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Big decisions are sometimes made in moments of desperation. That’s how it happened for Rachel Mansfield when she was laid off unexpectedly two years ago from her role at a food and beverage company.
Today, Mansfield, 27, is more popularly known as “Rachl Mansfield” on her food blog and Instagram account. But long before her mouth-watering recipe posts garnered thousands of likes, that layoff hit her like a ton of bricks.
“I literally walked home heaving on the street,” says Mansfield. “I got into my apartment, and I just didn’t know what I was going to do. I kind of had a panic attack. I didn’t know what was going to come next.”
Mansfield was newly married and living frugally in New York, one of the world’s most expensive cities. Just before being fired, she had begun posting recipes on her Instagram account while maintaining her role at the food and beverage brand. Mansfield says the company felt this was a conflict of interest, and let her go, without any warning.
A few weeks later, she found herself unemployed, considering her options over a slice of pizza with her parents and husband. “They looked at me and said, Rachel, if you are passionate about your own brand, just give it a try and see what happens,” says Mansfield.
So she started with a deadline.
“I gave myself six months,” says Mansfield. “I said, ‘if I grow a successful brand in the next six months, I will continue to do this and if I don’t, then corporate America isn’t going anywhere.’”
In her 450-square-foot apartment in the heart of Manhattan, she began building her brand, brick by brick (or should we say, post by post). She started pitching herself to different products and companies to see if they would want to collaborate, and focused her Instagram account on consistency, posting her hand-crafted creations two to three times throughout the day.
In the beginning, there was oatmeal. Almond porridge, vanilla almond bliss balls and bright pink smoothie bowls all artfully photographed and wittingly captioned; her first posts all included a bit of oats — an ingredient that still makes a frequent appearance until this day.
But the process of becoming a self-run business, acting as her own boss and, of course, making money, was far from a perfect recipe in those early days.
At first, it was slow going. It took time to build up a following and brands often said no to collaborations because her account was so small. But just as patience is required in baking the perfect oatmeal cookie, so it is in building a brand from the ground up. And, of course, the payoff is sweet.
Luckily, Mansfield’s prior experience gave her an advantage on navigating the ins and outs of product collaboration. Slowly but surely, she began collaborative relationships in which brands would pay her to create recipes using their products.
“It wasn’t easy; it took time,” Mansfield says. “But within six months it got to the point where I was able to be paid by different brands.”
Getting started on your own can be a daunting experience, especially since your bills can’t be put on hold while you work towards turning a profit. Mansfield says she was lucky that she had pinched pennies and saved in the years preceding her decision to dive in and be her own boss. After college graduation, she had lived with her parents and commuted into the city. She later lived with her grandparents and finally with her in-laws, saving thousands on rent. She also says being ‘cheap’ in her day-to-day and not living paycheck to paycheck really saved her in those first few months.
“I was always pretty cheap in general so I definitely had a decent savings to back me during that time,” says Mansfield. “I was able to start monetizing as time went on, but I think if I hadn’t saved like that I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
Over two years, and many nut-butter dipped posts later, Mansfield has more than 250,000 followers on Instagram and says her blog reaches twice that amount.