In this episode of the Founder Origin Series, Sherry interviews Rebecca Gill, founder of Web Savvy Marketing and an SEO consultant, about her early life in Michigan as a child. And some of the pivotal moments that helped shape her success.

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Rebecca Gill

Episode Transcript

Rob Walling:On this week’s ZenFounder, we continue our Founder Origin Series with Sherry interviewing Rebecca Gill. Rebecca is a Michigan based WordPress SEO consultant. She’s an educator and an author, as well as the owner of a digital agency for website design and development. In this episode, Sherry and Rebecca walk through Rebecca’s Founder Origin story and look at how it has shaped her both personally and professionally.
 In a couple of months, Sherry’s going to be launching another Zen Tribe’s coaching group. The first one sold out so quickly that she and Cory from iThemes are already talking about gearing up for the next one. If you have any interest in being in a small online group full of other entrepreneurs who are trying to push their business forward, head over to zenfounder.com, sign up for the mailing list, and we’ll be in touch the next time a group has an opening.
Sherry Walling:Let’s just begin by you introducing yourself and letting people know a little bit about what your business is.
Rebecca Gill:My name is Rebecca Gill, I run a Michigan agency that does custom word press design and development. I spend a lot of time working on SEO and educating people on search engine optimization.
Sherry Walling:In my head, at least, you’re the queen of word press. You spend a lot of time at conferences, you spend a lot time talking with people about how to run their businesses well.
Rebecca Gill:I do, yes. I like to empower people.
Sherry Walling:You’re also kind of a teacher and a leader in the WordPress community?
Rebecca Gill:I am told that, although that’s not how I would self describe myself, but yes. I’ve definitely been told that I’m one of the well known people and the one that is constantly being seen.
Sherry Walling:Yeah. I think it needs to have a variety of different voices that are leading different communities and even if that’s not a title you would give yourself. It’s one that you have come into, because people are interested in what you’re doing and seem to trust you.
Rebecca Gill:Yeah. I tend to stand out because I don’t code, and I don’t design. I don’t have graphic design skills or coding skills and it’s more business ownership and internet marketing and SEO. So, I bring something different to the table than a lot of the other speakers or people in word press. The fact that I’m a woman helps me stand out a little bit too, because it is a sea of men. There are some women, but there’s definitely a larger population of men, without question. You tend to stand out.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, absolutely. I was at a conference last week. A sort of tech oriented conference, and I feel like, I don’t know the numbers, but I think it was at least 90% men.
Rebecca Gill:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sherry Walling:Which, is not uncommon.
Rebecca Gill:No, there was one word camp Ann Arbor, that we went to. It was last year and I looked around and was like, holy cow this is like 60% men and 40% women. I never normally pay attention to it, but the numbers were so different than the average conference that I go to. I was floored, but yeah it’s just the nature of the industry.
Sherry Walling:I think it is really interesting to sort of think about how you got to this place. To be someone who’s interested in what you’re interested in. Who’s able to bring the insight intelligence to the work, but who’s comfortable being, dare I say. A little bit of an outlier or odd ball in this sea of people who typically frequent this world.
Rebecca Gill:I think that’s because I’ve always been the outlier, I’ve never really felt as I’ve been part of the group. It wasn’t really until I met the word press community that I felt like there was people who really got me and that welcomed me and accepted all of my quirks and my positive and my negative aspects of my personality. I’m still an outlier, because I don’t have the coding and the graphic design skills, but it’s different. I’m fully part of it and it is the first time in my life since I’ve ever really felt like that. Which is a blessing, it’s an awesome feeling.
Sherry Walling:It’s great to be a part of that community.
Rebecca Gill:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sherry Walling:Let’s talk a little bit about you being      an outlier. What kind of kid were you? What was your personality like when you were a kid?
Rebecca Gill:Contrary to what people would believe, in the word press community. I was really shy, I stuttered as a toddler. When my older sisters would have people over I would go hide in the closets. I was a slow learner in elementary school, I was in remedial reading in fifth grade. There was so much chaos in my life, I could not get anything together, which is completely different than what I am now. I’m very organized, and outspoken. I can walk up to anybody in a room or get up in front of people, hundreds of people and speak. It’s definitely who I was as a young child and who I am today, completely different. For sure.
