This year I wrapped up one of the hardest projects I’ve ever worked on…
Writing my first book, Click Happy.
In this book I share the lessons I’ve learned as a digital marketer, the strategies I’ve used to succeed with paid traffic, the principles I use to guide myself in business, the approach I’ve used to carve out a happy lifestyle in the digital-first age, and the steps I’ve taken to overcome challenges and thrive in business—all along with plenty of stories from myself and my friends in the industry.
But when I completed the initial draft of the book, it was…not really complete. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on what was missing. It took a dear friend to help me realize what the problem was: the book was missing, well, me!
It needed some crucial “Molly-fication.”
I had written in depth about what I do to succeed, but needed to include more behind-the-scenes insight into what I believe and how I got to where I am. So before we took the book to print, I dug deep and included some difficult and personal stories about the events that really made me who I am today.
It was a challenging process, but I’m so happy I took the time to do it. It added something the book really needed—the Molly element.
I feel so good about the new additions that I want to share the first chapter here on the Smart Marketer blog. In this chapter you’ll learn how I went from working at a pizza restaurant in 2010 to running a multi-million dollar company today…along with the doubts and insecurities I had to overcome before taking the first big step in my journey.
Here it is, the first chapter from Click Happy:
Chapter 1: FINDING MY VALUE
It was 2010, the summer between my sophomore and junior year in college and I was back in my hometown of Danville, KY, for summer break.
I was 19 and I’d had quite a few jobs in my lengthy career thus far. I’d worked for a photographer, at a deli, front desk at a gym, and a few other odd jobs. I thought I’d already figured out how this “job” thing worked and was excited for any chance to trade my time for money to spend on booze, snacks, and gas for my 1998 Chevy Blazer (HA!).
At the time I assumed that the rest of my career would follow suit… trading my time for money. I would move up the career ladder, and that would mean that my time would be worth even more money. Ah, the dream!
This was the plan, and I stuck to it for the next seven years until I left my last job at DigitalMarketer in 2017 (more on that to come).
Part of the plan for that summer was to find a job. Mom let me know that there was a new restaurant opening on Main Street. They would serve brick oven pizza and craft beer. Nothing like this existed in Danville, KY in 2010. Pizza AND beer? A potentially lucrative job at a social “hot spot” in this small town? This was a big deal! 19-year-old Molly wanted in on the action.
The next morning I walked into the new restaurant, handed over my resume, explained I had experience in hospitality and was hired on the spot. Because I wasn’t old enough to serve alcohol yet, my first job was as a hostess making minimum wage — no tips. I was happy nonetheless. It was more money than I would have had without a job, I loved my co-workers, and was engulfed in the excitement of experiencing the launch of a new business.
I had no idea that the seemingly simple experience of working at a pizza restaurant would prepare me for so much more to come.
The first Friday night of the very first weekend that we’re open, the Great American Brass Band Festival is in full swing and Danville is at full capacity.
The restaurant was completely full for the first time. We had a line out the door and down the block. The owners were first time restaurateurs, and we were not prepared for this! We didn’t even have a cash register yet — the business was run on pencil and paper — and I had certainly never been a restaurant hostess before.
At this moment I had a choice. I could cave to the pressure of hangry families barking about wait times and pizza toppings and tell my boss that it was too much, that they had thrown me in the deep end with the sharks and no life boat, and they could find another, more qualified hostess.
Or I could rise to the occasion, solve problems, think for myself, be a self-starter and just throw myself in.
By 7pm that evening I’d figured out a system that would allow us to estimate the wait time. That meant we could call people when their table was ready to decrease congestion at the front door, and I could sell pizza by the slice to the customers waiting for their tables.
The evening was deemed a huge success. I got my first bonus on that first night of work. From there, I took every opportunity to help the business grow, even if it was outside of my job responsibilities. Because of that, I worked my way up the ladder quickly. That summer I became a server, bartender, and then assistant manager. I was making as much money as I would’ve expected in a post-college job and I was enjoying every second of it.
“Destruction is essential to construction. If we want to build the new, we must be willing to let the old burn… but at first it’s very scary. Because once we feel, know, and dare to imagine more for ourselves, we cannot unfeel, unknow, or unimagine. There is no going back. We are launched into the abyss — the space between the not-true-enough life we’re living and the truer one that exists only inside us.”
I couldn’t stand it any longer.
