What was your first job out of college?
I interned for a digital magazine in San Francisco then did fashion PR in New York.
What inspired you to take the leap and start your own company? Was this something you always planned on doing?
I was doing social media for a number of small fashion brands and realized I’d much rather be running my own social media and creating my own lifestyle brand. My blog was at a place where it could financially support me for a few months before I hatched the idea to launch the online boutique.
What were the first steps you took to starting a company? What logistical advice do you have for other people who want to start a business?
My first step was meeting with a mentor at my local SCORE chapter. I can’t recommend this more highly! He was able to guide me through the process of creating an LLC as well as answer questions specific to my new business. There’s a lot of leg work and research that goes into starting a small business and unfortunately there’s no easy way around it. As they say, the only way out is through!
How would you describe Design Darling (the business) in a few sentences?
Design Darling is an online boutique that carries home decor, jewelry, and monogrammed gifts. The product assortment is tailored to style-savvy women who love to decorate, entertain, and give great gifts!
You are so good at promoting your business on social media! What advice do you have for self promotion, PR, and social media?
Thank you! I think it’s most important to do what feels right for you. For me, that’s a mix of talking about decorating, personal style, life in New York, my business, my puppy, and bits and pieces of my social life. Some people share less, some people share more, but this is the loosely defined strategy that works for me. A good rule of thumb is whether I’d be okay with my grandmother seeing it (she’s Design Darling’s number one fan!) and whether I’ll regret saying or posting something a year from now.
You carry such amazing brands in your store. How do you discover the products and create relationships with the brands?
This is definitely the most fun part of my job. It really depends on the designer. I’ve been working with certain brands since they sponsored my blog back in college and I’ve discovered other designers at trade shows as recently as last month. I’m really proactive about seeking out new designers through blogs, Etsy, Instagram, local boutiques, etc. And sometimes a new designer will reach out to me, which is kind of as good as it gets in my book!
What is one thing that you wish you had known when you were starting out?
That it wouldn’t be easy, but it would be worth it. There have been more than a few late nights where I wondered what on earth I was doing or thought about how much easier it would be to clock out at six o’clock and unplug for the day. The uncertainty that comes with running a small business isn’t for everyone, but it’s been the single most rewarding project I’ve tackled to date.
What has been the biggest challenge and, on the flip side, the biggest reward of starting your own business?
The challenges have shifted over time… At first it was learning to be disciplined without a boss telling me how to structure my day. Then it was finding time for a social life when I felt like my business couldn’t possibly function if I weren’t on my iPhone all day and night. Right now it’s probably figuring out which parts of my day I can delegate (customer service, reordering sold out products, shipping) so I can focus on bigger picture projects (artist collaborations, designing my own products, creating blog content I’m proud of). The biggest reward is waking up and working hard at something I love, each and every day. That feeling of being excited for what each day has in store really never gets old!
What is a typical day like for you?
Wake up at 8:30, get coffee, read The Skimm (obsessed!), and walk Rory. Then I check my inbox and respond to time-sensitive emails from customers, vendors, and brands I’m working with for my blog. At any given moment, I’m juggling a to do list of a dozen blog post ideas and a bunch of product reorders for items that have sold out. I try to add new products to the boutique every two weeks, which means constantly looking for awesome new items, setting up new wholesale accounts, placing orders, photographing everything as it arrives, taking measurements, writing product descriptions, uploading everything to the site, and getting to the point where I have enough new stuff ready to go that it’s time to send an email to my mailing list. I aim to have a couple coffee dates or lunch meetings with brands, PR people, and fellow bloggers during the week just to get out of my apartment. And I really try to respond to every reader email (even if it takes me a week or two…) since they’re the people who make this all possible!
Where do you see yourself, and your company, in the next five years?
I envision my blog as an online destination for great lifestyle content — decorating ideas, outfit inspiration, career interviews, and personal insights. But truthfully I see the boutique as my biggest opportunity for growth. I want to continue adding new designers and new product categories (clothing? furniture? only time will tell!) and branch out into manufacturing some of my own pieces. I’d like women to think of Design Darling as their one-stop shop for fun accessories, classic decor pieces, and great gifts for friends and family.
You also have an excellent blog. I read it every day. What made you start blogging and what tips do you have for bloggers?
Thank you! That’s really how this all began — I was reading a ton of blogs in college, knew I loved photography and writing enough to give it a go, and thought, “Why not?” Thankfully, four years later, I still have lots I want to talk about and a passion for writing the kinds of posts that I like to read. Whether it’s decorating my apartment, planning a weekend trip, obsessing over a pair of shoes, or sharing a new favorite coffee shop, I hope my readers really feel like they’ve gotten to know me over the years.
What advice would you give to someone who is about to graduate from college and enter “the real world?”
Take the road less traveled. I was terrified to graduate without a real job lined up and now I know that having nothing to lose was the impetus for starting my own business. Don’t waste time comparing yourself to the finance majors or the engineers — you won’t want their jobs anyway. 😉
What is on your desk right now?
A Kate Spade notebook (we just started carrying KS in my boutique and I’m obsessed!), a monogrammed pencil cup, and a very messy stack of wholesale orders.
Where do you turn for inspiration?
My parents. My friends. The restaurants, shops, and streets of New York. The chance to explore a new city. Instagram — I love seeing how other people view their surroundings. Pinterest — where I save recipes I’ll likely never recreate. A good book — I have a list of recommended reads on my laptop that I wish I had more time to tackle!
I would be nothing without my parents. My mom worked in fashion during my childhood then went back to school to become an emergency room nurse. My dad made it to every gymnastics meet I ever had and is now back in school to become a math teacher. Knowing that my generation is supposed to change careers five times and seeing my parents navigate those changes while raising a tight-knit family makes me truly believe that anything is possible with compromise and hard work.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t worry about the people who talk behind your back; they’re behind you for a reason. It’s easy to get caught up in comparisons (in college, the real world, and blogging in particular) but if you’re proud of what you’re doing and who you’re becoming, why wish for anything else?
What advice do you have for other young professional women?
Be true to yourself. Be a good friend to your friends. Make your parents proud. Work hard but find time to live your life. Take chances!
I already loved Design Darling (the blog and the boutique) but getting to know Mackenzie made me love them even more. I hope that you all found Mackenzie’s advice to be as practical and inspirational as I did!