We have lots of inspirational women join our training who go on to do simply amazing things. And nothing warms our hearts more than hearing those stories. One story that really touched us though was from 43-year-old Rachel Smith-Ruffle, who lives in Manchester with her husband and nine-year-old daughter.
After breaking her neck 20 years ago in a tragic accident when she was hit by a wave in the Indian Ocean, Rachel has been unable to walk ever since. A former online language teacher, Rachel embarked on the Digital Mums Diploma in Social Media Marketing in Jan 2017 because she wanted to try something new and loved the idea of helping small businesses in her area. Here’s her truly inspiring story.
“Having started my Digital Mums training last year, I knew I wanted to connect with local businesses to help them grow their brand through social media. As part of my live learning experience, I chose the campaign ‘Thoughtforfood’, focusing on shopping locally, healthy eating and food waste. I loved discovering all these places that I didn’t know existed before and connecting with people in my area who I knew nothing about previously. That’s the big thing with social media. For all its negative image sometimes, it’s all about building a community and making connections with people. And the power of these connections is something I’m now experiencing with my new business.
After graduating, I initially intended to set up a social media training company to help small businesses in Manchester use social media to elevate their brands and customer base. Unfortunately, the universe had other plans and, as a result of my paralysis, I developed a pressure sore at the beginning of the year, which meant I couldn’t sit down. For me, this was devastating as I love to travel and was effectively under bed rest until I could have an operation in January 2019.
Naturally, I found it very hard to keep my spirits high. So, in an attempt to give me something to do other than surf Google and Social Media (the irony!), my husband brought me a set of paints. The last time I’d picked up a paintbrush was over 25 years ago, so my first reaction was ‘Don’t be stupid. I can’t paint!’ I eventually picked up my brush in June this year and, because I could no longer travel to places, I decided to bring the places to me.
By August, I had people coming to me saying ‘why aren’t you selling your paintings?’ I hadn’t even considered for a moment that anyone would buy my art. But, using the skills I learned on the Digital Mums Course, I set up my Facebook Page, @TheWonkyArtist (because I have to paint using two hands as I have no movement in my fingers) and built up an amazingly supportive community. I started being asked for commissions and it then just grew from there. I’ve now sold over 70 pieces of artwork to people from all over the world, including New Zealand, Hong Kong, Australia and America. The fact I could build a global business from my bed is testament to the power of social media and my training - as well as my paintings, who knew?! In just three months, I’ve already built up 1,100 followers and am looking forward to growing this even more post-operation in the New Year.
If all goes well with my operation, I’ll be able to get out of bed again and, although I don’t want to think too far ahead, I hope to be able to move around in a wheelchair by the Spring. I am 100% going to keep painting and have also been asked to do talks about diversity, motivation and art from people in my social media community. I hope to also be able to visit more places to take inspiration for new artwork.
A highlight is being invited to paint for the Chelsea Drinks Party by Horatio’s Garden - a charity that installs gardens in spinal units. It takes place a week before the Chelsea Flower Show and is an incredible honour. It just shows you how connecting with people can really make big things happen.
I feel so happy to have built a business that I’m passionate about and would advise anyone thinking of doing Digital Mums’ social media training, no matter what your experience, to give it a go. Confidence was a massive barrier for me, but the more I did my painting and the more I put myself out there on social media, the more my confidence grew. I really hope my experience will inspire anyone else out there feeling stuck in a rut, to keep going and give new things a try. You never know, you might find yourself delivering your work to the other side of the world too!
We've now retired our six month vocational "Diploma in Social Media Marketing" and are currently running a new pilot for shorter, non-vocational training in Social Media Marketing. If you're interested in signing up to learn more then you can sign up to our waiting list here.
To view more of Rachel's fantastic artwork, visit her on Facebook or Instagram