Audio Only Player
Yeah in 2011 it seems like everybody & their mama are blogging about natural hair and beauty (I should know cause my wife reads every single blog). But that wasn't the case in 2006. That is until Afrobella came on the scene.
Patrice Yursik is "Afrobella" and created the site afrobella.com. She has amassed a very loyal community since launching the site around her experiences, advice and tips. Oh, and one more thing. How many bloggers do you know that can get MAC Cosmetics to create a lipstick from their idea? She did!
I invited Patrice to Grind & Thrive to learn more about her and her business.
In this conversation, Patrice & I chat about:
- Her background before Afrobella
- How Afrobella is a combination of Patrice's two passions
- How she grew her brand and now generates revenue
- How she landed deals and exposure from MAC Cosmetics, Ebony Magazine, Fast Company and Creme of Nature
- And tons more
Tell Patrice Yursik You Learned About Her on Grind & Thrive
Patrice Yursik is the creator of Afrobella.com
Patrice Grell Yursik: [Cut Audio] …happening more and more lately so I’m like, “Okay. My brand is…” I have to think about it. My brand is everything that is brown and beautiful, dark-skinned beauty, black beauty, natural hair, and loving yourself as you are; and that’s what I’ve always kind of been about since I started the blog five years ago. It’s kind of been all shades of beautiful; that’s my tagline; and I also tell people to be yourself and be natural and be beautiful. And it’s beautiful to see what it’s grown into now. Now, it’s a statement that a lot of people are making.
Torrey McGraw: Which is funny because my wife, she said, “You better tell Patrice that I’ve been natural. My hair’s been natural for 19, 20 months or so.” And she’s one of your very passionate fans.
But even before now, let’s go back in time and see how we got to be where we are today. Even at the beginning, I read that you were somewhat of a tomboy in Trinidad, but then you also started really getting into makeup, working behind the makeup counter and that sort of thing. What kind of got you from a tomboy into getting into makeup and that sort of stuff?
Patrice Grell Yursik: Well, I mean when I was very little, I was into makeup. My mom has always been very glamorous and over the top, and she’s just very into makeup and perfume and beauty and stuff like that. So growing up with her, I started going to fashion shows and being into makeup when I was 6, 7, and 8 years old; and when I was 8 we had a family friend who had this amazing perfume and cosmetics store at the mall, and I was able to come in one day with my mom and tell a bunch of women what they should buy, and they all bought what I said; and he was like, “We need you in the store.”
So I came in and I helped over Christmas and it was like my parents loved it. It was like we have a summer camp during Christmas. We could just drop you off at the mall and you enjoy doing this and you’re learning stuff, and you come home. So it was kind of weird that I did that, but it really shaped my interest very early.
In my teenage years, I went through a lot of self-esteem and figuring out who I was, which everybody goes through, and my love for makeup and fashion really kind of came back when I went away to college. So I would say freshman year of college, sophomore year of college, I was away from my family, I was away from Trinidad for the first time, and I had to figure out beauty on my own terms. So that really brought me back to that old love.
Torrey McGraw: And I think this next statement or next story will kind of tie in that passion for makeup with you starting to write as an entertainment writer, an editor for a Miami newspaper. How did you get started in journalism?
Patrice Grell Yursik: I always wanted to be a writer. I did not necessarily want to be a journalist so my educational background is actually, I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Film Scriptwriting and my Master’s Degree is in Creative Writing, and I specifically was working on fiction so I’ve got a bunch of short stories and half of a novel that I haven’t done anything with.
So it was a total change from that life when I got into journalism, and the reason I got into journalism was because creative writing is not paying anybody’s bills. Sorry; it just was the reality of it. I graduated from college and I was like, “Great! Now I have this master’s degree and what am I going to do with it?”
So the job came about very suddenly. Honestly, I did not even apply for that specific job. I had applied for a fellowship so I could come in and learn the ropes of journalism, and they liked my clips from the student newspaper so much, my short stories, that they hired me to be an assistant editor.
