At the age of 32, Lisa Ng (BA 2006 Woodsworth) has already taken on several creative gigs: she was an actress for 10 years (she was in Disney TV movies starring Justin Timberlake and Mickey Rooney), voiced cartoons and has been one of Toronto’s top wedding DJs. In 2010, she started her latest venture: the Hip and Urban Girl’s Guide blog, which she co-founded with Wendy Kam Marcy (BSc 2000 UTSC).
How would you describe your blog?
The Hip and Urban Girl’s Guide is geared towards women in the post-university, pre-family phase of their lives, so most of our readers are 25 to 35. We blog daily about food, travel, lifestyle, fashion and events. We try to inspire other women to go out there and live life as hard as possible – to try new foods and go to new places. If we can do it – and we’re the everyday girl in Toronto – then they can do it, too. If we can survive ziplining, they can also survive ziplining.
What are some the craziest things you’ve done for the blog?
We were sent to Madrid, Spain, by American Express to cover a Coldplay concert in a bullring. My husband and I did the iconic Route 66 road trip over two weeks, stopping at the Grand Canyon. We went to the top of Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii. We spent this Christmas in Aspen, Colorado, and New Year’s in Vail, and I learned to ski for the first time.
The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation challenged me to do my first 5-K this year, so I shared my journey of learning to run with readers. I’m not a runner, I sit on the couch a lot, I eat a lot of food, so it was incredible to find that strength within myself. The blog has pushed me in ways that I would never have imagined.
How much time do you spend travelling in a given year?
We spent three to four months travelling in 2012. I do a lot of my travelling with my husband, who also has a freelance mobile career. We don’t have a fixed address. We’re renting a furnished apartment in Toronto and then we’re off to New York for six weeks and we’re not sure where we’re going next. We’re just kind of vagabonding.
How did you come to start the blog?
I was doing a BA part time at U of T over a six-year period, and I had to find a way to pay tuition. So I started DJing weddings. I DJed 11 in my first year. By the time I graduated, I had 50 weddings booked for the following year. It got bigger and bigger and I was featured in Toronto Life as one of the most popular wedding DJs in Toronto.
I left because I really wanted my evenings and weekends back. I had actually started this blog as a companion piece to my DJ business – to show people the other things I was interested in. Then I met my business partner Wendy at a women’s networking meet-up that I ran for women who work from home. She also had a blog, and we clicked as friends and business partners and decided to combine our blogs. In June 2010 the Hip and Urban Girl’s Guide was fully born.
How do you make money from a blog?
I think a lot of my entrepreneurial skills from having a DJ business – promoting yourself and your brand – really helped. After year one, we started having brands approach us to work on sponsored content – like advertorials that were still authentic to the voice of our blog. American Express approached us to be brand ambassadors, and then other brands jumped on. The blog is probably 50 to 60 per cent of my full-time job with freelance work on top of that.
What’s your readership level?
We have about 30,000 unique monthly visitors, about 7,000 people follow us on Twitter, and we have about 2,000 fans on Facebook that follow our updates.
What are some of the challenges of running, and writing, a blog?
When you work for yourself, you need to find a time to turn it off. Because there’s no office and home divide, I find I’m always checking my email or posting a blog late at night. It is so important to unplug and I’m learning that more and more.
Blogging is harder to do when you’re on the road, so Route 66 was definitely a challenge. We were checking out of a hotel every one to two days, and sometimes I was in my pyjamas and I knew I still had to work. I also can’t food blog late at night! I get so hungry. I go on a tear at 2 in the morning looking for chips or chocolate.
How do you draw on your university education in your work?
I earned an honours BA in political science and cinema studies, and I definitely honed my writing skills from the dozens upon dozens of essays that I had to write. I feel like at U of T, you had to be a good writer. My writing skills came from the essay writing, for sure.
What are your long-term career goals?
It’s hard to say how the social media landscape will change in five years. Will blogging still be popular? Will people still be on Facebook and Twitter? I think it’s all about evolving and keeping abreast of everything in tech and social media. It’s impossible to plan. I always think the five-year plan is very old school.
I would love to host a travel show, or something food-related. I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon of just anything – I want to make sure I’m really passionate about it.