More questions: mistakes, merch, and more

Last week I answered a few reader questions, and this week I'm going to answer a few more. These all came from our reader Julia, who has enough curiosity for a small midwestern town.

What's the worst mistake you've made (so far) with the empire and how did you fix it, prevent it in the future, learn from it?

This is going to be an incredibly unpopular answer, but my biggest mistake was starting the Offbeat Bride Tribe.

I started it on a whim as a way to test out a platform I was curious about, and I have regretted it ever since because A) Ning.com sucks and B) community management is emotionally difficult for me.

Now, let me be clear: the Tribe is a very happy mistake! Almost 20,000 of you love it deeply and passionately, and that love totally outweighs my personal issues with forums. It's totally worth it because you guys love it. But oh man, it has been really hard for me.

See, forums just are not my scene. I'm a blogger, not a community manager. I get deeply anxious over members fighting (like upset to the point of sweating, my heart racing, and shaking hands), frustrated by duplicate posts, baffled by people posting in the wrong place, and I bang my head over answering the same questions over and over again. Business-wise, forums eat time and money and don't have a great business model. I get irrationally emotional over community criticism: it hurts my feelings when frustrated members call me a "micromanager" for making changes to the community, or refer to me as the evil "THEY" (as in "Why did THEY do this!?").

To be clear: I totally own these shortcomings. These are not the failings of the Tribe, but my failings as a community manager. My mistake was not recognizing my own limitations.

Nothing on the Empire has been more emotionally difficult for me than dealing with the Tribe. Nothing. It took me almost three years of anxiety to realize that I needed someone else to manage the community, and thank GAWD a member agreed to take on the Sisyphean task. My emotional state vastly improved when I finally outsourced the community management to her. I'm too delicate, y'all!

The second biggest mistake I made was trying to move the Tribe off Ning's platform last year. I invested thousands of dollars and six months into the process, before realizing I needed to cut my losses and just suck it up and deal with Ning's shortcomings. Ning still sucks, but they're trying to get better. In the meantime, y'all get a community… and for that I am tremendously happy.

How does working from home affect married life or motherhood?

Sometimes it makes me feel like I'm ignoring my family, even as I'm trying to support them. I wrote a bit more about this issue on Offbeat Mama.

Would you ever go back to working in a more traditional environment?

If I was working for myself, sure! I actually really like working in an office, and sometimes I wish my Offbeat Empire staff could all be in the same room so that when a particularly funny viral video showed up we could all gather around Megan's screen to watch it, or when something went pear-shaped with PHP, J.M. Dodd could jump up and shout "HOLD YOUR CLICKS! I'M FIXING IT!" But part of how I've found such amazing people to work with is that they're all over the continent and work weird hours, so oh well.

Whats YOUR favorite things/type of post on each site? Which posts do you look forward to the most?

  • Offbeat Bride: I love the wedding profiles from people belonging to subcultures I didn't even know existed. I also get super stoked when we feature tiny vendors who email me the next day saying they made back the cost of their ad in three hours.
  • Offbeat Mama: My obsession with Pushba knows NO BOUNDS. I have to stop myself from publishing photos of her every week.
  • Offbeat Home: The Favorite Things category.

Which Offbeat site is your favorite?

I love each site for its own merits. I love Offbeat Bride for being so happy and colorful and profitable enough that it supports the other two sites. I love Offbeat Mama because I'm proud of it being a drop of positive, non-bitchy sanity in an ocean of mommyblogs filled with dogma and negativity. And I love Offbeat Home because it's fresh and new and has a lot of potential.

What is your favorite non-offbeat, not-yet-featured on one of the sites blog?

Does The Daily What count as non-offbeat?

What is one thing you've given up for the Empire that you really miss?

I would say health insurance, but I *just* hooked that shit up with a business partner. (SCORE!) So I guess now it's… not giving a fuck. In my many years of corporate work, one of the things I always liked was seriously not giving a fuck. Don't give me wrong: I was good at my jobs, but ultimately I was working for companies that would get along just fine with or without my work. With the Offbeat Empire, not only am I supporting my family, but I'm supporting the families of my freelance staff as well. I'm also trying to support the dreams of the businesses that join us as sponsors, little mom 'n' pop vendors that I really genuinely want to see succeed. These are people I care about, and I distinctly give a fuck. It's exhausting. I love it, but I miss the carefree not-giving-a-fuck-ness of my corporate jobs sometimes.

