They say everything happens for a reason. It took a lot of pushing on Sandi’s part and a lot of prodding on my part to get to where we are today. Sandi and I like to throw in the phrase “It’s a God thing” because, honestly, we never envisioned The Spoiled Home being anything other than an outlet for us to share inspiration and to connect with others who have the same passions as we do. Some of you have heard our story a million times. Many of you have not. Let me start from the beginning.
I first met Sandi a little over 14 years ago. I was a high school English teacher and cross country/track coach. Sandi was a hairstylist who had just opened Head Rush, a hair salon in town. I was looking for someone to cut my teen daughters’ hair, so I volunteered them as guinea pigs to see if Sandi was qualified enough to cut mine. After she passed the test, I decided to give her a try. I actually said to her, “You better not mess up my hair.” Fresh out of hair school and showing no signs of intimidation, Sandi confidently cut my hair. We have been friends ever since.
At appointments, we would talk about home decor and soon realized that we were the only two people we knew who weirdly and excessively got so excited about paint colors and design and decorating. We spent the weekends painting furniture or helping each other redecorate each other’s houses. I was coaching during this time, too, and Sandi confided in me that she wanted to run a marathon. I later found out that she thought a marathon was a 5k, but she only willingly admitted this to me a couple of years later after she fully committed to marathon training.
Since she had never run in her life, I started Sandi on a Couch to 5K program in January of 2011. We would run 5 days a week at 5:00 A.M. We NEVER missed either. In a weird way, I think that was God’s way of letting us know we would make the best future business partner for each other. We were accountable. Once, though, I remember it snowed and there was still ice on the ground. It was cold, too, like 8 degrees. In Oklahoma the gauge temperature is never the same as the real-feel temperature. Once humidity and wind chill are factored in, the 8 degrees that day actually felt like negative 15 degrees. Sandi said she didn’t think she could run because if she slipped, fell, and broke her arm, she wouldn’t be able to cut hair and make money. I said, “Yeah, you have a good point. But there is no such thing as bad weather. Just soft people.” (It’s a Bowerman quote I stole, but I think she thinks I came up with that). So, we ran that day, and she didn’t fall (thank goodness). In three months, Sandi ran her first 5k. The following April, she ran her first l/2 marathon. Two years and 4 months later of consistently running, Sandi and I ran a marathon together. That was in April of 2013.
By that time, both my girls had graduated high school, and I gave up coaching to simplify my life. Sandi and Rob had just purchased their 4th flip house, so that gave us new projects to discuss. Sandi approached me about starting an Instagram page where we could share our ideas and projects with others. She wanted to document her flip house and add other pictures of inspiration to our Instagram page. I told her no. Being a teacher, I had an aversion to social media and just didn’t want to “put myself out there.” I was also afraid of failure. By comparison, our houses aren’t that special. Sandi kept telling me that would be part of the appeal, showing people how we update and transform our homes. Still, I would decline her offer. I had just simplified my life. I didn’t want to commit to something new.
Sandi and I both share a personality trait: neither of us likes being told no. When I didn’t let her get out of skipping a run, she paid me back by not letting me out of starting up an Instagram page. In January of 2015, Sandi showed up at my house and began taking pictures with her phone. She and my daughter Lexi conspired to create an Instagram page, and with my reluctant consent, we launched The Spoiled Home with a picture of a bottle of wine or champagne (I honestly don’t know). If you go far enough back on our page, the picture is still there as a reminder of our humble and extremely generic beginning. Sandi’s friend Paula came up with our handle. We are so grateful; otherwise, we would be called “My Two Home Girls.” We keep that caption on our website, too, as a reminder of those early days when we didn’t have a partnership agreement or a plan. We just had a hobby.
In the beginning, we didn’t blog or have a website; we just shared pictures daily. Sandi would post one day then I would the next. We began taking on side jobs decorating houses for people. Although Instagram was a creative outlet for us, we were passionate about actively engaging with our audience and working hard at building our following. Some big accounts shared pictures of our homes: a living room picture was named one of Pottery Barn’s Top 10 Pinterest Pictures of 2015; Tuesday Morning featured a picture of our home in their spring catalogue; General Electric paid us to feature a light bulb. We did not even know that making money on social media was a thing! We received an email inviting us to be influencers through the affiliate program RewardStyle. We were initially skeptical about signing up, but we decided to give it a try.
