How the Crafty Chica Started an Empire with a Blog, the Phoenix Latino Community, and a Lot of Glitter
The 2016 edition of New Times' Best of Phoenix is out now, featuring a series of essays that explore how our city's proximity to Mexico makes it better.
It’s been 15 years since I started blogging, nine years since I’ve made it my full-time career. Still, to this day, many friends and family ask, “Kathy, what exactly do you do for a living?”
“I spread the gospel of glitter!” I say. “I’m a digital entrepreneur! CraftyChica.com is my job; it’s an online magazine with thousands of crafts ideas and recipes.” Then, I look for a response and notice confused looks as if I just ordered Chinese food in a Russian coffeehouse.
“But,” they often ask next, “how do you make money?”
“At least a dozen different ways,” I say enthusiastically. “Speaking gigs, teaching online workshops, ads, affiliate revenue, sponsored posts, brand ambassadorships, selling finished goods, designing product lines ...”
And that’s usually when they smile, nod, and back away slowly.
To me, blogging is as easy as breathing. I don’t care that I’ve got only one in at least 152 million sites that post content, or that more than a million posts are uploaded each day. Blogging allows me to combine all my favorite passions — crafting, writing, and spreading happiness.
It all started with a weekly national newspaper column when I coined myself Kathy, The Crafty Chica. I loved the ability to promote positivity via decoupage, sequins, and yarn. As my column became more popular among subscribers, I aimed for a bigger audience — the world! So I taught myself the basics of HTML and built CraftyChica.com in a weekend. Once the family conked out in their beds, I devoted three to four hours a night to my fancy new cyberbaby.
All the content I wrote sparkled with Latino flair in some way. I’m third-generation Mexican-American, and to me, life should be a fiesta 24/7/365, right? With 55 million Latinos in the United States (as of 2014) and the fact in my hometown of Phoenix thrives with a 40 percent Latino demographic, my audience quickly grew.
Another reason for the success: I didn’t have competition. Despite the expanding local and national Latino population, no other chica offered an English-language site filled with Mexi-style DIYs. Not to mention, it’s a fact that Latinos love us some internet.
“U.S. Hispanics watch more digital content, buy more smartphones & engage w/ more ads than any other audience. A key audience for marketers!” Eliana Murillo, head of Multicultural Marketing at Google tweeted on July 22. She explained online last year that until recently, the U.S. Hispanic market was underserved and untapped by the mainstream.
Well, I served and tapped into the market share. These variables, unplanned at first, came together to form the Crafty Chica brand into what it is today: a mini-empire of thousands of craft tutorials, seven published craft books, two published novels, three national product lines, a speaking career, a decade of craft cruises, national brand sponsorships, online workshops, representation by William Morris Endeavor, and me, one very happy mom.
Manny Ruiz, founder of Hispanicize, an annual gathering of “Latino trendsettsers and newsmakers,” according to its website, says he remembered when the marketing world took notice of bloggers like me.
“In 2010, brands noticed something,” he says. “People were using Facebook and Twitter to give authentic insight at a grassroots level to consumers. Now, the market has changed. Traditional media pivoted, budgets are growing for the Hispanic market, and they all point towards influencers. It’s become another media space.”
Thanks to this new digital arena, I was able to earn a steady paycheck on my terms. Sharing personal stories and creative inspiration to break stereotypes was a bonus. I grew tired of seeing our community portrayed as gangbangers, gardeners, and maids on TV and in movies. I thought if I showed a slice of my life on a regular basis, it could change perspectives. I aimed to be a force of good. I wanted to show respect to my grandparents, who raised my parents in this city, and my dad, who worked proudly as a civil engineer for the city. But while old-fashioned storytelling stopped at the dinner table, I wanted mine to live forever in kilobytes.
