Happy birthday to us, happy birthday to us, happy birthday to usssssss…happy birthday to us! That's right, Jan. 15 marks the one-year anniversary of Cincy Chic being live online!
What you see here today on www.cincychic.com is an award-winning, comprehensive resource for women in Greater Cincinnati with more than 50 freelance writers, three people working on it full time and sponsors galore.
It wasn't always that pretty and well-put-together. So, to help you appreciate this "Point B" as much as I do, I'll tell you the story of how we've grown from "Point A."
It all started a few years ago when I moved out on my own after college at Miami of Ohio, where I received an electronic journalism-focused communications degree. A single girl with an outgoing personality and an open social schedule. You'd think I'd be able to find places to go and people to meet; but I didn't, really. Instead, I found a need for a dummy's guide for living in Cincinnati. A place where I could connect with other local women with the same interests as me, and one that keeps me informed about the places, products and services available here in the Tri-State. I wanted a publication, preferably online, where I could read all the topics that Cosmopolitan or Women's Day magazines covered, but with local places featured, and local experts interviewed.
I would have loved to start this e-zine then, but the market wasn't ready. So, long story short, I found a publishing job in Philadelphia where I grew a national healthcare trade publication from its infancy to one with more than 200,000 subscribers. For the majority of my time with the Philadelphia-based company, I was driving back and forth from the home of 3-ways to cheese steaks about every other weekend. I remember having an interesting conversation with myself on one of those long drives. It kind of went like this:
"Hey, Amy, this 9-hour drive stinks."
"Yeah. This is definitely not the best, but there are no good jobs for me in Cincinnati."
"Why don't you start that Cincinnati Women's e-zine you thought up a few years ago?"
"Good question. But I'm too young to start a business."
"You pretty much started the one in Philly, though. Why couldn't you start your own?"
"Good point. But don't you need a lot of money to start a business?"
"Probably not, especially if it's online. You know a Web designer, graphic designer and lots of writing friends. You could get it started with their help…and 'friend discounts.'"
"Good point. But I don't know how to start a business."
"Your boyfriend's dad owns a business. Ask him."
"Good point. But…"
And really it stopped there. I realized that I didn't really have any good excuses.
Pretty much immediately after driving onto Cincinnati soil, I was talking to my boyfriend's (now fiance!) father, who mentored me on getting a business idea together and helped me map out a course of action. Then, I worked with Veronica Rolfes, a high school friend of mine who is now our assistant editor and business administration manager, to develop a business plan, and later, an editorial calendar. That business plan was key for documenting projections and implementation. Although I didn't see the need for it at first, I now see why it's important to have this living document to keep you on course.
Carolyn Martinez, a former co-worker of mine who is now our associate editor, used her focus group experience at Cincinnati Bell to determine the wants and needs of our target demographic and readership. Cassandra Pedersen, a former co-worker of mine, developed our logo. Mike Harness, another former co-worker of mine, and now our IT manager, designed this beautiful site and all the bells and whistles we keep adding to it. So, essentially, the point I'm getting at is keep in contact with old friends and associates. You never know when you'll need them.
Early December 2006, we had a demographic, logo, Web site, a few writers and a lot of excitement. Yet, I still wondered if this whole thing was going to be a big flop. Was I going to be stuck in Philadelphia for the rest of my life because that's where the jobs were? Was I going to lose the money I invested in developing the site? Were all those sleepless nights going to go to waste? Will people even care?
After letting all those questions swirl in my head, I remember going to a Chinese buffet right before we launched the site and my fortune cookie said, "Through greater effort and hard work, a precious dream comes true." I'm not very esoteric, but I couldn't help but take it as a sign that I was on the right path. I now have that fortune paper in a frame in my office.
So, Jan. 15 2007 rolled around and we launched our first issue. It was simple, but I was proud of it. I remember just staring at it once it went live. I knew it would change my life. We got the word out about it via personal e-mails to friends and family, with pleas to forward.
I also caught wind that MySpace wasn't just a place for teenagers and pedophiles. So, I created a Cincy Chic MySpace Page. With it, you can add friends, message them about new issues and events and blog about updates. I also posted messages on CraigsList.com. Basically I was looking for anything with a free (and popular) forum where I could spread the word, and that surprisingly was a huge success.