So I had to learn by doing a lot, and it was a very interesting experience. Without having worked at that newspaper, I would not be the person that I am. That really taught me that I could write anything, like I can interview anybody and I can write anything, and that was because I had a job where I had no choice and I had to just do whatever they asked me to do for almost five years.
So it was interesting working there. It was a very wild and crazy kind of office. It’s part of The Village Voice chain. It’s like an alternative news weekly, so very quirky co-workers and it was fun; it was a lot of fun. And from that, it made me realize, “Okay. This is great. I feel like I’m getting my ropes in terms of what I can do as a writer, but I’m not getting to do what I really want to do here.” So it helped me figure out that what I wanted to really do was not that.
Torrey McGraw: So what did you figure out that you wanted to do? Was it specifically to write about beauty and hair and that sort of stuff?
Patrice Grell Yursik: You know, there was an element of that, but I mean more I think from what I was being directed to do at work. It was a very I don’t want to say negative but it was like everything had to be kind of snarky and edgy and a little mean, and that’s not who I am.
So they were making me kind of — they wanted more of an edgy, and I can be edgy but when the need is there. If there’s no need and it’s a totally harmless thing, then why am I going to be mean to somebody or why am I going to be sarcastic in my tone? So that’s what kind of got me to be like, “Okay. Maybe my voice can fit in elsewhere. What else do I want to write about?”
And the beginning of Afrobella was it was very whimsical like it didn’t come about like, “Oh, I really am taking a calculated approach and I want to start writing about this.” It was just an idea that was presented to me and on one night we made it happen.
Torrey McGraw: So at the beginning, what types of things were you writing about with Afrobella? Because at that time, you had been working at the newspaper, you became comfortable with the writing process, not necessarily the way they wanted you to write, and so you took that and translated that into the blog format. But what types of things in the beginning were you writing about?
Patrice Grell Yursik: In the beginning, I think the blog was very and it still is personal, but it was very much about my journey and what made me embrace my beauty as it is, the icons that shaped me. So I think my first couple of posts were about Diana Ross, who I used to want to be Diana Ross when I was a little girl so you know, and I think my second blog post ever was about Josephine Baker who has just been such an inspiration in so many ways for me and for so many women around the world.
So that’s where it started. I started writing about the products that I liked and the women who shaped me. I didn’t believe that you have to conform to a certain standard to be beautiful, and from there, that’s when people started to kind of take notice that hey, this is something different.
Torrey McGraw: How did people take notice? How were you getting people to the site to even check out what you were doing to say, “Oh, this is interesting! This is a refreshing approach to all the other beauty magazines or websites that were out of that time.” Were you telling your friends and family? “Hey, check out what I’m doing on the site!” Were people just organically coming to the site to see what you were writing about?
Patrice Grell Yursik: Of course, I was telling all my friends and family to visit the site. Some of my first comments on my About Me page are from the co-workers who sat right around me at work, not my boss because he couldn’t know, but my co-workers who were like, “Hey, follow your dream and figure something out that makes you happy.”
My family, of course, has always been supportive. Anybody who reads the blog can tell you my parents comment on the blog often, my sister comments on the blog often, and I’ve featured almost every member of my family on the blog over the years.
Where it really started that people I didn’t know were reading the site, I used to comment a lot. So I mean I think this is advice that I would give to another blogger who was trying to come up. By commenting and visiting another blogger’s blog that you admire and leaving comments and entering into their dialogue and letting them know, “Hey, I’m an admirer of yours; I’m a fan of yours,” then when you start your own thing, as long as your own thing is original and thought in execution, they’re going to be like, you know, they will enjoy what you’re doing. So that’s what happened to me. I used to comment a lot on a blog called “Crunk & Disorderly” which is a humor blog, and I used to comment a lot on “Concrete Loop,” which is “Concrete Loop.”
