Insta-successes: Area influencers offer look inside their lifestyles – and their closets

Sept. 10, 2020

Amanda Millan is a mom of two in Mitchell and a hair stylist.

Kayla Waldner is a Sioux Falls native and assistant director of corporate sales for GreatLIFE Golf & Fitness.

And Erica Wilcox is a Sioux Falls mom who works full time in marketing for a senior living community.

Together, they reach nearly 100,000 followers on Instagram through their respective accounts, which they use for sharing style finds, life moments and – because they have grown large enough to do so – occasional advertising.

“It was such an intimidating thought that someone in Sioux Falls could be a blogger with what I call a regular life, nothing too outlandish, but I think people really appreciate that,” Wilcox said.

“I just kind of went for it, and honestly I wish I would have done it earlier.”

Call them bloggers, influencers or next-generation digital marketers, but the reality is the most successful of them are entrepreneurs.

Build a big-enough following, and brands will follow – with revenue.

As women in the Sioux Falls area have discovered in recent years, it’s not necessarily enough to replace a full-time income, but it definitely can generate enough to cover a part-time job. Along with clothes. Lots of clothes.

“My dad thought I had a shopping addiction for a while because I was getting things shipped to my parents’ house for a while,” Waldner said. “I had to sit down and explain to them that I’m getting a lot of this at no cost and that a lot of it sponsored or I work with the brand.”

On Saturday, five Sioux Falls-area influencers will hold a blogger closet sale from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in a vacant storefront at 57th Street and Louise Avenue next to Pomegranate Market. Many items will be new or like-new, some with tags still on them, along with a few men’s pieces and home decor items.

For the group, which also includes Marilyn Dikun of Sioux Falls and Britanni Boyd of Rock Valley, Iowa, it’s a chance to earn some money to support their efforts and to meet their followers.

“We rotate through and are always trying to keep up with the trends and styles – it’s just part of the job,” Millan said. “All the girls I’m doing the closet sale with are friends, and they’re the sweetest, most down-to-earth girls ever. It’s just a great group of girls in South Dakota. Everyone does their own thing.”

Mitchell mom turned influencer marketer

From her home in Mitchell, Millan has amassed more than 40,000 Instagram followers – nearly triple her community’s population.

“You can make a living off it plus have a tons of passion and help others,” she said. “I love sharing product and home decor and clothing with people.”

She styles hair and does eyelash services part time, “so I’ve been in the beauty industry most of my life,” she continued. “I use the Instagram platform to grow that business too, as a marketing tool.”

She enjoys sharing beauty tips and clothing through the social network but adds in a lot of “mom life” too.

“It’s not all just trying to push product,” she said. “I want people to trust me and know I’m coming from a good place.”

She started trying to grow her following in June 2018. While expecting her second child, she was on bed rest, not socializing and using social media as an outlet and place to connect with others. By the time her daughter was approaching age 2, “I decided I think I’m going to give this a try,” Millan said.

“So I started posting and sharing clothing and kid stuff, and it spiraled after that. I loved the idea of connecting with others, building that community.”

As someone from a smaller community, “this was a great way to branch out and learn about others and meet people,” she said. “And it was a great way for me to be resourceful and try to bring another source of income.”

As Millan’s following grew, she began collaborating with brands to market products.

“If I don’t believe in the product or the company, I don’t collaborate. The money has to be right to pay for my time, and I have to pay for the product,” she said. “I wish I had more time. I would sit down every day and pitch brands, letting them know what I can bring and who I can reach. People don’t really do commercials much anymore. Everyone is looking for that new way to catch an eye.”

Millan and other influencers also use a service called LikeToKnowIt, which contracts with them to pay commissions for items they feature and customers subsequently buy.

“It’s huge,” she said. “That’s one of my biggest platforms I use to make a source of income.”

She has no professional modeling experience, and most of her photos are taken with her phone – sometimes by her 7-year-old daughter.

“Especially being from a smaller town, there’s really no one who does this around here, and it was just different because you’re sharing your life and putting yourself out on social media, which is super scary to do. People can be mean behind a phone or computer screen, and some of my closest friends were confused why I was doing it,” she said.

“Over time, I think people understood and saw the passion and that I loved it … but some people think bloggers or influencers are stuck-up or full of ourselves – that’s why I try to really connect if people are messaging me privately. I try to take time and connect or comment because I have a good heart and want people to know I’m not in this to have a pretty page or make money. I do really enjoy the connections.”

Keeping up her account is “a ton of hard work,” she added. “People would probably be mind-boggled how many hours I’m on the phone behind the scenes. But the hard work you put in every day, showing up, consistency, letting people connect … it’s very hard to grow without connecting with anyone else, knowing what your followers want and like to see and engaging with them. It definitely has taken time.”

From fitness to fashion

Kayla Waldner was passionate enough about yoga that she wanted to share it with others.

“I was really into fitness, which I still am, but I started posting yoga photos, and my following starting growing,” said Walnder, whose career with GreatLIFE Golf & Fitness has included working with membership and corporate relations.

“There was a point where I was like, OK, there are only so many pictures of myself I can post doing yoga, and I wanted to broaden everything because there was so much more to me than yoga. I love lifestyle, I’ve been obsessed with fashion, I love clothes, I love the fact I could promote things like what I’m eating or talk on my story about things I did around Sioux Falls, and people were interested in it.”