“Dad, I’m moving to Austin, TX after graduation and I’m sorry. I love you.”
Big exhale. Tears. He understood, but it hurt.
The first few months of 2012 were plagued with anxiety. I was due to graduate from university in May, was spending most of my time in bars, and I had no idea what was next… but my next career move wasn’t the root of my anxiety.
I felt trapped by my environment, like a bird in a cage.
At the age of 12, I had the opportunity to take a school trip with my grandmother to Italy. That early exposure led to a love of travel, Europe, and adventure that occupied most of my daydreams as a teenager.
For my junior year of college in 2011, I studied at The American University of Rome. I had chosen to study at Transylvania University just so I could be part of this specific study abroad program.
This longing to explore, wander, and experience other ways of life is what drives me. That longing is a steady pulse, deep down in my gut. It’s what makes me a great marketer. It’s why I’ve been able to live a life I could never have imagined.
But it hasn’t always been the most comfortable path.
I’m the only member of my extended family that lives outside of the state of Kentucky. At home, people don’t often “just up and move” and leave their families without a darn good reason. At home, the most common response I get when discussing international travel is about being “safe over there.”
During the spring of 2012 I had a meeting with my advisor at Transy, Dr. Julia Poynter (love you Dr. P!), and I told her I had no idea what I wanted to do next with my life. She smirked, reminding me that everyone goes through transitions.
But then she had an ‘a-ha!’ moment, and a look of enthusiasm appeared on her face.
“Molly, I just got back from a conference in Austin… You need to move there. Just go there. The career opportunities are endless and the city fits you.”
After I confirmed that yes, Austin was in the state of Texas, I got that same feeling in my gut that I’d experienced in the registrar’s office when I was approved to study in Rome. The same feeling I had on that first trip with my grandmother.
I recognized this feeling and knew what it meant. I had to go. I couldn’t deny myself this adventure.
But suddenly I felt incredibly anxious.
What about my family? My friends? What would they think?
This was much more permanent than studying abroad. I couldn’t promise that I would ever come back. I didn’t even have a job lined up to explain why I was going!
Sure, there was some fear of the unknown associated with moving to a new place, but I’d already done a test run when studying in Rome. I knew I could leave and survive on my own.
But the anxiety was coming from how this decision, to choose my freedom and to follow my instincts, would affect the people closest to me.
How would they respond?
Would they feel like I thought I was better than them, because I was moving away?
Would they think I didn’t love my home because I wanted to live elsewhere?
I felt like a black sheep for wanting something so different to everybody I knew. So, for a few months I waffled back and forth.
Should I stay or should I go?
It wasn’t until my roommate at the time, Julia Jarvis, had that same gut feeling and decided to move with me that I felt able to make it real.
Telling my dad was the next step in moving towards this freedom I desired so much.
And guess what?
My dad, mom, my family, my friends… they couldn’t have been more supportive of my decision. They celebrated me and sent me off to Austin, into the unknown. They’ve continued to support me in every step of the journey, and for that I’m eternally grateful.
This wasn’t the last time I would step into an unknown place.
Every time I step into the unknown, I experience pain, anxiety, and fear.
Every time I step into the unknown I come out the other side with a more beautiful life than I had before.
Evolution comes at a price. It works the same for all of us. Whenever you feel alone in your fear, remember that this is the human experience. Whenever you feel alone in your anxiety, remember that social media is not an accurate depiction of reality. Nothing is wrong with you — you’re just seeing the good stuff everyone else wants to highlight, even though everyone else also experiences some form of darkness.
I actually get excited nowadays when I feel the fear of stepping into the unknown — I know I’m planting the seed for a beautiful outcome that will soon bloom. Trust in that. It will come. Don’t let the fear stop you. Don’t let it tell you to play small.
Every big “win” I’ve had came with a lead-up of doubt and fear. Every single one.
This is the dichotomy of life. Good exists with bad. Life with death. Happy with sad. Rest with work. This balance shows up in every facet of your life. Embrace it and you’ll live easier.
And as you know by now, I did end up moving to Austin.
This is where I found my true passion and calling in digital marketing. I wouldn’t have come across that Craigslist ad if I stayed in my comfort zone in Kentucky. That opportunity just wouldn’t have been there.
I got to the place I knew I needed to be for the next phase of my life to commence.
It wasn’t easy but it was worth it.
