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Talk To Me Tuesday - Hostess with the Mostess

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Today's Talk To Me Tuesday interview is with Jenn from Hostess with the Mostess. I e-mailed her to see if she would do the interview as a shot in the dark. I was pleasantly surprised that she would give little me some of her valuable time and share her expertise.

I learned so much from the interview and I hope you will to. A heads up, this interview is more about blogging and being an entrepreneur than entertaining. Her blog is full of amazing entertaining tips and ideas which you can read about daily. Be sure to check it out and don't forget to add her to your Google Reader!

1. Not than an introduction is really necessary, but would you kindly introduce yourself to our readers?

Sure ;) My name is Jennifer Sbranti (but most call me Jenn), and I’m the founder of Hostess with the Mostess, Inc. – which is an inspirational resource for hip & modern entertaining ideas.

At Hostess with the Mostess, we feature stylish & unique party theme ideas for everything from baby & bridal showers to holidays to Super Bowl Sunday, as well as food & drink recipes, entertaining tips, and cool products. I also author a daily blog at hwtm – Fabulous Finds for Contemporary Entertaining – and contribute weekly to Real Simple’s Simply Stated: Celebrations blog and Glam.com’s GlamDish blog.

On the non-work front, I live in San Diego, CA with my supportive, “host-with-the-most” husband, Sonny Sbranti, and our 2 yellow labs – Jazz and Max.

2. Who or what was your inspiration to start blogging?

Well, I was in the planning process of Hostess with the Mostess, but it was a huge undertaking for one person – and I had to work on it in my “spare time” outside of my job that pays the bills – my graphic design firm, Sbranti Design.

I knew that the HWTM website was going to take me close to a year to launch, and, being a slightly impatient person – or maybe overly excited/anxious is a better way to describe it – I was feeling a little (ok, a lot) frustrated. My husband is a very internet-savvy person and he’s actually the one that suggested I start blogging in the meantime – as it would be a quicker way to start sharing ideas and seeing results in the meantime while the website was being developed. This was in the summer of 2006, and at the time I honestly didn’t know much about blogging, but I did some research, set up a Blogger account, and just went for it!

3. How long have you been blogging?

A little over 2 years now – my first post was June 25, 2006. It’s amazing to actually type that out – it definitely doesn’t feel like it was that long ago!

4. If you had to describe your blog in less than 15 words how would you do it?

“A daily blog dishing up hip & modern entertaining ideas for every Hostess with the Mostess” (That’s 15 if you don’t count the ampersand!)

5. Approximately how many visitors do you have on your blog each day?

The average is about 4,000 visitors per day, but there have been a few times when it’s been upwards of 10,000 when a post garners particular interest. Around Cinco de Mayo I did a feature on Margarita Ice Pops that received over 40,000 visits on its own across the course of 2.5 weeks. That was pretty crazy – in the best possible way!

6. What do you think the most rewarding qualities of blogging are?

1. Instant Gratification – being able to think about something you want to share and actually make it live online the same day/hour/minute, depending on what it is.

2. Interaction with readers – I love reading comments that people share on posts. There are tons of creative minds out there – and readers will often build on party ideas in ways that really impress, ask questions, answer others’ questions, and bring up really good points. I especially like it when readers take the time to answer other readers’ questions that are posted in a comment thread – I think it’s a very good-natured thing to offer advice to someone you don’t know – and it also helps take some of the pressure of me…which is always nice ;)

3. Meeting other bloggers – It’s amazing how many “virtual friends” I have in the address book these days…none of whom I’d have met if it weren’t for blogging!

7. Conversely, what are the most frustrating aspects of blogging?

1. Constant Pressure – With blogs, there is continuous pressure to update daily – at least once but ideally more than once. Since I’m still juggling my client work and other HWTM responsibilities, there are often times when I’m unable to get to the blog first thing in the morning, and I always feel guilty until something new is posted for the day. I worry about disappointing readers that are so loyal to visit every day.

2. Negative comments – I haven’t had to deal with a ton of negative comments – especially given the fact that the blog is mainly “how to” related, but there have been a few, and it’s always a bummer – especially when commenters get snippy with each other. I’m all for freedom of opinion, but there’s a nice way and a not-so-nice way to voice things. Luckily, most blogging software comes with a handy little tool called “Comment Moderation” :)

8. Do you have a favorite blog(s) you read daily?

Yep – they vary from day to day, but the constants are: decor8, design*sponge, oh joy!, lotushaus, at home with kim vallee, style me pretty, tastefully entertaining, stem parties and the finer things.

9. What have you done to market your blog this past year?

Freelance writing for other online publications has probably been one of the biggest things because it always links back to the blog and/or website. I’ve also made an effort offline via local news spots (featuring entertaining tips around various holidays), and recently partnered with Chambord Black Raspberry Liqueur to host entertaining workshops/cocktail parties in various cities across the U.S. One of the best things about these events (we’ve had 2 so far) is that I’ve been able to meet tons of regular readers of the blog, so now I have some faces to go along with the screen names!

