How to Build An Online Community

On Saturday I taught a brand-new Dean Street Seminar on Instagram with Intention.

On Tuesday we kicked off the next round of #StyleMeApril.

I'm currently coaching 40 entrepreneurs through The Mentorship Coterie.

And next month {sneak peek!} I'm bringing back my group style class, Style & Styleability for the first time in 2014. 

These are four of the absolute favorite things I do as a part of Dean Street Society and they all have one thing in common: they're about community.

It's a topic I've been thinking about lately both because it's an part of my success, and so elusive to learn how to create. So when Rachel of The Yogipreneur asked me to be a part of the Heart Your Community Blog Tour and talk about how to build community, it was an easy heckyes to dive into this topic.

So whether you're a fellow entrepreneur or a Dean Street betty who wants a peek behind the scenes, read on!


From the very beginning Dean Street Society has been about community right down to the name. I knew I didn't want my business to be about me, my style, but making the typically exclusive topic of fashion, inclusive, and create an environment where everyone feels welcome and empowered.

I started off  working only with clients one-on-one, which I loved -- both in style and then as I got inquiries, entrepreneurship. Then in both cases I started working with small groups through my Style & Styleability class, and The Mentorship Coterie. Both include a Facebook group and live video calls and suddenly I was creating not just a relationship between me and my clients, but for my clients amongst themselves. I had no idea how much watching their engagement with one another with warm my heart! Now not only is Dean Street Society about learning from me, but being welcomed into a community of supportive peers who "get it", and are with you on taking your lives to the next level, whether through your style or business or both.

While I have Facebook and Google Hangouts to thank for building community amongst my clients, I have Instagram to think for building community amongst my followers at large. Two years ago I started the #StyleMeMarch Instagram Challenge on a whim. I had an idea at brunch, wrote down prompts with a friend and posted it the next day. My followers loved it, when I skip a month they ask me to bring it back, and every month I receive more comments about how powerful this little idea is in their lives, mornings, creativity and confidence all month long.

However, I believe in unabashedly showing the legit behind-the-scenes in my business so I'd like to data-nerdy on you here. Below are the stats for my first month of the challenge, and the recent one two years later:

March 2012: Instagram Followers: 181 // # of Calendar Shares: 5 // # of Photos Posted: 315

March 2014: Instagram Followers: 6K // # of Calendar Shares: 172 // # of Photos Posted: 5,643

My following and # of calendar shares have both grown my 34x, my participation photos posted by 18x. What that means is that when I launched this community {not even realizing that's what I was doing at the time, mind you} it didn't make waves. It wasn't large or fancy. It was small and intimate. Both have their upsides.

Those bettys who participated in the first #StyleMeMarch genuinely developed friendships. There was a small group participating, so they truly got to know one another, with a few becoming pen pals and even meeting up when they travelled to one another's countries -- myself included, as nine months later I met #StyleMe betty, Anna, who'd become a dear friend, in person when I lived in London for a spell.

I believe it was their relationships, their foundation of encouraging words, that set the tone for this to grow into a large community that nonetheless has maintained the "kindest tribe on the interwebs" reputation that's my ultimate goal. You can read our Dean St Community Credo here for more on why we're a "negativity free zone".

And now as we're growing, community begets community and it's of course become a blessing in bringing me new traffic, clients and revenue for my business.

In closing, I think community is a large part of what makes Dean Street Society special. It was both an intentional priority from the beginning, and also a serendipity I stumbled upon along the way.

Community is primarily free. Instagram, Facebook, Google Hangouts -- all the platforms I use are free, and those elements of my business, even for the paid products, are more of a bonus with the true cake being my teaching and the community being the extra frosting. Yet somehow that frosting is also our core, our backbone.


So if you too are on the journey of entrepreneurship my advice for you would be thus:

1) Know the type of community you want to create and lead by example. Start early and always keep your vision on the kinds of people you want to be surrounded by. Like attracts like.

2) Add community elements wherever possible. Test out new forms of conversation and engagement. I didn't know what gems I was starting when I tried any of the above, but I played around and made wonderful discoveries.