We started linking items through LIKEtoKNOW.it, meaning we could monetize off our posts and earn commission from linkable items. (To read our blog post explaining How Liketoknow.it Works, click here.) By January of 2016, our page had grown immensely. Sandi and I gained the attention of a local furniture store, and we were hired to do showroom designs. Since the pay was good and it gave us the opportunity to work together and tap into our creative side, we agreed. Rob and Sandi had recently bought their 5th flip house and moved about 30 miles away from my family. She was still working as a hairstylist. I was still teaching full-time. We would meet in the evenings when we would get off work and drive together to Oklahoma City. It was an hour’s drive one way for me and about 40 minutes for Sandi. We would work until 9 or 10 at night, then drive home. We did this until May when Sandi decided to give up doing hair and work at the furniture store full-time. I agreed to return to teaching in the fall part-time so that I could continue to work part-time at the store with Sandi.
Instagram story and 2017 were the year that changed everything for The Spoiled Home. When Sandi and I first started working together again, Snapchat was huge. We would go through our day, telling our story through Snapchat. We established quite a following on SnapChat. When Instagram Story launched, it was such an easy transition for us since we had been doing Snapchat stories for so long. We loved this new way for us to engage with our Instagram audience and for them to “get to know us” outside of a square.
Each morning before heading off to school, I would say “Good morning” and make small talk on Insta Story. When I started getting questions about “where my blouse was from?” etc. I thought, “This is so weird. Who cares what a 50+ year old is wearing?” I love sharing good deals, however, and would discuss other bargains on the story such as my Marshall’s or Target finds. Before long, I told Sandi we had to get an actual blog and website.
We launched our website in May of 2017, but I was the only one doing swipe ups or Instagram stories. I had this vision for how we could grow, but Sandi wouldn’t listen. For seven months straight, I felt I was working my ass off but sharing the profit with someone who didn’t have the same commitment or vision as I did. I needed pushed in the beginning, but it was Sandi who needed prodding now, if we were going to grow.
In September we were invited to Aurora, New York, to the Mackenzie-Child’s headquarters. After visiting with other bloggers and hearing their stories about how they had turned their blogs into their businesses, Sandi grew closer to seeing my vision. I wrote down a list of goals I had for The Spoiled Home and handed them to her. Then, I started prodding some more. In November of 2017, Sandi began helping me on Insta Story for the first time, by sharing Christmas gift guides and Black Friday sales. When she saw the difference her contribution made, I heard excitement in her voice. She soon began working alongside me in setting goals for The Spoiled Home.
Each month we would raise the bar a little bit higher. In April we were invited to RewardStyle’s Blogger’s Conference in Dallas, Texas, as one of the Top Global Influencers in the nation. All our goals were being met, but I felt as though I was a hamster on a wheel just running. When I would leave my teaching job, I was driving one hour one way to work 4 hours to get in the car to drive one hour one way back home. Construction on the highway started turning my one hour drive into sometimes 3 hours. I was exhausted. Sandi was exhausted. We knew we couldn’t keep up this pace, juggling it all. Randy and Rob have always been supportive of us, but we were getting more and more dirty looks about being on our phones constantly. During this time, our families were paying the price for our long work hours. Sometimes, we questioned if what we wanted was even worth it.
Family has always been Sandi’s and my top priority, and it felt as though family was taking a backseat more often than not. We confided in each other that sometimes we found ourselves hiding in the bathroom to answer DMs or respond to comments or to post to Instagram. Lots of tears were shed during those months. Lots of prayers were said. I know I prayed for direction. I know Sandi prayed for direction. We both questioned whether or not we even wanted to continue growing our business. We were reaching goal after goal, but we had lost our purpose. I said to her, “Remember when you were my hairstylist and I was a teacher, and our lives were simple?” We longed for that simplicity. Sandi and I had to reevaluate our vision for The Spoiled Home and find our balance.
In May, I decided to leave the furniture store to focus full-time on our blog throughout the summer. My hamster wheel started rotating less, and I felt so much relief. Sandi and I surpassed all goals we set for The Spoiled Home that summer. Seeing what our business could do with me concentrating on it full-time while Sandi worked at the store began a new dialogue between us. What if Sandi and I switched roles, and she ran the business full-time while I went back to work for one more year? I just needed one more year to fulfill my teacher’s retirement. Plus, it was my son’s senior year, and I felt it was nice closure to a 29 year career if I went out the year he graduated.
