Meet Tamera Darden, the founder of Darden Creative, an amazing boutique digital agency that specializes in content creation for brands and digital influencers. In this interview, she shares how she was able to turn lemons into lemonade after unexpectedly leaving her full-time job, how she hustled in the early days of her business to get clients and what her biggest professional accomplishment has been in her business so far.
"I think we forget to ask ourselves how do we want our business to look and feel. We have to understand that those answers will change and evolve as you evolve and do not be afraid of those discoveries."
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your business. What is it called and what services do you offer?
Hey, Hey! I’m Tamera, a visual stylist and strategist. I'm the founder of Darden Creative, a boutique digital agency that specializes in content creation for brands and digital influencers.
Services include content creation and Instagram strategy/management. In other words, we help create double tap-worthy content that reflects our clients brand vision and story.
Can you share a bit about how you chose this line of business? What transition did you make to owning your own business?
In 2014, I left a full time, well-paying job after six years. It was completely unexpected, but I left with no regrets.
For the first year, I was pursuing my life-long passion of being a wardrobe stylist. I was assisting master stylists on various projects for Ralph Lauren, Targe,t and various editorial publications. But I was honestly tired of chasing checks! I realized after assisting stylists full time, that I didn’t want to create a life around that profession.
However, I knew I wanted to still be creative and help others, so I shifted gears towards product styling for the digital space, noticing the rising trend of social media early on. I knew a brand needed captivating content to attract their ideal audience and convert them into paying customers. I approached various brands at local markets in New York, offering to create content for their brand for free, just to build a portfolio. I guess you can say, the rest is history.
Do you have any special training?
No, but not to sound cheesy, all of my jobs have led up to what I do now.
Whether it was working as a waitress/barista for a mom & pop restaurant, a visual merchandiser for Gap, Inc., a babysitter, or a closet designer for The Container Store (people drop Coins, with a capital C, for closets!), I’ve been able to apply those skills to Darden Creative.
What are some of your biggest accomplishments as a business owner?
The biggest accomplishment so far is being able to work with some major brands, doing what I love within the first 18 months of Darden Creative. I was commissioned to do work for Harper’s Bazaar, The Laundress, and Macy’s. Macy’s was the biggest win because I left there two years before - they were the full time, a well-paying gig I quit to focus on my business full time. Being able to shoot content with my iPhone, a few lights and in my studio was a full circle moment.
How soon after you started did you start seeing profits? Or when do you project to begin earning a profit?
Producing flat lay content actually accounts for low overhead so I was able to see a profit immediately. So far I’ve made $12,000 in client projects…and counting *wink*.
How did you decide how to price your services? How did you determine what your services were worth?
It is difficult to decide on pricing when you’re trying to secure clients. You get afraid that if you price too high, you’ll lose clients or if you price too low, you won’t be taken seriously.
I first determined what my hourly rate would be based on my expenses. Then I decided to do research on what content creators who do similar work charge and realized I wasn’t charging enough! Needless to say, I’ve increased them to be in line with what they should be now, based on work involved and experience.
The right clients will respect the process and work involved, knowing they will receive the quality product.
What mistakes have you made with your business? What did you learn from the experience and how did you bounce back?
One mistake would be saying yes to everything just to get the client. The first few clients I worked with haggled me into charging a lot less than what my value was at the time and it ended up being a mess. Clients like that always want caviar on a sardine budget. Stay away from those folks! I think when you do get hit a blow, you believe you can’t bounce back and that is never the case. You can always bounce back, just get up and pivot. Just make sure it doesn’t happen again.
What do you consider the most important elements of running a successful business?
- Having systems in place to help smooth the on-boarding process for your clients is important. I remember going back and forth with clients via email to confirm meeting dates until I implemented a system for clients/potential clients to select the best date/times for meetings.
- Setting boundaries is another important element.
- It's also important to implement office hours! I remember working with a client who felt compelled to email/text me at 11 pm to review the next day’s Instagram post. That relationship ended very quickly.
- Another element is understanding who you are as a business owner. I think we forget to ask ourselves how do we want our business to look and feel. We have to understand that those answers will change and evolve as you evolve and do not be afraid of those discoveries. Understanding how you want your business to look and feel will help guide you in determining your business structure and process.
Do you have any start-up advice you can share with women reading this who would like to launch their own businesses?
Try to start out as lean as possible and be resourceful! I create content for digital platforms and when we (me and my photographer) started, we would shoot in front of my window during the morning to catch the daylight. Neither one of us knew what we were doing, but we learned along the way.
I’d say just start with what you have and build as you go. Perfection is outdated and masked as procrastination. And if you have to work a part-time job or full-time job, so be it! I think people believe once you become an entrepreneur or small business owner, you have to immediately quit your job. No. If you can stack up your coins to create a reserve do it!
Do you have any advice on managing your small business finances?
Honestly, I’m probably the worst person to ask because I’m still a novice when it comes to my finances. However, I will say before you pay yourself, invest in yourself first. What I mean by that is invest in that business coach, conference or equipment. If it will help propel your business forward, make the investment. You can go but so far with only what you know.
How do you balance work and life owning a small business?
Balance? What’s that?! I’m not sure work-life balance is the right term as much as work-life integration. Your business becomes your life. Just make sure you enjoy every moment of it.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I’m going to be honest and say I haven’t planned that far out yet. Part of it is because my life has changed drastically in just 6 months. I can’t say definitively where I’ll be, but I’m sure it’ll include Paris and Italy.
Please share a fun fact about yourself
I’m multi-passionate and love moving around, so I became a certified indoor cycling instructor! I’ll be pursuing additional fitness training in the future as well.
Thank you so much, Tamera for sharing your business journey with us!
If you'd like to learn more about Darden Creative and connect with Tamera, head on over to www.dardencreative.com.