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Solopreneur Story: My 4th Year in Business

Looking back at the history of my business, here's what I had to say on my 4th anniversary...

Honestly, four years ago I had no idea I’d be where I am today. But hey, who really can predict the future? We all have those “nice to haves” but time marches on, and life evolves, throwing curveballs and opening some doors and slamming others shut.

But here I am, celebrating four years as a solopreneur, heading up my own recruitment consulting and career coaching business that has led me to:

  1. Recruiting for 25 small companies and startups in Oregon and SW Washington.

  2. Hiring 64 people for my clients, from engineering to marketing to sales and more!

  3. Career Coaching 150+ individuals nationwide to prepare them for the job search.

It’s been quite a ride. I’ve seen my share of ups and downs, and learned a ton. And while I’m always honing my skills as a recruiter and coach, if I am honest with myself, in the fourth year, I think I learned the most about…myself.

As a solopreneur, I can only rely on myself to make things happen. I can only rely on myself to react appropriately. I can only rely on myself to be productive and happy, even during the times when the roadblocks appear particularly fierce.

This year I learned to trust in myself more than ever. I know my strengths, and I know that things will ultimately work out as they should.

The Ups & Downs of Consulting Revenue

Over these four years, I’ve seen my income vary pretty dramatically. In the first year I doubled my income from my past life in the corporate world. In the second year I quadrupled it. But in the third year, my income was cut in half. Then in the fourth year, I was back up to year two numbers. Makes budgeting next to impossible.

Why did my income go down that third year compared to the others?

  1. Recruiting isn’t a simple “hustle” – not with my business model. I do retained searches which require a real commitment from the client. Ultimately, it’s a win for the as they pay less than they would a staffing agency and get much more bang for their buck (not just in filling positions but having me manage the whole internal process, something agencies don’t do). And until that contract is signed and the first check is in my hands, it’s not real. Too many companies back out at the last minute, postpone their hiring, etc. It’s the nature of the beast, particularly since most of my clients are startups. So, because of this, I am unable to make revenue projections. I literally do not know what business lies ahead because even when I think I do, it can all change in a heartbeat. I had one client who was hoping to have me do a ton of hiring for him this year – then their board decided to do a hiring freeze until their revenue went up. I had another client promise me 3 positions, then canceled one midway through and go completely off the radar on the other two, where I never heard from them again. And I had two others claim they wanted to work with me, I sent them contracts to review and sign…then radio silence. So when real recruiting work does come up, I’ve got to be able to react quickly and make myself available. I learned this well in 2014, when I traveled to Australia to move my husband to the States, got married, went on honeymoon, and therefore lost in total about 3 months’ of potential income. Reminder to self? In recruiting, if you’re not ready when they are, they will move on, so have a backup plan.

  2. I chose to work with two clients against my better judgment, and spent more time than needed on those engagements. The first one I’d actually declined to work with based on my first impression, then changed my mind when a person I highly respected came on board and convinced me to join them. I quickly found them two great candidates, they received offers, but because of the company reputation the offers were ultimately rejected. Then, sure enough, the company went under. Fortunately I still got paid, but I’d lost a lot of time that could have been spent with other clients. With the second client, I accepted a contract for what I now refer to as a “unicorn job posting”. You know, the ones with a simple job title yet a huge laundry list of non-negotiable requirements that were seriously unrealistic – especially with their budget. I actually got to an offer with one candidate, but he ultimately turned it down and when the new manager came on, their poor reputation in the community inadvertently caused the other qualified candidates to withdraw. After three months, I terminated the contract because they were unwilling to listen to my feedback about the aforementioned, and consider adjusting to the market. I took the hit and learned that I needed to push back harder on unrealistic requirements from the start, and if unsuccessful, not take the gig.

My Continuous Improvement and Evolution

I suppose I talk about this every year, but heck, I should, right? Every year as a small business owner I get better, I learn more, and discover something within me I didn’t know I had. And of course, I’ve stumbled, as we all do.

Learning from so many sources out there, not only people but publications, blogs and more, I’ve found a couple that have really been my silent BFFs when I need guidance…

  1. How to Boss Yourself Better as a Solopreneur is a great mental audit to run through when I’m feeling like I’m running ragged, not as productive as I could be, or just feeling like I need to read the voice of someone who’s been in my shoes. One of my favorite ones has been “plan out your incentives”. For the first 3 years, nearly every extra cent I made went to one of two things: * Paying off bills (which, happily, means I have no student loans, no credit card debt, and my mortgage is 50% paid off), OR * Paying for my medical treatments and our adoption plans (both combined totaled ~ $48K. IRS medical deductions don't actually help on taxes, by the way).

  2. The Four Agreements have been wonderful reminders to me both professionally AND personally, and over this past year and change, my focus on balancing work with the biggest medical challenge of my life so far brought me a new strength. As in the 4th agreement, I’ve focused professionally on ‘simply doing my best’.  Personally, I’ve learned to emphasize the 3rd agreement and ‘express what I really want’ to people I was close to at the time who had started treating me differently after I stopped catering to their every flaky behavior. And I learned to accept the 2nd agreement that others’ behaviors are a ‘projection of their own reality’ and when those projections ultimately were damaging to me, I let them go. I didn’t take offense, I just let them go.

Oh yeah, and this set of advice below kind of rocked for me in year four as well, and will continue as we kick off year five.

Kicking Off Year 5

The next 12 months are definitely going to be interesting. With our first child entering our world in March, my husband and I, as 40-something parents, have a lot to plot out. To oversimplify our jobs: he’s got the medical benefits, I’ve got the pay, he’s got the grocery discount, I’ve got the schedule flexibility. Neither of us want to be a singular stay-at-home parent, and honestly, we can’t afford to be. But we are damn fortunate. We are past our unsure 20s, we have money in the bank, we are debt free, and we have great jobs (not to mention he’s the best thing that ever happened to me!).

So, as we always have, we’ll forge our own path, and figure out what works for us. Next month we’re sitting down with our financial planner to come up with some options as to how 2017 will look when the little human arrives. Thank heaven for Jen. I’m already thinking of the 2014 financial lessons I learned while knowing in the back of my mind that this is one part of life that we won’t be able to fully organize. But hey, just like my life as a solopreneur, thing happen, we adapt, and we grow.

And I always remember what’s most important:

"Work to Live. Don't Live to Work."

Footnote: At the time this was originally published in July 2016, we were thrilled to finally be pregnant from our 4th round of IVF. A few weeks after this post, we lost the baby. Since then we experienced 3 losses in trying to adopt and this summer made the decision to no longer pursue building a family, and focus on healing as a family of two after 5 1/2 years of losses that have devastated us.

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