In September, The Spoiled Home was featured in @liketoknow.it’s book Stories From the Influencer Next Door. Sandi and I were invited, along with several other bloggers, to visit the Delta Faucet Headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. In October, Sandi’s hamster wheel slowed down, too, when she quit the furniture store to focus her energies on managing The Spoiled Home full-time. In May of 2019, I retired as an English teacher after 29 years. Now, we work alongside one another again.
Each morning our day starts extra early searching out “daily deals” to share. We rarely discuss with each other what stores we are searching, we just go on the hunt for bargains. Big sale days like Black Friday or Cyber Monday, for example, we most definitely communicate and have a plan. Throughout the day, we talk constantly. Individually, we reply to comments on our personal blog posts or Instagram posts, but together we share the responsibility for handling DMs, emails, business meetings, phone calls, creative content, goal setting, and every other aspect of our business.
We joke all the time that we grew by winging it. I don’t ever want to discount the hours and hours that we both invested into building our brand. By ‘winging it,’ I mean we never set out to have a business. We set out to have a hobby. The rest has been a “God thing,” and we are just along for the ride. However, the two of us have spent endless hours researching and learning everything we can about staying one step ahead of our ever-changing industry.
So what’s the lesson? How do you grow your Instagram? We could tell you exactly what we did. You could write it all down. You may make it, you may not. I can only tell you what I know:
*First you have to have a vision and know that you’re going to have to work your ass off. Sandi and I joke all the time that we sold our soul in the beginning. That was before money was made and before algorithms. Our goal was (and still is) to work hard and be kind. We answered every comment. We played every #WIDN (What I’m Doing Now) hashtag game. We knew everyone we followed on Instagram by Name, not handle.
*Engage with your community. We have always responded to all recent comments on our posts. Up until recently, we responded to all our DMs. Sandi and I have a difficulty letting go of answering all DMs, but we understand how necessary it is for us to maintain our work/family balance. We still do our best to respond to comments, however. We believe in connecting with others and just plain old good customer service.
*You have to be consistent. While we don’t always plan our days, we do have a content calendar. We like to keep a routine. We shoot content live. If a collaboration requires pre-recorded stories, we negotiate that piece out of our contract. We’ve always been in the moment and want to remain so.
*Set goals. If you don’t reach them, don’t see them as failures, see them as setbacks. Drop back and punt, and get back in the game.
*Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. I remember Sandi saying, “But I am not skinny!” and I said, “And I am not young!” We are like the odd couple of Instagram. We aren’t like anybody else. We’re just us! The best thing about Instagram or about starting your own blog–you can find your niche. Just be you.
*Be remembered- through being creative, through getting embarrassed, through your willingness to stand out.
*Find your purpose- Remember, we never began our blog to make money. We did not know that was a thing. When it became lucrative for us, we had to remind ourselves why we started in the first place. As a teacher, I struggled. Why didn’t people find the same value in me as a teacher as they did in Shalia sharing a sweater? As a teacher, I impact the future, for heaven’s sake! My co-workers are real heroes, touching the lives of children every single day. That’s badass. I don’t want to seem ungrateful. I don’t want to come across as unappreciative of everything Sandi and I have worked so hard for. I just want you to know that we have to feel that there is a reason for this platform. Sandi and I grew up in homes that taught us to serve others. When we lost our purpose, we lost our love for what we do. Now, we make sure that we find ways to give back. By serving others, we gain spiritual renewal and balance. We make sure that we give back to our community and to several charities.
Our goal from the beginning was to Work Hard and Be Nice. Our goal hasn’t changed. We hope to uplift, inspire, share a bargain, a laugh or two, and maybe even a life hack. At the end of the day, we want to make a connection. What we do here isn’t terribly important. Relationships matter. Friendships matter. People matter. We feel blessed beyond measure, and we can’t thank you enough. The title was to suck you in and get you to read our message. Sorry. This is more about how we feel than how to grow a blog. We could put it step by step on paper, and you could follow those same steps. It may or may not work for you. People can see through people who aren’t authentic. People can see through people who aren’t passionate. Have some grit, throw in some mental toughness and perseverance, stay authentic and passionate, have a good friend to lean on, a family who supports you, and stick to your purpose. Above all else, just be nice to people because how you make people feel is what you will be remembered for anyway.
God bless you and may your 2020 be filled will all the good stuff.