Torrey McGraw: Yeah, which I actually just interviewed Angel a couple of days. She was awesome, yeah.
Patrice Grell Yursik: Angel is just such an inspiration for me. Angel is such an amazing person. She has been so supportive of Afrobella from day one. So yeah, when Concrete Loop started, I want to say — and you can correct me on this because you just interviewed Angel — Concrete Loop is six years old?
Torrey McGraw: Yeah, she started in ‘05.
Patrice Grell Yursik: Right. I started in ‘06.
Torrey McGraw: Yeah.
Patrice Grell Yursik: So I started reading her blog in that first year, and I remember she said something about her age and I was like, “Wait a minute! How old are you? You’re younger than me? Like what?” And then I started realizing that bloggers were my age or younger. For some reason, I was thinking this was a thing that I couldn’t do because it was out of my reach. So when I started realizing that Angel was in her 20s, Fresh was in her 20s, Perez Hilton was in his 20s; and Perez, just as a side note, Perez Hilton also went to high school with a bunch of people that I know because I lived in Miami.
So just kind of seeing that there were people who were not that much older or younger than me were achieving this immense success in this new medium and doing it in their own terms and writing what they wanted to do and working for themselves, it was so inspiring. So I used to comment a lot on those blogs and I reached out to those people when I first started my blog, and I was lucky enough that the people that I reached out to were all very welcoming and proud of me because I would comment on their blogs so they kind of felt like I was part of the family.
And Angel put up a banner on Concrete Loop within the first month or so of my site, and she said, “Afrobella: Site of the Week.” I don’t know if she forgot about it or what, but it stayed up for like a month or like a month and a half or something, and my traffic just boomed; it just exploded. So it went from 100 visitors in a week to 500 to 1000 to 2000 in no time at all.
Torrey McGraw: And when you were talking — let’s go back to the comments for a second because a lot of bloggers give that advice of “Hey, when you’re starting out, find those blogs and websites that you really like and that are in your niche, and be sure to leave comments.” But I’m guessing that you are leaving some well-thought out comments, not just commenting, “Hey, great article!” or “Enjoyed what you wrote.” I mean I’m sure you are really contributing to the conversation versus just short quips that a lot of people tend to do at times.
Patrice Grell Yursik: Yeah, I guess so. I guess it’s like what I said made me memorable enough that when I did eventually email them, they were like, “Oh, yeah, we know who you are.” It wasn’t like LOL smiley face on posts.
So I really don’t even remember what the topics would have been that I would have been commenting on, but it was just enough on every post that they were like, “Okay, we know who you are. You are entering into our regular family of people and the names that we see in the inbox every day.” So when I finally reached out to them, it was not a surprise.
So I have to say Angel, Fresh. There was a blogger whose name is Rich and he has a blog called FourFour. He was one of my earliest inspirations as well because he had showed me that a blog could be absolutely anything. Angel and Fresh kind of stuck to entertainment and gossip, and he was just like, “I saw a cool movie. I feel like writing about that. Oh, I saw this crazy thing on TV. I feel like writing about that.” So it kind of inspired me to be like, “Well, what else do I want to write about?” because I felt very like when I first started that I needed to be in this little box, and over time, I realized that the box could be as big as I wanted it to be.
Torrey McGraw: And which is interesting that you say that because once again, just this journal advice, and I’ve just come to learn just from personal experience that there are all these “blogging rules” that hey, you have to stick to one niche or people would be confused about what you’re talking about. You have to set yourself up as an expert on this and this alone. And you’re saying just the opposite. You broke through that box and people still continue to visit your site and contribute and help you grow along the way.
Patrice Grell Yursik: Well, I mean what I do is I think I approached it in a different way. I already had the box before I went out of it. You can just start writing about whatever, but that brands you as a personal blogger. And in terms of growing, like if you do want to link your blog to your business, they are looking — and when I say “they” I mean advertisers and ad networks and people who might want to sponsor you or give you money or whatever. They’re looking to see where you fit and to see where they fit.
