In an attempt to get real about small business success, I’ve asked some fellow small business owners to complete an interview about what they do and how they do it. I’m so excited to feature Aimee Fahey (EcoGrrl) of EcoGrrl Consulting for the first one!
What is your business?
My business has multiple parts – I’m a recruiting consultant (helping small businesses with recruiting needs), a career coach (helping clients create resumes, networks and overall direction), and a writer (blogging on my site, as a guest blogger, and working on a self-publishing project). I’ll focus on the first two for this interview.
What inspired you to start a business? When did you open your doors?
I’ve been a career coach for years, but it became a significant portion of my business when I struck out on my own as a recruiter last summer. I was primarily motivated by hearing unemployed people saying “I have sent out 500 resumes and no one has called. There’s no jobs out there.” And hearing myself think “BS!” Seriously, there are a TON of jobs out there yet a few themes I see time and again: bad resumes, poor networking, chasing after the wrong jobs, resistance to change, and/or pursuing irrelevant skillsets.
I love helping shine a light for someone in the right direction. Unfortunately there are too many services and articles giving out bad information. I’ve got a unique perspective as a recruiter that most ‘resume services’ don’t have – they’re usually writers, but have never spent thousands of hours combing through resumes for hundreds of jobs, having to quickly screen them as ‘in’ or ‘out’ for hiring teams. That’s big. And so is my network, which to me is this – why have a network if you’re not willing to share it? I’ve helped a lot of people, but also saw what I knew was true – not everyone is ready to change, and no matter how much advice you give, a few will always think they know better, and you wonder why they came to you in the first place. But even with that, it’s never offended me. Some folks just have to learn in time, and others will take charge are ready and willing to blaze a new trail.
Recruitment consulting was inspired by an HR consultant who’s been a friend and sounding board for years. She’d been telling me for far too long, Aimee, you should be steering your own ship. With a mentally and physically exhausting job my side business as a chocolatier had ended, along with my ability to volunteer in the community. I knew my friend was right, and let my boss know I needed to find a new direction in my life, and gave three months’ notice. (More notice than most, I know, but I believe strongly in karma – always leave things in better shape than where they were when you arrived.)
Small businesses need a recruiter with empathy – one who gets their setting, sets up processes, coordinate candidates & schedules, sources, and isn’t afraid to challenge the team to be better. I created a retained search model based on this, adding my corporate recruiter’s touch, and after my first referral, I had the confidence to initiate new relationships and gain clients. And here I am, 6 months later, with a collection of experiences, lessons, and successes.
Leaving the corporate world was worth it. For me, it fits. I’m highly organized, so have relied heavily on my research, planning and checklists to keep calm. Along with that, I reached out to entrepreneurs and mentors, receiving a ton of great advice and reassurance. My friend the consultant was invaluable, sharing her templates and sound advice. I’m not saying I didn’t have my “bag lady syndrome” moments, but ultimately I’ve found myself more confident and comfortable in who I am. What a gift!
What were the biggest lessons you learned in your first year of business?
A big one for me was my initial incorrect assumption that those I worked with were experienced in ethical business & accounting best practices. I trusted them at their word, and their budgets, and while some were fantastic, others were less than stellar in how they communicated and handled their environments. Having worked in business operations for over 15 years, I’d never experienced this disparity, and it matured me. And with that, I learned to not count on income that isn’t yet in hand – no matter what the agreement is, until you have that check, don’t start the work on good faith, and don’t even daydream about what you might do with the money. But the good lesson? I realized that I could get through conflict in a professional way, even when others acted inanely. My instincts were, and still are, very good.
How do you deal with the financial aspect of business?
Financially, it came down to this – after everything I’d been through in my life, I knew I’d survived worse. I trusted my instincts, my network, and my killer work ethic would get me where I needed to be. I also knew this: I could always go back to ‘regular’ work if needed. I could temp.
It’s not a failure if you have to find additional sources of income. In fact, a large number of entrepreneurs have multiple revenue streams, whether it be multiple products or a part time job or taking contract work during the slow times. Diversifying is just smart business.
Of course, I did take actions to help ease the transition into self-employment, the first of which was return to renting out rooms in my house, to cut my mortgage in half. My car-free life continued that simplicity, and my business costs have been fairly minimal. While I wanted one expensive tool to help increase my business, I waited until I had a few client payments before making the investment.
Did you hire an accountant? How do you deal with your taxes? What steps have you taken to become more profitable?
I was referred to some business and financial professionals who quickly helped me realize I didn’t need much because of the type of work (professional services) I do. Customizing Excel’s accounting and invoice templates have been sufficient. I track income & expenses as they come in – nothing accumulates – and keep a separate checking account for business expenses. While initially I met with an accountant who helped me estimate taxes, one thing I learned long ago was that, like doctors, they’re not one size fits all. I’m no longer working with the accountant because he refused to disclose his pricing upfront and I am not a fan of hidden fees. I’m using TurboTax for business/home, which is great because it calculates everything and works with my simple structure. Here’s the deal – start small, then build up. Get a feel for your environment. I prefer to live and do business pretty simply.
Do you have employees or are you on your own? If you are on your own, how do you manage without help? How do you get it all done?
Honestly I have no interest in the stress, management or cost of employees. I made some great money this first year and everyone expected me to hire staff or “expand”. I didn’t – I put every extra dollar into paying off my student loans. If everything ended today, it will have been worth it to see that bill go away. Here’s the deal – growth is not everyone’s ultimate goal, nor does it need to be. That’s a capitalist sentiment and for me, as long as I can pay my bills and have some independence, I’m happy as a clam. Bringing on staff means you are not just responsible for yourself, and also means that you need to make sure they are representing YOUR best interests. If I’m busy, I let the client know when I’m available. If they go with someone else, that’s their prerogative. I’m confident in my abilities.
Do you have a “day job”?
Nope. I was lucky to get my first client right away, and three more in pretty quick succession. My smart move was that I know the climate of my business, so when December came around, I buckled down financially, because I knew it’d be slowing down tremendously.
What do you think of the small business climate in today’s economy? Do you feel supported? Why or why not? Describe the support system you have, if you have one.
I can only speak for myself but here in Portland there are a ton of folks doing their own thing – and enough room to go around even if they call us the town where young people come to retire. Everyone has unique tastes, and innovation is encouraged. Because of what I do, I treasure my network and the community I live in. While my inner support system is made up of the same people who have always supported me – my friends – I give huge props to the many in my network who, through my relationships with them, give me referrals, look out for me, recommend me, and seek me out for advice. It’s a small world, a short life, and worth the chances I’ve taken to be happy.