Career

How I Became a Blog Designer

When I asked what you wanted me to write about this year, my career seemed to be a recurring theme. So let’s starts where it all began–a decade ago this coming April–with my blog and my graphic design business, The Design Girl.
Have you stopped laughing? I’m really bad at naming things, ok? But it was that blog and business that allowed me to launch The Everygirl, so cheesy names aside, I wouldn’t be where I am right now without them.
Here’s my story.

I graduated from UCSB with a degree in Sociology and zero idea of what I wanted to do with my life. So I went back home to Los Angeles where I had a few jobs including 3 months at a PR firm (with a crazy boss), 4 months at a graphic design firm (with an even crazier boss who made me cry), a nanny, and assistant at a production company. The family I used to babysit for asked if I wanted to work for their startup production company doing product placement in film. We represented the producers and would get products on screen and my job consisted of reading scripts and calling brands, and I loved it. But it felt like I took a few steps back when I was moved from the office to their home and started driving the kids around.

I stuck it out for a while, but during that time, I had been working on my personal blog, which I started back in 2007. There were no thoughts of growing my site, partnering with brands, or eventually turning what I do into a business. There was no instagram or snapchat and I knew very few bloggers and even fewer blog designers. So I picked up a copy of Photoshop Elements for $100 with the hopes of making my blog look a little prettier.

After redesigning my site and spending forever playing around with CSS and HTML, a “blog friend” asked for help with her blog. Both of our readers asked for help with their blogs so I charged them $30 because I had no sense of anything. And the clients kept coming.

My prices went from $30 to $75 to $95 and eventually $195 for a basic package, and it wasn’t long before I was designing anywhere from 5-8 blogs each week. I never really knew what I was doing in terms of pricing, but when I had 15 people on a wait list, would up the price (for new clients) by $10-$20, and did that every few months.

The job in product placement job wasn’t working out and since I was living at home at the time (no rent, thanks mom) I walked away and gave design a go. To market myself, my link was at the bottom of every blog I designed and I reached out to a handful of bloggers with a decent amount of traffic offering to redo their blogs for free in exchange for promotion. These free blogs were my add dollars– paying with time instead of dollars–and it paid off. I once got over 20 orders in 24 hours, and just like that, my wait list was born.

I made enough to get by and in 2010, made the move from Los Angeles to Chicago. Since all my clients found me online I was in a position where I could live anywhere. And while I loved the freedom that came with my job, I knew that my inability to design in WordPress would mean business would eventually start to slow down in the years to come. And I was right. But I kept going while pining over the fact that I needed to figure out my next move. Go back to school and study graphic design or start something else. But what?

There was a brief stint as a digital scrapbook kit designer that I can’t not mention. *bows head in shame since I wasn’t a part of that world and the designs were real cheesy. But I was somehow convinced that be able to supplement my income. An awkward part of the story that I’m including because not everything works, and you’ll never know unless you try.

Around this time, I changed my personal blog, The Daily Ice Blended (any coffee bean and tea leaf fans out there?) to Breakfast at Toast, a play on Breakfast at Tiffany’s. You’re laughing again, aren’t you? Rude. I eventually rebranded with my name but miss my days as BaT and almost changed it back last year. We’ll talk about my indecisiveness another time.

Cheesy names aside, my story seemed to resonate with people. I went from 14,000 visitors in July 2011 to over 125,600 monthly visitors just 6 months later. Aside from posting, there wasn’t a ton of strategy behind it. I’d shoot for other sites when I had the chance. I posted daily and talked a lot about my life and The Everygirl. As you can imagine, this not only helped us draw traffic to The Everygirl, but it also brought lots of design clients.

I should also note that by this point, I had designed anywhere from 1,500-2,000 blogs, so there were quite a few sites on the internet with my name and link on them. And I had started doing photo shoots but never really marketed myself as a photographer, so I did maybe a half a dozen a year. That’s still the case today.

We weren’t making enough to be salaried by The Everygirl for the first two years, so design projects were how I paid the bills. I kept at it until I didn’t have to do it any longer and drastically cut back on my blog posts.

This part of my story is proof of the fact that a job can sort of just happen to you. And that while you may not be meant to do what you’re doing now, you really never know where it might take you.

Have any other questions for me? Leave them in the comments below! 

  • Jessica

    Danielle, I always love the career posts so enjoyed this one! (yesterday’s post on making friends was really thoughtful and helpful as well). Maybe it’s because I advise students and am in a career transition myself, but I’m always fascinated by people’s stories behind what they currently do. I came to your blog via the Everygirl years ago (when it was Breakfast at Toast and I liked the name!), and something that’s always interested me is the nitty gritty behind the decision to start The Everygirl with Alaina. I know the backstory, but what amazes me is that you both really committed and went through with the idea. I feel like I so often have moments with someone where we say, “we should totally start/do x!” . . . and then nothing ever comes of it. I’m fascinated by your collaborative follow-through–that you both mutually decided to carve out the time and commit to seeing your joint idea through. If you’re willing to share, I would love to know more about how you both decided to actually make your idea happen, and not just talk about it and let it fade.

    • Natalie

      Hi, Danielle and Jessica! First off, I also really enjoy these career posts, Danielle. I am eager to hear what you have to say about Jessica’s comment. Jessica- I am also going through a career transition and am always fascinated by other’s stories about why they do what they currently do. Definitely a part of life that we don’t always think about until later. I would also love to work with students…one day!

      • Jessica

        It’s tough isn’t it, Natalie? A book I’m reading right now that’s been helping me is Designing Your Life: How to Build a Joyful, Well-Lived Life. I like that it takes your whole life into account, not just your work life. Here’s a link in case you find it useful: https://www.amazon.com/Designing-Your-Life-Well-Lived-Joyful/dp/1101875321/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1486496518&sr=8-1&keywords=designing+your+life

        • Hi ladies! I’m not sure how helpful this would be, but after a ~ 2 hour meeting, we decided we were going to do this and both felt really committed and dove right in.

          I think it takes really wanting to make a new project happen. Had one of us bailed or not been into it, it wouldn’t have worked out. We also both worked from home which made dedicating time to our project a lot easier. It was a lot of work and meant working weekends for MONTHS, but felt worth it to both of us.

          Hope that helps!

          • Jessica

            Thanks, Danielle. It’s funny to say this since I’m not really a “destiny” type person, but it does sound like it was truly the right project for the right people at the right time.

          • Natalie

            Thanks for the book recommendation, Jessica, and thanks for the additional info, Danielle! I’m so happy you two decided to dedicate yourselves to the project because you’ve done a wonderful job! It’s so nice to have a partner who is just as committed and passionate as you are and can help you along the way.

  • I love hearing about your career path + loved this! I also loved Breakfast at Toast and always thought it was a cute name (seriously!)

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  • Heather Tackett

    Hey Danielle, I know you’re not doing much free lance graphic design (if at all anymore) but I remember reading this a month ago – I’m looking to hire a free lance (graphic) designer (I need a logo and may potentially need a website, at some point – separate from my blog. Strictly a business site e- commerce) Are there any you work with now that you could recommend to me? Many Thanks! heathertwardle@gmail.com

    • Danielle Moss

      I would check out Serafini creative and Jen olmstead!

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