Sherry Walling:It sounds like there’s been quite a journey there.
Rebecca Gill:Yes. To the point that at my 20 year high school reunion everyone walked up to my husband and said, dude when did she become a hugger? She’s nothing like she was in high school. They couldn’t believe the transformation that happened in the last 20 years since they saw me.
Sherry Walling:Are there traces of that shy, slower to process little girl that are still part of you?
Rebecca Gill:Oh, for sure. I think there’s a huge part of me that is still the poor kid in rural Michigan, wearing the dirtiest shoes on the basketball team that can’t afford to take her AP test. That’s still a huge part of me and I don’t think I’m ever going to lose that. It’s just part of how I grew up and part of what made me today. You just don’t lose that influence quickly.
Sherry Walling:You’re describing some chaos, you’re describing some experiences of poverty or maybe not quite having enough to feel comfortable with your peers.
Rebecca Gill:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sherry Walling:Want to say a little bit about what life was like for you as a kid? What’s happening around you?
Rebecca Gill:Yeah. So, when I was six months old, my mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and at the same time had multiple personalities. Her alternate personalities were not fond of us children. The combination of that and growing up in that environment and my dad was a regional sales manager, so he was never home. That was just extremely chaotic and at age 11 I kind of had enough of it. I went up for Christmas with my grandparents to Northern Michigan, and I called home on Christmas morning, I said I wasn’t coming home. I meant it and I became a ward of the state at that point and lived with my grandparents or my aunt. Kind of just bounced around and had a village that raised me, but that was the chaos in which I lived.
 Thankfully my later childhood had some good influences with people around me. That definitely helped grow me up into the person that I am today and it kind of gave me several opportunities to change my path and it definitely, without question helped.
Sherry Walling:Those early years, the first 10 years of your life. It sounds like had a lot of chaos and those are the years you most need those stable care givers. To have a mother who’s very ill on a number of fronts, is really, really disruptive.
Rebecca Gill:Yeah, it was funny because I have kids now that are in late elementary school and high school. They know things that I just don’t and it drives me crazy and it’s because those formative years in school. In elementary school and middle school, I couldn’t do anything. I just couldn’t focus and concentrate or show up. I just missed out on so much, it’s the adult me is frustrated with that. It’s like I just realized there’s so much I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, I am smart. I’ve got a successful business, but it’s like i just wish I, that part I could get back.
 That has altered things, but you just move past it.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, there’s just some knowledge base that when you’re six or seven and your mind is so busy trying to survive and figure out how to handle the day. There’s not a lot of cognitive space to learn the route that Magellan took and you have these fact things.
Rebecca Gill:I did not have any cognitive space, that is a great statement. There was non available,   yeah.
Sherry Walling:Which, is definitely not uncommon among kids who are dealing with crisis or trauma.
Rebecca Gill:Mm-hmm (affirmative), but we’re resilient. I think, this is one thing I see in children as an adult. That just kids are resilient and if you give them an opportunity to grow past that and to help them move past that and let them heal. I think that they could make huge leaps and bounds. I’m a good example of that.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, and the way that you advocated for yourself too as a young person. To say that’s not a good space for me and I’m not going back.
Rebecca Gill:That’s exactly what I did. I was just literally having a breakdown. I was like,        can’t do it. Not going to do it and I think through my life I’ve had pivot points and that was a pivot point for me. Just to really say, no I’m done with this and we’re just going to move on. The one thing that I am thankful about my personality, is that I embraced that change. In that moment of chaos I could see some clarity and be like, okay we’re shifting past and we’re going to go another route. I think that, that’s been definitely an asset to me in life and me as an entrepreneur.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, I was going to ask. When you think about yourself as an entrepreneur, and what you’ve done with your business over time. Have there been moments where you’ve needed to use that same voice? That voice that says, no we’re not doing this. We’re doing something else, or those really clear pivot marks as you call them?