10. What keeps you motivated to keep blogging?

Blogging is a great creative outlet, and I really do enjoy it, so that helps. :) Encouragement via nice comments and emails from readers is probably most important though. There have been many days when I’ve been feeling burnt out, and then someone will email me pictures from a party they threw after seeing the ideas on my blog, which is so fun to see – or I’ll just get random nice comments telling me to keep up the good work, and that helps so much.

11. What are you looking for in a product to feature?

I look for entertaining-related products that are well-designed, useful, have a contemporary feel, and are affordable.

12. What are a few of the blogging tools you use to run your blog?

I use Wordpress, which has been great. I switched over from blogger about 6 months ago. I do all the design of the blog template myself, but I have a great programmer who actually ties the design into Wordpress, so he’s very important as well, to say the least!

13. Who designed your blog? If you did, can you give us a tip or two?

I designed the blog – and it’s gone through many “face lifts” already. I actually just finished another redesign, which is currently being programmed…and I think it’s important to always stay fresh and constantly try to improve.

The best tip I can give is to really put some time into the overall look of the blog. I’m lucky in that I’m a graphic designer by trade – but if you don’t have a design background and are looking to make money from your blog or really garner a following from it – then definitely spend the money to hire a designer/programmer. It will pay for itself in the end. People like to look at aesthetically pleasing design, and even if you have the best content within your posts, it can fall short or get overshadowed by poor template design. Create a beautiful logo and header, as these are the first things people will see.

User-friendliness is also a term you often hear in the web design world, but it really is so important. Avoid using fonts that are hard to read, too large, or too small. Make the blog categories and archives easy to find, and feature lots of imagery within your posts, as this is what usually draws readers in initially.

14. Where do you find your inspiration and all the amazing products you blog about?

I spend a lot of time on the web and there are definitely tons of shops and stores that I check regularly. Often, I’ll see something on another design-related blog that I like – entertaining-related or not, visit that website, then head to the kitchen & dining section to see what types of cool things they carry there. I also browse several magazines – Rachael Ray, Martha Stewart Living & Weddings, Domino, Real Simple, and Elle D├ęcor to name a few.

15. What are the main ways you earn an income from your blog?

Advertising revenue is the biggest revenue – via the banners in the left column of the blog and giveaway sponsorships, which Sonny and I sell on our own – and also via our relationship with Glam.com, who sell the traditional banner sizes in the right-hand column of the blog. The blog has also enabled me to generate revenue via the freelancing opportunities and promotional partnerships that have come about because of it.

16. What advice do you have for a new Mom-prenuer?

Well, I’m not a mom myself right now, so I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this quite yet, but the advice I’d give to any entrepreneur is to do something you love. Being an entrepreneur is no easy street by any means – all the responsibility lies on you and you need to be prepared to work very long hours (burning the midnight oil will probably become commonplace), and not turn a profit for a while when you’re in the building mode, so it’s important to do something in a field that you really enjoy since you’ll be doing a lot of it! It’s easier to make sacrifices when you’re working for yourself though. Set mini-goals so that you feel like you’re accomplishing things during the building stages, instead of pressuring yourself to be huge overnight. PR is also very important – seek out ways to garner free press – such as offering to guest write or appear as an expert on a local news or radio show.

17. Do you have any suggestions for other bloggers or any success secret?

1. Get involved in the blogging community. Post comments on others’ blogs, reach out to other bloggers to do guest posts, and ask to guest blog for popular blogs to help get your name out there.

2. Find a niche. There are tons of blogs out there these days – Technorati alone tracks more than 112.8 million blogs – so find something that’s going to set you apart from the crowd. Don’t try to be all things to all people – stick to writing what you know & love, and cater to the audience that shares these interests.

3. Offer reader giveaways that relate to the content of your blog – and promote them on giveaway websites such as prizey.net and online-sweepstakes.com.

18. What is your next big goal?

I really want to make the blog and website more interactive and am currently working on developing tools to make this happen. I wish I could freeze time and make it happen tomorrow! I also want to grow traffic and cross the 1M page views per month mark before the end of the year.

19. You have so many amazing ideas on your blog, but can you share with us one of your favorites?

My favorite posts are usually the “Real Parties” sent in by readers, and it’s really hard to narrow down to one since they’re ALL fantastic, so I'll throw out a few: Wii Bowling Party, Sweetest Thing Baby Shower, Modern Garden Birthday Party, and Vintage Mod Bridal Shower. Here’s a link to all of them!

Thanks Jenn! You are so engaging and fun to read. I personally learned so much from your interview and I can't thank you enough for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your experience and insight. You inspire us daily and we can't wait to see what's new tomorrow.


P.S. Don't forget to check out Mom-prenuer products on Executive Homemaker and buy homemade!