Ep: 184: How this entrepreneur left a Fortune 500 to becoming a professional online marketer with Mariela De La Mora
In this week’s episode, I speak with Mariela who is a 15-year Marketing Director who has grown profitable brands for Fortune 500 companies and startups.
Halfway through her career, she traded her 6-figure cubicle job to travel solo across Europe without a plan. It turned into two international moves, motherhood, all while growing and leading marketing teams across time zones.
Listen on to find out how Mariela helps high-achieving women build purpose-driven brands and become leaders in their industries.
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Hey everyone! Thank you so much for being here. I am really excited for today’s guest – Mariela.
Hey Mariela, how are you?
Hi, Debbie. I’m good.
Thank you so much for speaking with us today. Can you tell us more about you and why you live an offbeat life?
Yes. The best way I can describe myself is that I was a corporate marketer who left the kind of cubicle life behind because I just felt like I succeeded on all of the things that are on the grocery list, checklist of life.
I had a six-figure job, I had the job title that I always wanted – I had all the things that I thought I always wanted and felt really unfulfilled. I was working at a Fortune 500 insurance company doing marketing.
And so, it was a creative job in a very uncreative industry and I just remember thinking one day. Like, I was writing a copy to have lawyers review it. My job was like, “Okay, write this copy so that the lawyers approve it.”
And that was kind of like my KPI of success: write it and just make sure that it gets approved. And I was just like, “This isn’t what I want to do anymore. I don’t want to write a copy. I don’t want to talk about insurance anymore.” I just had built a life that wasn’t me.
And I was in a 13-year relationship with my high school sweetheart at the time. That was really not healthy. And so I quit the job and I left the relationship and I bought a one-way ticket to London. It was just something that I felt and told to do at the time.
I have been there once and everything told me, “You’re meant to live here one day.” I kind of had a Deja Vu moment of walking to the tube station and there’s just something about that moment that I was like, “You built a life that you’re not happy with. This wasn’t the life you were meant to live.”
And so yeah, I saved my money, handed in my notice, and I went to London. And that turned into a whole host of things that we’re going to go into today, but not the least of which is I became an underground hip-hop journalist, I met my daughter’s father, fell in love, got married, moved to London, and ended up living there for several years.
So I’m going to stop there ‘cause I feel like there’s too much to even go to in that story. But following that very first inkling of this is not the life that I meant to be living. “I just need to go and I need to buy this flight” is what started it for me.
There’s definitely a lot there that we can dig into but there are two things: one is that you left a really steady job that most people will think is a dream job. So you took that leap and then another is you left a long-term relationship where most people probably thought, “Well they’re going to get married. They have this really long-term relationship.”
Those are two huge transitions that you did simultaneously. That’s crazy. How did you stay sane? Like, how did you even do this and still function?
The thing is that I actually had to do it almost like one layer at a time. So, I think what I realized is that a lot of the decisions that I made were shaped by me being the eldest daughter to immigrant parents.
And anyone who has immigrant parents probably like me grew up very close to their family’s immigration story. And a lot of that was around, “We came to this country so you guys can have a stable life and you can get a nice job, have a 401k, and save all your. Buy a house and have kids and make enough money to retire one day.
And that was their dream because they grew up with nothing. My parents both grew up in Mexico and, honestly, both of them were in poverty for sure. So part of me was always like I’m their trophy for America. Like, I have to be successful because they struggled so much to get us here. My grandfather and my parents – they struggled so much.
So everything in me was like: go to college, do well, go get that good job. And so I remember telling myself like, “By the time I’m thirty, I’m going to be making six figures and I’m going to be a marketing manager. I’m going to be married and going to have a house.
And guess what? I actually did all of those things that I never asked myself like, “Is this actually what I want? Am I actually happy in my relationship? And the answer was no to all of those. But it wasn’t until I hit thirty that somehow I just looked within and was like, “Why am I unhappy and what can I start with first?
