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How I Developed an Online Brand & Career

Have you ever wondered how to turn your hobbies and passion projects into a career online? Here’s how I did it!

This post is brought to you by my friends at MOO.

Have you ever wondered how to turn your hobbies and passion projects into a career online? Here's how I did it!

Disclaimer: I have a BS in Sociology, and my only bit “professional” background consists of three grueling, soul-sucking years working for a car rental company right out of college. I have no formal education or training in food photography, portrait photography, online marketing, writing, culinary arts, or website management– all of which are passions and interests I’ve pursued on my own and turned into a full-time career.

That being said, here’s some of what I’ve done in the past 7 years since I parted ways with rental cars and became a full-time stay-at-home mom:

2010 I started a blog that would eventually reach 1 million readers each month.

2011-2013 I spent every spare moment of my day and night learning how to bake, style food, write recipes, photograph food and products, design a website, manage a website, and use social media. All the while establishing invaluable networking relationships with other bloggers and brands. I also spoke at a blog conference on DIY Blog Design (again, totally self-taught).

2013 Signed a cookbook deal with Houghton Mifflin.

2014 Wrote and published a cookbook. Learned how to use my DSLR properly.

2015 Blog viewership hit an all-time high, and my income was officially considered “full-time.” I spent a lot of time this year developing relationships with brands and learning about online marketing through those experiences. Also– I had a baby and discovered a newfound love of portrait photography.

2016-2017 Launched Something Swanky Photography and photographed 4 weddings + dozens families and newborns!

Basically, in a word, it’s been insane. But an awesome, thrilling, amazing kind of insane.

It took a few years for me to develop what I was doing here on Something Swanky into something that could support our family financially, and it didn’t happen by accident. When I started this journey, I already knew where I wanted to go. I set out from the beginning to make a name for myself. A brand.

Notice that I’m talking about a brand and that I’m not just referring to a career in blogging. THAT’S what I want to talk about today. Because Something Swanky has been so much more than just a food blog. It’s been the brand name I’ve assumed as I’ve pursued several different avenues of an online publishing career.

Custom letterhead from MOO

I’ve found that I’m fidgety. And not just when I’ve been forced to sit in a chair too long, but also in life. I like to move from one interest to the next. And since my interests are ever evolving, adapting, and growing– why shouldn’t my brand?

The beauty of an online brand is that you aren’t confined to simply one small corner of your creativity. A brand can be all-encompassing to include every facet of your business model, whatever shape that may take.

Rich and moist chocolate zucchini cake with chocolate chips and a decadent chocolate ganache on top!

My brand has taken a lot of different paths to lead me to where I am today. It’s included blog design, food blog consulting, and even a little bit of catering.

But everything shifted when I really fell in love with photography. That’s such an important part of developing your brand– identifying the parts you’re truly the most passionate about in what you’re doing.

Even though publishing a food blog involves so much more than photography, it’s by far my favorite part.

So last year I decided to branch out and develop Something Swanky Photography. I wanted to take a leap and see if I could photograph people and events with as much passion as I photograph food. I also wanted to see if could develop into a photographer that could make a career out of taking pictures beyond food.

I’ve been blessed with some amazing clients in the past year, and each shoot has taught me something new about how I want to develop my brand.

For instance, I’ve learned that business cards are essential when it comes to word-of-mouth marketing. And since my brand of photography covers a wide range– from food to products to families to businesses– I needed a way cohesively represent my scope of services in a simple, yet professional, way. And I like for my business cards to represent my online publishing services (my blog) as well.

Enter: MOO. I’ve been using MOO business cards for years– ever since I attended my first blogging conference and needed a way to efficiently distribute my contact information to brands and other bloggers.

I was immediately drawn to MOO’s business cards, because you can print a lot of different images in one order of cards (aka Moo Printfinity). This is perfect for me, since I’m trying to display a variety of subjects to my clients. My business cards have essentially become a portfolio that I am able to distribute tailored to the interests of the person I’m handing them to. My business cards include a varied sample of my work, including senior portraits, wedding photos, maternity shoots, newborn sessions, and (of course) food photography.

MOO has more than just great business cards! I also keep custom Something Swanky letterhead (pictured above) on hand for invoices and instructions for downloading photos.

I’ve also used MOO to design a set of postcards that I send to clients after our session to thank them for working with me and reminding them how to access their digital images.

It’s also a great opportunity to send out my social media links and hashtags! I love that I was able to upload designs that represent me and my brand perfectly. And the quality is absolutely unbeatable.

I’m still growing and developing and learning who I am as an entrepreneur. And that’s okay. Because the more my brand changes and evolves, the more I love what I do. Developing an online brand is so much more than writing a blog or owning a small business. It’s creating an entire persona that represents all the different facets of your creative genius. It’s diverse, and complex, and totally unique to YOU.

Figure out what you love, and just do it! And be sure to visit www.moo.com for creative (yet practical) ways to promote your brand.

 

PS- more dessert heading your way tomorrow. In the meantime, have you tried my Apple Cider Cupcakes??

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of MOO. The opinions and text are all mine.

Ashton Swank

Ashton is the owner and author of Something Swanky. Although first and foremost a wife and mother, she considers herself an online entrepreneur, freelance writer and photographer, and brand ambassador. Her focus is in food styling, food photography and recipe development.