About Rachel Williamson and How She Got Here

 

If you’re reading this, you might know me as one of a few things:

  1. the girl from your hometown or college years

  2. The girl who was writing a novel

  3. Or had a cool job at Spoon

  4. Or wrote a cookbook with Food Network

  5. Or maybe, you’re a potential client and don’t know me at all.

Regardless, I’m Rachel, hi! This year I became the co-founder of Dive In Digital (whose website you’re currently on!) where my partner Shelby and I create digital marketing strategies for small to mid-size businesses. After reading that list above and that bit about my new business venture, you might be thinking, “Wow she’s crushing it,” or maybe the thought is more like, “How does a girl who wrote fiction stories in college land a job at a startup in NYC and feel confident enough to start her own digital marketing company at 26? Does she know that the economy is probably gonna crash?!” Don’t worry, I usually think all of those things as well.

I could tell you that my career was mostly chance, that I happened to meet my employer in college, and above all, that I was simply lucky as a creative writing major, because my chances of getting a real job were slim. But that’s not true and I don’t think it would help you see how much control you have in your own life.

If you have ten minutes to spare (or maybe more, I know it’s very long), I’d like to tell you the story of how I found myself in digital marketing after getting a degree in Creative Writing. And why, in 2014, when five literary agents asked to see the novel I spent five years writing, I deleted my book off of my computer, turned all of my attention to Spoon University, and didn’t write for two years.

I decided to start this company not because I think I’m the best, or the smartest, or most popular, but because I’d rather bet on myself every day than anyone else. The only reason that I got to this point in my life is because I accepted who I am and I started to believe that if you’re willing to put in the hard work and trust yourself, you truly can make anything happen. I use digital marketing to tell my client’s stories, so they can live the lives they have always dreamt of, and now I’m going to use this article to tell you mine.

AND if you’re here as a potential client, you’re probably like, “Woah, not what I thought I was getting into when hiring a consultant.” However, I hope after reading this you’ll know me better as a real human and know that I’m here to make a real impact in your life and help you no matter what.

Three Things That Were Coming My Way

Mahomet, IL 1996(ish)

Mahomet, IL 1996(ish)

I lived my first 21 years in total future-career bliss. I never considered a 9-5 and I didn’t think life post-school would be anything other than living out my dreams as a fashion designer, writer, or artist. It was awesome. The number one person we can all blame is Miss Heidi Klum. The moment that golden haired host walked onto Project Runway, my stuck-in-a-small-town self was had. Designing glamorous clothes people would wear to cool parties for a living? Count me in, Heidi! I immediately became obsessed convinced my mom to buy me a sewing machine we found on sale at Wal-Mart. However, between this Make-It-Work 2004 moment and now, three monumental things came to fruition that fundamentally shaped my current identity:

  1. I dreamt of moving to NYC

  2. I became a writer

  3. I gained 83,000 followers on Pinterest

None of these have very much to do with fashion, but as I look back, it’s very clear that those plot lines in my life first began when my interest in fashion brought me to magazines. And, thus, let me introduce you to my first dream, the dream of New York City, baby.

New York, New York

I would spend evenings sitting in bed with my mom while she watched You Got Mail and dog ear every page in the off-white pages of Teen Vogue that had a word on it I didn’t know. After the show, I’d make my way down to the basement and spend hours Googling “How to pronounce Hermes” or “Chloe” to learn as much as I could about all of the brands I didn’t know.

I was hellbent on learning about this world that was so different than my own. And I was equally aggressive about dreaming up what my life could look like when it was up to me to design it. To capture my vision and creative juju, I created a gigantic mood board on the back of my childhood room door. It was sacred and I reminded me of what it could be like when I grew up and was able to live in a big city. It’s not that I didn’t like my life, we lived a lovely small town life and went on vacations, I was fortunate to have what I did, but my world was still very small and this creative outlet was starting to expand those walls.

When the Writing Set In

I’ve always been a little extra and during my freshman year of high school, I volunteered to be the scriptwriter for my English class when competing in Shakesfest, a school-wide play competition. I re-wrote the old classic, Romeo and Juliet, into the Skater Boi (a la Avril) version. I also volunteered to be the director and made everyone switch gender roles. Why? I really don’t know, but it probably had something to do with growing up in a culture where boys ruled and it felt good to be more dominant for a change. Idk, just a guess!

To my absolute delight, the script won! And something clicked, “You must be good at this.” Shortly after, I started writing my first novel for fun about a girl who lived in Denver (coincidence, I think not). And after a few false starts, I began to write the novel most of you have heard me talking about, the one I pitched to the literally agents.

However, everything changed when my love of magazines evolved and I found myself reading an article about surrogacy in Vogue. Til this day I can’t find the article. I don’t know who wrote it or if it ever existed online, but it was a first-person account from an editor describing her experience as the biological mom. I followed the journey she took us on and something changed inside me. It was chemical, intimate, and specific — as 17-year-old girl I didn’t care about surrogacy, but it didn’t matter. I felt myself caring about the words that I was reading in such a strong way. I knew that they were excellent, hand selected, and powerful. From then on, I knew I wanted to be a writer and have this superpower as well. On December 15th, 2010 I was accepted into Creative Writing at the University of Illinois and became part of the fourth generation of Williamson’s to enroll there. During my first week, I went to a frat party in the house my great grandfather lived in, which is kind of bizarre and kind of cool at the same time.