And so the relationship is the very first thing that I left because it was kind of clouding my happiness and my judgment and everything else. And once I realized that I actually could trust myself a lot more than I thought and that the relationship was never healthy to begin with, \that actually allowed me to see everything else more clearly.
I did it bit by bit but leaving the long-term relationship was the very first step for me to then say, “Okay, if I can do that one hard thing and that feels good then, what’s next? What doesn’t belong in my life and how can I take the next step to create space for what does belong in my life?”
So that’s how I started to do that – bit by bit.
That’s a lot on your shoulders and also a lot of responsibilities, like you said, coming from an immigrant family who came literally from nothing.
And then to see their child really succeed in life, working for a Fortune 500 company, making all of this money, living the American dream, and then just turning that away, putting that to the side and then doing what makes them happy which is really interesting to me because my parents and I are also immigrants and I definitely see where you’re coming from ‘cause we’re in the same state.
And it’s interesting how and what they see as living the American dream and what we see are two completely different things. They’re not wrong, they’re just different.
It’s also trying to live out somebody else’s dream even though it’s your parents and you love them so much and not crossing that boundary between still respecting them and also disrespecting what they have done – is such a fine line when you want to do what you want to do.
It is. One thing that actually kind of gave me a framework to understand where that pull comes from and it’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
So when you think about the bottom of the hierarchy in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, from physiological needs which are food, water, shelter to safety and security. So they were treading that line of like, they wanted to make sure that they often didn’t have their basic needs met and they wanted to come to America for security. And then, there’s friendship, love, and belonging.
My parents didn’t really have friends. Like, they’re each other’s friend – they’re still together. But for us, the thing is that when you have those needs met, it is a beautiful thing and I’m so grateful for it.
But then I think recognizing that it’s a natural part of self-actualization to say, “Okay. Well, now that I’ve got those things, how do I go up that hierarchy to a steam?” The next one is like a steam recognition. That’s like going to college and getting that title.
And then when you have that, ‘cause I had that, I was like, “Well, how come I have the things? I have the titles and I have the money and I feel like there’s something deeper.” And then the top of that is that self-actualization.
It is the desire to become the most that you can be and that’s what’s led me to do what I’m doing now because I feel like that self-actualization and it’s what I hoped, too, for clients.
So I think just normalizing that, to be like, “I’m not selfish. We’re standing on their shoulders of everything that they’ve done and everything that they sacrificed,” is something that helps me not feel selfish about it.
And also, I think about it in a way where they have sacrificed so much for us that we need to do way better, maybe even way better than what they expected from us.
And being at a job that you hate, I don’t think they want that from us. I definitely know if I had a child and they were unhappy with the job that they had, I’d be like, “No, do your own thing. Take care of yourself.”
Exactly. It’s like I want my daughter to have more options, and she will, than I had. And I think that even if your families don’t understand, it’s just that their frame of reference is different, their life experiences are different. Therefore, maybe they never really allowed themselves to dream bigger because that just wasn’t in their reality.
They’re happy with what they have, maintaining security and all of that. And so it’s like I have so much respect for my parents and they allowed me to be able to make choices.
So, yeah. I definitely feel like, in our own way, we are honoring that. We’re honoring that by being able to make choices that they could have only dreamed of.
So let’s go back to when you finally left that career that you had, you left that relationship that wasn’t working anymore, how did you prepare to make that big change?
That is a good question. So I knew I was going to do this a while before. So I know that the idea of like, “Just choose your drop and buy the flight,” sounds very glamorous but I, in my very type-A way, knew I was going to do this – so I say.
I left this very expensive condo that my ex and I were in, that was in San Francisco and I moved to San Diego where it was cheaper. So basically I downsized, I went to a cheaper city, capped my San Francisco salary.
Save, save, save, save because this is where the immigrant’s mindset came in. And then, I handed in my notice and it took about 8 months, something like that. So it was definitely not a whim. It was something that I really thought about for a while.
