By Jordan Staggs | Photos by Kelli Boyd Photography
The secret to a balanced lifestyle is elusive for most, especially the hustle-prone entrepreneurs of modern society. Often juggling their own companies and projects along with family, social agendas, collaborations, and health, it’s a tough road for those who want to feel good while working toward their dreams.
Enter the Southern C Retreat, an exclusive long weekend of business workshops and wellness excursions that took place October 1–3, 2017, in the beach communities along Northwest Florida’s Scenic Highway 30-A. Whitney Long and Cheri Leavy began the Southern Coterie as an organization dedicated to connecting business-minded people who love the South and love learning from meeting and sharing experiences with others. Their annual summit events usually attract up to three hundred members to enjoy seminars and workshops on topics such as branding, social media and digital marketing, networking, and work–life balance.
The Southern C Retreat was a more intimate sister event to the Southern Coterie’s annual summit, with a cap at a hundred attendees—namely female entrepreneurs and other businesswomen. This smaller scale allowed a more in-depth opportunity for attendees to connect with each other and with the retreat’s presenters and workshop leaders, plus the wellness experts at the WaterColor Inn, where attendees stayed. “In addition to the beautiful coastal locale and slower-paced agenda, which everyone loved, we began each day with fitness offerings and then wrapped up a little early to allow for some downtime to explore the area, sit in a beach chair, ride a bike, et cetera,” Long says. “This resonated with attendees as was reflected in post-Retreat feedback; work + wellness is something with which all entrepreneurs struggle.”
After morning activities such as stand-up paddleboarding lessons with RUN/SUP, beachside yoga, bike rides, and more, presenter sessions took place each day at the stunning WaterColor Lakehouse on picturesque Western Lake.
The impressive lineup of speakers included Erin Loechner, the founder of Design for Mankind and author of lifestyle book Chasing Slow; staff members from Coastal Living; One Love Organics founder Suzanne LeRoux; licensed CPA and personal trainer Brian Salter of 30A Wellness; and Southern Living home and garden editor Zoë Gowen. Bonus master classes were conducted by the beach with Waiting on Martha founder Mandy Kellogg Rye, Libba Osborne of Leapfrog PR, Haile McCollum of Fontaine Maury Brand + Design, and Hoffman Media’s Brian Hart Hoffman and Brooke Bell. Small-group mentors also included Dominique Paye of the Southern Coterie, Erin Phillips of Pinckney Palm, Alexandra Golden and Natasha Murphy of Nicely Built, and Monica Lavin of Lavin Label.
The most valuable part of the retreat came in the form of meeting new people and learning from each other, not only for the attendees but also for the organizers, presenters, and mentors.
“Our presenters participate fully at our events, so we choose aspirational and accessible personalities,” Leavy says. “Transparency is a must with the Coterie, and we had a great lineup that shared openly. For the retreat, we had good discussions with our presenters about our goals and intent with their sessions because we wanted work–life balance and what wellness meant to each of them to be topics, along with the expertise they would share.”
“The presenters were truly highlights!” Long adds. “Each one brought so much invaluable content to attendees through their presentations, takeaways, and transparency. We scheduled the sessions to be a little longer than our usual, and this allowed for a deeper dive into each topic.”
Outside the presenter sessions, master classes, and mentor workshops, the retreat attendees got to mix and mingle while taking in some of the 30-A area’s best views, activities, and dining. The October 1 welcome included a reception and a Boozy Beach Bonfire, complete with s’mores, at the WaterColor Inn. Attendees also enjoyed rooftop libations at The Pearl hotel in Rosemary Beach and poolside cocktails and food at Caliza in Alys Beach. “The chefs outdid themselves and gave our attendees a delicious taste of the Gulf Coast,” Long says.
The most valuable part of the retreat came in the form of meeting new people and learning from each other, not only for the attendees but also for the organizers, presenters, and mentors. Sharing ideas, making connections, and inspiring each other in positive ways are always goals at the Southern Coterie.
“As entrepreneurs—and especially as female entrepreneurs—we need encouragement through successes and missteps, and having a core group that is rooting for us along the way fuels us,” Leavy explains. “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 we wouldn’t discover it without a community of like-minded individuals coming together at an event like this.”
“As entrepreneurs—and especially as female entrepreneurs—we need encouragement through successes and missteps, and having a core group that is rooting for us along the way fuels us.”
After rave reviews for the 30-A retreat, the Southern Coterie team is considering a repeat of the event, but next up on the agenda is rebranding and launching its new website, as well as continuing to collect new members and inspire like-minded individuals with advice and positivity online. “Our blog and newsletter are invaluable resources for our community,” Leavy says, “but we are excited to offer more and to add online interactive events with our presenters and sponsors sharing compelling content and providing tips and techniques in categories such as social media strategy, work–life balance, brand collaborations, media, PR and marketing, organization, and web strategy. Our community will find an online space to connect and collaborate, fostered by a shared job board, a membership directory, and a community calendar.”
With never a dull moment, Long and Leavy are also planning the ninth annual Southern C Summit, which is returning to Sea Island, Georgia, in February 2018. Leavy says the team is excited to “bring the community to life again” in person at the organization’s signature event. “Our lineup is shaping up to be stellar, and the social elements are going to be oh so fabulous,” she says. “Sea Island and our sponsors will spoil everyone during the entire three-day event. Our finale is a Beachside Biscuit Bash with Bake from Scratch magazine and some of our favorite bakers, including Carrie Morey of Callie’s Charleston Biscuits. What better Southern send-off is there?”
— V —
Learn more, become a member, or book your ticket to the Southern C Summit at TheSouthernC.com.