At first, Cincy Chic simply offered monthly online articles and a social networking community where people could message each other, have a blog or talk on forums. By the way, signing up for a Cincy Chic profile (to get all those networking capabilities) is free, and we also have a VIP program for subscribers wanting to up the ante and get discounts.
We checked the stats on the site and realized the people that knew about us were coming back several times a month. So, we decided to go twice-monthly, and eventually went weekly in April. Now, each week, we publish a feature story, a fitness Q&A column, a movie column, a "Chic Spotlight" which highlights a newsworthy local woman and five editorial departments in the following topics: health, beauty, fashion, social and career.
Also in April, we added the e-newsletter capability. With it, we list all the new editorial content, pictures, blogs and a list of upcoming events. You can just click on the things you're interested in. By the way, you can sign up for our free e-newsletter (complete with exclusive coupons and invites that you don't get through the Web site) by putting your e-mail address into the pink "Sign Up for Our Newsletter!" box on your right. I've learned that these e-newsletters are the way to go. They're a quick, concise way of updating you with what we've been up to, because – let's be honest – I know you're too busy to be on our site every day, all day to see what's new.
We decided to put our marketing efforts and dollars into events so that we could physically tell people what we are, and what we do and get them subscribed on the spot. After having a vendor booth at the Flying Pig Marathon and an Arthritis Foundation 5k/Walk, attending many bridal shows and many other heavily-populated events, we developed quite a subscription list.
At the events, people would often ask if we not only promoted events, but also hosted our own. So, after a few of those comments, I talked to several venues across the city and started our twice monthly ladies nights we've been having since June. Those are a lot of fun. At those, we have The Plastic Surgery Group giving away $100 gift certificates, a massage therapist doing free back massages, the bar doing drink specials and a bunch of vendors there to pamper the women that attend. Our next one is on Jan. 24 at the Latitudes Cafe in Anderson, so we hope you you'll be there!
To help us to promote the events we attend, we added the calendar feature, which is powered by Zipscene. Click on any of the highlighted-blue dates on the calendar to see the events we're either hosting, helping to promote (usually non-profits) or taking photos at. We love events, so if you want us to help you promote an event or take pictures at an event to post in our photo section, please e-mail me.
June-ish, I decided that Cincy Chic was definitely a hit and I needed to move back to Cincinnati and finally make this my full-time gig. Ahh… no more long drives from Philly, no more two full-time jobs, no more all-nighters to keep it all together.
In October, we decided to take the whole event element of Cincy Chic to the next level, and hosted the Bras with Flair on the Square campaign to raise awareness about breast cancer through the art of decorated bras. That was a huge success, and we look forward to Bras with Flair '08!
Over the past several months, I've heavily focused on networking with business women in Cincinnati. Large or small business, employee or owner, I feel like they all have such interesting stories to tell. Two of the best networking groups I've found in town are the eWomen's Network and the Women's Idea Network (aka W.I.N.). They have the highest attendance and very dynamic women. Feel free to comment below if you have a networking group we need to check out.
I've also been trying to keep you readers engaged on the site. Give you a reason to come to the site when you're bored at work, have some free-time at home or just need a mental break while you're at your computer. Our photo section is often a good go-to for that, or if you need something that's updated on a daily basis, check out my blog. I usually have a Quote of the Day, pictures of my new puppy or the occasional video blog if I'm feeling extra productive.
In early December 2007, we started to close the books on our first year. I was quite happy with our accomplishments and our site… but things soon got a whole lot happier. On Dec. 13, Cincy Chic was honored with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber's "Best New Product or Service" 2007 Womens Business Award. That was definitely a great way to end the year!
Now that we start our second year, I hope to see this site grow in interactivity with more people commenting on our forums, writing blogs and commenting on stories. I hope to unearth even more great places, people, products and services available to Greater Cincinnati's women. So, if you have ideas for things we can do, places we can feature, people we should talk to, please e-mail me.
This year, we'll also be solidifying a working business model here in Cincinnati and expanding the Chic title into other mid-sized markets. But no matter how far we expand or where I go for future endeavors, my heart will always be here in Cincinnati.
This is where a very precious dream came true.