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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

How This One Person Turned a Fun Side Project Into a Successful, Full-Time Job

Design work by Marcy Milks, photos
CeCe Olisa.

Recent Facebook and Instagram posts alerted me to the fact that CeCe Olisa, blogger, vlogger, writer, fashion enthusiast, and influencer (to name a few among her many unofficial titles) was on an all-expenses-paid cruise.

She hadn’t won the trip or had a wealthy friend pay her way—no, the impetus behind her (free!) adventure was far more impressive: Olisa decided she wanted to add travel writer to her list of accomplishments and she figured out a way to make it happen. That’s called gumption, friends—and the payoff can be huge.

We met for coffee once she was back in New York so I could ask her all those big questions, such as “How do you have so many Instagram followers?” and “How the heck did you figure out how to follow your passion and make money doing it?”

Here’s an edited excerpt from our conversation:

Can You Take Me Through Your Career Beginnings to Where You Are Now?

I moved to New York City to study musical theater. After a few years as a working actor, I took a break from auditioning and got a corporate job. During that break I started writing an anonymous blog.

What Made You Decide to Start the Blog?

I was a plus-size girl in NYC, and all of my friends looked like models. There were things I learned from that experience that pushed me to start the blog. Even though my friends loved me, they just didn’t understand where I was coming from exactly. So I started writing about dating, shopping, and fitness as a plus-size girl in the city.

What Were Your Early Intentions?

I thought Plus Size Princess would be like an online diary (a lot of my friends had blogs that were only read by their friends and family, so I assumed that’s how mine would be too), but after just a few months of posting regularly, I was getting loads of comments. The insecurities I was working through were resonating with strangers on the internet.

This was both scary and exciting!

How Did You Grow Your Following? Like, Literally Grow Your Instagram to Tens of Thousands of Fans?

I try to be very intentional about responding after my followers leave comments, and I even ask them questions sometimes so we can have a conversation.

I’ve noticed that my following grows immensely when I’m super consistent. I try to pick a schedule and stick to it, even if it’s blogging once per week and posting on IG every evening. Across my platforms, I reach hundreds of thousands of people; I think that’s a huge honor so I try to engage with them as much as possible.

Tell Me About the Start of theCURVYCon, the Conference for Plus-Sized Women That Debuted in 2015.

theCURVYcon is a body positive convention that I created with my business partner Chastity Garner two years ago. We’re two bloggers who created a space for our fans and followers to come to NYC for shopping, speaking panels, and meet-ups with popular body-positive celebs and bloggers, and YouTubers, including Ashley Graham, Amber Riley, Gabi Fresh, Nicolette Mason, and Sherri Shepherd.

The response has been amazing—we sold out our first two years, and this year, we’re especially pumped because we’re moving the convention to Fashion Week!

In Spite of That Success (or Should I Say Because of it?), You Decided You Wanted to Branch Out and Try Your Hand at Travel Writing? Exactly How Did You Make That a Reality?

As a blogger/influencer, it’s important for me to set goals and keep growing the type of content that I create. I decided in 2017 that I wanted travel blogging to be a part of my personal brand.

When it comes to blogging, sometimes your content is your resume, so I knew if I wanted to start collaborating with brands on travel, I’d need to make some travel content that showcased my eye, travel voice, etc.

My first step involved booking a trip to Cuba with my girlfriends, and taking a million pictures and YouTube footage. When I released it, the response was overwhelming. Within weeks, I was being approached with different travel opportunities. As you know, I just got back from a seven-night cruise to the Bahamas with Royal Caribbean, and I’m headed to New Orleans next.

I love that I can call that work!

What Career Advice Do You Have for Wannabe Career Changers?

If there’s something you’re passionate about, don’t ignore it. You may not be able to switch gears right away, but find ways to play around in the areas that make you happy. Don’t focus on money in the beginning; focus on figuring out what you love. When I started an anonymous diary I had no idea it would one day be paying my bills, but I always stayed true to what I loved to do, and eventually I was able to support myself with that.

How Important Is it to Carve Out Time for Passion Projects if Your Job Isn't Fulfilling?

I’m a full-time creative now, but I worked my corporate job for a very long time while still blogging. It was hard to balance both worlds, and I was constantly working to fit everything in, but it was nice to have that safety net.

So my advice is to keep a “day job” as long as possible, until you are really able to grow your passion into a full-time paying gig. I talk about that in more detail in my “How to Blog & Make Money” series since it’s definitely not as easy as saying, “I’m going to start a blog and quit my day job.”

Current Career Goals? Large and Small?

My post popular YouTube videos are my plus-size workout videos, so I’m working on a complete workout DVD. I’m also daydreaming about starting a podcast, so we'll see where that goes!

Inspired to start a side project of your own and see if it takes off like Olisa’s did? Entrepreneur Susie Moore lays out how to find time in your schedule to actually get started.

On the other hand, undertaking this type of endeavor doesn’t have to be about making enough money to quit your day job. You can pursue it simply just because you’re interested. And if you need a push to get started, here’s some advice on doing it.