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.
When I was fired I was making $50,000 per year and now I’m making over six-figures. In six months I had doubled my salary.
It’s difficult to fathom making money in a digital space, especially with the endless competition when it comes to food bloggers, but Mansfield is pulling it off.
“When I was fired I was making around $50,000 per year and now I’m making over six-figures,” said Mansfield. “In about six months I had doubled my salary.”
She admits the world of food bloggers and Instagram accounts is much more saturated today than two years ago. Timing, she says, might have been a factor in her success in the digital space. Timing, and a lot of elbow grease.
Mansfield can hardly believe it's been two years since the day she was unceremoniously fired, sick to her stomach and stumbling down a NYC sidewalk. Now with a thriving (and lucrative) blog under her belt, she recently announced she scored a book deal with Penguin Random House and is working to take her recipes to print in her first cookbook.
Think you can take your overnight oat recipe (or whatever you side hustle may be) and turn it into a thriving brand? It won’t be easy, but Mansfield is proof that it’s possible. Here are a few of her tips for success:
- Keep it focused: We all have a favorite meal from childhood. For Mansfield, it was, you guessed it, oats. “Oatmeal was always my absolute favorite,” said Mansfield. “When I was younger my Dad would make me bowls of cooked oats before preschool, and the smell of it is still nostalgic for me.” Mansfield’s childhood love of oats helped her begin making “overnight oats” recipes that she could take on the run. By starting with something specific, she was able to begin attracting readers interested in healthy, accessible recipes, which is a strategy that can pay off regardless of what your side hustle is. It’s much easier to stand out when you narrow your competitors by entering a focused environment.
- Set deadlines and plan, plan, plan: Mansfield plans her recipes for the next month several weeks in advance, and says planning and prepping is critical in a space that never shuts off. Staying on track doesn’t have to be complicated. Mansfield’s husband helped her build an “invoice tracker” that she keeps on her Google Drive. In it, she tracks every brand collaboration and new recipe idea. Keeping everything right in front of her helps ensures that she stays organized and meets deadlines, which can be especially hard when you have no hire-up to answer to.
- But be willing to go with the flow: “I am the C.E.O. if you will, of my company, I am the Creative Director, the intern, I am everything in one person, which is crazy, and you need to be able to go with the flow in some capacity,” says Mansfield. Her advice? Follow your gut and stay true to yourself, but try to go with the flow as the space is always changing. “The biggest lesson I’ve learned with being my own boss, is that things are going to change, and I can’t plan for everything,” she says. Some days, her blog crashes or her photos won’t load. It’s an unpredictable space, and while planning ahead is important, being able to roll with the punches is key.
- Get on the work from home hustle: While running your own brand might seem like a chance to stay in your pajamas all day, Mansfield advises getting up and going. “Yes, I work from home and I work for myself, but you’ll never find me on the couch in the middle of the day.” Mansfield says she recommends doing something every day to further your business and brand. For her, this means keeping up with research in the space, whether it be trends in healthy foods for the New Year or brands she might seek out for collaborations. Relationship building, too, is something she focuses on in a day-to-day capacity. “Meeting new people that are like-minded, whether they are food blogging or working at a fitness studio, anything that we could on collaborate together,” she says.
- Don’t expect glamour: Mansfield says people often remark about her ability to take time off flexibly, but it’s not as easy as it might seem. “It’s not as glamorous as most people think,” she said. “Everyone always says, you can take off from work, you work for yourself, and yeah I can, but there’s no one to cover for me. It’s definitely a lot more work than anyone could ever imagine.”
- Stay in your lane: In the digital sphere, it seems there are an infinite number of food, fitness and fashion bloggers. Mansfield makes it a point to not compare herself to others and stay in her lane. “If I took a picture of a bacon cheeseburger, no one is going to want that from me, they want healthy recipes, and I think that staying in your own lane and following what you are known for is the best thing you can do,” says Mansfield. Staying true to you too, is important. For example, Mansfield says she gets requests from readers to do daily food diaries. For her, though, outlining her every eating move isn’t something that fits her brand. “If I did a food diary of what I ate, people would take that so literally and think that they need to eat that, and I don’t want anyone to ever feel like they have to do something that someone else is doing,” she says.
- Know when to disconnect and set boundaries: If you’ve ever caught yourself scrolling through social media or answering an email well past your bedtime you know it’s difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible to turn off. Mansfield set a rule to try and turn off her phone at 9:30 p.m. every night. “You have to be able to shut off,” says Mansfield. “Working for yourself really takes a toll on you mentally and physically because you need to learn how to delete your email from your phone and shut off on weekends, especially if you’re making a living from technology it’s really hard to separate from your phone and be in the moment.”
- Embrace the unconventional: The idea of making money through social media and blogging manifests far differently than clocking in and out and receiving a bi-monthly paycheck. Mansfield’s advice? Embrace the new space and ability to call your own shots. “It’s so unconventional and I love that about what I do, I like that it’s not something that everyone does,” says Mansfield.
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