My north Phoenix living room doubles as a boardroom and art studio. Throughout my career, I consumed business articles from Inc., Forbes, and Entrepreneur magazines. I ingested daily podcast and Periscope doses of Marie Forleo, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Shark Tank-ers. I used brightly colored markers to plot out business strategies that consisted of six to 10 streams of income, all leading back to CraftyChica.com. I aimed to be the CNN of Latina crafts, and looked to JLo, Oprah, and Martha as inspiration to diversify my talents and strengths. JLo had a perfume; I had a cruise. Oprah had a TV show; I had my YouTube channel. Martha had a product line at Michaels stores, and so did I!
The internet changed my life, my perspective, my end goal.
But there was one catch. My cyber friends began to outnumber my real-life ones. My artist amigas in town didn’t want to chat about Google juice, engagement tips, or bounce rates. Latina/Latino-run lifestyle, food, parenting, health, and travel blogs began to emerge in California, Texas, New York, and Florida, yet I couldn’t find a local Latina blogger no matter where I looked.
Phoenix often ranks on Forbes’ list of fastest-growing U.S. cities, but that expansion didn’t exactly translate into Latino bloggers.
I reached out to one of the networks I work with, Latina Bloggers Connect in Los Angeles. Their roster includes more than 2,000 influencers and content creators all around the world, but according to LBC Director of Social Media and Influencer Relations Rachel Matos, only a handful are from Phoenix. She, like many others I interviewed in the industry, have no clue why Phoenix lacks in this area. Rachel wishes there were more of us; she feels our Phoenix voices would be welcomed in the national movement.
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“Phoenix bloggers have an aesthetic that is different from other places,” she says. “Phoenix has its own style. It would be great to see more bloggers embracing it, owning, and sharing it with the world. A few of our style bloggers use the … landscapes that are very specific to Arizona, and it’s gorgeous.”
That’s all nice, but it didn’t help me score new amigas. I gave up and focused on my business. I stopped looking, and that’s when I met Vanessa Rodriguez Coppola. In San Diego, while sitting in a bus limo at an event for HP, she introduced herself — a blogger who lived just a few minutes away from my home in Phoenix. We laughed that we had to travel to California in order to meet.
We compared notes and discovered that around the same time I laid down my cyber bricks for Crafty Chica, Vanessa did the same for her site, Designs by Vanessa, which eventually morphed into See Vanessa Craft.
I found a Latina blogger friend, and she was there the whole time! Like me, at first her online presence involved only sharing creativity, and grew into a full-time job. These days, Vanessa and I meet up with other local bloggers and often see each other at media events. We’re grateful to have found each other and help each other grow our businesses.
Phoenix Latina and Latino bloggers have come a long way, and it’s been empowering to see the community grow this past year. More of our stories are being told online, one blog at a time. Now there is Gloria Casillas Martinez of GloriousCraft.com, music writer Will Medina of VeryVinyl.net, Esther Marie of MarieEsBella, Maira Garcia from EnthusiasticAboutLife.com, and many more.
“Since I’ve started blogging, I’ve had at least four friends create their own blogs, which is awesome,” Maira says. “I personally think everyone should have a blog, because everyone has a story to tell.”
People like Vanessa, Gloria, Esther, Will, and Maira inspire me. They prove that success comes from being passionate, focused, and consistent. I would love to see more influencers in this exciting space and am willing to take action.
Last year, I did just that. While in Miami at Hispanicize, I met another Phoenix influencer, Eric Diaz. We devised a plan to level up our community’s national online presence.
Through his company, Collectivo, Eric and his business partner, Josh Molina, offer bimonthly seminars for those interested in learning more about the Arizona Latino market and how it relates to the digital age. From wearable and mobile tech to blogging and branding, they bring in speakers, panels, and demonstrations to encourage more awareness.
“Although the Phoenix area has a large Latino population, Eric and I noticed that a lot of the professional events we attended were under-represented when it came to Latinos,” says Josh. “We are changing that by partnering with other organizations. Other cities, like LA or New York, have strong movements and strong Latino professional networks. We can do that, too. Phoenix is such a blank canvas when it comes to the Latino influence.”
