PHOTOS BY BRODY WHEELER
Kelly Breuer is a spitfire. She is an innovator, entrepreneur, workhorse, and master of re-invention. She has founded several successful businesses and is currently the publisher of three online women’s magazines. Even over Zoom, Kelly’s boundless energy crackles through the screen like a Fourth of July sparkler. And, as she begins to talk, it’s evident she’s a straight shooter with no time to beat around the bush.
“I’ve been busting my butt for the past five years,” Kelly says, chuckling. During that time, she has grown Rochester Woman Online to over 300 pages a month, launched the bi-monthly Central New York Woman Online, created a special section in the magazines featuring female entrepreneurs called She Hustles Talks with LIVE video feed for social media – and, just this month, launched Influential Woman Online. Her readership is upward of 100,000 subscribers across all platforms – social media, web, email, YouTube, and more. And until now, she’s done most of it on her own. “For RWO and CNYWO, it’s always been me doing the day-to-day responsibilities, creating the look and feel, doing the design, and creating the brand,” she says with remarkable good cheer. “I am responsible for all the sales, customer service, editing, layout and design, keeping the websites updated, the uploads that take hours…I work at least 70 hours a week.”
But Kelly is quick to give credit where credit is due. “I couldn’t have gotten to this point without an incredible team of freelance writers, photographers, and supporters along the way, including a very good friend of mine, Cheryl Kates. Cheryl gave me the courage to continue building my dreams and pushed me to keep going, supporting me every step of the way. Even when we didn’t see eye to eye, she was always still there pushing me. She would tell me how it was, even when I didn’t want to hear it.” Having Cheryl on her team helped Kelly immensely, as Cheryl could spot potential problems ahead of time and help prevent issues. “I must admit, she did say ‘I told you so’ quite a few times,” Kelly says with a giggle.
Moving into 2021, Kelly feels blessed to have a great team of writers, photographers, and, for IWO, co-publisher Dr. Pam Denton. But even with such an amazing and motivated group, it is a constant struggle to ensure that deadlines are met, along with scheduling everyone and, of course, bringing in sales to keep everything going. But, in her words, “What worthwhile dream has ever been easy?”
The truth is that Kelly has been busting her butt for much longer than five years. The eldest of two children, she grew up in the small town of Geneva in New York’s Finger Lakes area. After her parents’ divorce in her early teens, Kelly went to live with her paternal grandparents and stayed with them until she graduated from Alfred University in 1992. She had a close relationship with both of her grandparents, especially her grandmother, who became an important role model for Kelly. She taught Kelly to go after her dreams no matter what – that quitting was never an option. “She taught me to have a strong work ethic and the drive, determination, and strength to go along with it,” Kelly says. “Working is in my DNA. My grandmother worked until she was 92. She was raised on a farm with 10 kids in the family in the early 1920s, so she had to work her whole life. She was a ball of energy – only 4’9” but she could outpace me shopping, even in her 90s!”
Her grandmother also modeled a positive and loving outlook. “She always saw the good in people, no matter what,” Kelly says with a hint of tears in her voice. “She was always so incredibly proud of me and encouraged me to live my life to the fullest. I know she is looking down on me, and she is part of the reason I work as hard as I do. She sends me signs, like the butterfly that landed on my shoulder last summer and stayed there for nearly 45 minutes, or the cardinal who visits me every day at my window. She always sends a sign when I need that little nudge.”
From the beginning, however, it’s clear that Kelly didn’t need much nudging. With her grandmother as a role model, she learned early on to appreciate hard work and the independence it could bring.
As a young girl, Kelly performed children’s voiceovers on the local radio station, babysat, and worked for Carvel Ice Cream throughout her middle and high school years. She set herself the goal of owning her own business by the time she reached 40. An overachiever, she started her first business at age 32. With a degree in graphic design and photography from Alfred University, she started her career working in advertising and printing, then moved on to Xerox, where she worked in the Industrial Design and Human Interface Department for several years. Even working for a large corporation, she showed her talent as an innovator and now holds more than 15 patents with Xerox.
“I always try to think outside the box,” Kelly asserts. “I like to be forward-thinking and ahead of the game. If you’re not able to pivot when things don’t go your way and get creative, especially RIGHT NOW, you won’t stick around.”
After Xerox, Kelly took a position for a Rochester-based family-owned printing company called Phoenix Graphics. Perhaps that’s where she started to identify with the phoenix – the mythical bird who rises from the ashes to be born again and again. Impressed with her comprehensive knowledge of graphic design and pre-press production, along with her already cultivated accounts and her innate ability to network and attract business, Alex Debiase, her supervisor at Phoenix Graphics, recognized that they could better utilize her as an independent contractor.