And I ended being able to be off. Not actually go back into a full-time role for a while, but that’s how I ended up doing it. As I saved my money, I handed in my notice. I had my one-way flight kind of book and then it helps that I fell into a freelance gig that kind of allowed me to sort of pay for my travel expenses while I was just kind of out and about.
So that’s how I wound up doing it. And then I just started blogging, doing videography, and social media work for all of these different, kind of like, UK Brands. And that’s what kind of carried me forward.
It’s just taking all of the creative aspects of what I did. All of the creative aspects that I couldn’t really tap into in my job, funny enough, I was able to do it as a freelancer.
I love that and I also like to emphasise all the time when I have these types of interviews and I listen to your story, is that a lot of people think, “Oh, yeah, they just left there 9 to 5 and then everything was just peachy keen. Like it was really great after that.” – no.
Okay. So if you want to do this sustainably there has to be some sort of planning that goes on to it, right?
Yeah. It goes a long way.
Exactly. You don’t want to leave, you have no plans, you have no savings, you have no job lined up, and then, all of a sudden, you lose all that money, and then you’re back to square one. You had to either go back to a day job that you hate or take out a job that you also are not happy with.
I mean, there are certain circumstances that you actually find the job that you want because you’re hustling for it. But for the most part, I think you should plan for it first. I know, I’m also kind of type A in that sense too.
Absolutely. It’s just that I think that it allows some people to be motivated by not having a plan. It doesn’t motivate me. And so for me, I asked myself a few questions: one is how much money do I need to have in order to not have to worry about earning money while I’m traveling because I didn’t want to make it so that I had to earn money while I was traveling.
So, I was like, “Okay cool. I can probably be out for like a year and a half.” Then I said, “Do I want to keep my apartment or not?” Because that’s another question too. If you’re going to be traveling for a really long time, can you sublet your place? Do you want to keep it?
I kept it because my cost of living was like solo. I’m going to have a roommate so it wasn’t that bad. So I’ve done the math: I looked at how much the cost of living was in each city, how much I’m going to be spending. But then I happen to actually fall into a freelance gig.
So, that really helped but no, I planned it.
And it made me feel freer in a way by doing that ‘cause I was like, “Okay. I’m good. I don’t need to worry about this. I can enjoy myself.”
Having those different options are so helpful. But I also do want to say that you’re never going to be ready until you finally take that first step.
We’re not saying to wait years and years for it. Plan it out, have a few months worth of savings at least, and then do your thing. Don’t wait for it too long.
Yeah. And give yourself a deadline. That’s what I’ve done. I don’t want to say crazy but they’re not that crazy, I always give myself a deadline. And I say, “I don’t want to be in the situation by X date.” And generally, that’s around an anniversary, right?
So the last job that I just left that I was at for five years going full-time in my business, I told myself, “I don’t want it. I don’t want to hit my five-year anniversary. I don’t want to hit this anniversary.”
You give yourself a deadline because otherwise if you don’t, you may just keep putting it in the someday box: someday, someday, I’m going to do this.
It’s having that deadline is so crucial. I did the same thing when I left my 9-to-5. I’m like, “By December, I am not going to be here anymore.” I turned in my notice and then that’s it. You gotta do it, guys.
Absolutely. Yeah, you have to, especially, I think, if you’re type-A because you’re gonna find reasons not to do it and be like, “You know, it’s never gonna be a good time. You can plan and give yourself a deadline.” Just like you do with all of your type-Aness – that will work.
So, Mariela, we all have that what now moment when we leave our 9 to 5 or maybe create a huge transition in our life. It definitely happened to me and I was kind of panicking. What was yours like and how did you handle that?
I’m not sure if my what now moment would be this but once I quit the job is that kind of where the what now moment comes in. Is it like once you’ve made the decision?
