Things don’t always work out the way we plan, but they always seem to work out. This is true for blogger and influencer Mattie James. What Mattie James lacks in stature (she’s 5’2”) she certainly makes up for with big hair and arguably a bigger personality.
“Blogging is really no longer optional. Not if the goal is to be a notable figure or business owner. You really have to connect with your audience,” she says. And she should know. She’s been doing it for over five years.
After winning Miss Liberia USA in 2010, she decided it was time to take herself more seriously and launched Mattieologie.com. She became a top 10 finalist for Sunglass Hut’s Full Time Fabulous blogging competition and while still working her 9-5, she started building partnerships with brands and doing everything from writing a sponsored post for American Express and hosting an event with Club Monaco to representing the Southeast region during Cotton’s 24 Hour Runway Show in South Beach.
Mattie James’ story is a true testament of what it means to have faith in yourself and believing in your brand. Less than a year ago, she was laid off from her job. Her blog became her full time job and tripled her yearly salary, from $49k to $150k, in less than a year. When she isn’t in a photo shoot or hosting an online course, you can find her in Atlanta having fun with husband Chris and toddler Maizah.
Read our interview with Mattie James to learn more about her journey and what she has in store for her audience.
Her Agenda: So you started Mattieologie six years ago and it’s grown into a full time job for you. But what were you up to before you launched the blog?
Mattie James: Before I launched my blog I was in retail management, and I don’t wish that on a war criminal. I had the worst schedule ever and it was really grueling and I did that for about three and a half years. When I got engaged I decided that I didn’t want to start my life as the woman of my house doing retail management. [It wasn’t] what I was passionate about and it wasn’t what I went to school for so I quit and told my fiancé who is now my husband “Hey, I’m trying to find myself so I’m going to quit this job.” and he was super gracious about it. And that was that.
Her Agenda: When you got laid off from your job last year, how did you know it was time to take the blog more seriously, instead of just finding another 9-5 job?
Mattie James: Well I was already in that place in my blogging career where I was anticipating leaving my job and the universe made it happen before I was ready. But I don’t think you are ever ready to leave your job to follow your passion. I don’t care how prepared you are, that’s a really big decision but it’s usually the big decisions that have the biggest change in our lives. It was really scary, and even though I was planning on doing it and I was being a chicken about it and you just have to move forward.
Her Agenda: There’s Mattieologie.com, Cheers Mimosa, Mattie & Chris podcast, Mattieologie podcast and your YouTube series. That’s a lot on your plate to balance with having a family. How did the other brands come about, and how do you balance them all and still manage to produce quality content?
Mattie James: I mean it definitely takes a village. As someone who is West African I definitely really take heed to that saying and I believe it 100 percent. I work with a group of people in every aspect of my life starting with home base. I work with my husband and he’s my partner in everything. No he’s not a blogger and no he doesn’t shoot my outfit posts, even though he used to, everything I do with Mattieologie like taking on a brand partnership, I run it by him because those things directly affect our family, from the time it’s going to take me away from him and our daughter to how much it’s going to affect our finances. It really starts with him.
I’m really blessed I don’t have to take my kid to daycare because I have family close by that I can rely on when my husband is at his 9-5. And I have a really amazing team at Mattieologie. We started really small and humble and it was me and my assistant back then who now runs all of our operations. I was like ‘I have like $100 bucks a month, can you help me?’ And it kind of grew from that and as time went on and it became my full time job, I asked her to do more and we found other people who can help us and we have a really great team of freelancers and creatives who really just believe in the mission that Mattieologie is trying to accomplish and we knock it out. I’m also really clear on what it is that I want and not everybody can handle that. Which is completely fine and you attract the right people when you’re honest and true about that.
Her Agenda: How were you able to grow your online audience? What advice would you give new bloggers on growing their social media following and readers?
Mattie James: The thing about growing your following is of course being consistent and I know that sounds obvious but 98 percent of people aren’t willing to be consistent. Even if you are mediocre at something, if you are consistent, then you will make it and your audience will grow. It’s also being interesting. People are so focused on being perfect that they aren’t being their interesting, organic, authentic self and they are missing some really great opportunities to build their audience. People really aren’t interested in perfection. They are interested in other people that they can relate to. A lot of us are trying to create this facade online and that’s not really what it’s about. Yes, people want quality content and things that sound good and look good but they are also smart and can see through the fluff. It’s all about humanizing your content, being authentic, and being original and actually being a real person.
