Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start your own company and focus on using your talents and gifts?
Have you ever wished that 100% of your job was focused on you doing the stuff you’re best at?
I sure did. And if you’re reading this, I assume you’d give a hearty “yes” to those questions.
This is the story of how I started my own agency, which made $300,000 in billings in six months when I focused on it full-time. It’s also a story of how you can make a lot of money off your talents, too.
Fair warning: this is NOT the story of how I pushed one button and six months later, I had $300,000 in my pocket. I suppose I could tell this story that way, but I don’t think that would be very much help to you. (Also, I’d have to bend the truth a little.)
That story would be pretty short:
“I found something I was great at. Important people think it’s both valuable and hard to do. So now I sell that talent to a bunch of important people at a pretty high price. Go and do likewise.”
^ That makes me look really good, huh?
But it doesn’t help you actually do this yourself. And it leaves out all the extra stuff that made it possible. (Stuff like how a failed engagement, a terrible boss, and an amazing boss helped me pull this off.)
You want all the juicy details, right? Good. Because in order for you to really, really understand how I made $300,00 in six months, you need to know what went into the years leading up to those six months.
That’s the kind of story this is.
And here’s part one.
It all started when I finished college. I graduated valedictorian with a degree in marketing and management. (But just so you know, my graduating class was <50, and the school I graduated from closed its doors in 2015. So . . . yeah, not a lot to brag about there.)
I had planned on my part-time marketing job at my alma mater to turn into a full-time gig. While my classmates were competing for entry-level positions, I’d slide right into a white-collar job.
I’d get a sweet title with the word “manager” in it. I’d get business cards. I’d get a salary. There was even talk of me getting an office.
A week after I graduated, we had to shift gears. That meant the plan was off.
I was a jobless kid with an undergrad.
And it was 2011.
You know, back when the unemployment rate was 9.1%.
I was competing against people with double my experience for $30k salaries. It was tough. I would wake up, search for job openings, write cover letters, tweak my résumé, and send follow-up emails. I’d do this until my eyes couldn’t stay open any longer (usually around 6 a.m.), fall asleep, and then do the same thing the next day.
Finally, I got an offer for a marketing job in Bellingham, Washington.
I was in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (That’s 2,600 miles away.)
Obviously, I took it. I became a copywriter for a software company. The first three months were fantastic. I had a job, I had no student debt, and I learned what craft beer tastes like. (Triple win!)
Then, in the span of a week, some really rough stuff hit:
I had been engaged to marry my college sweetheart. Didn’t work out.
I wandered into a crossfire of political intrigue at work—and now somebody really, really wanted me gone. (But that’s another story for another time.)
That put me in a weird situation.
I had no life (no fianceé or wedding, and a lot of old friends stopped talking to me). There weren’t a lot of jobs (this was early 2012).
My current job situation wasn’t looking too hot, either. One supervisor even took me to breakfast and advised me to save myself and get the heck out, while it was still on my own terms.
But my job was giving me some advantages, too. I was given responsibility for projects I wouldn’t have ever given a green 22-year-old.
If I were to take another job, I’d be wading through dirtywork for another three years’ experience before I got a shot at doing the kind of work I was already doing.
Ambition beat out fear. =)
I entered the game of Career Chicken.
If you’ve never heard of Career Chicken, don’t feel bad. I’m pretty sure I made it up.
Career Chicken is the game you play when you know neither you nor your employer want to be in this relationship very long, but you both believe there’s value in the relationship for the time being.
The object of Career Chicken: end the relationship on your terms.
That’s where I was. I was either going to quit or get fired. The game became to stack my résumé with as many awesome projects and skills as I could before one of us called it quits.
My strategy was simple:
- Be qualified for an awesome job when I needed one
- Leverage my current position to find a better one
- Make friends, not enemies
That was my game for about 21 months.
You’d be amazed by what Career Chicken can do for your personal growth. If it hadn’t been for this game, I probably wouldn’t be writing this story.
I worked a ton. I was in the office on Saturdays. (And some Sundays.) When I was at work, I’d make my colleagues look good.
It was my way of turning the whole breakup into an advantage. The way I saw it, there was now a huge chunk of time available every week. I wasn’t prepping for a wedding. I wasn’t on the phone with someone in another time zone. I had another 12ish hours of time every week that I wasn’t occupying. So I sunk that time into work.
When I was at home, I’d be looking at the descriptions of jobs I wished I had. Jobs like Creative Director, Product Manager, and VP of Marketing.
I’d make lists of skills and qualities that companies looked for in these positions. Then I’d go back to work and find ways to learn these skills using the job I had.
If you’re skimming, this is where you’ll want to slow down. 😉
I turned a meh job into a paid training program for my next job. You’re often told you need to pay to get the training you need for a new, better job. You’re told you need to pay for classes, workshops, and certifications. You’re told you need to work for free to get experience. And sometimes you do.
But sometimes you don’t. In this case, I didn’t.
- I needed to learn how to optimize conversion rates, so I teamed up with the person in charge of email marketing to run some tests. (She’s the lady I ended up marrying, by the way.)
- I needed to learn how to generate leads, so I ran lead generation campaigns.
- I needed to learn SEO, so I tried writing some targeted blog posts (that still rank).
- I needed to learn content marketing, so I started an email list of helpful tips for potential customers. (That list gained about 30,000 subscribers in the first month.)
My skills were expanding, but my time at this company was running out.
Emails were getting more hostile.
Meetings were getting more tense.
When I heard that a startup in San Francisco wanted a full-stack marketer, I took the job.
By this time, I learned a few lessons that set me up for where I am today:
- Strategically play crappy situations to your advantage.
- Get paid to learn.
These two learnings are at the core of everything that has happened in my career, and directly led to me launching an agency two years later that made $300,000 in billings in six months.
But there was something else I needed to learn. A lesson that made it very clear that I was heading in the wrong direction.
And once I learned that lesson, people started taking me more seriously. (Which is how the money started coming in.)