The Best Advice from Create and Cultivate Chicago 2018

Over the past few weeks, many of you have reached out to ask about the Create and Cultivate Chicago conference. Questions like – what takes place, what panel I was sitting on, and what topics are being covering. Since many of you were unable to attend Create and Cultivate Chicago 2018, I wanted to share some insights from the experience. Yesterday, I shared a quick round-up and some photos from the experience – see more here!

Seersucker Statement Sleeve Dress

Dress: Leal Daccarett Casandra Dress {c/o} {also love this dress from our Paris trip}

Bag: Pop & Suki Takeout Bag {c/o} // Shoes: No. 21 Stripe Knotted Sandals {also love these}

Jewelry: BaubleBar Pink Earrings // Eyewear: Céline White Sunglasses


Last Friday, there was a speaker dinner hosted at Virgin Hotels Chicago. Given the warm summers weather, I wore this lightweight stripe dress by one of my new favorite designers. Not only was it comfortable to wear throughout that evening, but the statement sleeves had me at hello! When I realized that it perfectly matched one of my favorite statement shoes, I knew it was meant to be, lol! Plus, it gave me the chance to wear my new favorite novelty bag. This little gem is by Pop & Suki and is made in so many fun colors and patterns.

Jennifer Lake Create and Cultivate Chicago 2018

A Few Panel Questions from Create and Cultivate Chicago 2018

Prior to Create and Cultivate Chicago, every speaker was sent the questions for the panel. Funny enough, we barely scratched the surface of the majority of them! In fact, I had practiced for more than a dozen questions, yet I only had the chance to answer two. The panel had such a natural flow and conversational vibe, and our 45-minute session flew by!

All in all, I highly recommend attending their conferences whenever possible! Beyond the great insights and inspiration, it’s an amazing networking opportunity. Here are my top takeaways and the best advice from Create and Cultivate Chicago 2018:

Trust the Data

One question we didn’t get to tackle on my panel was, “when did you notice your blog traffic really start to take off?” While there wasn’t one set moment, the transformation happened when I stopped focusing solely on the front end of the site and spent time working through the data. Things like Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and SEO were once strange and scary concepts. Nowadays, I feel comfortable navigating each of them. Now, do I consider myself an SEO expert? Not even close. But, as they say, “practice makes perfect.”

Sure, I love creating beautiful images, finding locations, and styling outfits. But the power of performance was as much about the content itself as evaluating the analytics behind it.

Data doesn’t lie. As always, I continue to be very mindful of the images and outfits that I put together, but I’m spending equal amounts of time reflecting on insights like:

  1. What days of the week are my readers are visiting the most?
  2. Which are my most-read blog posts?
  3. Who is my audience? (i.e. age, gender, locations, etc.)
  4. How people are finding Style Charade in the first place? It’s fascinating to peel back the direct, organic, referral, and social traffic data.

The takeaway? Analytics might not be “sexy,” but they’re absolutely invaluable! It’s also all about maximizing the data (but I’ll leave that topic for another day).

Pop and Suki Takeout BagCreate and Cultivate Chicago 2018

How to Pick What Brand Collaborations are Right for You

Once you start blogging, companies will eventually begin reaching out to you about collaborations (some paid, others for trade or free product). If you’re planning to be in this business for the long-run, you need to create a plan of attack for partnerships.

I view blogging collaborations like chess, not checkers – five moves ahead instead of one. While short-term dollars are appealing, long-term gains are essential.

Therefore, early on in the blog, I adopted one of Zapwater’s business philosophies. We use something our President came up with called “the three P’s.” These are the lenses we use to make sure our partnerships are a good alignment. The “P’s” stand for passion, prestige and profitability.

  • Passion: Am I really excited about the brand?
  • Prestige: Is this a category-leading and/or industry disruptive brand?
  • Profitability: This “P” is the most important (and it’s multi-layered):
    • Will I make money?
    • Does the scope of work match the fee the brand is offering?
    • Is the company who’s reaching out actually profitable? Nobody wants to chase invoice payments!
    • Do I really believe in my heart of hearts that I can show a return on their investment? I want to be a converter, not just an awareness-driver.