Yeah. So what now moment is like after you actually do it, after you leave your 9 to 5. And then, you’re there and then you start panicking ‘cause you’re like, “Oh my God, I actually did it. How do I make this work?”
So yes, I think everything in me was grasping at, “How am I going to be making money? What is this? Is this my new thing now? Is this me freelancing?” I think part of me was like trying to find that.
And so, my what now, I think a lot of it was me telling myself stories that I needed this to be a thing. And I think that eventually I let go of that and was just like, “Okay, what now is I create space to listen to myself, to tap into my creativity, to not fill my days with stuff and with things to do.” And that was a really hard thing for me.
Like, I remember being on my own more than I’ve ever been on my own ever in my entire life where when you’re traveling and people don’t know who you are and there’s like the moment where I said, “Gosh, it’s weird. it’s been such a long time since I’ve seen a familiar face.”
So I think that what now moment was like, “Okay, what do I really need right now? Why did I do this in the first place?” And I think that’s what I had to ask myself is, “Why did I do this in the first place? Is it to go and create another career abroad? Is it for adventure?” It really wasn’t.
I think I was just craving space to listen to myself and trust myself. So I think that’s what it is. The what now is: What do I need? Why did I do this? And how can I give myself that now?
You’ve also transitioned to a lot of different careers for yourself. From the Fortune 500 companies and then you are doing underground pop culture. So that was pretty interesting. And now you are helping women start their own online businesses and making their brand stand out.
What has been, I guess, the push for you to change into that gear and land into this and make this your purpose?
So the push, I think, for me was the fact that I felt like in everything I ever did, I was always just one part of myself and never all of who I was. And I think for a time I didn’t know who that person was.
I was a different person to make other people happy. I was a person to make my immigrant parents happy. I was a person to make my ex happy, to be corporate and professional enough being the only woman of color in the room in corporate. And I just never felt like I fit in.
And so I think the push was: I’m in this search for belonging. I’m in a search for myself and who I am. And how can I find out who I am and be more of that in everything I do. And I think that that is ultimately pivot by pivot by pivot what brought me to where I am now, which is I now am an online entrepreneur full-time myself as a marketing and business coach.
And I helped women to find their voices, to develop their personal brands, and to develop a purpose-driven brand that has a really strong mission. ‘‘Cause I think that there’s a lot of us who are very good at a skill but we’re not talking about the deeper thing behind that skill-set.
What about you? What about your story? Why are you doing this? And whenever I ask those questions the answers are so astonishing. I’m like, “Why aren’t you telling the story? This is amazing. And that’s what I want.
I want women to feel like they can bring a hundred percent themselves to the table in what they do because that’s what I needed back then.
Yeah. And that’s something that is so powerful that you really connect with when you see somebody and it’s not just about what services are offering or products that they’re selling. It’s what’s behind it and what allowed them to really give themselves and, again, create this new purpose for themselves to be able to help you.
And also that makes you really stand out because you could have similar services to somebody else but your stories are completely different and that could really make you stand out.
Absolutely. The only thing no one can imitate. There’s a Simon Sinek thing that he says people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And it is so true especially if you’re doing something that’s in a “saturated industry”.
As I am an online entrepreneur and I am a business coach, there are so many business and marketing coaches. But what is different about all of us is our why, is our stories. And so being able to integrate those two instead of feeling like you have to separate them is what’s going to make you stand out.
And people buy into your why and then you can build from that. So yeah, absolutely.
When you finally started your online business in marketing and business coaching, how did you land your first client?
Yes. So it’s really interesting because when I landed my first client, I wasn’t even saying that I wanted to be a coach. I was still kind of in this stuck phase of saying, “Ok, do this,” because I’ve been director of marketing at this hospitality recruitment agency in London.
When I moved from London, I kept that job. I was there for a while. So all I really did without really realizing it, which we’re going to talk about today, was I’ve started to build my personal brand.
