The Rapidian

Victoria Upton: Learn, Lift, Repeat

Victoria Upton, publisher of Women's Lifestyle, tells how her original idea for a positive newspaper brought her into the magazine industry and beyond.

/Courtesy of Victoria Upton

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Victoria Upton, publisher of Women’s Lifestyle Magazine, calls her office on West Monroe “a vortex of positive energy. The things we say in here happen.” It’s not hard to see why. The space is open, bright and welcoming with a large, comfortable kitchen table right as you enter.

Before founding the magazine in 1998, Upton’s original idea was to create a positive news newspaper. Her excitement about this idea led her to seek help from the Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW).

Upton was attracted to GROW’s program, calling it a “crash course in entrepreneurship.” She enjoyed both GROW’s “learn as you go” approach and the unique peer critique process of the program.

She worked through the program compiling research about the current publication market. Upton says she spent hours in the library going through microfilm and would even interview customers in the magazine aisle of D&W, clipboard in hand.

Her research led her to realize that “women are the ones who drive retail, commerce and most discretionary spending decisions within their homes.” Additionally, she saw plenty of publications that reached out to women on a national level and wondered why there wasn’t more effort to reach out women on the local level.

Armed with this new knowledge, she scrapped her original idea and set out to create a “local publication for women that gave local businesses the opportunity to promote themselves to a local audience in an affordable fashion and in a way that worked.”

Before long, Women’s Lifestyle was up and running as a local monthly magazine. Upton wasn't done: she saw more potential in her idea. She gained inspiration from the newspaper industry, which often uses syndicated content to fill up their pages. She decided to use a similar approach to help Women’s Lifestyle grow into other markets.

Now, Women’s Lifestyle has expanded into Kalamazoo, Detroit, Central Michigan, Muskegon, Chicago and even into Texas and Florida. Each version keeps their own local focus and their own websites, but shares universal content such as book reviews, recipes or fashion tips.

Women’s Lifestyle is also available online, with an electronic version, an active social media presence and a website.  Upton says she is “always improving, always looking for what we can do better.”

The success of Women’s Lifestyle has created a ripple effect. “It’s helped build businesses within their communities who have seen huge results from their advertising. The magazine is designed to connect businesses to their target customers.”

It’s also helped build up the careers of contributing writers. “It’s interesting to watch the transition of the writers who have started with us and are now established authors with 4 or 5 books and are experts within their field.”

Upton, not a self-described writer, feels most comfortable with the networking and design aspect of her businesses. "It's all about having a product that looks good, is inviting, welcoming, feels good, but is also intelligent."

She is certainly not resting on her laurels where she is. Adaptation and "going with the flow" are at the heart of her business model. "You have to learn new things consistently to work in this field and embrace the technology as it comes along." She is open to moving the magazine in any direction that technology takes it and joked that she would even "work with chips implanted in people's brains" if that is the next wave.

Upton strives to keep herself sharp with an annual New Year's Resolution of learning three brand new things every year. She's taken on video editing and even weekly radio programming with WYCE. For her show, she plays music that best describes her: "upbeat, funky, soulful and fun." She serves as a board member with the Grand Rapids Community Media Center.

Her advice to new entrepreneurs is simple: "Do it. Jump in. Try to learn as you go. Embrace technology."

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