We brainstormed, and with the help of Latina Bloggers Connect, we launched the inaugural Arizona Latino Bloggers Workshop series. Over four weeks last winter, we coached existing Phoenix content creators through cyber bootcamp. From creating graphics and writing headlines to social media and working with brands, we did our best to groom them and set them out into the blogosphere.
“My ultimate wish is that each group learns so much that their own success in blogging inspires other women and men to follow their path and find their voice online,” says Ana Flores, founder and CEO of #WeAllGrow Latina Network. “We need many more Latina/o voices online sharing and elevating our authentic stories.”
But not all local bloggers attend these events or go the traditional route of conferences and seminars. Some fly under the radar to success.
Enter Victor Nevárez, 26, of Tempe. Known on the interwebs through his website, InternetShaquille.com, he has built a strong following through cooking classes on Udemy and witty sarcasm on Twitter and Vine, where he has more than 111 million views of his comedy videos.
Strip away the punchlines, and this kid really does have a strategy — and it involves not quitting his day job as a graphic designer.
“Millennials love to have side hustles, and I’m just fortunate enough to have one that involves capitalizing on my own passing thoughts and ideas,” he says. “One nice thing that a full-time job allows for is enough cash flow to invest in web hosting, merchandise, and any other ideas that require upfront costs. That overhead could be a barrier for someone without a solid financial foundation.”
I adore his viewpoint. It’s one that my kids grew up with, watching their mom create a business from scratch.
I consider myself a bit ahead of the timeline of the mom-blogger time curve. My kids were in grade school when I started. They grew up by my side, assisting in every way. My husband and I taught them everything we knew about work ethic, compassion, karma, and education. And as a bonus, because of our family entrepreneurial lifestyle, they learned how to maximize resources, use social media, write proposals, edit photos, shoot video, negotiate a contract, brainstorm, monetize, and work that keyboard and mouse.
They know that there is life and income above and beyond a traditional 9 to 5. One of the best gifts I’ve had as a parent is watching them launch and grow their own brands. For their 16th birthdays, they each received their own URL and website platform. We switched roles, and I became their helper with whatever they needed to flourish.
Eventually, the best and most difficult change took place. They both moved out of the house to embark on their own journeys. This is what we groomed them for. I’m proud, but as a mom, it chokes me up to see them leave the nest.
Like Victor, my son DeAngelo, 25, holds a day job and uses nights and weekends to run his cosplay and sci-fi fan site, TheGeekLyfe.com. He leads a staff of a dozen writers and photographers, and he write fantasy fiction in his spare time.
My daughter, Maya, 23, is 100 percent all about MayaInTheMoment. She built a national following by writing, filming, and editing Vines and YouTube videos that showcase comedy, fashion, and daily life as a Phoenix millennial. She recently moved to Los Angeles to work at Buzzfeed.
Now we are down one less online Phoenix personality!
I’m not worried. I know some of you reading this will be inspired to start your own digital storytelling journey. Go for it! Share your story about your Phoenix history, Latino life — whatever your passion happens to be. And then make sure to tag me @craftychica so I can see it and share.
My advice? Be consistent, know your purpose, take it seriously, connect, and build relationships. Set a goal and make a plan. Learn, adapt, evolve, review. Keep learning new skills; when it comes to presenting the goods to the world, push past the surface to present something fresh and exciting. Don’t go into it for money or for fame; however, those will come if you are genuine and work hard! There has never been a better time to become an entrepreneur.
And this, my friends, is how I make a living spreading the gospel of glitter — one sparkly fleck at a time.
Kathy Cano-Murillo is a novelist, artist, founder of the award-winning lifestyle site CraftyChica.com. She views all social media platforms as global parties she loves to attend and invites you to join her: @CraftyChica on Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
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