I don’t think social was always a priority because I started blogging in 2010 and it was pretty much an afterthought. What happened was in 2012, I started realizing you could monetize your social content based on how many people follow you and how consistent you were so then I became a lot more strategic [around social]. I’ve always loved social media by default because I was so committed to twitter, Instagram, and Facebook when they came out that I naturally benefitted without trying. But now it’s a leg of my business so we go out of the way to go over everything from copy to graphics, to what time we’re posting and a lot of people aren’t putting those efforts forward and expecting different results. Yes, if you treat social media like a hobby then you’ll get hobby results. But if you treat it like a part of your business that you want to monetize then you’ll get that return on it. It’s just about putting yourself out there and being where the people who you want to read your blog or buy your product are at. You have to throw yourself in there and just keep going until it starts to work for you.
Her Agenda: You’ve worked with a lot of major brands so far. Was that always the goal? How were you able to build these partnerships and how do you think they’ve contributed to your success?
Mattie James: I have to be honest, yes it was. I always tell people I wanted to be a singer and a performer and that didn’t happen for me traditionally but I felt that Mattieologie.com could be my stage and content was my performance. I knew that I was good enough to work with household name brands. In the beginning we all hope and dream but I was very blessed in my blogging career that I entered a contest with Sunglass Hut and I was a finalist and so all of the perks that came with that I realized that brands will really invest in bloggers and content creators so I started to take that seriously and apply that and it really showed in my work ethic.
Doing partnerships is really about relationships and in the inbound I think pitches I get from brands is because I’ve made myself visible. And again, you’re a lot more visible when you’re consistent. I try my best to treat Mattieologie like an ad agency so every piece of content I put out I treat it like an ad. Because if you treat your content like that then a brand can already see themselves in it because you’re treating it like marketing and advertising. I approach my content like that and brands are attracted to it and they want to be a part of that process.
I try my best to be engaged with my audience as well. I’m not one of those people who just posts a cute picture and I just want to hear you rave about it, I actually want to hear why you like it, did you go out and buy, and why did you want it in your life. It’s not rocket science, it’s just style and beauty, but if I motivated you to go shopping then I’m interested in what triggered that behavior. Brands see that I’m engaged and say “Oh, hey she can start some really authentic conversations about our product with her audience which is the audience we’re targeting.” At the end of the day I’m visible and I’m human, I’m not trying to be perfect. I’m really just a girl who loves style and beauty and creating content and I figured out a process and made it a business.
Her Agenda: What do you feel makes you stand out among other lifestyle bloggers? Were there any others you were inspired by when starting your blog?
Mattie James: Yeah, just being consistent. I mean there are so many amazing content creators that are so creative and talented but if we’re being honest a lot of them aren’t willing to outwork me. I do think it’s a consistency thing too, you’ll hear a dig and someone say “I don’t know why so many people follow her she’s not that good or whatever” At the end of the day, I am consistent and like I said even if you are mediocre, which I don’t consider myself, you are going to make it. That’s one thing that stands out and because it’s the internet people think it will be easy to just pump content out immediately. Back in the day I feel like it was “you’re a fashion blogger” and “you’re an entertainment blogger” and I gravitated towards entertainment blogger. I loved Necole Bitchie, Concrete Loop. YBF, and this blog Cake and Ice Cream that’s no longer around and I just loved those things and was really motivated by them. They were all young women of color and I was like “Damn it would be really cool to do something like that as well.” At the time I didn’t really see anyone who looked like me knocking it out of the park with fashion blogging. Now there are so many amazing fashion bloggers of color but in the beginning I was motivated by entertainment bloggers. But if I’m being fair the one I look up to is Claire from Fashion Bomb Daily. She’s consistent, she figured it out and I really respect her for it.
Her Agenda: Were you always confident that you could make a living working for yourself? At what moment would you say was a turning point for you?
Mattie James: The first two years I blogged I didn’t work, I was a stay at home mom, I just had a baby, and I was so convinced that I would become this famous blogger which absolutely did not happen. So I had to get a real job, a 9-5 and coincidentally, that was the turning point. The first month at my 9-5 is when I got my first four figure check as an influencer. Some really scary decisions end up being the biggest and best changes of our lives. I ended up doing about three and a half years at my 9-5 while balancing the blog. Now that it’s my full time job, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and singlehandedly the thing I love the most.
Her Agenda: What is your biggest motivation? Has there ever been a time when you wanted to quit, not go to an event or host a webinar?
Mattie James: Absolutely, there’s so many times when you don’t feel like doing something. Like I don’t feel like going to the gym after this interview but I take pictures for a living so it’s kind of necessary. I had a webinar that ended up being my second best webinar where I did not sleep a wink because my infant was going through sleep regressions. So she did not go to sleep until 5, and a live masterclass that people paid for was at 2. I just stayed up for 36 hours because I had to execute it and make sure I was a good mother, and delivered on what I promised over 100 people who bought the live masterclass. There are hundreds of times when I don’t feel like doing something but the thing that separates the champions and the people who are super successful [from everyone else] are the ones who push through the feeling. Feelings aren’t facts, Myliek from Curlbox always says that and it’s one of my favorite quotes. Just because you don’t feel like doing something, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be doing it.
