It seems like influencers are everywhere in the age of Instagram, but if anyone doubts their influence, they can look at Rachel Parcell, the 26-year-old founder of the blog Pink Peonies and her eponymous clothing line, as a case study. Parcell reportedly drove $1 million in sales to the Nordstrom site during the 2014 holiday season, and that doesn’t count the people who flocked to the store to shop in-person. When RewardStyle, a company that lets top style bloggers monetize their content through affiliate links, released the projected earnings of their ten highest-grossing bloggers in 2014, Parcell netted out at $960,000, Vanity Fair reports. And that was before RewardStyle released their LIKEtoKNOW.it feature which lets bloggers like Parcell, who has almost one million followers, monetize their Instagram posts. Brands understand the ROI of top influencers and will pay thousands of dollars for sponsored blog posts, social media posts and appearances.
“[Parcell] runs a successful million-dollar fashion business, and is also one of the most humble people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” says Alex Neill of Be Social, a public relations agency that works with Parcell, “Not only has she proven to be a business leader and role model for women entrepreneurs around the world, but she’s also proof that when hard work and passion come together, anything is possible.” I spoke with Parcell to find out how she grew her blog into a business.
What inspired you to start Pink Peonies?
I originally started my blog as a way to document my life as a newlywed. It was more of a life journal for my family and friends to follow. Not long after I started my blog, our wedding was featured on the cover of Utah Valley Brides Magazine and that’s when I started seeing more and more traffic on my little space on the Internet. My wedding photos were being pinned and re-pinned and I started receiving fashion questions from women all over the country. They were more interested in what top I was wearing or what shade of lipstick I had on than what my husband and I were doing that weekend. And that’s really what sparked the idea to change my focus and make Pink Peonies more of a fashion blog.
What has been the biggest challenge and, on the flip side, the biggest reward of starting Pink Peonies?
The biggest challenge has probably been balancing my work life and personal life. I am a wife, mother of two babies (a two-year-old and a one-year-old), and I manage two businesses — my clothing line, Rachel Parcell, Inc., and my blog, Pink Peonies. I don’t have a typical 9-5 job and so much of it, especially when it comes to blogging, is my everyday life. It’s hard to shut off the work mode when we are on vacation or even just at our home because so much of my life is shared online with my readers. I’m constantly brainstorming and creating new content for my audience. It’s something I love and am truly passionate about so getting out of work mode is difficult sometimes. On the flip side, the biggest reward of being a blogger and fashion designer is definitely my followers and customers. I am amazed that so many wonderful women from all over the world choose to follow me and my daily life to see what I’m up to and what I’m wearing. Nothing makes me more excited than seeing one of my blog readers wearing something I designed. It’s an honor to be able to provide inspiration for them every day, and in return, I feel inspired myself.
What is a workday as Rachel like? Please walk me through a day!
I’ve worked out a schedule where I keep all of my work projects, meetings and photoshoots on the same days every week so that when I’m home I can actually be home and focus on being with my children, rather than trying to multitask. I found I was less productive when I tried to juggle emails and bottles. I make time to work so I can focus, get it done and then be present with my children and give them 100% of my attention. I start every morning with a workout with my neighborhood girlfriends then come home, get my babies up and make breakfast. Then I get ready for either a photoshoot for the blog or a shoot for my clothing line. Afterward, I have meetings (and more meetings), brand conference calls, scheduling calls, and time to plan upcoming projects and collaborations with my team. It’s something new and different every day, but it’s always so busy. If it’s a day I’m home with my babies, we play in the backyard, go on walks, watch Disney movies in bed, or visit my sister who lives across the street.
There seem to be a lot of misconceptions about the business of blogging. What are your responsibilities as the founder of Pink Peonies and your clothing line, Rachel Parcell?
I knew I always wanted a clothing line of my own — it has been a dream since I was a little girl. When I launched my blog, I never would have dreamed it would have grown so fast and large but, when it did, I knew it would be the perfect platform to help launch my childhood dream of having a clothing line. I now had built-in customers. I started by sketching five different dresses that I wanted to manufacture and from there it was quite the process to figure out the best companies to partner with. We launched May 2016 and it has been amazing but also a lot of work! As the founder, I have a team of young women who make everything happen. I design the pieces, communicate with manufacturers, make executive decisions regarding the products and prices and strategize the best ways to showcase our products.