How many hours a week do you typically work?

I use a website called RescueTime to track my computer usage, so I can tell you exactly how many hours a week I work. Last week was 50. The weeks before were 46, 53, 56, and 55. So, looks like the average is a little over 50 hours a week.

You've said you like lists. What do you keep your lists in? Any advice for effective lists?

For keeping track of my own to-dos, I use Gmail/Google Calendar's Tasks feature, with lists clustered by project (Bride, Mama, Home, Empire, Personal). For project management, I use Basecamp to help track site bugs, enhancements, developments, and documentation.

You seemed to flirt with merchandising early in OBB's incarnation, but it didn't really go anywhere. Would you consider bringing back merch for the Empire? I'd totes wear a OBH shirt. OBH totes would be cool too. OBH coffee cups? ♥

When I sold "Fuck Taffeta" and "Altar your thinking" tshirts back in the day, I was managing orders and shipping myself, and it wasn't fun nor were the profit margins worth it. Just a couple months ago on the Tribe, I tried offering t-shirts, mugs, tote bags and other merch through CafePress (their quality kind of sucks, but they DO take care of shipping)… and sold like three shirts. We tried running a contest for Threadless-style community tshirt design, and it completely fizzled with like two submissions coming in. I'm totally not opposed to merch, but it's a whole different business model, and clearly one I'm clearly not very good at.

Will you ever write/edit Offbeat Mama or Offbeat Home books?

Sure, if I was offered a book deal.

Do you enjoy answering reader questions?

Love, love, LOVE them! I get great ideas from answering questions, and relish the opportunity to get to pull back the wedding porn curtain and show y'all what's going on backstage. A few years ago, I used to write very publicly about my life and my schemes and my plans (um, hello: I wrote a memoir!)… but due to some online harassment that went from irritating to creepy, I made my personal blog private and got sort of closed off. I miss being open with the internet. These questions give me a chance to get all personal, and make it feel like it's 2001 again, and Heather still has her web design job, Ev swings by blogger meet-ups, and Choire and I smoke and gossip and do stupid poses for each other via webcam.

You can always ask YOUR reader questions right here.

  1. Ah! I completely agree with the forum thing. I used to be in that scene and totally remember the little debates and heated arguments. Not that I, myself, see that much on OBT, but I can completely understand.

    I love your question answer segments. They always are so interesting. It's refreshing to hear that you created this empire and are able to support yourself and others too! You truly inspire.

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  2. Awe Shucks Ariel,

    Thanks for the great answers to all of my questions. What an unexpectedly awesome birthday present! (my 23rd is tomorrow the 24th) I'm glad I could ask questions that were fun to answern. I especially like your answer to what you gave up for the empire. I can totally understad the appeal of a job where you don't necessarily have to give a single fuck.

    Thanks for doing what you do. Every weekend I get a little sad when I realize there aren't any new posts from the Empire to read.

    I also hope some book publisher offers you an offbeat mama deal because that book is necessary and would totally rock!

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    • Well, hey, it's your birthday: gratulerer med dagen! (That's happy birthday in Norwegian ^^)
      Those were great questions, by the way. And great answers, Ariel. You seem so honest/open, and I really love that.

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  3. "So I guess now it's… not giving a fuck."

    Holy words from my mouth. I have my own business also, and I just MISS the days (esp now at 8w pregnant) where you just went in "and took it easy" just did the bare minimum – still did a great job – and then just went home and forgot about it?

    Now when I laze about work (like right now eating lunch on OBB haha) I feel guilty when I get home… and I never stop thinking about work! Oh well, I love it (as we all know you love the Empire) and it's just a different way of working. And I'm convinced one day I will get the hang of it, just like you!

    You Rock! :-D

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  4. Ariel, I really appreciate and admire your honesty and all of the hard work you put into Offbeat Bride because you care so much about the cause. I think you are doing something really incredible for women with Offbeat Bride. I know I wouldn't have any idea where to start with my wedding if it wasn't for this site and your book (yes, I've bought and read it!) So it means a lot to me personally that you put in those 50 hours and invest yourself emotionally in your work to bring us this community and this message that it's not only ok if we want offbeat weddings and relationships, it's totally awesome! :)

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  5. Ariel, I want you to know I love reading your answers to reader questions as much as you love answering them. =D

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  6. Ariel, you are awesome! Thanks for putting the work into these sites. I check OBB and OBH every day just for fun :) They are hands down some of the best websites out there!

