The Hurdles I Had To Jump To Start My Own Business and How I Did It
Gaining Discipline and a Strong Work Ethic at a Young Age
Entrepreneurs mostly fall short because they don't have the work ethic needed to start a business from nothing. It took a while, but I had to train myself to work 17 hours a day.
I've learned that it is the indirect work that an entrepreneur puts in that makes him or her successful. For instance, I continuously read new books that I feel may be pertinent to my job. I always take detailed notes so I don't forget the concepts.
If I'm not at the gym or sleeping for 7 or so hours, I'm available for my clients. This is what compels them to continuing working with my firm.
The biggest problem I have with my vendors is that it takes them too long to execute a request. Corporate America has set a standard of 8 hours a day - no more no less. It is imperative that the entrepreneur exploit this status quo and stand out from the crowd.
Advertising and Marketing on a Budget
I knew that I could not rely on cold-calling forever. Also, I am a firm believer that you should never rely on current clients. They can move companies and no longer need you, they can experience budget cuts, or you can have a disagreement that leads to a falling out.
However, pay-per-click would not work for me because candidates who yielded little to no return would kill my budget through costly clicks. Obviously it was important that job seekers visit my company's site, but they aren't the real revenue-drivers in the recruiting world. Therefore, I found various industry directories that were accessible to my target market and only cost a hundred or so dollars per advertisement annually.
Once I closed enough deals to support a marketing budget, I decided that we needed some form of SEO. I found a company out in California through the web and the sales representative, seemingly desperate for business, threw in 35 programmed new pages per month with the SEO.
At this point, I had an intern from NYU come to my apartment full time, and together we wrote over 150 landing pages. (Landing pages are website pages geared toward ranking on a particular keyword phrase or two and, mostly they are not linked to from your website's homepage.)
While their programming skills were satisfactory, when it came to SEO, my vendor had no idea what they were doing. Before we parted ways, over the course of approving programmed pages, my vendor sent me their programming and meta tags for my site.
This piqued my interest and I began studying SEO. I ended up studying it all day, every day. I knew it was the only way my company would grow. I read SEO blogs, contacted sites that would give links to recruitment agencies and, at this point I began the uphill battle that was cold-calling universities for.edu links.
In total, I probably contacted 350 or so university career centers in order to present my company as a career resource and, subsequently get a link from their site. I got a lot of resistance, mostly because I was a recruiter and recruiting has a certain low reputation, but some of the career center people were simply hard to negotiate with.
Partially, that's due to academia being its own, insular world, where rules apply differently than in the business world. A university in Arizona would not even accept donations to be listed because we were a staffing agency. Another university's career center got in a lot of trouble when the woman asked for $500 for us to be listed, but there was no cost for any other firm.
I knew something was wrong when she emailed me right away with a "First-Ever Best Career Center Intern Award" in which she would give cash to the student who did the best job of convincing her that they were the best intern and should get the money.
Then, there was my alma mater, who took a donation, only to tell me that the woman who swiped my credit card was no longer there and she didn't have authorization.
In the end, I ended up with only 30 or so links after literally days' worth of cold-calling hours. Even so, it was a higher number than my competition had. Right now, SEO is what fuels my business. We get around hundreds of visits a day and our advertising budget is a mere pittance compared to what most ad and marketing agencies quote.
This means that our firm does not need to attend trade shows and is not reliant on one particular customer to maintain a steady stream of revenue and fuel growth.
Recruiting the Right Employees From an Apartment
I started my business from a studio apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side, and continued to grow it when my wife and I moved to a larger place on the East Side. But a Manhattan apartment with the attendant space restrictions it still very much was.
I decided to prioritize growing our online presence and business base, as described above, rather than investing in office space before it made logistical sense. But I was quickly busy enough that I couldn't run the business on my own, and that meant bringing on employees.
Recruiting employees to work out of your apartment is very difficult. This is especially true when they are of the opposite sex. I knew that remote employees would not work, as they have a significantly higher turnover rate than in-house employees.
Also, I wanted to hire entry-level people, and too much autonomy leads to failure at that experience level. I wanted them trained by me and not another recruiting firm, therefore we would have to teach them the business.
When I set out to get new full-time people, I already had our Managing Director, Alison, on board so it was a little easier, but many applicants would not consider working out of an apartment.
They would get very skeptical as to the legitimacy of the company. Most would not show up to the interview.
The only way to accomplish recruiting the right people was to increase the salary for the position to roughly 25% over market. It was worth it, as we found one great employee who would help us find the 4th member of the team.
We also assured our employees that we would get an office, a promise that we kept and signed a lease after a few months of the new team members being on board.
Recruiting, even if you have the tools, is a very difficult thing for a start-up. However, the hurdles I cleared can apply to many industries, not just staffing or consultancy services. Work hard, plan smart, and hire right. Aren't those the basics to any start-up's success? The trick is getting them right the first time, or if not, to try, try again.
The Economist: Business