Mariya Delano, anonymous marketer to million-dollar entrepreneur

March 28, 2024
Sarah Stockdale

In November 2022 Mariya joined the Gather community on a whim after finding us through a random connection’s LinkedIn post. 

When she joined she was a frustrated business owner, she was doing tons of good work for her clients, but couldn’t put her name on any of it. And she was lonely. Running a small agency is hard work and she didn’t have anyone to go to with questions or just to jam on ideas. 

She assumed she’d cancel her membership.

A year later, she has a rapidly growing business on track to do their first million-dollar year, a team, bylines in some of her favorite publications, and multiple speaking engagements under her belt.

Oh, and, spoiler, she didn’t cancel her Gather membership. Today she’s an integral part of the Growclass community and a friend, and inspiration to so many members.

So I sat down with Mariya to dig into what’s changed for her in the past year— and what advice she has for folks looking to have a big pivot year too.

Sarah: How did you find Gather/Growclass?

Mariya: I was trying a lot of communities, some of them were paid, some were free. I was just joining things all over the place. I saw Gather on Katelyn Bourgoin’s LinkedIn— so I clicked on the site. I think it was around 9 or 10 pm, I was just sitting on my couch on my phone. I was like, Oh, this sounds interesting. All right. Let me try to join. 

You would read like the copy on the website and it would sound fantastic.They'll tell you how many members they have and all the exciting things they do, right? They might have some testimonials. It's like, oh, this sounds great. It's a community of like-minded professionals. And then you join, you pay, or you wait for your application to be approved. And once you open that Slack, it's dead

You open it and there's nothing. There are like 20 channels with no messages. The worst ones are when it's just the admins or the moderators, messaging into empty channels and nobody is replying, and it's all promotional. 

You ask questions into the void like you see questions from weeks ago and nobody ever answered. 

I've tried a lot of communities and a lot of them I didn't stick with. I was very skeptical when joining Gather. 

And then Growclass convinced me otherwise.

I remember being kind of blown away by the fact that your team immediately started messaging me. Bella was asking me questions and replying.

Wait, there are people here? 

And then I saw the calendar like wait, there are actual calls here

Let me show up and see if other people are attending

I've shown up to calls before that no one hosted or there was nobody there. There are so many communities that are just dead.

And so I showed up and it was fun. I'm like, I think I'm gonna stick with this! 

Sarah: I’m so glad you did! It’s hard to run a community because the internet’s expectations of online communities are so so low. And rightfully so, because most spaces that bill themselves as communities are glorified self-promotional pits with very little engagement.

Folks are usually really skeptical when you use the term “community”. 

Mariya: I was so skeptical. It took me a week or two for me to be fully bought in.  I remember I was looking at messages from everyone on your team, like;

"When are they going to try to sell me more things?" 

"When are they going to ditch me because I'm onboarded now and they don't have to try anymore?"

Because that's what I was expecting.

And I remember noticing, that every question gets answered

I started paying attention to why Growclass was working and other things weren’t. I was switching back and forth between the communities. 

Somebody from your team always always always responds.

Sarah: I panic if a question in our questions channel isn’t answered right away. Asking for help is so vulnerable. You can’t leave people hanging. You need to have that engagement, or else it’s not a place people feel comfortable coming to for help.

Mariya: I use Growclass as an example of how to run a good community to people all the time. 

Sarah: Ahh that's too kind. Thank you. Tell me, what was your professional life like before you joined?

Mariya: Honestly, it felt like no one knew who I was, and I was really lonely. 

I was in many many many online communities across Slack, Discord, and Reddit, but it just wasn't clicking. I had a few individual friends here and there and acquaintances, but that was kind of it. 

Nobody in my circle did marketing and nobody was in the B2B tech space. I felt extremely alone. I would learn from people mostly just by consuming their public content or I would exchange comments with people. 

I used to attend tons of webinars and like online conferences, especially free ones because that was one of the only ways I felt connected to anybody else. And it's funny because I barely do that anymore. Now I do it only when I want to support somebody or when I’m curious about a topic before doing almost anything because it was like the live chats were like one of the only ways I could interact with other marketers, honestly. 

I also was not very public. I would post on Twitter now and then I post on LinkedIn sporadically. It was infrequent and I was not very good at it. I couldn't figure out how to post better because I wasn't making a practice of it. And I was very self-conscious about it. 

I didn't have anybody I could ask for help. And I hate asking for help. And almost all of the work I did was just for clients and I was realizing that I was being very underpaid at that point because I had gotten some insane results for a client or two and did not even get any change in rates even though I asked for it. And I was looking at my portfolio and I was like there's nothing with a byline with my name on it. 

So I remember when I was joining Growclass those were kind of the things in my mind.

I wanted people to ask questions to. 

I wanted people who would feel like familiar faces

I wanted to hear actual conversations about working in the field. 

And I also wanted to start posting publicly, it was one of my goals very early on. 

But I really needed a kick, some encouragement. 

Sarah: And what’s it like now?

Mariya: It’s very different. Right? I mean, I'm very public facing. I feel like people won't believe me if they hear that a year ago, nobody knew my content. There was nothing with my name on it. 

Sarah: That's wild. You have bylines published in Search Engine Land, you're all over the place.

Mariya: Yeah, I’m published in Search Engine Land. I have the newsletter that I've done a ton of stuff but there's stuff on the blog, I mean, even YouTube videos, right podcast appearances, speaking at conferences. 

And my business is on track to make 1 million in annual recurring revenue.

Sarah: You’re incredibly successful this year, seriously a huge congratulations!!

Folks struggle to build in public and have a consistent personal brand. What changed for you?

Mariya: It all started with the structure of starting to just consciously join Growclass calls like Accountability Buddies. I look at it on my calendar like I need to be here. Like, it's been in my head a mandatory thing. And I'm glad that I did that to myself because it meant every Monday at a certain time, I could talk to people. 

And the fact that it was also sharing how the week went and what you want to do. And I always liked that people shared both the good and the bad things. Because before that, I felt so lonely partially because nobody talked about their struggles. People would talk about their struggles only once they're already extremely successful

Everybody else would just put up this front online of like, I'm an expert. I can do this. Look at my clients' results. Look at my portfolio. Look at how I do this. And I remember just being shocked by how much people would share and accountability buddies when they talked about their little lights and how comfortable it made me start saying things to, like, just start admitting that I've been doing this for a year I've no clue what I’m doing.

Sarah: No one knows what they’re doing

Mariya: I genuinely think even just being able to hear that would have done a lot on its own. But of course, it was also a supportive community. It was the practice of being honest, asking questions and offering and getting help, right? It was people caring that you're showing up, right? It was like, Oh, you're here. You weren't here last week. What's up, right? Like even that it's the little things to sick people. No, it's me. I'm not just the body in a space. I'm not like a number on that attendance sheet. I'm a person. And people care about what I have to say. If somebody asks a question I answer, and they say it's a good idea. Like, oh, wait, it's a good idea. I didn't know I had those.

I thought I needed to do so much more before I was worth listening to and it turned out I just needed to realize that I was worth listening to. 

Sarah: Yes. Yes. This. You are worth listening to. What would you say to someone who's thinking about joining Gather?

Mariya: Yes, do it, but it will only work if you're ready to show up. If you're ready to be authentic, and if you're ready to take risks. If you’re not, it won't work if your walls are up. It won't work if you're not willing to let them down. Like if you're going in there just trying to seem like you've got it all together. Don't do it. 

You have to show up. 

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