decided to pursue a graduate degree in fashion journalism and there were only two places in the world that offered it – Central Saint Martins in London and The Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I chose San Francisco, a beautiful city to explore. At first my blog was just a hobby, something fun, a way for me to share my passion with readers. When I went there [San Francisco], I was reignited to make my blog more than just a blog, and turn it into more of a publication. I used it for my thesis, so it was a re-launch for me. That’s basically how I got started with The Chic Spy evolving from a blog into a digital magazine.
    • Growing traffic in the beginning was quite difficult because usually when you are working on a blog, you really are trying to give people a service - something that they feel they can take away with them. How I really got the push in numbers was from one post in particular. The post was on how to pronounce fashion designer's names. It was kind of the phonetic spelling and now it’s actually an audio guide that people can listen to. It was featured on and just literally overnight, my numbers tripled after that was featured and they’ve been going up ever since.
    • One tip for attracting traffic is to study your traffic. Find some type of traffic-monitoring tool like Google Analytics. You gain an understanding of the people who are visiting your site you can create more content that appeals to them. At the time, before I was featured on Teen Vogue I was not really thinking about who my reader was, I was just putting out content. When I started seeing what they were actually visiting, what was getting a lot of hits, what was being shared the most, that gave me an indicator of the people who were visiting my site and what type of content they were interested in.
  4. You've created a really great community around The Chic Spy. How have you done that?
    • I consider all the readers of the site to be “Chic Agents.” I encourage them to communicate on the site and my social media platforms, and some of them have been so passionate, they’ve reached out to even become contributors to the site. It has a lot to do with fully engaging the reader and making them feel like it’s something not only that they indulge in, but they’re a part of. I also do giveaways – that’s a great way to engage people, get people excited, get them to spread the word. People love to win something and I try to give away things that I’d want to win if I was competing.
  5. Is there anything that you know now that you wish you knew when you first started?
    • There are several things. One, I’d have to say that when it comes to the technology side of things, is usability. When I first started The Chic Spy, all I really cared about was creating a site that I loved the way it looked. I was getting my message out there and it was more about me when I first started my site. As I’ve evolved, I’ve learned you know what, it’s not about me, it’s about my reader and my site being user friendly. When the site first launched, I thought it was very user friendly because I worked in it all the time, but when I started doing surveys and then having people in the industry who are developers kind of play with it, they found it difficult. So, I figured if they are having a difficult time and they’re developers, imagine what everyday people who just want to enjoy your content are experiencing. If it’s going to take them forever to get to something, people are going to lose interest. They don’t like to click several times – maybe one or two and that’s it. If they have to search for something and it’s complicated, you are going to lose people and that’s the last thing I wanted to do. So, I had to do a full re-design, and when I did this, I had to keep in mind what was best for the user and of course, and figure out a way to meld my aesthetic with what would work the best for the user - and one important feature I learned they wanted and needed was mobile. I was finding that because of the demographic that I have, which is about 18-34, they were really using mobile a lot heavier, so it was imperative my site was responsive.
  6. Did you have all of your branding pre-planned or has it unfolded over time?
    • I would say a little bit of both. When I first started out, I was this person who loved to plan everything. I did start out with a plan, but the key is flexibility and I’ve learned to be flexible over time. The usability is a prime example. There were some things I had to change, whether I was ready for that change or not. A plan is always good, it’s like having a map. You want to have a direction that you’re going in, but be willing to deviate. As for the brand and the Chic Spy theme, I like to compare it to a combination of Audrey Hepburn and James Bond. I knew that was kind of the premise when I first started out and I tried to stay true to that aesthetic and that idea but I knew that there were times when things would have to deviate in order for me to make this work and make this engaging for the reader.
  7. You’ve obviously figured out ways to monetize the site. Do you mind sharing some of the ways you’ve done that?
    • Sure, that is something that I am continually coming up with ideas for ,but some of the mainstream ways that people monetize digital magazines, blogs, or online sites are from affiliate networks. I’m a member of a couple of affiliate networks. You can do something one-on-one with a brand or you can partner to have an advertisement layout.
  8. Do you have any favorite apps or any tools that you use for productivity, time management or marketing?
    • One of the main concerns that I have as the publisher of a digital magazine is how to maintain my editorial calendar. That has been the bane of my existence for over a year now. I've tried countless apps and tools, but ultimately came back to Google Calendar. I have fallen in love with Google Calendar and I’m right now getting ready to launch a new editorial calendar platform for myself and my contributors. I have not found any limitations to how many calendars you can create, so what I love about it is there’s apps where you can connect your content with your Google Calendar and to be able to manage it on your phone.
  9. What’s next for Chic Spy?
    • I’ve started doing photo shoots. I’ve just had my first photo shoot that came out on Labor Day. I’m really excited about it – I really feel that there’s such a great space right now for online magazines and one of the things I want to do right now is meld what people might find in a print magazine with what people might also see on a blog.
  10. When you do events such as Fashion Weeks, how do you draw attention to The Chic Spy? How do you maximize those in person events and get people back to your site?
    • Well, one of the things I do is kind of a small effort but it makes a big difference - I handout my business card. My business card has my character on it and it’s kind of fun and it’s designed to mimic what you might see an agent give someone. That was important for me because there are so many different events that I get invited to and it’s not really cost effective. I decided I wanted a business card that would catch people’s eye – that when it’s in their wallet, in their clutch, wherever they decide to put it, it would be something that's more difficult to throw away.

Connect with Mignon (aka The Chic Spy):

This week's Biz Hack is slightly different than usual. Last month I attended Content Marketing World in Cleveland and got to interview some of the top content marketers. I asked them to either share a tip for entrepreneurs or a productivity hack, and wanted to share what they had to say: Success Tips from Content Marketing World.

  1. Get writing (Ian Cleary from Razor Social)
    • Produce good content on your blog and let Google send you traffic.
  2. Use apps and GTD to get more done (Stephen Spencer, SEO expert, author and speaker)
    • Use apps to help you get things done like ThingsOmnifocus and breakdown your large projects in to tasks and those into categories.
  3. Block calendar time for personal projects (Amy Higgins, content and social manager at Concur)
    • Block out sections on your calendar to get work done uninterrupted. Tool: Concur App to manage your expenses while traveling.
  4. Get out of your inbox (Chris Ducker, entrepreneur, author and founder of Virtual Staff Finder)
    • Use a 3-click rule to get those messages out of your inbox quickly: 1. Reply or Forward, 2. Delete, or 3. Archive and move on with your life.
  5. Utilize DivvyHQ to manage content (Kim Higdon, social media manager at Off Madison Ave.
    • Manage content marketing efforts and collaborate team wide using this online platform.
  6. Build your brand from the start (Heidi Cohen, chief content officer of Actionable Marketing Guide)
    • Choose the details for your brand from the start of your business and stay consistent as your business grows.
  7. Use Evernote to create epic blog posts over time (Lee Odden, CEO of Top Rank Online Marketing)
    • Have a few spare moments? Put your ideas into Evernote and add to it whenever you can. It’s a great tool for organizing your ideas.
  8. Get up earlier to write great content (Andy Crestodina, Co-Founder of Orbit Media)
    • Go to bed earlier, get up earlier and write something awesome before you look at your email and it will change your career.

  Action Item: This week’s action item is to choose one tip, tool or hack suggested in these interviews and give it a try.  Quote of the week: “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” ~Mark Twain Next week we’re in The Lab with Eric Wagner, founder of Mighty Wise Media and regular contributor to Forbes and Entrepreneur where he writes about the secrets of entrepreneurship. It’s an amazing interview, so be sure to tune! Until next time, have prosperous week!