Her Agenda: Not too long ago, you became so much more than a style blogger. How has it been expanding into an infopronuer and being able to help other in their businesses?
Mattie James: It’s been really great, I was having people ask me questions on a regular basis and I just brushed it off, it wasn’t something I really thought I could make a business out of. And my sister, Maya Elious from MayaElious.com had transitioned from being a designer to brand coaching and she was doing really well and I was like “Wow, this is really cool but I don’t see anyone doing this for influencers.” So I gave it a try, seeing that she’s done webinars, we actually hosted a webinar together. I’ve done a lot of research, listened to podcasts, purchased masterclasses and online courses myself, and just learned about it. I also wasn’t into jumping into something just because it was a trend. If this was going to be a part of my business and a part of my life I was going to take it seriously so I can be taken seriously as well.
Her Agenda: Running a blog and running a business are two different things. What the top lessons you’ve learned as a businesswoman and as a blogger?
Mattie James: As a businesswoman, you just have to be clear and you have to be able to work with people. If you cannot work with people, it’s going to be hard to stay in business. You see and hear all these different things about being a boss and for me I am an entrepreneur but I do not work for myself, I work for my team and my audience. Those are the people I work for, those are the people I serve. Anytime I’m not serving them or communicating with them that directly hits my business. So I pride myself on becoming a better communicator and being able to say I was wrong. It’s very huge to be able to admit your shortcomings. As a blogger I’ve learned that content, over time, really only lasts so long so when you create content you do have to make it quality if you want to make it memorable. It needs to sound good, it needs to look good and it needs to feel good and at the end of the day as a blogger you are your sole storyteller and if you do not know how to tell stories that make people feel good about their style, and make them feel good about who they are then your content really won’t go far. It’s all about emotion. So I really prided myself on becoming a better storyteller over the past year and I’m looking to become better in the future.
Her Agenda: As a lifestyle blogger, you show us so much of your personal life, who Mattie is even when you’re not working. Is there ever a time when you feel like you share a bit too much or do you feel like it just adds to your brand?
Mattie James: No, I feel like I do a pretty good balance. People know that I’m married to Chris, they hear us on the podcast, people have seen the baby on my Instagram and my Snapchat but I’m really good at keeping really personal moments that are just for us, for us. I always try my best to balance, which is always tricky. Sometimes my husband will say let’s not share that, it doesn’t necessarily need to be shared. But I try to just be transparent with my audience and let them know I’m human like them. Everyday I’m not wearing makeup, some days I don’t feel like doing something, some days I don’t even know what I’m doing but I get away with it because I’m willing to try. I personally don’t think I’m an over sharer, my favorite influencers share a lot. That’s why Snapchat is so great, everywhere else I can curate content via Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest but Snapchat is where I can show you that I’m human and I can show you that on a time basis because it’ll expire in 24 hours anyway.
Her Agenda: How do you keep yourself humble and continue to seek out mentorship and advice?
Mattie James: That’s why I’m so keen on the humanizing aspect, anytime you can humanize yourself you will humble yourself. I try to be really transparent about the opportunities I have. I created the Slay Your Day planner because time is definitely not my friend most of the time but I make sure I’m not spreading myself too thin. So I humble myself just by sharing my story, talking to my audience, my team. For the most part I am more focused on the results than praise, so very seldom do I think I have an ego issue.
Her Agenda: What is your motto?
Mattie James: Live what you love. I absolutely believe in making a living doing what you love to do. If that means you are the best trash man that there is out there, that is the whole purpose. I do not think God put us on this earth to be to be timid or lukewarm about anything. Whatever it is you love to do you should not be apologetic about it, and you should go after it with a sense of urgency. I am completely and totally ruthless when it comes to my happiness, and I think it ends up rubbing people the wrong way. I am really, really dedicated and committed to living a life that is fulfilled and allows me to be a wife and a mother. That’s why live what you love is so important to me because it applies to anybody; you don’t have to be an entrepreneur, a woman, a man, Black, or white. You just have to be explicitly honest with yourself and say ‘Hey, do I love this so much that I am willing to go out of my way to figure out how to make a living out of it.’ Making a living out of it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy, it’s just going to be worth it.
[Editor’s note: This post was published on August 8th, 2016. It has been edited for length and clarity.]