Melissa Muldoon – La Studentessa Matta

Interact in social media. Set up a blog site and engage your customers. Set up Instagram and Twitter accounts and post information frequently that is useful and interesting to your clients.

Melissa Muldoon is “la studentessa matta” the crazy linguist! She promotes the study of Italian language and culture through the blog “Studentessa Matta” and the podcast “Tutti Matti per l’Italiano”. She began the blog to improve her language skills and to connect with other language learners. Through the blog she explores language and culture in a fun and light-hearted way, as well as shares language learning tips. The podcast is presented in Italian and features stories, clips and conversations with native Italian speakers. As a result of the Matta blog’s success, Melissa now partners with Italian Schools in Italy and co-leads small group language immersions, as well as organizes individualized Homestay Language Vacations with Italian teachers in Italy.

She chose the name “matta” as a blog title (matta in Italian means crazy) because she wanted to convey the idea that anything is possible if you go a little “crazy” and let go of inhibitions. In so doing, you are freer to take risks and achieve things you never thought possible.

Melissa has an undergraduate degree in Fine Arts and History and a Masters degree in Art History. Twenty-one years ago she started her own graphic design business “Melissa Design” and has worked independently ever since. Five years ago when she first started her dual Italian and English language learning blog, she had no idea that it would lead to a new writing and travel career. In 2012 she received her first invitation to organize and co-lead a small group language immersion in Puglia. Since then, through social networking and the continued growth of her blog, she has expanded her travel and learning programs in Italy. She also offers a variety of language learning materials through affiliates on her site.

The Studentessa Matta blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed have a popular following. The blog was selected by “Italy Magazine” in 2013 & 2014 as a top ten finalist for Best Art & Culture Blog. Since 2010 it has also been recognized every year by the Lexiophile & language sites.

Where did the idea for “Diario di una studentessa matta” come from?

Being an Art History student I studied in Florence Italy during my senior year in college. I returned home, finished college, went to graduate school, got married and eventually started my own graphic design business. After several years had gone by I felt that I was missing something, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. Then I realized I regretted not learning the Italian language during short my time in Italy. Instead of brooding about missed opportunities, I bought an Italian grammar book and began to self-teach myself the Italian language. As time progressed and my Italian skills improved, I decided to open a Word Press Blog to chart my language learning journey. Soon I discovered that I loved to write and the blog began to grow and expand. It gave me the perfect incentive to use my Italian skills in a meaningful way and I also began to connect with people all over the world. Now because of the blog, in addition to being a graphic designer, I am also a writer and a facilitator of language immersion trips in Italy.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I start my day with an espresso made in a Bialetti coffee pot. I work in a home office, so my commute is short. I spend most of my day at the computer. The first thing I do when I sit down at my desk is to check overnight emails from Italy and respond to inquiries and requests from my network. Most of my business is conducted in Italian through email and Skype conversations. I spend about an hour on social media checking the Matta Facebook page and Twitter Feed. I add new fresh content to my sites, as well as repost interesting articles to my social media channels. I make notes about ideas for future blog posts. Midday I go to the gym and work out. I need the time to process all the information that is now in my head. After lunch I sit down and write. I spend the afternoon developing posts and content for my blog and podcast. I continue to check email and interact with social media. After dinner I walk my dogs, while listening to Italian podcasts. I relax, watch a film, go to bed, rise and repeat all over again.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I am a creative person. When I get an idea, I first begin to visualize it from several different angles in my head and then I begin to act on it immediately. This is the same for a collaborative project with an Italian partner for one of my trips, as it is for the creation of a new blog post or podcast episode. I try not overthink the creative process, but just let it flow out of me naturally, finding my own unique voice and perspective on things. After completing a first draft, I continue to refine and polish it, constantly switching back and forth between Italian to English. For my blog articles I am also thinking about how I can visually illustrate my words through photographs original illustrations. I try not to let the idea of “perfection” hinder me. Once I am satisfied with something, I don’t procrastinate, I hit publish and move on to my next project. That is how I bring ideas to life, make progress and continue to create new opportunities.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I am excited by the explosion of language learning materials that appear every day on the internet. Now there are so many new sites and interactive programs available to help students, and it is my pleasure to research these and report about them on my blog. I am also excited about social networking and how it has helped me to connect with all kinds of talented and interesting individuals, authors, teachers and artists. I think it is really amazing how accessible these individuals are these days, through email, instant messaging and tweeting.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I am successful because I’m constantly pushing myself to try new things. I am also extremely focused and connect dots quickly. But the thing that makes me most successful is my habit of making lists. Everything I write down on a list, gets done. I am extremely self motivated. Sometimes I can’t work fast enough to tackle all the interesting projects that I have in my mind to do.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

