Stay true to who you are! I mentioned this earlier, but make a list of what you value and stick to it. This is YOUR brand, not anyone else’s you admire or follow on social media.

We often use the term “Influencers” to describe people with significant social media followings on platforms like Instagram, Twitter TikTok, Youtube, Linkedin and Facebook. Influencers have become today’s media titans, sought after for everything from product placements to timely trends. What’s the difference between influence and impact? Fans and followers? Sizzle versus staying power?

In this interview series, called, “How To Cultivate Community In A Click to Connect World” we are talking to influencers about how they define success and what we all need to discover about the true nature of influence. As a part of this series I had the pleasure of interviewing Tonya Phillips.

Tonya Phillips, model, influencer and host of the Not So Darlin’ podcast is on a mission to inspire women over 40 to play big, speak up and realize that this is only the beginning! Having developed and overcome an eating disorder as an adult, Tonya is a warrior who knows how to overcome self-doubt, build self-confidence, and shatter the old stories that can block you from living your purpose. From this journey to authenticity, came Tonya’s mantra “Perfect is Lame.”

Thank you for making time to visit with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. How did you discover your career path and what got you to where you are today?

My career path started with my love for fashion and community. Over time, it transformed into bringing together like minded women and having conversations to inspire people. I consider myself a Connector, therefore connecting the dots within the community and bringing people together comes naturally for me. What got me here today, was my desire for a community of women to share and be real with each other.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned along the way that influences how you operate now?

The key to my success thus far is my ability to not take myself too seriously. This has served me well in my relationships and my work. I can show up being authentic and an example of someone who is truly learning every day. I don’t have all the answers nor am I perfect, but I am doing my best with what I know in this moment.

My eating disorder has given me strength to turn my mess into my message. Being a mother to a teenage son allows me to stay grounded, it can be a lot! Again, learning every day.

We’re all searching for some good news. How are you using your platform to make a positive social impact?

My biggest message is love who you are and embrace her — the good, the quirky, the messy, the goofy, the beautiful, all of it!! The darlin’ part of yourself and the not so darlin’ parts of yourself should all be loved dearly.

Many of our readers are influencers as well. Others have tried and have yet to succeed. What words of advice would you offer to aspiring influencers, knowing what you know now?

You do not have to say yes to everything!! If it doesn’t align with your values or your brand it’s okay to say no. Starting out, you probably want to get your name out there and be seen, so you’ll say yes to things just to get the work. I encourage people not to say yes to just anything. The first step is to sit down and write out what you value. List five to six things. Think about your brand and the message you want to put out into the world. If your offers do not align with your list and brand, say no. You will thank yourself later! Stay true to your values!

Success is often a matter of perspective. I’ve always resonated with Henry David Thoreau’s quote, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” How do you see success — or define success — for yourself now?

Success to me is being able to help someone through my podcast and brand messaging. Looking at my fashion photos, I want to inspire women over 40 to feel beautiful. It’s okay to get creative with your style over 40! We can still have fun with fashion like we did in our teenage years. It’s not over. Also, inspiring women over the age of 35 with an eating disorder looks like success to me. I see you; I am here for you; you have not been forgotten. Often when we think of eating disorders, we imagine a teenage girl. However, there are many women over the age of 35 who are struggling, too. Success is the ability to inspire these two demographics, even if it’s just one person. My favorite podcast episode is Drop Dead Fred, in which I openly talk about my eating disorder. If one person listens to that and walks away impacted by my words, I will have reached success. One other aspect of success is being able to stand on my own two feet financially being that I was a SAHM for years.

What are your strategies to make room for who and what matters most?

What allows me to make room for what matters most to me is being scheduled, having structure to my day, creating lists, and healthy habits. I am not an easily distracted person, therefore staying on top of my to-do list comes naturally to me. I believe my desire to help others provides the focus I need to get things done. I am on a mission with a strong sense of my purpose, which is the key!

How do you reduce or mitigate stress?

I incorporate working out, meditation, my mantras, prayer, and essential oils into every day.

I’m going to try a few of your tips, and I’m hopeful our readers will, too. Now it’s time for the big reveal — the moment our readers have been anticipating. What are your “five strategies to cultivate a large & engaged social media community?’ Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Stay true to who you are! I mentioned this earlier, but make a list of what you value and stick to it. This is YOUR brand, not anyone else’s you admire or follow on social media.
  2. Build a community. Think about what you value and what your community needs and merge the two. You must engage with people, find your vibe tribe, and add value. Support other women, and show them some love!
  3. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Share your Not So Darlin’ moments — be real to your audience.
  4. Invest in yourself; meaning spend money on whatever will bring you to the next level. It could be a web designer, a coach, ambassadors, marketing ads, etc. Make the investment in small increments and you will get to the next level.
  5. I know you only asked for five but I must share this — don’t be afraid to ask for help!

What do you do to create a greater sense of connection and community among your fans?

When I am being authentic and true to who I am in my photos, podcast conversations, and in my everyday conversations, the connection comes alive! Being relatable is very important for me because I’ve learned over the years that being relatable is a superpower when it comes to connecting and vibing with others. Again, be YOU!!

As an influencer, you are, by definition, a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

This is a hard question because as a multi-passion person, I want to do it all! But if I had to pick one movement, it would be helping women over the age of 35 with their eating disorders.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He, she or they might just see this. 🙂

My person would be Barack Obama. His poise, his humility, and his aura are truly inspiring. Watching him speak and do his thing is watching someone who is truly in the zone. He is able to always stay humble and move throughout all the chaos with grace. He’s such a down to earth man. Because I desire the need to stay grounded, I admire that in others.

What is the best way for our readers to further follow your work online?

You can find me at, on Instagram @notsodarlintonya, and on my podcast, Not So Darlin’.

Thank you for these thought provoking insights. Here’s to your continued success!