So for me, my blog at this point, I kind of see it like how I would see a women’s magazine. There are women’s magazines that are exclusively about hair, but think about Essence or think about Glamour or Marie Claire. In a magazine like that, you can find anything from reviews on makeup and hair products to a really compelling story with somebody who’s been through something crazy to a fashion spread to whatever you want.
So I think when I first started, I was like all beauty, all hair all the time, and then I was like, “Well, that’s not all that I am. I have more to say.” And I love doing interviews with people so that kind of allowed me to start doing more of that, and I didn’t want to be limited to a specific kind of person that I had to talk to.
Torrey McGraw: Yeah, yeah. You know, just talking about those advertisers looking for blogs to advertise on, when did you realize that “Hey, this is more than something where I’m just writing and helping people out. This can be a business that generates revenue?” At what point did you come to realize that?
Patrice Grell Yursik: Pretty early on I think. I mean I really didn’t go into this thinking this is going to be a new career path and I’m going to get all of this stuff from this blog. I was kind of like, “Well, this is going to be personal expression. It’s a way for me to maybe reach somebody else who feels like I have and has had these self-esteem issues, and maybe some way I can inspire somebody and maybe I can get some free hair products.” That’s all I thought about. I was just like, “Okay. Let’s just do this and see what happens.”
And pretty early on, I realized that there was nobody else who was really doing what I was doing in terms of — like there were a couple of other national hair sites at that time, but in terms of being the face of it and writing about it from a personal perspective, that was kind of new. So there was Nappturality which was a forum, which was so helpful and it’s still out there and has been such a source of information. Then there was Motown Girl who I interviewed her very early on in my blog and she didn’t want to show her face, and I think she still might feel that way, and that has worked for her.
For me, I was kind of like, “Well, I don’t mind showing my face,” and I think that that kind of helped to make people identify with me and let people know who this is that’s talking to them, and that really helped to make me grow. So because of that, advertisers — I was approached by my ad network so it’s kind of weird for me to say. Sometimes people will ask me, “Well, how do you get an ad network?” I’m like, “I don’t know. They came to me.” So all I can say is by building a strong enough platform and a strong enough foundation for yourself, opportunities will come to you.
Torrey McGraw: You started your site in 2006, so when did the ad network approach you?
Patrice Grell Yursik: They approached me I want to say six months after I started, maybe eight months after I started. I don’t even know. I mean I’ve been with them for four years now, so yeah. Pretty much within the first year I had been approached and then I may have signed by the next year. I’m not even sure.
Torrey McGraw: Yeah, yeah. So you started to generate money through the ad network. Were there any other ideas that you came up with to help generate revenue and add to that I guess revenue stream so to speak?
Patrice Grell Yursik: I mean at that point I still have that full-time job, so I wasn’t even thinking about it that way. I was just like, “Oh, okay. This is the icing on the cake.” I wasn’t approaching it like I need to build this revenue stream because this is going to be my new thing. It was like, “Okay. Now I still need to figure out how to balance my job with my hobby, and this income is lovely.”
I mean when I first started out, it wasn’t huge income and it still isn’t huge income, but it’s good enough that I was able to — it took me a long time and my husband also to be able to say, “Okay. We’re at the point where you can do this full time and we can still support the lifestyle that we want to have.”
Torrey McGraw: And that’s one thing. You talked about balancing the full-time job and growing and writing this site and writing articles for this site, which is something a lot of people struggle with. So were there any specific things that you did to either block time saying, “Okay. This is my time to write and research,” or how did you go about balancing a full-time job, husband, family, and then growing this site?