The golden ticket is when a brand hits all three P’s. At the very least, a solid partnership should have at least two. Even then, it might not be the best fit.

For example, earlier this year, we received the largest collaboration offer that Style Charade has ever seen. Sadly, the company wasn’t the right fit, and you, my valued readers, would immediately know that the partnership would have been “off brand.” We declined the collab. It was really hard to walk away from the offer.

The takeaway? Create a blueprint for what types of collabs you want. Be ready to walk away. There truly is power in saying “no.”

Jennifer Lake Pink Door ChicagoLeal Daccarett Casandra Dress

A study showed that about only 32% of promotional campaign proposals offered influencers monetary compensation in 2018. What are your opinions on working for free?

It’s easy to become enamoured by offers for free clothing and designer handbags, not to mention complimentary stays at luxury hotels. And while we all wish the 32% compensation would be 100%, many brands simply can’t afford to pay influencers. Trust me – I’ve worked in PR for 15+ years, and our clients range from small entrepreneurs to massive global companies. I can tell you firsthand that the out-of-pocket budgets are all over the place!

In the end, blogging is all about relationships. I still accept free gifts every now and then, especially if I’m passionate about the brand or know they’re a much smaller company.

That said, I still think influencers need to be paid for their work. In the words of my sweet, stylish, and smart friend, Blake Gifford of Blake Von D, “I’m not expensive – you just can’t afford me yet.”  She always has the best advice, insights, and soundbites!

The takeaway? Yes, I know free products don’t pay mortgages or bills. However, I do think we should be open to a mix of opportunities.

Create Cultivate Chicago Quotes

Quote by Blake Von D // Image via Create and Cultivate

Authenticity is Everything

Are you annoyed by the algorithm? Do you feel like your channels aren’t growing as fast as you’d like them to? Trust me – I feel you! At the same time, authenticity is everything! It is absolutely imperative to not succumb to shady tactics like buying bots, followers, or otherwise faking your engagement.

Being on the agency and brand side, we have more tools than ever to check influencer authenticity. There are countless sites and services which provide analytics, charts, graphs, and exact data on when and how tastemakers are doing something subversive with their numbers. In terms of tools, we use resources like Cision, revInfluence, Fohr, and way beyond to evaluate audiences and authenticity. Recently, our team was pulling together a paid campaign for a client, and one individual under consideration for the partnership had a 30% fake follower rate. Our team was flabbergasted. Needless to say, we won’t be working with this person moving forward.

In fact, Reesa Lake of Digital Brand Architects brought up a fantastic point about this topic as it relates to contracts. Recently, companies are including clauses in their agreements about authenticity. If they find bloggers or content creators are doing shady tactics, they have the right to pull the agreement and payment immediately. I’ve seen and received this clause in several recent contracts. Trust me, brands are not messing around.

The takeaway? Brands can’t afford to pay for fake followers and engagement. As influencer marketing budgets grow, they are investing in tools that vet audiences and actual influence. Stay the course when it comes to growing your channels organically. It’s frustrating when it’s slow, but the long-term payoff is absolutely worth it!

Blue Stripe Statement Sleeve Dress

Dress: Leal Daccarett Casandra Dress {c/o} {also love this dress from our Paris trip}

Bag: Pop & Suki Takeout Bag {c/o} // Shoes: No. 21 Stripe Knotted Sandals {also love these}

Jewelry: BaubleBar Pink Earrings // Eyewear: Céline White Sunglasses


You Do You

Even though the title of my panel, “Boss Dot Com: Driving traffic, monetizing content & getting paid,” originally scared me a bit, I ended up loving it! There are many complex answers to these types of questions, and not every insight is universal. Not every conclusion is “one-size-fits all.”

In the end, the best takeaway I’ve learned from blogging is that only YOU can decide what’s best your brand. Sure, I constantly learn from other people, but the best insights come from just diving in and figuring things out as you go. All of us as entrepreneurs can make mistakes, but they’ve made us stronger and more resilient through the process. Trust your gut and your discernment.

What are some of your favorite insights and pieces of advice for bloggers?


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