Let Me Introduce You to the Word “Pinfluencer”

After the stress of getting into college subsided, I discovered this thing called Pinterest. This was the final blessing my passion for fashion gave me: An obsession with making collages. When I say this I do not say this lightly: I truly believe I was one of the first couple thousands if not hundreds of people to be on the platform. I was over the moon that I could take my collaging to the next level and I used the platform constantly.

One day, during my freshman year of college I saw the number “83 thousand and some odd hundreds” under my name on my Pinterest profile. I remember mentioning it to my roommate, “It must be a bug or my account was hacked.” I didn’t think about that number for two more years until a woman (now someone who I consider a friend) reached out four times on Facebook asking about my Pinterest.

HelloSociety, now a part of the New York Times group, was a one-of-its-kind boutique agency in Santa Barbara that was using an emerging tactic to help their clients where individuals shared their client’s products on Pinterest and received a commission for doing so. Sound kind of familiar? Well it was 2012 and it was all news to me. However, I did some research and eventually the strategy made sense to me. As we would all find out, would soon make sense to the world and change digital marketing as we know it. I signed the papers, was on-boarded into their system, and entered my first official role in the digital marketing world. I clicked on my title (where I could access the clients’ pins), called “Influencer.”

Not Making Money Was Not an Option

So I’ve bored you to death with how I discovered my dreams that would shape my life and career, but what about the part about believing you can do anything and taking control of your life?

Despite all of the creativity I experienced and the love I felt towards writing pre-age 18, I walked around campus knowing that people thought the Creative Writing major was bullshit and that I would never make money writing novels. From the day I chose to be a Creative Writing major, I was inoculated with questions of what I was going to do to make money and most of peers shared the mindset that they wouldn’t be able to find jobs. Overall, being job opportunity broke and a budding starving artist was rampant in my major, and to be totally honest, the mind set really pissed me off. In my opinion, deciding that you aren’t in control or optimistic about your future isn’t only apathetic, but simply irresponsible. Not making money after graduation was simply not an option and I would throw myself at any job or activity that could play to my writing strengths. When this mindset crystalized sophomore year, a classmate of mine, Allison (my roommate now in New York), asked me to apply as Managing Editor to this new food publication called Spoon University.

Not Being Successful Was Not an Option

My love affair with Spoon is long and complex. However, there’s one takeaway that changed my life forever. Sarah Adler and Mackenzie Barth (the founders of Spoon) offered me an internship going into my senior year of college. One of the ways I was able to convince my parents to help me pay for the NYU housing I would need during the unpaid internship, was by also convincing them that I needed to go to NYC to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference. I would spend my summer not spending money, gaining experience, finishing my novel, and then be able to pitch it to real-life literary agents in August.

NYC Internship, 2014

NYC Internship, 2014

On the last day of my internship, the Spoon founders agreed to sit down with me and work on my in-person pitch. One at a time they sat down and I practiced my pitch on them and we workshopped every word. They were the first people in my life who I felt like weren’t only listening to me, but also had the ability to make any dream a reality. They had a year to get Spoon off the ground and not being successful was not an option. I saw them work countless hours bringing Spoon into the world and when it was time for my idea to get the spotlight, they also believed I could do it, too. When I left the co-working space, the sun was setting, the white walls filled up with golden light, and I had to shield my eyes to wave goodbye to them. I knew something special had just happened and the impression they left on me was that we all could make our dreams a reality.

After the conference, I had the emails of five agents who wanted to read my novel and a lot of feedback on how I would have to rewrite my book in order for it to be published. It was an unconscious choice at the time, but I decided it was in fact time to take a break from writing. I think there was something inside me that knew I wasn’t ready to be on my own yet and that there was so much for me to learn in writing and in life.

In March of 2015, I got a call from Kenzie offering me the role as social media editor in New York City on a five-person team. Within the same week, my personal life as I knew it was falling apart. I had a huge choice to make: Stay in the Midwest or start over and believe I was going to be OK on my own. As it turns out, I accepted the job and joined the team that would make Spoon a success. I learned quickly that being a good marketer is really about understanding people, their dreams, desires, and challenges. It’s about being a good communicator. I grew the social media channels from the bottom up thanks to my writing and curation skills, hired Shelby (one of the most important people in my life) out of 50 applicants, and so many more things I’m so proud of. In so many ways, I built up my own confidence, storytelling skills, and reminded myself over and over again, if you work hard and believe you can, you will.

Digital marketing was the risk I didn’t really want to take or had any intention of doing, but it’s been one of the most rewarding parts of my life. My hope in writing this ridiculously long article about myself is that by seeing me go after my dream of living a life of my own, learning how to become a digital marketer, you don’t only feel like you can do the same, but also feel like you can ask for help if you need it. Last time I checked, there’s this thing called email and I’d love to hear your story or help you if you need it — reach me at rachel@letsdiveindigital.com

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