Patrice Grell Yursik: You do a lot of personal sacrifice when you have to balance. If you want to build it, it involves a lot of personal sacrifices. I mean I think pretty much the first three years of me having the blog, I would stay up until 2:00 in the morning writing. I would get home from work, spend time with my husband, cook dinner, and then get on the computer. Still to this day, it tends to be him watching TV at night and me still working because I’m not going to have a post up the next day if I don’t do that, and that’s the reality, the sad reality of being a blogger is that you got to put in those hours to get that post up for the next day. So that’s where it became really difficult.
In terms of my job, you’re not supposed to blog at work. I know people who do. I know people who have gotten in a lot of trouble for that as well. I mean at my own job, I got to see the effects of that on a couple of people who I knew who have that job. So that made me realize, “Okay. I will never do side work at my job because that’s something that the boss can really look at and it can mess up your whole bottom line.” So I always just made sure I did it at home.
And over time, I was good enough at my job that my boss — and as I said, it was a very laid back, different kind of office. It was not a high corporate structured office. So over time, I was able to convince my boss, “Look, you want these ten articles in on deadline by Wednesday? You need to let me work from home. So I can work from home on that day and I can just solely focus on getting in your copy at that time, and then I can have the rest of the day for myself because driving an hour here and an hour back and turning in the copy, it’s not going to happen.” He was like, “Okay.” So I started working from home on Wednesdays, which was great.
But yeah, I mean you have to be very disciplined. It requires a tremendous amount of discipline and it requires understanding from your partner in life, and I’ve always have that, which is big blessing. And it just requires a lot of I guess mental stamina is what it is.
Torrey McGraw: Yeah, absolutely! We haven’t mentioned this but I’m curious as to — you mentioned the Glam Advertising Network approached you. I mean you’ve been featured in Fast Company as a blogger, Crème of Nature ads, Ebony Magazine selected you as a judge here recently for their beauty and grooming awards, and then you recently partnered with MAC to create your own; and as a guy I would say lipstick, but you’re calling it Lipglass so I’m going to respect that.
Patrice Grell Yursik: That’s what they call it. I would call it lip gloss, but MAC’s specific brand is called Lipglass.
Torrey McGraw: Yeah, Lipglass. I’m just going to respect MAC.
So I’m curious, are these opportunities just coming to you as well or are you reaching out? Because these are some big-time opportunities for any blogger who would say, “Golly, that’s great!” So how are these opportunities, and maybe specifically the MAC Cosmetics, come to be?
Patrice Grell Yursik: Yeah, that came about because MAC approached 80 or so bloggers and asked us to submit an idea. So I got the email and I was just like, “Wow! This is awesome. Okay.” I came up with my idea. It was a very organic to me idea and something that I felt I had been looking for.
So I was like — and I guess it kind of goes with Afrobella where there’s this void that I can sense where women like me aren’t getting what they need so let me come up with the thing that I think that I’ve been looking for and maybe other people would be looking for it too. I always wanted to find the perfect purple lip color. Purple has always been my favorite color. I came up with the idea. I sent it in.
And I really did not spend a lot of time thinking about it or praying on it or wishing to see what would happen. So when I got the email from them that they had chosen it, it was such a pleasant, wonderful surprise just to get that validation that oh, my God, this idea that I had really did resonate with somebody and it continues to resonate with other people.
So a lot of the opportunities that I have had, like I said, come from putting in that hard work every day over a long period of time and just consistently trying to be true to myself and be true to what my reader wants and be the best Afrobella that I can be basically.
So Fast Company was because of my ad network, because of Glam. Glam had been named one of the 50 best advertising or best companies so they wanted to pick their biggest, most well-known bloggers to represent them for that shoot. So they flew us out to San Francisco and we had a beautiful photo shoot in San Francisco.
What was the other opportunity that you asked me about?
Torrey McGraw: You getting Crème of Nature ads?
Patrice Grell Yursik: Ah, Crème of Nature. Crème of Nature, they approached me as well. So yeah, I’m terrible about seeking my own opportunities and I probably need to be more proactive about it. But so far, it’s been a steady stream of wonderful things. I just receive it as best as I can.
