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The Makerista uses entrepreneurial hustle to build blog readership

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Above image credit: Lifestyle blogger Gwen Hefner works from home on her blog "The Makerista." (photo by Gwen Hefner/The Makerista)

Less than a year after publishing her first post, lifestyle blogger Gwen Hefner has received national recognition that many entrepreneurs would envy.

She was chosen to participate in Creating With the Stars, an annual contest for do-it-yourself bloggers, and was selected as one of the top five decorating blogs by “Better Homes and Gardens.” And, to top off this year of success, a “Better Homes and Gardens” publication, “Do It Yourself Magazine,” recently photographer Hefner’s home for an upcoming issue.

Hefner has loved “creating” since she was young: she has been a singer for most of her life, ran a small jewelry business in college and worked in fashion and as a party planner. When she moved from New York City to Kansas City after getting engaged to her now-husband, she thought that the creative career she had once envisioned may be out of the question.

Now, several years later, Hefner is a stay-at-home mom to two young children, but her creative work has continued: she has renovated and decorated her Grain Valley home and wrote about the process on her personal blog “The Makerista.” She also blogs about style, beauty, her children and planning the perfect party. Her Pinterest-ready photographs dominate the website that is visited by 10,000 to 12,000 unique visitors each month. To provide some context, popular blog The Pioneer Woman receives closer to five million unique visitors each month.

“Blogging has allowed me to have this outlet and this career that I always thought I would have, but I’d kind of settled into thinking that this maybe wasn’t in the cards now that I was a stay-at-home mom and living in the suburbs,” she said.

Hefner redecorated her basement blogging space to make it more inspirational. (photo by Gwen Hefner/The Makerista)

Eventually, Hefner would like to turn her lifestyle blog into a lifestyle brand akin to Martha Stewart’s. She has a way to go: blogger success is often measured by readership, which can only be built over time.

While Hefner is monetizing her blog through use of Google Adsense and the occasional sponsored post, she is not yet earning an income through the blog that could support her family.

“I feel like I am getting connections and things that are helping to elevate my blog, but everyone has told me that readership takes time,” she said. “No matter how well you market yourself, how well you can network, growing the readership is what takes time.”

Her work being showcased in a national magazine will surely increase this readership. Prior to the shoot with “Do It Yourself Magazine,” Hefner used a little entrepreneurial ingenuity to remodel her master bathroom for free.

“It was the only untouched area left of the home,” she said, “so when ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ contacted me, I thought ‘If a national magazine is going to shoot our house, probably some retailer will want to help us with that project.’”

Hefner’s daughter stands on the tile floor her parents laid with supplies from Home Depot. (photo by Gwen Hefner/The Makerista)

Home Depot paid for the remodel supplies, and Hefner and her husband did all the labor themselves, including laying a complicated tile floor with different colors of small, hexagon-shaped tiles.

“My pitch to Home Depot was ‘we’re going to make big-box store materials look high-end,’” she said.

As part of the deal, the full bathroom remodel will be revealed on Home Depot’s blog. Hefner said that the chain would rather sponsor a remodel through store gift cards than pay a full-time blogger to create content for their site. Hefner has previously written for the Home Depot about the secrets of using chalky-finish paint.

Hefner has written for another national brand, Uncommon Goods, but as a sponsored post on her own blog. The company approached her to write about their Christmas-season women’s gifts, but Hefner had a different idea. While browsing the Uncommon Goods site, she saw some graphic, black-and-white children’s blocks that fit in the parameters of her personal style. She suggested an alternative post to the company.

Hefner’s son plays with blocks sent by Uncommon Goods as part of a sponsored post. (photo by Gwen Hefner/The Makerista)

“Why don’t you send me these kids blocks, and I’ll write about how kids toys don’t have to be plastic,” she said. “They can be stylish, and you can incorporate them into your decor in a lot of ways.”

Hefner does not frequently write sponsored posts because she thinks they can feel forced. The secret to avoiding this, she said, is making sure that the product or service in question works with your personal brand.

“I love when I’m reading somebody’s else’s blog and I don’t realize until almost the end of it that it was a sponsored post,” she said.

Reading other blogs is something Hefner has a lot of experience with: she spent time reading blogs when she was a new stay-at-home mom about five years ago.

“I went from having this really busy career to living in Grain Valley… I went from feeling really connected to people to not really feeling connected at all,” she said. “I enjoyed connecting with other women and seeing what other women were doing.”

“I kind of realized a lot of what they were blogging about were things I was doing on my own,” she said,” and I realized it is something you can make a career out of.”

After a few years of almost starting The Makerista, Hefner went live last July. And while it’s a struggle to find the five to eight hours needed to create content, photograph and write each post, she said she enjoys the challenge.

“It’s just so fulfilling that I really feel like I’m doing that I was born to do,” she said. “This is the first time I’ve even been able to say that…. That feels good and makes it all worth it.”

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