Cheri Leavy and Whitney Wise Long joined forces to create “a virtual front porch for Southern creatives and entrepreneurs.” Under the name The Southern Coterie (TSC), this community inspires learning and collaboration. Their mission is to be a place where you can connect, collaborate and create, both online and in person. Founded in 2011, The Southern Coterie quickly expanded from being an online presence to hosting a regular event, named The Southern C Summit. The Summits bring the online community together during a multi-day conference designed to educate and inspire. Attendees not only walk away with knowledge for how to propel themselves and their businesses forward, they leave having fostered new and meaningful connections. Meet Cheri and Whitney, the brilliant minds behind the brand!
Tell us about your backgrounds.
Cheri: My husband Vance and I operate Bulldawg Illustrated and guide2athens, successful online and print publications. His family has been in the news publishing business for over 100 years in the Golden Isles. We launched our media company 15 years ago after both working for The Brunswick News. As proud University of Georgia alumni, we enjoy showcasing our alma mater and the Classic City in our platforms.
I have served on philanthropic boards since my 20s and have a strong sense of community, so it was a natural progression to help create The Southern Coterie, a community for other creative females with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Whitney: I’m a grad of Auburn University with a PR and marketing major and journalism/communications minor. I did some Chamber of Commerce work, was a communications director for a bank and then was fortunate enough to be introduced into the magazine world by a college sorority sister (thanks Jennifer Chappell Smith!) and became a scout, stylist and contributing editor for print media titles including Coastal Living, Southern Accents, Southern Living and Better Homes & Gardens, plus various special interest titles. After doing this for many years, I took some time off to focus on our four kiddos. With the co-founding of TSC, with Cheri, I was able to create a business that successfully married my past and current work experience and skill set and offered me a creative outlet.
What is the mission behind The Southern Coterie?
Cheri: The Southern Coterie is an online resource for the entrepreneurial South. Designed to offer a community of passionate business owners the opportunity to connect, collaborate and create, “The Southern C” is capturing the South’s entrepreneurial renaissance one post at a time. The Southern C Summit brings the online content to life with a unique multi-day conference where attendees network and connect in person with the best and brightest names in Southern business and branding.
Whitney: With our website and our very first Summit, we aimed to create a powerful, supportive, transparent community for creative entrepreneurs, and I do believe we have done that — not only through our online platform, but also at our live events, where we offer relevant continuing education with some of the best and brightest names in business, branding and marketing, as well as traditional and digital media.
Why do you think there has been a recent surge in Southern entrepreneurship?
Whitney: I believe it is largely due to creativity breeding creativity. And I also think it’s because we seem to be more open with our time, resources and talent. It’s a great time to be in the South, and I am thankful to be a part of it!
How does it benefit individuals and businesses to have a community to share in the creativity?
Cheri: As entrepreneurs, we need encouragement through successes and missteps, and having a core group that is rooting for you along the way fuels us. Good and bad practices can be discussed, which helps avoid costly mistakes and improves the bottom line. Collaborating on ideas with others in the network only makes the ideas better. Connecting with others who have different expertise provides resources needed to grow. We all have something to bring to the table and wouldn’t discover it without a community of like-minded individuals. With The Southern C, we have been fortunate to create a powerful, supportive, transparent community. In this digital day and age, it’s easy to hunker down and only connect via our screens, but we all need that human, real-life connection. That is how the first Summit was born. Our community members expressed the desire to meet in real life, and here we are almost five years later with our eighth event coming up.
What distinguishes the South from other regions?
Cheri: Our passion for celebrating where we are from sets the South apart. The food, craftsmanship, design and style are special, but I think it is because we are proud to say “made in the South” — that has made it a movement. It’s very European really. “Made in Italy” or “made in Spain” is common because they are proud of who they are and the quality that represents.
Think about it: Southern Living has one of the largest subscriber bases in the nation, and Garden and Gun has been a huge hit since its inception. I think there is a fascination with our Southern culture.
Whitney: Her [the South’s] people, hands down!
What can people expect from The Southern C Summit?
Cheri: Expect an opportunity to connect, collaborate and create with other like-minded creatives. There are opportunities to network with media and influencers. The educational sessions are led by the best in their fields. The food and libations and experiences with sponsors are all top-notch. It’s a lovely way to grow your business in three days!
What are you most looking forward to at the Fall Retreat in 30A?
Cheri: This retreat is going to be a slower pace than the Summit with deeper dives into the educational sessions and the relationships fostered. We limited it to 100 people (and it’s sold out!). The venue at WaterColor is so beautiful, and I can’t wait to sink my toes in the sand and paddle board one morning! Education-wise, I can not wait for the Coastal Living editors to spend an hour and a half sharing how to style products for digital and social media, style products for print and style your products for media pitches. Our dinner on Monday night is going to be over the top.
Whitney: Sharing our beloved 30A with our beloved TSC attendees! I have such a fondness for the Panhandle, as I grew up a little over an hour away in Alabama, and the “world’s most beautiful beaches” were our backyard. The programming is top-notch as is the venue. It will be such a treat to be in the perfect spot at the perfect time of year and bring the Work + Wellness elements to life. Our attendees expressed interest in an event that explores both as it’s something all entrepreneurs battle, and that’s how our first retreat came to be. It will be more intimate as less attendees and sessions will run longer for a deeper dive. We will end a tad earlier each day to allow time to explore the area and participate in various recreational offerings.
Where can we find you when you aren’t working?
Cheri: The Sea Island Beachclub reading magazines and laughing and lounging with Vance is my happy place. Saturdays in the fall, you can find me cheering on the Georgia Bulldogs in a college town! Vance and I go to most road games, too — this is where work and play blend for us at Bulldawg Illustrated.
Whitney: With my family doing the above or volunteering at school or in the community with some of our wonderful local charities.
What is the best piece of advice you have received and from whom?
Cheri: Hire people smarter than you are. We succeeded there with the hire of Dominique Paye, our digital media director. Whitney and I wouldn’t want to be on this journey without her. Same with Leapfrog PR Co. They have been with us from the start of the Summits and bring so much strategy to the Coterie. Nicely Built, our new website developers, are an integral part of our future.
Whitney: “There but for the grace of God, go I … ” My mom always said this growing up, and it has stuck with me since then. It floats through my consciousness many times a day, and it truly helps in being reminded to have an “attitude of gratitude” and also realize how fortunate I am in both my personal and professional life.
What books can be found on your bedside table?
Cheri: I always have a mix to suit my mood. The New Paris: The People, Places and Ideas Fueling a Movement is the most gorgeous book by Lindsey Tramuta with photography by Charissa Fay. It is giving me serious wanderlust. I am making notes in Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path by Erin Loechner (a presenter at The Southern C Summit Work + Wellness Retreat). I read cookbooks for inspiration, and I am currently into the new Beach Cocktails: Favorite Surfside Sips and Bar Snacks from Coastal Living (another Retreat presenter) and Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi.
Whitney: How to Be Rich: It’s Not What You Have. It’s What You Do With What You Have by Andy Stanley, Sprinkle Glitter On my Grave by Jill Kargman (she is the star and creator of “Odd Mom Out” on Bravo – if you don’t watch it, you should … hilarious!), Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner and the Bible.
Excluding faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Whitney: Sweet tea, good books, the beach (30A!). Preferably I would be doing all of these at the same time — drinking sweet tea, reading a book, while sitting on the beach.
Cheri: Excluding faith, family and friends? Then I would say lipstick, strong coffee and water views (oceans, lakes and rivers).
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