After eight years crisscrossing Boston neighborhoods responding to routine gas meter changes and late night emergencies as a National Grid technician, Alyssa Wilson, 36, walked into the office in September, pressed record on her phone and uttered the two words that have become a mantra for millions during the pandemic.

“I quit.”

Then she posted a video of that pivotal moment on TikTok.

It’s trendy to quit a job and then gloat about it on social media. But, for Wilson, it was also part of the larger social media strategy she used to build her soap and hair care business — to the point she no longer had enough time for what she describes as her “good union job with great pay and benefits.”

Her path to quitting began four years ago in her Dorchester kitchen, where she developed a soap for her sensitive skin. Soon after, she was sitting in her work van when she decided to see if anyone else would be interested in buying it and opened an account on the e-commerce site Shopify.

Watch Alyssa Wilson’s story:

“My nickname was Fluff from my hairdresser,” Wilson recalled. “So I’m like, ‘Okay, just call it My Fluffy Puffs.’ And I had no idea what I was doing.”

Sales trickled in at a snail’s pace before she discovered people talking about her product on Twitter. Soon she started making connections and offering promotions on social media. Customers, she learned, liked posting videos of themselves using the soap products which, in turn, encouraged their friends to make purchases.

Then the pandemic hit and demand for soap soared. My Fluffy Puffs sales exploded.

“We went from doing like maybe 1,800 orders back in 2019 to over 8,000 orders last year [in 2020]. And it was great,” she said. “But, again, batching and production time, oh my gosh. That’s why I wasn’t sleeping because, well, who’s going to do that? So, yeah, it was pretty intense.”

She squeezed in only a couple of hours of sleep a day as she juggled the demands of her job and her side business.

Close-up of a gloved hand putting on a label to a small tub of product. The label has just a couple of visible words — her brand Fluffy Puffs with the logo, a blue vomiting emoji face
Alyssa Wilson applies a label on one of her products, shampoo foam, photographed in her Dorchester home on Dec. 10, 2021.
Meredith Nierman GBH News

“I was tearing myself apart with my own schedule,” she said. “And it’s either, I give up my job or I give up my brand.”

COVID made the decision easier. Her work as a gas meter technician required entering private homes where residents were not always willing to wear a mask. Wilson, who has asthma, said she was off the job three times last year because of a suspected COVID exposure. And although she never became sick, increasingly, she wanted to work from home where she could better protect herself.

Whether to gain more control of their environment or to realize a sense of self, the pandemic has led not only to a record-setting number of people quitting jobs, but also accelerated an interest in entrepreneurship, particularly among Black women, said Shekenna Williams, executive director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership at Babson College and founder of the school’s Black Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program.

“We know that we’re living in this kind of mass resignation, but also we’re really identifying in our surveys that women are starting businesses due to COVID,” she said. “And we know from the data from different ethnic groups, Black women are starting more businesses than other ethnic groups.”

"I still feel the anxiety of quitting. It's still on my shoulder. I feel like, man, should I have waited?"

Wilson, who is Black, has mastered connecting with customers on social media platforms, hitting the video record buttons on her phone as she makes soap; turning an encounter with an irate customer into a 30-second comedy skit; and opening up about other aspects of her life, as she did when she quit her job.

“I try to think of relatable content that people would enjoy beyond soap, beyond shampoo, something that people can understand more about the business or they might inquire more about it and then check us out on social media,” she said. “It’s all to draw them in, like, ‘what is she really about?’”

It’s a modern approach to entrepreneurship that Babson’s Williams says customers expect.

“They want to know everything about you,” said Williams, “so storytelling is very crucial.”

Telling the story of her brand — or her day — is Wilson’s favorite part of the job. She’s converted her home into a soap factory and production studio, with lights and tripods positioned in between the kitchen where she makes soap and the living area where she packages her products. She’ll go live at a moment’s notice on Instagram and will spend up to an hour creating a video for TikTok.

“I enjoy talking to customers and I enjoy playing around with them,” she said. “I like being at the forefront on social and just, you know, talking to them. They love it.”

But along with promoting her brand, she also needs to create the product, package it and keep track of customers’ orders. Since leaving her job at National Grid, she’s had more time to focus on her business — but, also, on the reality of leaving behind a reliable paycheck and a job that came with perks, including health insurance.

A Black woman wearing a black baseball cap, hoop earrings, a T-shirt that has her logo and product name WAVE SLIME on it and blue latex gloves places a tub of one of her products in a small cardboard box, on a table covered with small cardboard boxes.
Wilson packs boxes of her products..
Meredith Nierman GBH News

“I still feel the anxiety of quitting. It’s still on my shoulder. I feel like, man, should I have waited? Could I have waited? What would have happened if I was still at work right now and doing this?” she asked.

One answer, Wilson said, is that she’d never know how far she can take her brand. Giving up a steady job was a gamble, but she’s betting on herself.

“I get anxious,” she said, “but I feel good knowing that I’m working towards something.”

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