During the holiday season, most Americans are looking forward to vacations and celebrating with family. But in December 2015, social media star Rachel Mansfield was devastated when she was fired from her job.
The health and wellness social media influencer, who now boasts over 200,000 Instagram followers, says having two crucial traits helped her learn from that experience and become her own boss: knowing her self-worth and having unwavering determination.
As a self-proclaimed "dessert enthusiast," Mansfield's Instagram focuses on her daily eats, new recipes she's testing out, her favorite restaurants and her fitness routine — she's a big fan of barre classes.
The 27-year-old tells CNBC Make It that her parents were actually the first ones to suggest that she turn her budding social media presence into a business. Mansfield recalls sitting with them at a pizza shop when they told her to venture off on her own "because the corporate world would always be there."
However, before losing her job, where she claims she was "under-compensated and undervalued," she felt fairly content working as an executive assistant at a food and beverage company in New Jersey.
When she originally created her Instagram and blog in March 2015, her goal was to use social media to establish a following so she could sell and deliver her homemade food across Manhattan. She got married in September of that year and had a stable job, so she soon forgot about that dream until months later when she was fired.
"I was so blindsided," says Mansfield. "I walked out onto 7th Avenue and literally started crying." The then 25-year-old says she headed home in a state of shock. When she arrived, it finally dawned on her that she was unemployed, which led to a panic attack.
"Around the holidays no one is hiring," says Mansfield. "It's impossible to get a job. People are on vacation. I had no idea what I was going to do." But her self-pity didn't last long, which she attributes to her personality.
"In general, I'm a tough person. I don't sit still and I'm always going, going, going," she tells CNBC Make It.
At the time, the recipe developer had only 10,000 Instagram followers but she knew that if she wanted to create a profitable influencer marketing agency she would have to invest in her brand and grow her audience.
"Just posting good pictures isn't enough to build a social media brand," Lorena Garcia, co-founder of Bloguettes, a social media and brand management agency, tells CNBC Make It. "You have to create quality content."
Mansfield began reaching out to friends, past colleagues and brands. She worked from early in the morning until 11 p.m. at night as well as most weekends. She was also constantly checking her email.
"Failure wasn't an option and I was so determined," says Mansfield. "I'm also really independent and didn't want to ask my parents for money." Her hard work began to pay off.
The audience for her Instagram and blog grew rapidly and companies began to reach out to partner with her. Some featured brands on her accounts include Sun Basket, an organic meal delivery service, Rebbl, an herbal drink brand that can be found at Whole Foods, and Equinox gym.
But the increase in interest came with problems of its own.
Mansfield says she is paid by brands for recipe development on her blog or if she posts on her social media about a company. However, companies would sometimes try and give her low ball offers to promote their products, or worse yet, partner with her and try to get out of paying her.
"You really need confidence in order to portray your message because people will try to walk all over you," says Mansfield. "You have to know your self-worth." That includes knowing which brands to partner with and potentially leaving money on the table if she doesn't believe in a brand. Why? Because her readers trust the products she reviews and she wants to keep it that way.
In fact, for social media influencers, choosing brands that align with their values is paramount. When partnerships aren't authentic the audience begins to "doubt your credibility and gets upset because they are invested in you," says Garcia.
Looking back, Mansfield says that the last year has been a whirlwind. "I could have given up at $40,000 for the rest of my life," she tells CNBC Make It. In fact, all she wanted before the termination from her previous job was a $10,000 raise. Now a year and a half later, working as a recipe developer, food stylist and blogger her yearly salary is in the low six figures and growing.
Garcia notes that the pay for a social media influencer can be lucrative. The brand expert says she has seen influencers who make $15,000 just for one Instagram post. However, it doesn't happen overnight.
"It's that influence and vision that gets brands to come to you," she says. But it takes "strategy, commitment and hard work," which is tough for most people. Garcia adds that many people start blogs and social media accounts as businesses but end up giving up because it's too difficult.
As a solo business owner, Mansfield says she is the "CEO, accountant, creative director, admin and CFO." She has no one to tell her what she needs to accomplish and no one to set deadlines, so it takes a concerted effort to get things done. "I have no one to tell me I need to do a holiday campaign or that I need to reach out to partner with this brand," she says.
Social media influencers also have to be a one-person band and pick-up on the most minute details, says Garcia. They must look at color schemes for their blogs and social media accounts, determine how often they will post, schedule photo shoots, create appealing visuals and set editorial calendars in advance.
"You see these girls and it looks like they're living the life," the social media strategist tells CNBC Make It. "But you don't understand that they work day and night."
Mansfield, for example, forms recipe creations for brands, does food styling and content plus video creation, hosts speaking engagements and cooking classes and works as a brand ambassador as part of her day-to-day.
She says that she just took her first vacation since starting her social media company, this June, which was a very belated honeymoon (she was married in 2015).
The Instagram star tells CNBC Make It that people frequently tell her she is so lucky because her job seems easy. While she is grateful for how quickly her business has grown and how "fun" her job seems, she wholeheartedly disagrees.
"I don't believe that I'm lucky," says Mansfield. "Luck didn't get me here. Determination did. And not letting anyone get in my way."
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Editor's note: This post has been updated.