ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Anna Mae Trievel is the woman behind Ann Arbor With Kids. It's the go-to site for parents in the area who want to know what kid-friendly activities are going on at any given moment. So, how did a stay-at-home mom grow this brand all by herself? She shared her story with us.
You’ve been in this area for many years. You were a stay-at-home mom and that’s how all of this evolved. Why did you start the blog?
“I was running the play group at our church. My daughter was about 2. It was December and at the time, Ann Arbor had a big ceremony where they would (light up) the trees during the holiday season. And everyone else was like, ‘Wow, I wish I would have known about that. I would have brought my kids!’ And then somebody else had done a cool event that nobody knew about. So, as the head of the group, when they’d find these things they’d just start sending it to me. And I just had a word document. Then about a year and a half later, my daughter started preschool. And the moms (there) were all like, ‘You keep a list of what’s going on around town, can you email that to me, too?’
“So now I’ve got play group who wants it and pre-school who wants it. That’s when I said, 'Maybe I should put this online.' I did that in 2009. At that time, it was ‘Ann Arbor Area Events and Activities for Preschoolers’ -- yeah, quite a mouthful there!”
Was it a blog?
“I started a combo-Google website and a blog, using Blogger. Then I switched to just (using) Blogger. The name didn’t quite fit anymore and that’s when I came up with ‘Ann Arbor with Kids.’ Before that, everything I had done was free. Then in 2011, I paid $10 for my domain -- that was a big step!”
You didn’t have any prior experience with blogging?
“I did not. I am a chemical engineer with computer science and political science minors. So that’s why I’m comfortable doing a lot of the tech stuff on the website.”
At the time you created it, were there any other people doing the same thing at that point?
“There was Ann Arbor Mom - she would post maybe once or twice a month.”
What has the response been from other moms throughout the years?
“They love it. I get a lot of positive feedback. My philosophy has always been: My site is always going to be free for the users. I list events for free as well. If I charge and you can only get on my site if you pay, I will lose my relevance.”
That must be a lot of pressure -- to feel the need to really know everything that’s going on.
“It is. But having the WordPress plugin (has helped). It has an event submission option, so people can submit the events themselves. If you want to self-submit, you can write as much as you want and you can put a picture in there. But then I offer top listing and Facebook shares of events (for a fee).”
How challenging has it been to be this one-woman army who does it all?
“It is challenging. (But) there are the parts that I like. I like doing the weekend roundups and what you should go do!”
Besides the challenges, has there been anything that’s really surprised you throughout the process?
“I really like it when people come to me and say “Can I advertise with you?” that’s always nice. I (also) never thought I’d have almost 6,000 fans on Facebook.”
What advice would you have for stay at home moms who feel like they’re hungry to do something more?
“Don’t get complacent. Just keep finding something new to do. Don’t just sit at home, get out as much as you can. We have an entire section of events that are free. That’s my big (thing). Going out doesn’t have to cost you money.”
What was your experience going from someone who was working to staying home full time?
“It was tough. We were from the East Coast (living here for two years) and the only people we knew were the people I worked with and the people my husband worked with. I would say the biggest challenge was that I didn’t really know anyone. Those first six months it was just me and my daughter at home.”
What would you say is your secret sauce? What made the site work?
“I think just being in touch and having an ear to the ground. It’s a lot harder for me now that I have an 11-year-old because people ask for recommendations for what to do with little ones and I’m like ‘Well every place we used to go is closed and I haven’t been to the new places with a little one.’ That probably, right now, is my biggest challenge. Now (my daughter) in middle school, so I keep upping the upper age because I have those readers. Those readers have been with me from the beginning.”
To learn more about Ann Arbor With Kids, visit her website.