HERE’S WHAT I LEARNED…
1. You determine your value. You may not determine where you start (and I acknowledge my privilege there), but YOU are responsible for where you are going and where you end up. Your dream career isn’t just going to appear in front of you — you will have to get uncomfortable and do the work first.
The reason I was able to accelerate at the restaurant was because I made the decision to be as valuable to that business as possible. The more value you bring to the business you’re working in, the more leverage you have when it comes to making more money or gaining more freedom. I took this same approach in my roles at DigitalMarketer and even in growing my own businesses.
2. The currency isn’t always money. You may be thinking, “No way! If it’s not in my job description and I’m not getting paid for it, I’m not doing it.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from peers. This is a short sighted way of thinking that will keep you stuck. Dollars aren’t the only measurement of growth, especially in the beginning. The more value you bring, the more responsibilities you will get. And the more experience you get, the more money you will make. Don’t try to skip ahead!
I ended up making good money at the pizza restaurant, but the greatest value I got from that job were the lessons I’m sharing with you here in this chapter. They shaped my life and the next ten years of my career. If you’re only measuring the success of your career by the amount of money you make, you may be missing a valuable lesson that could actually lead you to your next step.
For me I look at whether I’m gaining joy, experiences, lessons, relationships, personal development, professional development, knowledge, and more. That’s where the real growth happens. The currency isn’t always money, folks.
3. You are not your career. I was just as happy in 2010 working at a pizza restaurant as I am now in 2020 running a multi-million dollar company. That’s definitely NOT the dream we’re sold in today’s society, so how is that possible?
It’s because I’m able to separate myself from what I do for work.
Yes, I show up as my genuine and authentic self in my work, but I also know that business is there to support my life. Not to be my life. As most of you know, business fluctuates. I’ve had friends who tie their identity to their work and when business is down, they are down. Don’t make this mistake.
Derive happiness and purpose from other areas of life, too. You are so much more than what you do for work, and we’ll talk more about this later.
4. Trust and follow your intuition. That “gut feeling” deep in your core is your intuition. It’s there to guide you. Listen to it. We experience anxiety and sadness partly because we start to ignore our intuition and prioritize the desires and expectations of other people over our own.
I know it’s tough — sometimes it means going against centuries of patterns and beliefs, or feeling like you’re letting others down. But stay true to your path. Use your gut as a compass when making decisions on where you live, who you spend time with, what you do for work and so on. This will lead to fulfillment and peace.
5. Your environment matters. I’m a firm believer in doing the most with what you have. That said, I’ve found that my environment has been one of the most important variables to my success. There are places on earth where I simply feel my best when I’m there, and therefore can do my best work and feel the happiest. For me, this is a combination of the energy and dynamics of the people in that community, access to nature, healthy food, travel, like-minded marketers, and more.
This is why I moved from Kentucky to Austin, then to Telluride, Colorado and why I now live in Amsterdam. I wanted to test the impact of our environment on us as marketers and entrepreneurs, and I can tell you it’s huge. Not everyone has the desire to live in other places, but if you do, don’t hesitate… it will make a world of difference. Keep in mind that you can always move back, too. Location independence is one of the biggest benefits of this line of work!
6. Make your decisions. For the longest time I didn’t trust my intuition and I cared too much about what others think of me. Because of this, I relied mostly on external input when making important decisions. This sometimes led to making decisions that didn’t truly resonate with me. While it’s great to get feedback from people you trust, and who live a life that you’d want to live, make sure that the decisions you make (especially the important ones) are yours and yours alone.
I hope you liked the first chapter. If you decide to pick up a copy of Click Happy, you’ll find that the book blends personal stories from my life (like this one) with practical lessons on what marketing is, how it works, and how you can succeed without sacrificing your happiness.
Some of the topics covered include…
• Chapter 6: The Customer Value Journey
• Chapter 8: Winning Offers & Stellar Ad Copy
• Chapter 10: Laser Targeting & Ad Scent
• Chapter 11: A Day In The Life Of A Media Buyer
• Chapter 12: Thriving In The Digital Era
You’ll also read stories from friends of mine who have been in the industry a long time—and some of the most important lessons they’ve learned along the way. People like Russ Henneberry, Arri Bagah, Laura Palladino, our very own John Grimshaw, and more.
I may be a wee bit biased, but I think it’s a fantastic book with valuable messages for anyone who wants to carve out a rewarding life and career in the digital space.