Danielle Wiley – Founder & CEO, Sway Group

Danielle is the founder and CEO of Sway Group, an agency that supports a large community of influencers and connects them to the right brands for high-impact marketing campaigns.

Prior to founding Sway, Danielle ran social strategy for Edelman’s Chicago-based digital group. Between working on the social campaigns for household-name brands and channeling her passion for cooking into a food blog, she realized there was a need to professionalize and streamline the process for connecting influencers with brands. She launched Sway in 2011.

With nearly 25 years of industry experience, Danielle is widely recognized as an industry leader in content marketing, influencer marketing, and social media strategy. She has the practical knowledge to understand what is doable and the creative energy to consistently push the envelope with her initiatives.

Thanks to her expertise, Danielle is a regular contributor to Forbes.com and has been featured in Adweek, TechCrunch, Digiday, VentureBeat, MediaPost, Marketing Land, and PR Daily. She has spoken at numerous industry conferences including BlogHer, Mom 2.0, iMedia, SXSW, CES and the SMX Search Marketing Expo.

Danielle is a graduate of Vassar College and currently lives in Marin County, California with her husband and two children.

How did the concept for Sway Group come about?
I was running the social strategy group at Edelman Digital in Chicago. While working on the social campaigns for household-name brands and channeling my passion for cooking into a food blog, I realized there was a need to professionalize and streamline the process for connecting influencers with brands.

How was the first year in business?
It was a wild ride! We landed a huge article in AdAge that came out the day of launch. That generated a pretty good volume of inbounds that carried us through the first year. This was immensely important because we bootstrapped the business and had no funding to provide backup. It was nice to not have to hustle to generate new business because there were so many other things requiring our energy, including set up of our bookkeeping system, developing our contracts, and staffing our client teams.

What was your marketing strategy?
We really didn’t have one! The AdAge article came about as a result of an introduction made by a friend. After that, we relied on my network, reaching out to folks who I had worked with previously. We also launched our blog and our email newsletter within the first year.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We grew quickly. We launched halfway through 2011, and by 2015 we landed on the Inc. 500.

How do you define success?
I feel successful when I have no regrets. I never actually wanted to be an entrepreneur. I started Sway because I knew that I would regret NOT doing it. Our path has been marked by a lot of risk taking and experimentation. I feel proud of everything that we have accomplished at Sway. Regardless of revenue or accolades, we help women (both employees and influencers) support themselves and their families and that feels successful to me.

What is the key to success?
I don’t think there is any one, single key to success for all entrepreneurs, but the one that seems to have followed me throughout my career is never being afraid to pivot and take risks. Operating within the social media space means that my industry is constantly changing and evolving. If my company isn’t doing the same, we’re dead in the water.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It’s not some pithy quotable, but being a mom has taught me the greatest lesson about life in general, and also entrepreneurship. Specifically, I just can’t do it all. As a mom, my life is in constant triage mode, and being a CEO is pretty much the same. If something isn’t either urgent or strategic, I push it way down my to do list and I don’t fret if it doesn’t get done quickly (or at all).

What are some quotes that you live by?
“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” – Oscar Wilde

What are some of your favorite books?
I feel like I’m supposed to share nonfiction business books here, but I rarely read them! My favorite books are thrillers, epic historical novels, and anything featuring the supernatural. In elementary school, I famously read every single book about witches in the school library.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I don’t know that I could isolate any single day, but in general, my toughest days are the ones where I’m feeling doubt about our business. Building an agency from scratch isn’t for sissies and it’s a constant struggle to stay positive and lead our team with an eye for the big picture and confidence in our mission.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I don’t like to fail, and if I don’t keep moving forward, failure is inevitable.

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Interviews are conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

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