Meaning: Who am I? What do I stand for? What are my stories? Letting people into who I am and I just started building my personal brand on Instagram. And then that turned into my first client which was just funny enough.
She was on your show. Her name is Molly Ho. So she’s like an Instagram and Pinterest specialist. She has courses and so just from us connecting on being women of color and our values and what we feel is missing from the online coaching space and our experiences.
She actually asked me, “Hey, I actually want to hire you as my conscience.” I was like, “I wasn’t even marketing myself.” So that was just a really powerful moment where just showing up as myself, landing me my first client without me trying. That was someone I’m super aligned with.
That’s amazing and that just shows that you are going in the right place because you didn’t even try too hard. It just comes to you when you’re really true to yourself and you share your geniusness with the world, right?
Absolutely. You can share what you know how to do but I knew there were a whole lot of other people who did marketing in business. Not like me ‘cause I have a whole lot of experience so let me just say that.
However, that is not why my first client chose me, it’s because of who I am and where I’ve been from – been and our similarities. So yeah, it’s super powerful. I think if you don’t know what you want to do yet, just start to build your personal brand by telling your stories and in tapping into your values.
We’re definitely gonna dive more into that but that was a big game-changer for me for sure.
Yeah. We’re also going to be diving deeper into that for our extended interview with Mariela because there’s so much to talk about. So make sure you guys look out for that extended interview with her because that’s going to have a ton of tips and tricks in terms of creating your own personal brands. I’m really excited to talk to you about that later.
Now, when you left, you went to London, you said. I know you prepared for this. How much money did you actually save before setting off to become location independent to travel the world and how did you budget your money to last?
That is a good question. So I’m such a spreadsheet person. Oh my gosh, like this should not surprise people, but I love spreadsheets. So I look at what I can turn off. Like, how I can reduce my expenses at home and what funds that I immediately had access to versus what funds I could tap into if I needed to. And that was my 401k and I was like, “See if I can not touch that.”
So I saved $25,000 which some people might think that’s a lot, some people might not think it’s that much. But I came from a really like expensive lifestyle, which is another reason why I’m like, “You can make more money if you’re spending a bunch of money.”
So I super downsized. So I saved $25,000, I had a 401k, I downsized my expenses at home but I kept paying rent while I was gone. And then what I did was I kind of looked at the Airbnbs in each city. Airbnb is pretty new back then.
I looked at the Airbnbs in each city and I thought about how much money am I going to spend each day just to live, where do I need to stay within each city in order to have a cheaper place.
And so essentially that’s what I did. I kind of figured out what countries I could visit, what cities I visit because some are more expensive than others. And I figured that out like how long could I be gone.
And so I wound up doing this for like a year and a half. Like I said before, I actually had a full-time job and I was not working consistently throughout that time. But I didn’t mean to. Anything that I earned was kind of like a bonus on top.
But I generally looked at cost of living in each city and then added kind of like an extra percentage on top for unexpected things. And then figured that freelancing was a bonus.
Wow. Yeah, it’s such a great thing to be able to have a spreadsheet like that. You’re definitely more organized than me. I’m very disorganized with that stuff. But also realizing how much you can actually spend during however many months you want to do this while you’re looking for maybe a job or building your business.
So that’s always good to know so that you’re not surprised and it just goes downhill from there.
For sure. Until I left, one thing I’ve learned ‘cause I’m like, “London is expensive,” and I wound up living there. London’s expensive but then you go to other places and it’s not as much.
So I think you can plan your travels around maybe spending more time in the less expensive places and just really kind of settling in there. And I also kind of built in brakes where I was staying in one place for a really extended period of time because I just got tired of getting on trains and all of the things.
So I think building in rests in like lower-cost cities is a good way to stretch your money too.
When you are living abroad and you are traveling what type of International Insurance did you use?
Oh my gosh, that’s a good question. What is the name of it? There’s like blue something. It’s like ActBlue or something like that that I bought. It covered my stuff and I did end up using that too because I lost stuff in my luggage. I don’t know how.