3) Be patient. Review my #StyleMe analytics above. Community takes time. You're growing something and that can't be rushed. Think of where you want to be in three years, not three months.

4) Use your words. I post my Community Credo, I have guidelines for how we interact inside the Style & Styleability Treehouse of Trust {even the name indicates my heart} and each month I post #StyleMe I remind people that we're here to encourage, not critique. While I acknowledge I can't be entirely in control, I intentionally articulate whenever possible to let bettys new and old know what this tribe is all about.


The world can never have too much community, goodness, empathy, friendship and conversation. Thanks in advance for adding to that. {wink}

P.S. Remember that you are welcome to join in this community, m'dear! Hop on Honor Society where you'll get the news of all the newest offerings. Plus, I've got two one-hour Dean St Seminars as my FREE gift to make you feel welcome. Join us inside now!

P.P.S. And speaking of community, check out what all the other Heart Your Blog Tour gals have to say about this topic including Anna of Curvy Yoga yesterday and Amy of The Path to Bliss tomorrow!

April Instagram Style Challenge

Delighted to introduce you to this month's special edition of the #StyleMe Instagram Challenge!

Special because I asked the Dean St bettys what they wanted to see in the prompts and was so overwhelmed with the creative cheeky ideas that every single day in #StyleMeApril {and half of May's already!} is thanks to you!

If you're joining us for the first time, here's the simple no-rules-principals:

1. There are no rules. Join us for one day or hold yourself accountable to all 30, this is about what works for you. Don't opt-out of this free inspiration because you decide you have to do it perfectly! Progress over perfection, m'dear.

2. Let the prompt inspire you each morning to see your closet with fresh eyes. Don't have something that's quite right? Get creative! Once again, don't count yourself out because you see a few days you don't instantly have an idea for. Do the opposite, borrow from a friend or use an accessory.

{P.S. One creative betty sets a reminder on her phone for all 30 days the night before, so she can think about the prompt before she goes to sleep and lay out her outfit. Others print and tape it in their closet, and another one displays it in her cubicle at work and all her coworkers come by on their way out to see what tomorrow is!}

3. Put a pause on shopping. If one of the prompts illuminates a gap in your wardrobe that you'd love to fill, that's great. Ultimately though my heart is to make better use of the clothes we've already invested in, so see how creative you can get with what's already there before you add more.

4. Take an iPhone pic and share it on Instagram using #StyleMeApril and/or elsewhere on your blog or social media. 

5. Encourage beauty. I'm humbled to say the Dean St bettys are one of the sweetest tribes on Instagram. Be generous with your likes and your words of affirmation, sharing only positivity and words that will make one another authentically glow.

And oh yes, we've got our very first video challenge day! Sometimes I like to take a little #DeanStDanceBreak whether I'm having a rough or rockstar day.

So put on a song and an outfit that makes you wanna dance, and bring a little joy and levity to your Instagram followers and the other #StyleMe bettys, reminding us that life is short and joy is found in the little things. {wink}

The Happiness Closet

I cannot get enough of chartreuse right now. If you follow me on Instagram you know that I just moved into a new Dean Street Studio {I'll be sharing more here soon!} and I'm itching to paint furniture, buy knobs, snag pillows all in chartreuse.

Color evokes a literal physical feeling for me. It makes me feel buzzy, lit up, swoony depending on the hue. Sadly though, I find a lot of my clients are intimidated by color -- afraid to be too bold, convinced something isn't their shade, worried about drawing too much attention.

But when you think about paying compliments, how often have you said to someone, "I love that color! That color looks great on you!" My observations on compliments confirm my suspicion that most people are made happy by color, and thus you sporting more of it to your workplace or around your kids, would make the world a happier place. One Forever 21 sweater {in this case} at a time. 