Rebecca Gill:Well, becoming an entrepreneur was a pivot mark, because I did not seek out to seek to become an entrepreneur. I’m an accidental entrepreneur. I just, life events shifted and I needed to survive and it was the heart of the recession and I live in the Detroit area. There was no jobs available, so I just had to create something for myself. That’s how I became an entrepreneur. That was definitely a shift for me. There’s been shifts in the business and nothing super major in the business, but effort to try to keep us diversified and keep us healthy. Not chase the rabbit hole of word press and follow everybody else. You just can’t do that.
Sherry Walling:What was hard about becoming an entrepreneur for you?
Rebecca Gill:Losing the security of a paycheck for one thing. I’ve always enjoyed the employment. I guess the biggest thing for me is, growing up poor, and not knowing if you’re going to have food.       Going through college on your own and not having that security net, having that paycheck was a security net for me. Then once I became an entrepreneur, it was gone. It still, even after eight years. It still bothers me, I would love to have somebody else worry about payroll and receivables and things like that. I think that has been the biggest challenge in the shift.
Sherry Walling:It creates a lot of anxiety?
Rebecca Gill:Yes.
Sherry Walling:I think it creates an anxiety in all entrepreneurs, but especially if you come from a place of some scarcity. I relate to this too, I think you know what it’s like to be hungry, or you know what it’s like to really not have enough.
Rebecca Gill:Yeah.
Sherry Walling:The anxiety is visceral. It’s like, muscle memory.
Rebecca Gill:You’re much more aware of it and the ramifications that occur when there’s not enough there. For sure.
Sherry Walling:You described your own experience as one of resilience. It does sound like after you made that transition to be raised by a village, by leaving your mom and dad’s home and moving on to your grandparents and other relatives. Were there key people you think at that point, that were instrumental in setting you on the path that you’ve continued now into adulthood?
Rebecca Gill:My grandma, even though she only lived until the time I was 18. She was a huge factor in my life and just really taught me the difference between right and wrong, and ethics, and empathy for people, and forgiveness. Everything that’s good about me, I truly believe I got rom her. Without question, she shaped my future. I wish she was around today, so she could just see how much of an impact she had on my life, but absolutely her. There were teachers, and friend’s parents, and my aunt and uncle. Lots of aunts and uncles, who all gave me a little bit and gave me bits and pieces.
 They definitely were all my village, but without question it was my grandmother. She gave me everything she could, given her own cast that she was dealing with. She had a, my uncle was dying of brain cancer, and my mom was still sick. Then she got cancer and it was just she had a lot of chaos going on herself, but what she could give, she definitely gave to me. I soaked it all up and I’m just really thankful for it.
Sherry Walling:Were there any lessons from her, or moments with her that seem to plant seeds of entrepreneurship in you?
Rebecca Gill:Oh, gosh. Not so much entrepreneurship, but spunkiness and resilience and not taking crap. It’s like, you just, classic example. She broke her leg in the middle of winter, she had a cast on. She decided she didn’t like the cast, and she took a saw and she just sawed it off and she moved on. That’s the classic with my grandmother and I have that same … would I necessarily saw my cast off? No, but I’m going to just wipe my hands of things and just move on. Know that there’s a different path and that’s her. She lived through the depression and she instilled that in me.
Sherry Walling:There’s that, some tenacity?
Rebecca Gill:Yes.
Sherry Walling:If somethings not going to work, we’re not going to spend time crying about it. We’re just goin to fix it and go.
Rebecca Gill:Yes. You’re going to suck it up and you’re going to move on. Yes, that is totally my grandma.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, I can see that being helpful in business and in entrepreneurship.
Rebecca Gill:Well, it is. You can sit and boo hoo about a bad client or a product that you created that didn’t sell. Or, you can just learn your lessons from it and move on and take it forward with you in life. That’s what she did and that’s what she taught me to do and I definitely think that’s helped me in business.
Sherry Walling:Have there been times when that’s been hard? Or, in the context of your business you thought, I really don’t know if I can do this anymore?
Rebecca Gill:Gosh, I think, I think that every week. I think most entrepreneurs probably do, but I can’t imagine at this point life in any other way. I can’t imagine going to work for somebody. I could partner with somebody, but I couldn’t go fully work for somebody. I don’t think, anymore.