The next phase of Kelly’s career began with building her client base. Utilizing her graphic design background and love of helping people, she started creating networking events to help build her print sales. She started out working with Phoenix Graphics and the Rochester Americans hockey team (known locally as the Amerks), where her passion for networking took hold and she started organizing networking events. It all began when she organized a private event for the Amerks in their “Hall of Fame” suite – a place where clients could relax, eat, drink, and watch the game privately behind the scenes, or go down to the seating by the arena. The event was a smashing success. She walked away with over 20 new client contacts from that night, with over 200 people in attendance – and realized she was onto something big.
Encouraged by the success of the Amerks event and seeing a clear need in the community, Kelly began tapping into her significant contact base to create more networking events that would bring together local entrepreneurs and businesspeople. The goal was to create a fun and effective way for these entrepreneurs and businesspeople to meet and support each other while drumming up business. Another of her groundbreaking events was held at Empire Brewing in High Falls, New York, where the bar made over $9K during the three-hour event. “People loved it,” Kelly says proudly. “No one else had events like this at the time in the early 2000s, so it was a huge hit, and everyone wanted more and more.” Eventually, her networking business evolved to include monthly events all over the upstate New York area, as well as four large expos per year.
Networking is Kelly’s happy place and her gift, giving birth to her nickname the “NetworkROC Queen.”
Following her passion, she left Phoenix Graphics in 2007 to focus on her own company, Network Rochester. As a visionary, she was far ahead of her time. “I had an email marketing database in place before anyone else,” she says proudly. “There was no Constant Contact or MailChimp at that time. Network Rochester developed my database, and with help from a former colleague, we teamed up with someone who knew the technology to develop our very own email marketing platform.” Together, they developed a robust email marketing system that served to grow Network Rochester to a point where she was presented with the opportunity to reinvent Rochester Woman Magazine, which at the time was a monthly print publication.
In typical can-do fashion, Kelly agreed to re-create the old magazine with her own twist. “I thought, ‘How hard can it be to be a publisher?’” she says with a wry smile. “Well – all I can say is, thank God for one credit card from my former business partner and one amazing advertising sponsor.” That sponsor was Kitty Van Bortel, who owns one of the largest Subaru dealerships in the United States. “Kitty invested in our vision and potential in the magazine because she believed in it, and in us,” Kelly says. “Without her help, the magazine wouldn’t have been able to even get going. We were printing upward of 15,000 copies per month for years, until the end of 2016 when it became abundantly clear to us that print media was dying. The costs were escalating to a point where we just couldn’t keep going and make it profitable. All the money from advertisers went right back into the magazine and there was nothing left over.”
Like her current ventures, Rochester Woman Magazine was a free publication. “We never wanted to charge for the publication because we wanted it to get into as many hands as possible – to make a difference wherever we could,” she explains. Though the magazine flew off the shelves, getting enough advertising to cover print costs was a constant burden, especially with the costs rising on a near-monthly basis. Still, that didn’t stop Kelly and her team. With her innate “go big or go home” gumption, the team started Syracuse Woman Online a year later, partnering with Syracuse-based Eagle Publications. After eight years of publishing the print version of Rochester Woman Magazine, she and her business partner saw the writing on the wall: print publications were going out of business. The magazine was going further into debt every month as businesses switched to online marketing, and even the large networking events began to fall off. It became obvious that digital communication, online shopping, and social media marketing were the wave of the future.
“Thankfully, we were smart enough to see the direction things were heading long before the trend,” says Kelly. “We created an online version of the print publications, and even an app. We were doing all this in addition to the print publication, which we were still putting out.”
In 2016, Kelly knew it was time for a drastic change. In January of 2017, Kelly and her business partner parted ways and Kelly launched the now hugely successful Rochester Woman Online. Using her social media network, her experience, and vast connections – after a bit of a learning curve – she was able to produce an online publication much bigger than anything she could have even imagined.
For years, Kelly had been creating large events and fashion shows that tied in with Rochester Woman Magazine and carried her unique creative stamp. For example, she began using plus-sized models for her fashion shows well before others would consider it. With the advent of the online magazine, she saw the need for a change from the big shows and began hosting smaller, more intimate pop-ups – boutique-style events where clients got personalized attention.
