Career Profile: Mackenzie Horan of Design Darling

I love the online boutique, Design Darling. The founder, Mackenzie Horan, has amazing taste and features accessories, art, home decor, and more at an affordable price range. I go to Design Darling when I need a gift for a friend, something to decorate my apartment or office, or a little something for myself. Mackenzie started out by writing her blog, Design Darling, and built her boutique a few years later. Mackenzie has fantastic advice for bloggers, entrepreneurs, and young professionals and I am thrilled to share it with you!

Mackenzie Horan Design Darling

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!
Mackenzie Horan Design Darling Glitter Guide
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.
Mackenzie Horan Design Darling
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!
Mackenzie Horan Design Darling

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!
Mackenzie Horan Design Darling Glitter Guide
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. 😉
Mackenzie Horan Design Darling
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!
Who is your mentor?
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.
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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!

Mackenzie Horan Design Darling
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!
Thank you Mackenzie!

Career Profile: Julia Dzafic of Lemon Stripes, Lemon Stripes Store, & Nourish Snacks

Lemon Stripes is one of my favorite blogs because the author, Julia Dzafic, is authentic, honest, well-rounded, and stylish. Whenever I read her blog I learn something new because she covers everything from outfits, healthy recipes, and health and wellness advice to interior design, blogging tips, and entertaining. She runs her blog, her own store, works at Nourish Snacks, and still manages to have a social life. I am so thrilled for you to read all of her advice!

Lemon Stripes

1. What was your career background? I’d love to hear about how you got where you are now.

My first job in New York was as a Sales Assistant at a Bridal Magazine. So random and I hated it! I went from there to an Executive Assistant at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (A holistic nutrition school, of which I’m also a graduate. Fun fact!). In 4 years at IIN, I moved up the ranks until I became the Director of Sales and lead a team of almost 40 people. It was an unreal experience but I left last year to start my business, the Lemon Stripes Store.

After about 8 months of working for myself, I knew it wasn’t for me. I felt lonely and stressed out financially and was ready to get back into the work force. The stars aligned because I was hired at Nourish Snacks only 3 weeks after I made that decision. My career path has been part luck, part hustling my ass off, and part politics.

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You are the head of online marketing at Nourish Snacks, how do you manage your blog, your business, your full time job, and your social life? Do you have any tips for time management?

If I had a good answer for this, I’d probably feel a lot less exhausted right now! It’s a constant struggle to balance my many projects. I am beginning to realize that I have too many pots on the stove and I need to pull back somewhere. In the meantime, I am hyper-organized and try to make a schedule for every day down to the quarter hour (no joke!).

Turning off and relaxing is probably the most important thing that I do for myself. Even though it’s rare, it makes me much more productive in the long run. Exercise and date nights are like gold for me too. Without those two things, I would for sure lose my mind!

Lemon Stripes

What motivated you to start Lemon Stripes?

My friends and family were constantly coming to me for style advice so I figured I must be doing something right fashion-wise. I started the blog as a creative outlet to share my thoughts with them and it somehow blossomed into a money-making highly trafficked website. I never thought in a million years that I’d have thousands of followers looking to me for fashion and lifestyle advice. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.

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What is you favorite thing about blogging?

I bet no blogger ever says this but they’re all thinking it: Getting free clothes is amazing. You have no idea how many boxes of amazing things I get every week. It’s awesome. On a less superficial level, I’ve met incredible people with similar interests and creativity. The women I’ve met in the blogging world have become some of my closest friends.

I also love having a space where I can just be me and no one else can dictate how I do that. I post what I want when I want and it feels good to have that control over a project.

Lemon Stripes

What has been one of the biggest challenges in growing a lifestyle blog and what advice would you give to other bloggers or people who want to start blogging?

My advice to new bloggers is boring and obvious but BE AUTHENTIC. There are so many bloggers out there now and I find half of them copying each other’s styles, designs, and even writing. People will want to look at your blog for you so own that.

The biggest challenge in blogging for me has been to find my voice. At first I tried to do everything that Emily (Cupcakes & Cashmere) was doing, then I found myself trying to emulate the styles of other top bloggers. It just looked ridiculous. Now I’m 100% me all the time and people really resonate with that!

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You collaborate with so many amazing companies! What advice do you have for bloggers that hope to collaborate with brands.

It’s been a journey but when I first starting collaborating with brands, I would schedule an hour a day for emailing companies that I wanted to work with and would send each brand a personalized email (not a template!) letting them know why we would be a good fit for working together.

Today, brands usually reach out to me and I have learned to be VERY clear on the terms of collaboration. If the brand has a big following on social, for example, I always ask that they promote me as a part of our partnership.

My advice would be to only work with brands that truly resonate with you. For a while I was saying yes to everything and I felt like I was losing control of my blog because every day was another scheduled sponsored post and they didn’t necessarily resonate with my style. I’m very picky now!

Lemon Stripes

What is one thing that you wish you had known when you were starting out blogging and building your business?

I wish I had known what a commitment they would both end up being. I didn’t realize what kind of hours I would have to spend on my blog and my business.

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What is a typical day like for you?

You’re not going to believe me but this is my average weekday. Wake up and do a 5 minute meditation followed by 30 minutes of emails and social media. I get ready for work and then work on blog emails for another 15-20 minutes. I work from 9-5 as the head of online marketing for a new healthy snack company, Nourish Snacks. Sprinkled throughout the day, I sometimes have to take calls or meetings for Lemon Stripes which my boss understands and encourages.

After work I usually have to attend some sort of blog/press event followed by 30 minutes-1 hour of packing up orders from the Lemon Stripes store. Somewhere in there I manage to cook dinner for my husband. It’s a constant whirlwind!

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Where do you see yourself. your blog, and your company, in the next five years?

I honestly have no idea. I know that I want to buy a home and have kids in the next 3 years so that’s where my main goals lie. I hope to continue to learn and grow in my job and with Lemon Stripes. For once I’m ok with the unknown because I feel so happy and blessed in both areas of my life.

Lemon Stripes

What is on your desk right now?

Three BKR water bottles full of PH balanced water (I’m a weirdo about my water), a note pad, a bottle of Kombucha, a monogrammed pencil holder, Tocca hand lotion, John Masters Organics rose water spray, and my Beats Pill!

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What advice would you give to someone who is about to graduate from college and enter “the real world?”

Life is about to get really real! I’d tell them to take a class on personal finance (start those 401k’s, ladies!) and start making short and long term personal and career goals as a part of your routine. Things can start to get really busy but take time for yourself.

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Thank you, Julia!

All photos are from Lemon Stripes. Follow along with Julia at her Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and shop her store!