Sherry Walling:You drank the kool-aid, didn’t you?
Rebecca Gill:I did drink the kool-aid, but you know what I think the biggest thing is? Is, I truly enjoy helping people and the work that we do helps people. I’ve learned that through the entrepreneurship, that be it an account manager or be an operations manager. Truly didn’t give me that type of satisfaction as teaching somebody a skill set, like SEO or something like that. You just feel that reward coming back from them and I enjoy that.
Sherry Walling:It sounds like maybe perhaps from your grandmother from other parts of your life. You have that deep sense of wanting to serve and be of use.
Rebecca Gill:Yes. For sure.
Sherry Walling:You described having a really different personality as a small child, then maybe how you’re seen now. Besides your grandmother, were there other things that seemed to really influence that shift from you being more timid or feeling maybe cognitively overwhelmed? To being kind of a rockstar?
Rebecca Gill:I would tell you it’s technology. When I left college and I had my first job, it was a temp job and I was supposed to be there for three days. I was given this earpiece offer system, which everybody else in the company hated. They just received it and I was just supposed to do data entries for orders and they gave me access to the whole thing. They just didn’t know what they were doing and of course I poked around. I learned it and I re-trained the guy that trained me within two days. I fell in love with technology and I realized, oh my gosh this is amazing. This can change the world. It empowered me, and that moment for me, really changed things for me both from a personal and a professional aspect of my life.
 I realized that I had seen so little of the world, and all of this was capable and all of this opportunity existed. Technology was a path to get there. I excelled in that position and it was because of my love for that technology and my ability to grasp the software and absorb it. That was a huge shift for me and I’ve never left technology. I’ve always gravitated towards it because of it.
Sherry Walling:Something about how your brain works and it really seems to respond to technology and enjoy it.
Rebecca Gill:I hate to say this, but I think I attribute that to my mom and her situation and her mental state. Having to adapt quickly to potentially other personalities that might be surfacing and being aware of what’s going on with her. Just being in tune with that, I think that’s helped me really grasp and learn software very quickly. Just absorb it somehow, just because it shifted the way my mind would normally process things.
Sherry Walling:That’s really fascinating, because I also think or just knowing you a little bit and your role in the community and your role as a business owner. You’re also quite astute with observation of humans. It’s sort of a rare combination of skills to be able to grasp technology quickly. Technology that doesn’t have emotions ad isn’t relative, it isn’t subjective. To be able to do that, but also have the brain space to be able to read emotion in all of that more artistic, less objective part of life.
Rebecca Gill:I enjoy reading people’s faces and I enjoy people watching. I can’t help it and to me Twitter is the technology version of people watching at the mall. You can just sit back and watch everything happen and unlike people watching at the mall where you can’t hear what they’re saying. Oh, you can hear it all on Twitter.
Sherry Walling:All of the back and forth, you can listen in on all of the conversations.
Rebecca Gill:You can and it’s so funny I always want to jump in and sometimes I go, hey did y’all forget you’re on Twitter? We’re all seeing this.
Sherry Walling:We can hear you.
Rebecca Gill:We can hear you.
Sherry Walling:What are you most proud of these days?
Rebecca Gill:I am proud of the lessons I think that I’ve taught my children with entrepreneurship. I didn’t really realize it until my son was old enough to play t-ball. I guess, baseball and we sponsored the team and they won the championship. He had a trophy and I got this huge trophy, because I was a sponsor. Seeing the pride in his eyes, at not just for winning, but the fact that mom’s company was the sponsor and it was wrapped in together. He wants to become a coder and he wants to take over the business. He’ll sit and watch my presentations recorded. They’re like an hour long, and he sits through the Q&A and everything. He’s 10.
 That’s what I’m proud of, is because I taught them that there’s something better than what I saw as a kid. Which, was go in the Army, work at Mc Donald’s, or maybe go to college. Those were your options and they see a different world available to them and I’m proud of that.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, you’re opening the doors to a whole new way of being in the world, than you knew.
