We interviewed Shontel Horne, a writer, editor, and content strategist, to learn more about the world of luxury writing and about her business. Shontel works a full-time job in the diamond industry, doing web producing and writing — she then uses her earnings to invest in her business.
Alongside her writing and editing work, Shontel told us, “I do a lot of strategy and consulting, I also have a small business that’s wine industry adjacent, called VINOTES. It’s a wine tasting journal where you can learn how to taste wine and guide yourself through.”
She noted that she wanted the business to outline the intricacies of wine tasting without it being really overwhelming, and still be really accessible.
Shontel started her awesome career as a luxury journalist in Los Angeles, and that was the bulk of her career for over 12 years. Her aim after college was to work for CNN after studying in Atlanta, but the recession led her down a different path – luxury writing and marketing.
She went from “being just a journalist to actually helping businesses with their sites, and then doing my own. [What I do is] a mix of content and a mix of digital marketing focus.”
Around 2017, Shontel worked for the Oprah Winfrey Network, and the curiosity of the Website Builder Expert team was piqued.
She told us, “So it’s a network, there’s all these shows. And then for online, we had to figure out which assets from those shows are going to be the best for marketing. So, like, what would fit for social, for YouTube, for the website. Discovering which clips we think are going to resonate the most, and tell the story without giving it away.”
“I was a senior producer at that point. Not only would I help to figure out the story lines that work best for an online audience, but I also helped with the website strategy and I created original digital content for the OWN Your Vote campaign — both in 2017 and again in 2020. That was an initiative that Oprah was really passionate about to encourage voters among women and it was just really fun. One of the most fun things was to try to figure out how to work with the Obama Foundation on a live stream.”
“I am just really all about how to connect with an audience, no matter what that is. Whether that’s through content [or] through marketing, [it’s] helping businesses [and] individuals find out what their audience communication style will look like and where they should focus.”
“It’s really recognizing what you actually want to accomplish. Kind of reverse engineering and then building the strategy out that can help lead you to success. I think I’m really good at – when it comes to digital – spotting a lot of the blind spots.”
“These days I’ve been really interested in thinking about underserved communities, like people of color. People that aren’t born into these elite circles, but that are creating luxury products. How can they take up space, you know, how can they actually have a voice here? So that’s something that I’ve actually really been big on leaning into.”
“Being creative with your content is probably the biggest step, especially if you’re starting. Also really narrow down your platforms. Knowing where the content should live and where you believe it will have the biggest impact as a journey. I think this is something I took from journalism,” she said.
Shontel showcases her knowledge of Googles E.E.A.T guidelines by saying, “I do think expertise is quite important. I do think the more you can write about just one particular thing and just really become the person that’s known for that, that ends up being your best bet.”
“I worked at a high-end restaurant and I learned about food, from this high-end restaurant. I did not grow up going to a lot of fine dining restaurants, but working in this place I learned so much about the quality of ingredients and then started to learn about wine.”
“Working in a restaurant is actually what made me quite a strong luxury writer. Yeah, I would not have guessed that in a million years.”
“When I moved to Los Angeles after college and I got an internship at a luxury magazine, I was able to hone in on food because I was the only one that had experience in a restaurant. I was able to have conversations with chefs in a really interesting way that the other interns weren’t able to, because I had the experience myself.”
Shontel began working at Angeleno Magazine, a regional, high-end magazine about modern luxury. It was there that she learnt the ropes on all things architecture, high-end art, beauty, fashion and philanthropy.
She explains, “Los Angeles is one of the most famous cities in the world for luxury. What better place to learn? The magazine was great because I was just thrown in, from day one, interviewing celebrities and talking about their product lines.”
When we asked Shontel about whether working for a luxury magazine allowed her to get a lot of luxury items for free she said, “There’s all this stuff coming to your house. And that was actually how I started writing more about wine. To this day, I get things sent to me. If you’ve seen beauty influencer unboxings on YouTube and TikTok – it’s like that!”
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“Know which [social media] platforms are right for you because I don’t believe everyone needs to be everywhere.”
“I’m very big on having multiple streams of income because, [this career is] quite volatile. We’ve seen all of the layoffs from all of the big tech companies,” she said.
When discussing her business, VINOTES, she talks about how she did research on the best notebook printers, found the US trademarks, got her business licence, YouTubed business answers, and used the website builder Strikingly to create her website.
“The biggest lesson is to really lead with being a business as early as you can. That means getting your business bank account, forming an LLC and, when it’s tax time, you’ll be happy that you did.”
Her notes on working with Strikingly for her business were, “It’s really easy for you to build and see it as you’re building — which I think is quite nice. I’ve worked with Drupal, WordPress, custom CMS and, honestly, something as simple as the back and forth between backend and hitting update can be the most encouraging. I think for people that aren’t used to building sites, but that really want to just get something out into the world — that’s really helpful.”
“I think it’s going to increasingly become blurry as brands are all encouraged to become media companies. I think you’re going to just continue to see brands take up space in untraditional areas, especially when it comes to marketing and content.”
“That means a beverage brand will have a TV series or a podcast. That’s just going to continue to be what we see. For example, the Gwyneth Paltrow brand, Goop, has a website, products, a restaurant and has shows.”
Shontel discusses the importance of social media and how it will continue to grow, but advises that having your own website is important to prioritize. This is because you are less at the whim of the platform. She goes on to talk about maintaining social media alongside monetizing your website with products as “that’s yours, that’s your home.”
Shontel told us she was incredibly nervous about the initial investment to produce her VINOTES notebook. She didn’t want to compromise on the quality of her product and was willing to spend everything she needed to for the sake of quality.
“Yes, it’s expensive starting a business, but it’s not worth it to take shortcuts. This is more money than I’ve ever spent on anything – besides my car. I was like, oh my gosh, I’ve never spent this much on my own creativity and vision. But that is the leap you need to take.”
“I was so nervous. I definitely remember one sleepless night where I was like, this is the biggest financial mistake I could make, what am I doing? I was like, I’m gonna lose all of my money. Oh no, no one’s gonna buy it.”
“But it becomes easier to part with that money when you truly believe in it and recognize the investment. I was fortunate enough to get my whole investment, of thousands and thousands of dollars, back in like a month.”
We’ll leave you with the feeling Shontel gave us. She opened our eyes to the leap of faith needed in any project or product you want to create in your life. Like her, we hope to “encourage people to do one thing. I believe everybody should have a product, because my product sells without me doing a lot of work.”