When we got our first dial up connection in the late 1990s, I knew my life would be forever changed. By the fifth grade, I was an avid participant in online forums and I loved making friends and chatting with people from all over the world.
I used to wish that I could get paid to be on the internet all day - little did I know that that would (mostly) be my reality. Teenage me underestimated how good I'd become at networking and how much I'd enjoy travelling around the world.
I made my first fifty bucks thanks to the internet in 2005. I had learned HTML and basic CSS coding from my father, who worked as a computer programmer, and so when this site called Myspace popped up and instantly took the internet by storm, I customized my own Myspace layout and several girls in my high school wanted to know if I would do it for them. Eventually, the original crop of online influencers, including Kiki Kannibal and BabyCakes, took note of my design work and asked me for custom designs. Unfortunately, I no longer have those designs because... well, Myspace died.
I went off to college and studied journalism and design. Towards my senior year, a new site was becoming popular: Tumblr. I opened a niche Tumblr account that hit over 250k followers within a year, and this garnered the attention of a record label I'd been doing some street team work for as well as a celebrity from a show that was heavily featured on my account. I was contracted to help build the social media presence for bands at the label and to manage the official fan site for this particular celebrity. That was my second taste of influencer marketing - I helped organize and run fan campaigns with Proactiv on the celebrity's behalf to promote her brand ambassadorship with them. These were the infant days of influencer marketing where the goal was always sales... even though that's rarely the best place to start with an influencer marketing campaign.
I leveraged what I learned from those contracts in the not-for-profit and arts world. I thought that life was about as good at it was going to get. I finished my BFA and MA and moved to Toronto to pursue my PhD and I quickly found a new job. But life had something different coming for me.
People like to casually throw around the metaphor of falling on your face as a synonym for learning a difficult lesson. Well, I got out of bed, realized that my left hip was in so much pain that it couldn't support me, and literally fell on my face one morning in October 2015. I didn't know it at the time (see: searing pain in hip), but it was actually the best thing that could have happened to me. Yes, the fall was rough and it cracked my glasses, but it also led me here.
I'd been walking around on borrowed time. At the age of 18 months, the doctors diagnosed me with a case of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis that was so severe that by the time I enrolled in kindergarten, the doctors thought I'd be in a wheelchair by my late teens. Through 90% sheer determination to write my own future and 10% advances in medicine (disclaimer: these percentages may be an alternative fact), I had defied those odds. I had battle scars on my toes and knees and left index finger from minor surgeries, but now, while on the waitlist for a hip replacement, I was partially bedridden, hobbling around on crutches when I absolutely needed to get somewhere in my apartment, and basically a hermit.
I had to quit my job as a PR + Advocacy coordinator, I stopped attending my PhD classes, and I lived in a high-rise luxury building in the heart of Toronto across from the Toronto International Film Festival's main hub. Normally, this would be where people would freak out, but I was already used to beating the odds, so I figured I could apply over a decade of experience in influencer and social media marketing to my advantage. So I made a decision that most people would shudder at: I opened a new credit card, took four of the six months of savings I had, and hired coaches who swore they could help me go big.
Spoiler alert: I wasted $18,000 on people who knew less about marketing than I did when I was I was a teenager.
While I booked out my practice in 10 days using social media, my clients were nightmare clients, every invoice was paid late, I had no systems or structures in place, and when I wanted to quit because this was not what I thought running a business would be like, I got the vague explanation that I had "mindset issues." That sent me down a six-month quest to resolve said non-existent issues in a total client draught.
What got me out of my hole and working with the most amazing, driven, and badass clients wasn't my mindset, it was what I was good at: social media and influencer marketing. When I went back to my roots as a marketer, PR maven, and social media afficionado, I was able to pull myself out of the hole, avoid having my credit card accounts sent to collections, and I became a leader in my industry in under a year. In 10 months, I went from less than zero (seriously, there was a point where I had -27$ in my bank account) to a six-figure business that was featured in Forbes, Thrive Global, Business News Daily, Nylon, Martha Stewart Weddings, and more in less than 10 months.
I've helped hundreds of people through my coaching and digital programs, been a TEDx speaker, travelled to four continents as a guest expert and speaker, and built out my business to multiple six-figures in three short years. I write for some of the largest business and lifestyle publications in the world, work with corporate clients and solopreneurs, and my clients have seen impressive results along the way, too.
Now, I live a life I love. I travel the world as a consultant, speaker, and coach. I help brands and corporations leverage influencer marketing, PR, and digital marketing, and I represent influencer talent. I create digital programs that yield results. I've even won an award for being a badass social media and influencer marketing pro.
So if you haven't followed my Facebook profile yet, I invite you to do so. That's where I post helpful free content every day.
P.S. I'm a polyglot, so feel free to connect in English, French, Portuguese, or Spanish :)
*yes, in case you were wondering, Erika Ashley is my "Hollywood name" because nobody can spell or pronounce my actual last name, Couto (pronounced like a knife in French... which is why everyone writes Couteau, or they mess up and say Cuoto or Coutu, or pronounces it as cow-toe or some other horrible butchering). Marketing rule #1 - make sure people can actually find you and your product. If the name's too complicated... change it.