Make Lemonade Founder Rachel Kelly On How An Instagram Account Helped Her Launch Her Co-Working Space For Women
In Bustle's Quick Question, we ask women leaders all about advice — from the best guidance they've ever gotten, to what they're still figuring out. Here, Rachel Kelly from Make Lemonade shares how she dealt with imposter syndrome when she was building her business.
After freelancing and working from home or jumping around to coffee shops for a long time, Rachel Kelly, founder of Make Lemonade, a design-forward co-working space for people who identify as women in Toronto, was starting to feel lonely in her career. When one of her gigs finally offered her a full-time position, she quickly canceled all of her other freelance jobs. I'm going to buy a couch like an adult with a salary!, she thought to herself.
But the day before she was supposed to start, the company asked if she could go back to freelancing, even though she had already signed a contract with them. Frustrated by the situation, and having already done the whole search-for-answers-on-the-top-of-Mount-Kilimanjaro thing the year prior, Kelly realized life had handed her a lemon. It was time to make lemonade.
"I had been sitting on this idea for a co-working and shared community space for a while and I kind of just asked myself, if you're not going to act on this right now, then when are you going to? Is it going to be a year after another trip? Or you know, are you going to just keep doing some more gig work? If you've always wanted to create these for yourself, now is the right time to do this," Kelly tells Bustle at Facebook's International Women's Day event earlier this month.
But when she started building her business, Kelly felt like people weren't taking her seriously. One landlord told her she needed some "real" business advice when she was looking for an office space — yet her parents ran their own business for 33 years and had been helping guide her. She also caught a construction worker, who she had hired to build her space, checking her out in the office. "I don't think it connected to them that I was the person signing the checks," Kelly says. But getting her business off the ground also forced her to grow up quickly, she says.
Using Instagram, Kelly built a community before she even opened her doors. "Before I had a business plan, I had consumer [Instagram] account. That was like the very first thing I did [...] before I really knew what I was doing, because I think that's where I found so much inspiration," Kelly says. "I wanted share like this is the place that I'm dreaming of. And it's kind of one of those things where it's like I knew deep down I was like, I know people want this and I will find the people, but I needed to validate it as well." She says she knew her concept was resonating when a friend —who didn't know Kelly was behind Make Lemonade's Instagram — said to her, "You need to follow this account. I feel like you'll really like it."
But when press around Make Lemonade started to hit, and Kelly realized she was now the leader of a big community, she started to face imposter syndrome. So, she turned to people she knew would understand what she was experiencing — her Instagram community.
Today, Kelly continues to use social media as tool to learn more about her community. Make Lemonade's motivational space was even designed using some suggestions from its community, including the office's natural light and plants. And, even though her business is up and running now, Kelly says she still uses her community to share what she's dealing with.
"I just make sure that like I share a lot of like the personal shit that I'm going through all the time and just say that like, "This is hard for me too." By me sharing this out loud, it just validates like what you're feeling and what you're doing at the time too and that you're not alone."
Here, Kelly tells Bustle what's on her to-do list, what she needs help with, and the advice she'd give someone looking to start their own business.
What is something that you need advice on?
RK: Oh, my gosh. Time management and how to let go in certain areas. I still do about 95 percent of our marketing, and it's just not sustainable when I have so many other decisions that I need to make all the time. I'm running a small business but I have big growth plans too. And I need advice on how to balance all of that and how to let go in other areas — and trust that everyone else who I've brought along with me is going to support my vision and dream too.
What was something you were asking for advice on when you first started?
RK: Legal advice, banking advice, and advice on how to make my first hire. That is so scary. And actually something that's kind of come full circle. Just the other day I sat down for coffee with somebody and gave them advice about how to make their first hire based on what I learned.
What's on your to-do list?
RK: How to make sure that my right hand is getting paid what she deserves. That's like the biggest thing, for sure. And then how to make sure that I get paid what I deserve, as well. Also, how to make sure that we're meeting meet expectations with partnerships and planning for upcoming events. Also things like, what the hell should I post on Instagram tomorrow? Cause I don't plan that far ahead. And like, did we make our latest tea order? Cause we need to make sure everybody has tea. It's such a range of things.
Who do you go to for advice?
RK: It's so funny because I used to always start with my mom, and my mom was the best person to ask advice for, cause she'd be like, "Rachel, like you know the answer already." She was more of a sounding board.
But now, for this experience, I reached out to a couple of people who are in my close circle at Make Lemonade and said, "Hey, here's my little pitch that I'm going to talk about. Can you kind of tell me if it's good or if there's any other advice?" It's just the perfect example of when you put yourself out there and say, "Hey, I'm vulnerable and I need help." And sometimes I just need somebody to lift me up a little bit.
What is the worst piece of career advice you've ever gotten?
RK: I feel like this was the worst advice, but I turned it into the best advice. I'm all about like making sour situations sweet. I heard this years ago when I was in school in an art and technology program. I was telling this family friend at a Christmas party what I was studying, and he didn't really understand what it was. And he said, "Well, you can always change," as if it wasn't a good degree or it wasn't worth spending my time on. I've kind of taken that as like, yeah, I can always change and I am never ever stuck in what I'm doing. Things aren't impossible, they're just complicated. And if I'm not happy in this job, or if all of a sudden I decide that Make Lemonade isn't for me anymore, it's not impossible for me to get myself out of the situation. It's just a little bit complicated. So I can always change. And anybody can, too.
What's your best advice for a young woman who wants to start her own business?
RK: It's actually what Pablo Picasso says, "Everything you can imagine is real." So put that dream or that idea out there and just start going for it. And it doesn't have to be this big thing at the beginning. You can start small. We're so lucky that we live in the day and age that we do right now where there's so many resources and pieces of advice and people to turn to. I think that the hardest thing is filtering through and figuring out what makes sense for you. So maybe the other part of the advice is trust your gut. Your gut knows everything for you. Our bodies are our barometers, and everything that we need is all ready in there. Everything else is kind of just fluff.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.