Rebecca Gill:That I knew and it’s funny because they’re only thought process is what college am I going to go to and what am I going to major in? There’s no decision factor on other options in life and I guess I brainwashed them, but I think as a parent you just want to give your kids better than what you have. I think I have done that.
Sherry Walling:I’ve been really surprised how I think the role of my husband being an entrepreneur has sort of shaped our family life. There are just some assumptions we make because of having an entrepreneurial mindset, that I think are sort of different than other families. That tend to be like, how do we do this ourselves? How do we make this ourselves? How do we take responsibility for our own livelihood in way that is definitely a shift from the way that I grew up. I guess, I wonder if you’re seeing that in your family? If the entrepreneurship is spreading?
Rebecca Gill:It is, because my husband and I are planning on moving North in a couple of years. He’s going to have the opportunity to retire, it’s not like he’s going to retire. He’s thinking, hmm what kind of business can I start? He’s already thinking that and the kids are brought in and the kids are like what business can we help you start? You definitely change the way that you think to the point that we’ve had other people go, we’re not like you. We’re not going to be an entrepreneur, that’s not us, and we’re like, oh okay. You just tone yourself down, because you realize that you’re pushing new ideas on them without even realizing you’re doing it. It’s so ingrained with who you are. It’s hard to separate your personal and your professional life when you’re an entrepreneur, I think.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, and for good and for bad. I think.
Rebecca Gill:Yes.
Sherry Walling:In some ways it’s very diffuse. You sort of move through these roles easily. I was at a school meeting and then I’m hopping on a call with you and then I have a client. There’s this fluidity to a day that is really nice, but there’s some complexity too.
Rebecca Gill:You may answer an email at 9:00 at night or jump on a call with somebody at 9:00 at night and not even realizing that you’re doing it, because that’s just part of who you are. It’s kind of intertwined in your life. Yeah. Good and bad’s.
Sherry Walling:Hey, why do you think we don’t see more women, not necessarily just as entrepreneurs, but being leaders in entrepreneurship?
Rebecca Gill:I honestly don’t know, because I have not, except for a few instances. I’ve really been treated like I’m a woman. You know what I mean? I’ve rarely been treated like I’m different than the men and I shouldn’t be where I’m at, or I shouldn’t be doing the things that I do. It’s been very rare, and it’s just the opposite. People have been very welcoming. I wish more women would take the leap and do it, because I think that they have a lot to offer. Especially, and I’m a little bit biased in this. I think mom entrepreneurs are amazing, because they’re so used to multitasking. It’s just ingrained in who they are and they can pull off a lot of good stuff because of just their ability to manage 4,000 different tasks at the same time.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, I get the sense that there are definitely still barriers in the world to women being as respected as they should be and treated equally. I kind of wonder about those internal barriers too. The things that women tell themselves about who they are or their lives.
Rebecca Gill:Well, when I first had my daughter, which was my first child. I really struggled the first year with working, when she was an infant. Then I realized that I’m a better mom, because I’m working. I needed that mental stimulus to keep me balanced and keep me happy and to be a good parent to her. I think a lot of women might fall underneath that, where we … at least this was 15 years ago. I think it’s better now with, there’s a lot more stay at home dad’s, but back then no dad stayed at home 15 years ago. That was an emotional struggle for me and it was a battle, but then once I pushed through it, I’m like oh no I’m good. She good, she’s better because I’m working.
Sherry Walling:I think sometimes it’s hard for women to value themselves enough to ask the question of how do I figure out how to be my best self? You did it sort of for your daughter. How do I figure out how to be the best mother. Part of being the best mother meant I need to have a full brain and a satisfied intellectual and professional life.
Rebecca Gill:I think the other thing was, knowing that it was okay for me to look at somebody and say, no I need to leave. I got to go pick my daughter up at daycare, I’m not sacrificing her for this meeting, which has run late. That was standing up and being an advocate for her and be an advocate for me. I think that was at first challenging as well and difficult for women when they’re in that position. Once I took the stand, they were all like, okay see you later, we understand. We’ll restart this tomorrow morning. You just have to find your boundaries, as a woman. Or, even if you’re a single dad too, you’re responsible as a human. Once you find your boundaries, I think everybody seems to co-exist and excel.