It covered medical and it also covered losses of things being lost or damaged, if your luggage ended up in a different country or something. And it was super inexpensive. I don’t remember exactly how much it was but it was like less than you’d pay for insurance in America.
It’s funny because I didn’t do that at first but I did eventually figure out like, “Oh, I should probably buy travel insurance.” And as soon as I bought it, the next time that I traveled I ended up using it because something disappeared from my luggage.
So, you’ll never know.
It’s true. It’s kind of interesting because now, during this time where there’s actually like remote workers stuck in other countries or things that you never even knew, right?
As a remote worker, it’s such a headache to understand all of these things when something finally happens to you and I know we don’t get travel insurance until something finally happens to us.
And then you’re like, “Oh no. How did I not have travel insurance?” And it just becomes a headache after that. That’s why we definitely need to get it when we need to.
And also when you’re trying to find out different requirements when it comes to health insurance. That’s also another headache. It just adds up to the stock of it.
And that’s why I’m so glad that I found Integra Global and their comprehensive plans. They don’t ask their members to build a plan because how would you know when you’ll need it and what you’ll need, right?
Their insurance covers it all and everything is built-in. So if you want to know more, check out IntegraGlobal.com and see how they can give you the coverage you’ll need and maybe some you never knew you would. Because who knew COVID would happen.
Who knew that some of the remote workers are stuck in other countries right now and there are insurance companies out there that are not covering this. So I’m sure a lot of them are making changes.
So, oh my goodness, you don’t want to be in that situation and get stuck paying for it from your own pocket for sure.
And I’ve had ended up in the ER before when I was traveling with my daughter and you’ll be very glad when you have it and you’re like, “I’m covered I said.” When I had my daughter I would get the travel insurance and I up the limits because there’s more at stake.
So, yes. Absolutely, looking at travel insurance, it is much more affordable than you think, especially if you’ve ever paid for health insurance in America.
It is affordable to get travel insurance, get it, get it, get it.
And it’s kind of interesting how these types of insurances are, most of the time, a lot less than our regular insurance from home. So, it’s kind of amazing
Yeah. I’m like, “Well, I could probably keep it from me to travel and get it.”
I’m just waiting for one to go and start traveling now.
Once the borders open that’s when we get together.
I know. Seriously, I want to take my baby girl with me.
So let’s fast-forward to 30 to 40 years from now and you’re looking back at your life, what legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?
Oh, gosh this is a deep question – so good.
I want to be remembered as someone who helped women of color to create new opportunities for themselves and create generational wealth through their businesses. That is what I want to be remembered for.
I want to help women of color to create generational wealth and opportunities because that is the gift that is going to keep getting handed over generation after generation. And I think that would be my way of honoring my parents for coming to America because that’s what they did for us, but I’m helping women go up the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to self-actualization.
They brought me to security and I want to help other women to bring them to the top of that triangle to say, “Hey, fulfill your highest purpose, make money, bring 100% of yourself to the table and create a business that’s yours. That’s yours that no one can take away from you. You own, you make money, you love it. That is going to change lives.”
So that’s what I want to be remembered for.
Yeah. And that’s definitely a long-lasting impact that you’re creating not just for yourself but for future generations like your daughter and her kids and to whoever else that she also touches because she sees that from you.
Exactly. You model what you see. I did not see entrepreneurship but I created it and she’s going to see entrepreneurship. So it definitely creates a new normal for sure.
Now, if our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?
They can find me on Instagram. If you just search for Mariela De La Mora, I know that’s a mouthful, you will find me, I think, under business and marketing.
So, yes. Find me on Instagram: @mariela.delamora
Perfect. Thank you so much, Mariela. We really appreciate you so much for being here.
It was such a pleasure to be on. Thank you so much for having me.
Audio Engineer: Ben Smith