That interest led to her doubling her following on Instagram from 4,000 to more than 9,000 in two years. She knew it had hit another level when she did a bridal shoot and people began reaching out for advice on where to get hair and makeup done.

“I’m telling these people getting married where to go in Sioux Falls, and I’ve never been married myself, so I was like, ‘OK, this is cool. I’m actually making an impact on people.’ So I thought it was super fun,” she said.

She began reaching out to companies she liked and asking about collaborating or if she could offer a discount code. And it worked.

A watch company she “was always obsessed with,” MVMT, reached out about collaborating on a promotion. Candy company Russell Stover signed her up for a  Valentine’s Day post.

“That was really fun because my dad used to give us a Russell Stover heart every year, so that was sentimental and really cool.”

She sometimes will trade companies for gift cards – resulting in tons of clothes and accessories, hence the upcoming blogger sale.

While Waldner doesn’t see the effort becoming a full-time one, her immediate goal is to hit 10,000 followers. That’s a game-changer in the world of Instagram, opening up a “swipe up” feature to allow followers easier buying access to promoted items.

“That’s where I struggle the most because I have a photographer for all my photo shoots. I take all my sponsored posts very seriously with high-quality photos, and that’s what brands love. They want you to have a swipe-up feature. That takes you to the next level,” Waldner said.

“Engaged followers and friends and family are the ones that help you grow. I appreciate every single comment or when someone tags a friend. That alone is like someone buying something from me because they’re sharing what I do and they like what I do. I’m still growing every day. I’m not the best at it, but I’m learning every day.”

Becoming ‘Best Dressed Blonde’

Erica Wilcox woke up one morning determined to tackle the idea that had been in her mind for some time – starting a blog.

An apparel merchandising major with a minor in business from SDSU, the Sioux Falls native worked in retail as part of a buying team for a large corporate store, “and it wasn’t really fulfilling my passion,” she said.

In what she called a “light-bulb moment” the name “Best Dressed Blonde” popped in her head. Remarkably, the domain and Instagram handles were available. She jumped on them.

“I was very surprised, and I feel like I love it more and more because it’s more of a brand. It’s not Erica. It’s a brand, and that’s what I’ve kept in the forefront.”

That brand started to grow. Wilcox watched videos to learn how to build her own website. Her Instagram following has grown to more than 41,000 since she launched the brand two years ago.

“The biggest thing is consistency,” she said. “I talked to 50 followers like I was talking to 50,000 followers. I pretended I knew what I was doing and was constantly showing up and being confident in what I was sharing.”

Her days typically start with a roundup of new fashion sales that she shares with followers. She might show how she has decorated her home for fall or talk about what her 3-year-old is up to that day.

“I try to make it very relational and real life,” she said.

As boutiques or other businesses followed her, Wilcox asked if they were interested in collaborating. Reaching 10,000 followers did vault her into a new level of business opportunity, she said, adding she also works with LikeToKnowIt to generate commissions on business she refers by featuring items.

“Pretty much these days, I don’t do a product for post exchange because I’m trying to grow this. So we come up with terms for what they’re looking for in terms of deliverables,” she said, adding those could include posts, a session of her trying on clothing or a blog post, “like what you would do with a marketing company and you agree on a rate.”

She describes it as comparable to a solid part-time job, though not enough to make her give up her full-time role in marketing at an area senior living community.

Her partnerships have included work with Profile by Sanford, Tires Tire Tires and Trager, which netted her a new grill for the family.

A collaboration with Casey’s General Stores “was really cool because I got to give pizzas to Hayward Elementary, and it was such a cool collaboration to give back to teachers who have had the craziest year ever,” Wilcox said.

“I’d love to do more local (collaborations), but I feel like there are other parts of the country that see influencer marketing as more prevalent and important.”

Obstacles to growth

But don’t look at Instagram influencing as an instant path to success, all three women stressed.

Though only two years into building their followings, the algorithm used to determine reach has changed significantly in that time.

“It’s a way different game now. It’s so much harder to grow organically,” Wilcox said.

Being in the Midwest also can be a bit of a hurdle, they added.

“There were times I wanted to stop, and then another brand reaches out, and I realize I should keep going,” Waldner said.

Brands want a big reach, and “location is huge,” Millan said. “Most of my followers are in the Midwest. I have a lot in New York, but if it’s a company from California and I don’t have a ton of followers there, they maybe feel like it’s not worth it if they’re trying to drive people in-store.”

And there’s always the emotional side of putting yourself out there for the world to see – the world isn’t always so kind.

“We can all fall into that rabbit hole of ‘Am I not enough, why am I not growing?’ And we are always all supporting each other,” Millan said of her group of fellow influencers.

“It sounds so cheesy, but my confidence and not caring as much about what people think is actually better. I just know people are going to judge you or have their beliefs no matter what you do, and you just have to do you and believe in yourself.”

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Insta-successes: Area influencers offer look inside their lifestyles – and their closets

They’re fashionistas, marketers, and entrepreneurs. Get to know these local influencers — and shop their closets this weekend.

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