In 2020, another challenge reared its head when COVID-19 struck, bringing live events to a screeching halt and making a significant dent in Kelly’s projected earnings. With her usual talent for re-invention, however, she restructured the events to be COVID-safe and launched a series of live video segments called She Hustles Talks to help women’s businesses promote themselves by reaching a larger audience. Using a live platform, Kelly goes into local businesses and chats with the entrepreneurs about what they do. This platform reaches an audience of thousands, replacing the large expos that used to fill that need.
Next, Kelly looked out over the horizon beyond Rochester and Central New York. She realized she wanted to stretch her wings and reach a national, and even global, audience. That’s how Influential Woman Online was born. Kelly pitched her idea to Pam Denton, with whom she had worked on expos in the past. She knew that IWO needed a powerful team behind it and was drawn to Pam’s energy and vision for female leadership. She approached Pam with her idea for launching an online magazine that would reach women around the world with inspiring stories, fun, deep, and informational articles, and an intention to spark women’s leadership through connection and inspiration.
Influential Woman Online’s mission is to reach, connect, and inspire a national and global audience of women business leaders.
In spite of her natural energy, creativity, work ethic, and talent for re-invention, it hasn’t always been easy for Kelly. “People have wanted to see me fail,” she admits. “That’s natural when you’re a go-getter and to the outside everything appears to be easy. Not everyone will like you, and you have to develop a thick skin. It’s taken me many years to do that. I’m a pleaser; I want people to like me. I’ll give my all to help people and small businesses succeed – that’s what I love to do. But I’ve had some hard lessons to learn along the way. I’ve had to learn to take a step back and re-evaluate many of my alignments, clients, and even friends and colleagues. I have to be creative because as a single mother of two, failure is not an option. I have to provide for my kids. I have to succeed!”
Being a successful entrepreneur is not without its challenges in the personal realm. “I don’t have much of a personal life,” Kelly says with resignation. “Most men are intimidated by my independence and my crazy work schedule. Dating is hard. Then you add a pandemic to the mix, and, well…let’s just say I am fine just hanging out with my fur babies for now.” She also stresses that her kids are a huge priority for her and come first in her life. “It hasn’t always been easy being a single mother for the greater part of my children’s lives. I’ve had to juggle work, which of course brings in the money for the kids’ needs and the bills, with my daughter’s dance schedule, traveling, and now getting ready for her graduation and college. It hasn’t always been the easiest thing. I’ve cried myself to sleep many nights.” However, her children have always been involved with Kelly’s work life. “They’ve been remarkably understanding and supportive even when I had to choose work over their activities,” she adds.
But as she quickly approaches the “Big Five-Oh,” Kelly is seeing the need for a shift toward greater balance. “I love my work, but it’s not all life has to offer,” she admits. “I have friends my age who are dying from stress and hard work, suffering from heart attacks and aneurysms. I don’t want to be in that situation. I don’t want to regret not taking it easier, spending more time with my kids, and doing things that matter.”
So, what’s next for Kelly? “As a good friend of mine put it, I’m like the cat with nine lives. I get run over, stands up, brush myself off, and say, ‘OK, what’s next?’” Kelly laughs. Or, to put it another way, she is the phoenix that keeps rising from the ashes and reinventing herself in response to whatever is needed at the time. Right now, her new platform, She Hustles Talks is taking on a life of it’s own including an online magazine, a talk show platform, conventions and more!
This time, Kelly’s rise from the ashes includes planning the Ultimate Women Entrepreneurs Expo and Fashion Show showcasing over 200 vendors and women-owned businesses, along with more than 20 speakers and a fashion show that she wants you to know is going to rock the Roc in the late fall! But of course, for the “go big or go home” Kelly, there’s more: she is partnering with the Northeast Kidney Foundation in Rochester and Syracuse to create fundraising events, planning some truly amazing Pop-Up events for the post-COVID world in Rochester and Syracuse, and has some new ideas up her sleeve she will be launching in 2022 that she assures me will really knock our socks off…stay tuned!
As for the bigger picture? “I have a vision of women working together,” she muses. “We all need to help and support each other instead of sabotaging each other out of jealousy. I love what I do. I love to help even one person who needs that extra push. But, I don’t want to do it alone anymore. I woke up and saw myself doing something bigger – working with other women to get my mission out there on a bigger stage.” A global stage where women support women. Where women worldwide can empower each other to achieve success and satisfaction. Where, like the phoenix, women can rise from the ashes to grow, evolve, and support each other to flourish.
“Have I made mistakes?” Kelly says, laughing. “Sure – tons of them! But I’ve grown from each and every one of them. You can grow or you can stagnate. And well the naysayers just make me push even harder. I’m growing bigger and better! Come along for the ride!”