Shop this Style { Charteuse Sweater : Forever 21 : Similar | Floral Blouse : Old Navy : Similar | Black and White Pencil Skirt : Old Navy : Similar | Gold Link Necklace : Etsy : Similar  l Monogrammed iPhone Case : Etsy : Similar l Vintage Binocular Case as Bag : My Maternal Grandfather's : Similar} + Brooklyn Photography by Bethany Michaela

Two other nifty little things going on in this outfit in addition to the fabulous color:

1) Hue on hue color pairing. The sweater, blouse and shoes are all shades of greens and blues meaning I could layer a good handful of colors without looking like Punky Brewster.

2) Pattern mixing. Stripes pair with everything, as does black and white, so they're a great base to play with a lot of things in your closet.


Dear spring, please come to Brooklyn soon so I can actually wear an outfit like this all day without freezing. My boots are really ready to hibernate. They're exhausted from this many months of being on duty. Thank you in advance. The wardrobe management.

P.S. On my last trip to California I was in Anthropologie with my mom when she passed a bag on one of their tables. "Is this inspired by a binocular case?" she asked the salesgirl. It was. "I have one of Grandpa's that looks just like this at home, do you want it?" Yes please. She was totally right. It looks almost identical to the one at Anthropologie and though I have to be more delicate with it because it's truly vintage and probably from the 1940's, it was free and a piece with a story. Note to self: See what else your mama has in her closet or attic. {wink}

Color Blocking for Spring

They say that spring is coming this week. I confess I'm writing this bundled in a chunky sweater and giving "them" the stink-eye because it's in the 30's here in Brooklyn. But alas, a girl can dream.

In the bustle of my book launch in December, I never shared this post for Women's Health and as I daydream about flowy maxi skirts and bare sleeves it felt the perfect time for a bit of colorful inspiration as we seek spring.

Read my take on what I'm calling the new color blocking, hue-on-hue, over on Women's Health.

Shop this Style { Teal dress as top: gifted by my sweet friend Tulip Louise when I mentioned I liked it: Similar | Emerald maxi skirt : Primark : Similar | Navy belt : Thrifed : Similar | Royal blue clutch : c/o Olivia + Joy  l Peacock heels : Dorothy PerkinsSimilar } + Brooklyn Photography by Bethany Michaela

P.S. Are you itching for spring clothes but also pinching your pennies? Have you watched my FREE 1-hour class on "How to Save Money without Sacrificing Style"? Join us inside Honor Society and it'll be headed to your inbox in a flash!

Share Share Share

Effortlessly Chic

I believe in dressing remarkably: worthy of remarking upon.

That can happen with a fabulous piece of jewelry, gorgeous color or unique details. But when the outfit itself pops, you don't even have to bother with accessories or any extras.

The eye-catching contrast of bold and busy stripes, confident nature of black and white, plus a cheeky red lip mean that with just 4 items -- top, skirt, heels, lipstick -- I created a no-fuss, high-chic look and was out the door.

Ordinary clothes require the extra effort of hair, makeup, accessories and layering to wow. If you buy remarkable pieces all on their own, effortlessly chic is yours in a flash.

Shop this Style { Black and white stripe top: Ann Taylor Similar | Black and white pencil skirt : Old NavySimilar | Black heels : DSW : Similar } + Brooklyn Photography by Kat Harris of The Refined Woman


A note on tailoring: This skirt from Old Navy was a great price and fit me like a glove, except that it went below my knee and at 5'4" made me look a little schlumpy. So I took it to the tailor to have her bring it up a few inches.

Even though the skirt isn't a long-term investment piece, I'd rather buy a $28 skirt I really like and spend $18 on tailoring {total $46} than keep shopping for another skirt under $50.

Don't discount tailoring an inexpensive piece. It actually can be an affordable way to get your clothes custom fit just for you.

P.S. I'm at SXSW for the first time and so surprised to see what diversity of style there is here! I confess I was a bit intimidated that my preppy style wasn't going to be Miley Cyrus enough, but if you follow me on Instagram {@HilaryRushford} I'm sharing street-style shots for and finding sporty, bohemian, rocker, ladylike. It's inspiring to see such diversity and remember how marvelous it is that we can express our unique personality through our clothes.

1 Comment
Share Share Share