Melissa Muldoon is 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 chose the name “matta” (which means crazy in Italian) as a blog title 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 originally began the Matta 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 way, as well as shares language learning tips. 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.

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.

How did you get started? What sparked this business idea?

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 started my graphic design business. After several years had gone by I realized that I was missing something and couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then I realized that I regretted not learning the Italian language during my time in Italy. Instead of just 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 page 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. 

How do you make money?

Through the blog I have established connections with Italian language schools in Italy with whom I co-lead language immersions for small groups. In 2012 I received my first invitation to organize a program in Puglia with Ylenia Sambati director of YLTOUR. Since then, through social networking and the continued growth of my blog, I have expanded my travel and learning programs in Italy. In addition to co-leading Language Immersion programs with my partners in Puglia, Lucca, Rome and soon, Florence and Arezzo, I also facilitate Homestay Language Vacations for students with Italian teachers in Tuscany, Venice, Bergamo and the Lake regions of northern Italy. I also offer a variety of language learning materials through affiliates on the Matta site.

How long did it take to get your business into the black?

Business is thriving and still developing.

When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?

Actually my business idea has emerged gradually over time and invented itself. I never set out to create this business, but through my networking skills, writing and self promotion, a thriving business has been born. Now I am committed to growing it and I can’t wait to see where it will take me next. New business opportunities continue to present themselves daily because of the Matta blog.

How did you get your first customer?

My first customers were all attracted to me through the Studentessa Matta website. All my clients have found me through the internet.

How are you marketing your business? What strategy works best?

The best way I have found to market my business is to produce top notch content. Networking is also extremely important. In my early days as a graphic designer when I first started my own business, I used to call my competition – other local designers – and introduce myself. We would talk about business, graphics, computer techie problems and after a short conversation, we became friends. Often times they hired me to handle their work overflow. I do the same now with my Italian blogging. I make friends with 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. You can learn a lot from your competition and from others who do what you do. 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.

Is there a trend in your industry that particularly excited you right now?

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 connect with all kinds of talented and interesting individuals, authors and artists…and how accessible they all are these days through email, instant messaging and tweeting.

What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?

The most difficult decision I’ve faced in the past few months was deciding to start an Italian language podcast. At first the thought of producing a solo podcast was intimidating, but it has proven to be a wonderful way to reach a new audience.

What do you think it is that makes you successful?

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 mind to do.

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

The most satisfying part of my Italian language business is developing relationships with others who are learning the language, as well as with my Italian partners. Being recognized and acknowledge by my peers and by “Italy Magazine” in particular, as a top 10 Finalist in the category of Best Art and Culture Blog two years in a row, out of thousands of entries, was also quite a satisfying moment. 

Tell us about one of your hobbies when you’re not working.

When I’m is not occupied by my Italian travels and projects, I can be found plein air painting in oils, playing with my two beagles or watching movies with my husband.

Where do you see yourself in a couple of years?

In the next few years I see myself living part-time in Italy, continuing to co-lead Italian Language immersions and traveling all over Italy. I also have plans to write a novel.

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