My first job as a graphic designer was working for a catalogue mail order company of office supplies. I hand drew all layouts with markers and worked with the marketing staff, photographers, typographers and printers. This was before computer graphics was a thing, so I learned traditional methods of layout and design and a great deal about rubber cement and X-acto blades. After many slices to my poor sticky fingers, I was very happy to move on to my next job where I worked on a Mac, learned computer graphics and received the training and experience that would allow me to start my own home based design business.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I used to think that if I could do it all over again, I would have attended a larger university and majored in Graphic Design, instead of attending a small liberal arts college where I received a Liberal Arts education and I majored in Art History and Studio Arts. However, life is crazy and takes many twists and turns. Now I realize how important my Liberal Arts and Art History background was, as it set the ground work for my first graphic design career. It also provided me the opportunity to study in Italy and gave me my first exposure to the language, which today has become my primary focus of interest, personally and professionally. So, no. Now I believe I wouldn’t change a thing.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do.

Network. Network. Network.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

In my early days as a graphic designer when I first started my own business, I used to call my competition (other local designers) on the phone and introduce myself. We would talk about business, graphics, computers and after a short conversation, we became friends. More often than not, they hired me to handle their work overflow. I do the same now with my Italian blogging. I network with my fellow bloggers, we share stories and talk about Italy. Pretty soon we are writing guest posts for one another and collaborating on projects together. We also help promote each others projects. My podcast got started based on a collaboration I had with a fellow blogger. Eventually I took the podcast solo. We all have unique voices and should be confident about what we bring to the table and shouldn’t be afraid to make these strategic connections and learn from each other to help grow our individual businesses.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Interact in social media. Set up a blog site and engage your customers. Set up Instagram and Twitter accounts and post information frequently that is useful and interesting to your clients.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and Why?

I hired a Word Press guru to handle any technical and coding issues I have running my blog site. It has freed me up to concentrate on creative aspects and not worry about the nuts and bolts of the site. The person I hired helped to automate the forms I now use for Homestay Italian Vacations inquiries, as well as the reservations forms for the Italian Immersion trips. She also monitors the site to keep it from being attacked by malware and hackers and ensures all my hard work is always backed up.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them.

Being a designer, I use Adobe products all the time: Illustrator, Photoshop, Fireworks and Dreamweaver. These are programs that are constantly open on my desk top. They give me the flexibility to create my own graphics and integrate them into my blog. I use WordPress to run my blog. It is so easy to use and very expandable, in terms of apps and widgets and it is a very stable platform.

What is one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I recommend “La bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind” by Beppe Severgnini, an Italian journalist who works in Italy and America (New York Times. In his latest work he looks inside the Italian mind set and attempts to uncover what makes Italians tick. That…or to Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – just because it is my favorite book of all time!

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others.

I am inspired by Lucrezia Oddone, who teaches Italian to foreigners through her YouTube Channel – Learn Italian with Lucrezia. She is a confident young woman who has created a huge following based on her own personal style and commitment to her fans. She also cranks out content like nobody else I know!

I am also inspired by Dianne Hales, a fellow American blogger and lover of all things Italian. She has published two books about Italy, “La Bella Lingua” and “Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered”. I am so impressed by her being a published author, that now I am considering writing a book myself.