As for my blog, it’s pretty much just me! I have one assistant who helps keep me organized and manages my calendar and upcoming projects, etcetera. But I’m responsible for coming up with content to post, writing the posts, linking the posts, sharing the posts on my social media accounts and thinking of new ways to grow. I could build out an entire team around me and my blog but I never want to lose the personal touch and one-on-one connection between me and my readers.
The biggest misconception about bloggers is that they’re materialistic and they have the easiest job in the world. Being a blogger is a 24/7 job that is extremely hard and takes so much more time and dedication than anyone realizes. A blogger—especially one in the early phases of starting a blog—has to wear so many hats: creative director, stylist, photographer, model, writer, editor, marketer and the list goes on. The women who have turned a space on the Internet into a full-fledged business are brilliant, hard-working businesswomen who don’t get enough credit.
Each post takes a lot of work behind the scenes. Please walk me through the process of creating one blog post from start to finish?
I feel like most people think blogging is just getting dressed up and frolicking on a sidewalk while someone takes photos of what you’re wearing, but it’s so much more than that. First, you create a content calendar, then you start working with your agency (if you have one) to fill in sponsored posts and make sure you still have organic and editorial content mixed in. You also need to be extremely picky, test products and find brands you love and think your readers will love before you say “yes” to partnering with on sponsored posts. I don’t ever want to lose the trust of my readers and I don’t think people understand how often bloggers say “no” to keep that trust.
What are the most important characteristics someone needs to have to be successful as a fashion blogger and designer?
Be creative, work hard, stay positive, never give up and be willing to take risks!
Did traffic on the site grow steadily over time or was there a turning point when you saw exponential growth?
Traffic on my blog has grown steadily over the past five years. I’m almost at one million followers on Instagram and I still remember when I had 100 followers. I was so excited and thrilled that 100 women were interested in what I was posting! It has been amazing to watch it unfold but it’s something I’ve worked hard for, too.
What advice do you have for bloggers who hope to monetize their blogs?
1. Decide what kind of content or product you want to create and stick with it. Be confident and passionate about what you choose to produce or post.
2. Don’t compare yourself to others.
3. Don’t give up when it gets hard.
The blogging world can be competitive and I’m sure there can be criticism and competition from readers and other bloggers. How have you learned to deal with criticism and stay focused?
There will always be people who disagree with you and don’t like you, and that’s okay! Over the years I feel like the negativity and competitiveness of the world has only gotten worse, but I strive every day to focus on the positive things of life and not get swallowed up in the criticism. I choose to ignore it, and I find I’m happier when I do.
You have hundreds of thousands of social media followers and blog readers. How do you decide what to share and what to keep private? Are there any aspects of your life that you always keep offline?
This has been something I’ve contemplated for a long time. I consider my life and my family’s life personal and intimate. And while I do enjoy sharing parts of my life with my readers — I feel like it allows them to better connect with me and see that I’m a real person too — there are some things that aren’t necessary to share. Whenever I’m debating sharing something on my blog or social media I always go to my husband and my family to get their opinion first.
What is the biggest lesson you learned from blogging and how did you learn it?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from blogging is how to feel comfortable in my own skin. I’m actually a pretty shy person, so the idea of posting about myself and my life or my outfits every day isn’t something I would typically do. But it has been an empowering platform where I’m able to share who I am. There are a lot of critics who aren’t afraid to be critical and pick apart every move I make, but I have learned how to be happy being me and not worry about what others think.
What is one thing that you wish you had known when you were starting out your career?
I wish I would have had more confidence in myself and my abilities to create and grow my own business. I second-guessed myself a lot in the beginning. For some time, I didn’t consider myself a businesswoman. I just thought I was lucky. The older I get, and now that I’ve been doing this for six years, the more I realize that this just didn’t fall into my lap — I created it for myself with hard work, persistence and dedication.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
It may sound cliché, but be yourself. In this competitive world we live in, it’s important to try not to compare ourselves and to just be content with ourselves and the life we have. I read the book “You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living” and it was life-changing.
What is your business advice for other young professional women?
Believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to take a risk, listen to your gut and visualize your success. Trust that the universe will lead you to that success. We create our own realities.
Image by Nicole Gerualt