Sherry Walling:I hear the same voice as that 10 or 11 year old that says, okay this isn’t working anymore. I’m going.
Rebecca Gill:Yeah.
Sherry Walling:There she is again.
Rebecca Gill:There she is. She’s rearing her head.
Sherry Walling:She say no.
Rebecca Gill:She says no, yes. I’m good at saying no.
Sherry Walling:Which, is a good skill.
Rebecca Gill:Especially as an entrepreneur, because otherwise you can get sucked into a lot of stuff that leads you astray.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, there’s a lot of distractions.
Rebecca Gill:Yeah.
Sherry Walling:What are you learning right now? What’s occupying your brain as you think about your own growth as an entrepreneur? We talked about the past and I guess I’m shifting a little bit. To not necessarily where you’re going to be in five years, but what’s shaping you right now?
Rebecca Gill:I would tell you, I’m trying to struggle with the notion of people telling you as an entrepreneur you have to continue to grow. Grow the business, grow your revenue to pulling back and going, you know what I really don’t need to grow the business. I really don’t need to grow the revenue, I’m happy, we’re doing good work. Trying to find that balance and it’s not work life balance, it’s professional balance, with what’s right for the business. What’s right for our employees, me. That’s what I’m working on, it’s really trying to find that middle ground right now and trying to level ourselves out and focus us. The word press community is in shift, it’s been in shift as it’s grown and it’s taking over more and more of the internet.
 There’s just a ton of freelancers coming in and we have a theme store, but there’s so many themes available and such saturation. It’s just trying to find balance between the products and the services. Again, that outward push to grow in the internal realization that maybe that’s not best for the organization and we’re good just like we are.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, being wise about listening to what stability your company needs too.
Rebecca Gill:Yes. When I go to work, I hear freelancers have that outward push coming at them. Saying, you need to start an agency and grow out employees. I just look at them and go, okay can I just ask you something? What makes you happy? When they say what makes them happy, it’s like, but if you’re ran an agency now you’re worrying about payroll and receivables and HR issues. Is that going to make you happy? They just look at me and go, well no. It’s like, okay well then      beware of what you’re having pushed at you with growth and with agency life. Decide if that’s really going to make you happy, because I don’t want you to do what I did. It’s not that I’m not happy, because I did get that push and I did fall into it. I try to caution people. I’m like, if that’s what you want, power on. You can do it, I have full faith in you, but make sure that it is truly what you seek and what would fulfill you long term. That’s the nature of our industry and probably entrepreneurship in general.
Sherry Walling:Right. Is this pressure to keep expanding, which is not always the right move for every human or every business.
Rebecca Gill:No, I think there’s a lot of people that are good freelancers that are happy freelancers and that probably should stay happy freelancers because they’ll realize that they don’t want to do payroll. They don’t want to deal with taxes and everything else that comes along with it.
Sherry Walling:Right, they’re already happy.
Rebecca Gill:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sherry Walling:It’s been really good to talk with you and hear this journey that you’ve been on from chaos to stability. Just all of the tenacity, but also kindness that you’ve embodied over time. I think hearing you talk about your grandmother and the values that she taught you and the bad ass strength that she taught you. Those seem to be still very much part of what you do and what you’re about in your business.
Rebecca Gill:They are and I talk about the push on growth and things like that for an entrepreneur. I am always very thankful for the opportunity that I’ve been given with the business and with community and my role in the community. I feel blessed. We all have good days and bad days, but the bottom line is every day I feel blessed.
Sherry Walling:That’s a good way to live.
Rebecca Gill:Yes, it is.
Sherry Walling:If people are curious about learning more about you or either having a great female speaker at a tech conference. What’s the best way for people to get in touch with you or follow you online?
Rebecca Gill:You can just visit my website, my personal website. Which is rebeccagill.com and that will lead to all of our other web properties and contact information.
Sherry Walling:Cool. Put that in the show notes so people can track you down if they want to.
Rebecca Gill:Wonderful.
Sherry Walling:Thanks so much.
Rebecca Gill:Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.