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  7. Ariel: Thank you TONS for the Offbeat Empire! This website has helped me TREMENDOUSLY with planning my upcoming nuptials in September!

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  8. I love and appreciate all the work you and your team put into your 3 websites, I started reading OffBeat Bride when I got engaged in 2009 and have been hooked ever since

    Thank you Ariel

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  9. I also want to say thank you, for the book, for the 3 websites and the tribe. I love them all! <3

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  10. I'm giving you an air high five right now, Ariel. I tried the forums but felt a bit meh about it all because I really just enjoy dipping into the sites, getting what I need from them, and then maybe browsing some pictures of shoes ;) Once you have a community online, there is ALWAYS an element of judgement, wanting to fit in etc that gets on my nerves. Still, it's an amazing resource and a huge support to lots of people, by the looks of it, so i'm glad it's there for them. Plus of all of the forums, at least here it's LESS judgey, and people all seem to be pretty aware of the need not to be TOO fitty-in-ish :)

    LOVE your answers, love this site, loved my wedding last weekend. Thanks for all the help your site gave me. I had the best day of my life, and lots of that came from your site giving me the confidence to believe in myself and my ideas, even when no one else did.

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  11. Basecamp FTW! My FH uses it to organize and manage the albums he produces, and it's how he wrangles the artists he works with to make sure everyone's on their mark. Now we're using it to plan our wedding. It's a great way to keep each other informed on ideas and progress, and with so much inspiration coming from the internet (cough, OBB, cough) it makes the most sense for us to have an online management tool instead of a binder.

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  12. I just want to say that I really appreciate all the hard work you put into the offbeat empire and I honestly feel like I would go mad if I didn't have the tribe to support all the wedding planning. I have seen when people accused you of micromanagement and the evil "THEY" and to be honest, it really fricking annoyed me. You go out of your way to improve the offbeat experience and although not everything you do will be popular (like changing the tribe layout), it is not only necessary but also, people need to get used to change because let's face it, in life nothing stays the same!
    So thank you again for all your amazing work and if you ever want an offbeat UK representative feel free to send me a message ;)

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  13. Dear Ariel,

    Thank you for putting up with the OBB Tribe. Of all the forums out there (and good lord are there a lot), I think it is one of the most civilized, supportive, and fun ones. So while yes, many of us never quite got the "post this here" instructions, it still works.

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  14. Thank you for the Tribe. I know it is a pain – but that paid really helps so many others. I posted a question yesterday that was so hard on me. Within minutes I got such thoughtful responses back – I feel so much better now – it truly help! Thank you!!

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  15. Usually, I am a big forum lover. I thrive in forums, I learn some pretty cool things in forums, and I've made some awesome friends I've never met in person in forums. That said, wedding forums I don't do. I came to OBB because a nasty debate on the the Knot ended with one mother of the bride going "everyone here is so critical and spiteful! If there are any brides who don't feel the need to one-up each other, go to Offbeat bride!"

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  16. Ariel,
    I'm sorry to bother you but I've been on RescueTime's webpage for hours and can't find the answer. Would RescueTime work for a freelance photographer to track editing hours?

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  17. if there was a way to donate $$ to keep this all going I would – it doesn't need to be for amything but I'd be happy to put a couple bucks in and I'm sure others would be the same (I'm not saying you need it at all but if it let you do things you couldn't its win win) xoxo

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    • In a few months, Ning will be giving us the option to have paid membership levels, which could include "Supporter." Membership on the Tribe will ALWAYS be free, but members who love the Tribe could donate if they wanted, and would then be listed at the Supporter level. I'm still not totally sure how it will all work yet (since Ning hasn't released the tools) but it's coming! :)

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      • you know I saw you replied and was like OMG!!!! its Ariel and she replied to ME!!!!!! I may have had a little sqeee moment :)
        anyway glad its coming I'd love to contribute :D

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  18. I smiled at the comments about the Tribe. Sounds like a family – people in the tribe love each other, fight, have annoying quirks (like reposting questions and not reading carefully), miscommunicate (always worse with electronic communication). You and Ang have done an amazing job giving birth to an incredible community. Thank you!

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  19. Oh, I use Yaware to track my computer usage.It is also a good app

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