Torrey McGraw: Yah. And how is the Lipglass doing as far as sales and how are people receiving it so far?
Patrice Grell Yursik: The Lipglass actually sold out in a week.
Torrey McGraw: Oh, wow!
Patrice Grell Yursik: Right. So that was crazy. A couple of the items from the collection, I believe two of the eye shadows sold out like that and then the Lipglass sold out so, so quickly, and then all the rest of the collection has now sold out as well. So MAC actually did something kind of unprecedented, which is to create a waitlist on maccosmetics.com so that people can sign up, and when they make more of the inventory, then it can be for sale. But I did not ever expect this is supposed to be a six-week collection that sold out in the first week.
Torrey McGraw: Wow!
Patrice Grell Yursik: Right.
Torrey McGraw: Who would have known the girl working behind the makeup counters so long ago, not so long ago like you’re ancient or anything, but would have their own Lipglass and makeup with MAC? That’s pretty awesome.
Patrice Grell Yursik: It’s amazing. When you put it that way, I’m like I hope that my story like people like me in the Caribbean, you’re growing up in Trinidad, you’re growing up in Barbados, you’re growing up in Jamaica or whatever, you don’t really think that these international opportunities could be yours. You feel like this is something that just happens to people on TV and it never will happen to me. And hearing you put it that way, it’s mind blowing.
Torrey McGraw: That’s great. That’s great. And then just lastly, we always like to ask our guests to provide some actionable advice that our community of aspiring entrepreneurs, whether they are trying to start a business or a blog or grow something similar, any actionable advice that you can maybe give to allow someone to go on their way?
Patrice Grell Yursik: Yeah! I mean the best advice I can give is own your online identity. A lot of businesspeople that I see who are up-and-coming don’t value the internet and don’t realize what it can do for their business. Sometimes I’ll walk into a store and they don’t have a Foursquare; they don’t have a website. Or you’ll find people who will see it as “Well, I’m on the web but this is my personal Twitter. This is my Facebook.” And it’s like no. All of it is your brand. All of it is how people are looking at you.
So it happens pretty often where I’ll see somebody who is an up-and-coming talent trying to nurture a small business, whether that’s making a product or offering a beauty service or whatever, and they’re on Twitter cursing and talking about crude things all day long; or they are on Facebook posting crazy pictures and saying things that are just totally like why are you even talking about this? There is a time and a place to vent about your life and to share certain things, and not everything needs to be for everybody in your life. It doesn’t have to The Truman Show unless you allow it to be.
So that’s the best advice that I can give. Be aware of the strength and power of your words and your presence online and control it before somebody else controls you, and be smart about it. Because you never know who’s following you on Twitter, you never know who is following you on Facebook, and you never know who is reading your blog.
Torrey McGraw: That could be an opportunity like you got approached that once they see something not so nice coming from one of your social media accounts, that could make the difference in you getting a great opportunity and somebody going to the next person.
So thank you so much, Patrice. Thank you so much for chatting with me. Once again guys, this is Patrice Yursik. She is the creator of afrobella.com. And Patrice, if anyone wants to reach out to you and say hey after this interview, what’s the best way to do that?
Patrice Grell Yursik: On Twitter, I’m at @afrobella so you can say hi to me on Twitter. On Facebook, it’s facebook.com/afrobellablog. And I think those are the best ways to reach me right now. I’m trying to figure out this Google Plus thing and when I get there I’ll let you guys know.
Torrey McGraw: You and I, both of us are trying to figure out this Google Plus thing.
So once again, thank you so much for your time; and thank you guys for watching another edition of Grind & Thrive.
A Big Thanks
Wanted to take a sec to thank everyone who has supported Grind & Thrive since it's inception. I welcome any feedback you may have for me and how to make the conversations more beneficial for you as a current or aspiring business owner.
Join our growing passionate community on the Grind & Thrive Facebook page.